Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dog Only Knows


The dog loves Dad. I love Dad. I watch Dad die.

It is a violent death. The kind of ending that wrenches a man’s soul from his body and leaves it wandering in search of closure. And we never see it coming.

I’m just a frightened kid, fascinated by the oscilloscope that traces the beating of my father’s heart on a round green screen. A shelf-mounted pacemaker brings order to the chaotic electrical impulses that land him in the coronary care unit. I watch the screen while Dad sleeps. It’s a boring visit.

A busy morning. Duty nurse notices us bedside. Dad unshaven. Hair uncombed. She drifts over like a spectre in white. Plugs razor into the same outlet as the pacemaker. Interference. Fibrillation.

I document the event in my mind. Steady biologic Morse code, tracing peaks and valleys in light green on dark, erupts in Dad’s chest like a massive earthquake. His heart beats so fast and hard it nearly explodes. He jackknifes in the bed and screams, then falls back dead.

We are hastily ushered out of the room as alarms sound and code blue is called over the intercom. Emotional fog. Confusion. Anger.

The dog sees none of this. He waits at home, ready to run to greet Dad daily at 5:57pm. Pick up bone, run to back door, drop bone, look up lovingly and wait for caress and coo. He misses Dad.

Christmas Eve, weeks later. Our mourning family mimics joy on our favorite holiday. I am man of the family now. I set up the tree like Dad would. A rainbow of Italian lights glimmers through tinsel and ornaments. We are quiet, pensive. The decorations are not quite right. I can’t get them to hang the way Dad did, suspended freely without hint of a metal hanger.

The dog lies in the middle of the living room floor. Not his usual post. He seems to understand that the family mobile is rearranged. His master is missing.

Time slows. Our silent breathing is punctuated by the rhythmic pendulum of the Regulator across the room. The dog startles us with a sudden bark.

In a precise reenactment of his evening ritual, a bone is retrieved, brought to the back door with a wagging tail. Drop the bone, sit and look up lovingly, anticipate.

The unfolding drama is not lost on the three of us. It continues. Dog trots back to his place at room center. He sits, still watching the back door, then slowly tracks something at head height that only he can see, past the clock, the front door, around the coffee table and the Christmas tree. His gaze is steady. His movement fluid.

We glance at each other silently, eyes communicating what we dare not speak for fear of disrupting the dog’s thoughts and actions.

Settling on the space above my Mother, the dog stands and stares, tail wagging. Then he becomes motionless. He holds his gaze for several moments, drops his head and growls, then slowly walks to his little bed in the kitchen and goes to sleep.

We exhale as one, unaware of holding our collective breath. I do not mention the swinging ornament on the branch I obsessed over earlier. It is now hung perfectly, suspended in air with Dad’s signature style. We turn on the television to disrupt the quiet. Mister Magoo observes the Cratchit family through an animated frosty window as we settle into our new family order—a silent night.

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