I Am Waiting for My Dogs to Die
by Davin Malasarn Read author interview December 15, 2006
I am waiting for my dogs to die; they are nineteen years old, Lucy and Stafford, sister and brother. They stumble and fall back onto their haunches when they try to stand.
* * *
One morning, Vanya returns home from a night shift. She smells like her hospital, the odor of sickness, of medications with sulfur and heavy metals. She gives me a kiss before washing bits of spinach out of her lunch container.
Her sister, Martha, is dressed for work in a blouse covered with flowers. She pours herself coffee with cream and sugar and takes it out to her garden. The two do not speak. One comes in. The other goes out.
“Let’s go to dinner tonight,” Vanya whispers. “Don’t tell her.” She nods her head toward the garden. She’s been trying to make more private plans for us ever since the kids moved out. Through the window, I watch Martha drop a handful of fish food into the pond. She turns on the hose and waters her rows of plumeria while she sips her coffee.
Vanya goes into the bedroom to shower. Martha rushes back inside.
“My earring. I lost my diamond earring. Help me find it, Jack. It’s a real diamond.”
Dew clings to the blades of grass. The dogs are lying on their dusty couch cushions. One sighs deeply, but they do not try to stand.
“I hope I didn’t drop it in the pond,” Martha says. “Do you think the fish would swallow it?” She stops walking, and before I can say anything she starts to whimper.
“Stop it. If they ate it, we’ll slice their bellies open, that’s all.” I walk along the rows of flowers, the orchids with their butterfly wings, pots overgrown with ferns. Martha circles the pond with her hands to her chest and looks into the water.
“We’ll never find it,” she says.
But, I spot it beside a terracotta pot. There is a mound of wet soil, and in the soil is the diamond sparkling. She pinches it out of the mud. Her face blooms into a smile. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she says, giving my arm a squeeze.
* * *
In the middle of the day, I get a phone call at work. Vanya’s awake, her voice thin and wavering.
“Hurry home, Jack. The dogs fell in the water. Lucy drowned. Stafford is holding his head up, but I can’t get him out by myself.”
When I get home, Stafford is shivering in the dark water. Vanya has dropped a two-by-four in and is trying to coax him onto it. I grab his skinny forepaws and pull, and Vanya dries him off with a towel. Then Lucy. She’s heavy with water that sloshes inside her as I carry her out to the garden.
* * *
We stay home for dinner.
Martha comes back and sits down at the table with us. “I told everyone about how you found my earring,” she says.
“When?” Her face is alert, questioning; she understands the depths of death.
We tell her not to go into the garden until the Humane Society comes the next day.
I walk out into the yard and see if Stafford is awake. He lifts his head and sneezes. I run my hand along his side. These days he’s only ribs, pelvis, and a sagging face. Beads of blood cling along the top edge of his nose.
I had imagined it differently, a fade out rather than a death.
* * *
The Humane Society comes in a white truck and covers Lucy in canvas. I thank them, pay the fee, sign a form that releases us from having to pay for permits.
“What do you think will happen to our other one?” my wife asks the man holding the clipboard.
“We’ll have to wait an’ see, ma’am,” he says.
That day Stafford doesn’t eat. He lies on his couch cushion, occasionally sneezing. I go out and sit with him. I wonder who went into the water first, and if one was trying to save the other. Stafford’s paws look so simple and incapable of anything.
* * *
Martha buys me a jacket to thank me for finding her earring. I try it on and show it to Vanya who nods without looking up.
“How’s Stafford?” Martha asks.
“He isn’t eating,” I tell her.
She clicks her tongue and says, “Take off the jacket so I can cut the tag.”
That night, alone in our bedroom, Vanya rubs lotion on her small, plump feet. A fly is circling the room; its wings buzz around us.
“We haven’t made love in eight weeks,” she says.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
She slips under the covers. She turns off the light.
“Do you like that jacket she gave you?”
“I can wear it when it rains.”
“If Stafford stops eating, we should probably put him to sleep.”
I nod in the dark.
* * *
Morning. Stafford has not moved. A pile of feces steams under his tail.
I start to clean him off, and Vanya comes over and stands with her hands on her hips, watching.
“He’s gone for sure. Let’s take him in now,” she says. She wipes a tear away with her palm and goes into the house to change.
Alone, I sit down beside Stafford and cup his head in my hands. His skin sags like dough around sad, red eyes. I am grateful that he was in the water with his sister, grateful that he suffered without giving in.
He sneezes his good-bye.
I bless him.
About the Author:
Davin Malasarn was born in 1978 and lives in Pasadena, California. He's published stories in Rosebud, The Storyteller, and Insolent Rudder, among others. His story "A Boy In The Sky" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He's currently working on a novel about a man who returns to Thailand for the cremation of his mysterious brother.