Tuesday, February 9, 2010

That's Taken Care of


"I don't mind it, really," my mother began, taking a deep drag off her Salem,"I figure, if it's my time, it's my time. I'm not afraid to die. Only.." she faltered for a beat. "Only I wish the grandchildren were a little bit older. That would be nice."

I couldn't say a word. I didn't dare. For a moment, outside the enclosed porch, the sound of the cicadas in the forests overwhelmed our silence. I suddenly realized that I was holding my breath. My girlfriend and I covertly exchanged looks.

"It would 've been nice if they could remember me." Again she paused, trying to find the way to explain."Not for my sake, though. I don't care about that so much."

She seemed keen to convey the right impression: that this was not some selfish desire or some vain passion for immortality.

"You see, someday they might need to have a memory of me. Because..I was lucky, you see. I had my grandparents to remember, you know, when things were hard. I could remember what love was. I knew how it felt to be loved. But they won't have that.

"So maybe, maybe I regret that a little. It might be important for them someday."

At that moment, the doorbell rang and we all jumped at the same time. The woman who had called earlier about the ad had finally arrived.

"I'm Kathy Bristol. I called about your ad?" the woman said, as I opened the front door. She had a reassuring plumpness. Those few extra pounds that suggested a heartiness for living. Somebody you can trust. She also wore a silly pink velour top and Mommy jeans. Her hair was faded blond. She was clearly nervous about meeting strangers.

"My mother wants to meet you and ask you a few questions. Is that okay?"

I took her through the living room. Buddy sat at my mother's feet, glaring up with his melted chocolate eyes. He was a big-boned wire-haired Dachshund, passing through the last stages of "puppyhood." He'd tear through a room, pushing past children and adults alike, like a fire extinguisher with legs. A hoarse bark that took years off your hearing.

"This is Buddy, "I said, "he is only 6 months old but you can see he is already quite large. He will need a lot of space. You have a house, I think you said?"

"That's right. Three bedroom."



A boy and a girl. Seven and eight." She reached down and stroked the back of Buddy's neck. "They will love him."

"We just want to find a good home for him." I explained.

"Of course."

My mother leaned forward slightly."You see, I have cancer. The doctor gave me only three months to live." My mother's tone was distressingly conversant, as if she were mentioning an upcoming trip to Florida.

The woman's smile faded. "Oh, no."

"I'm hoping the chemo kicks in and I can make it to Christmas."

Mrs. Bristol blinked a few times and finally said, "I see. Well, there's always hope. You have to keep your hope." It was a trite reply that perhaps only a couple of weeks before I might have despised. Now, those harmless idiotic platitudes were somehow comforting.

"I want to spend one more Christmas with my family. I have all my red dresses hunted out."

The woman looked at me, as if calling for help, and then down at Buddy. Yes, I wanted to say to this woman, it is embarrassing. Is it breaking your heart? Welcome to our world.

"Anyway," My mother told her, "He's a good dog. A little rambunctious but he's a good companion. And uh, he's young yet so maybe he'll grow out of it."

Double-checking,I asked her,"Now you have a yard for him, don't you?"

"Oh yeah. We have a half-acre in back. Fenced-in, too. We've been looking for a dog. The children have turned old enough now."

"Oh, Buddy's good with children. Some Dachshunds aren't. But we've never had any problem with him and kids." My mother said, with an air of authority. Pausing, she explained, "I just wanted to find him a good home. Somebody who'll take care of him. I was afraid I would have to put him down, you know."

I slapped my hands on my thighs. I didn't think I could bear to hear this again. "I think it'll be okay, then." I looked for my mother's approval.

"Yeah, I think that's fine." She smiled at Mrs. Bristol and lit another cigarette.

"Time to go, Buddy." My mother called and immediately the dog darted to his carrier and waited patiently. His trusting, stupid amiable eyes shone from the open door of his carrier. Ready for the next thing, he seemed to be telling me. A canine vision of absolute and blind faith, Buddy was already fully prepared for this next adventure. I doubted very much if he would miss us.

I walked out with Mrs. Bristol and stowed the back-breakingly heavy carrier in the back seat of her Toyota. Her mood was now understandably subdued. I felt a little sorry for her. She had come to our home all excited about having a new pet and now she left disturbed and confused.

"Well," I told her,"you can call us if you have any questions. I hope everything works out with Buddy."

"I'm sure it'll be fine. He looks like a wonderful dog." As she opened the driver's side door, she seemed about to say something else. Instead she merely attempted a sympathetic smile. I was thankful for even that.

When I returned inside, my mother was trudging on her walker to her wicker chair on the porch. She seemed slightly worn out.

With a conclusive sigh, and without much emphasis, she said, "Well, I think we made the right decision."

"Yes. I think so." I told her. For my part, I was happy it was over.

We helped to back to her chair on the porch. She took out another cigarette from the shiny packet and lit it. "Well," she said, with a note of satisfaction, " I reckon, that's taken care of."

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  1. Beautiful story. It reminded me of my mother-in-law and the pragmatic way she handled her lung cancer. As she would say, "It's sad but it's not a tragedy. When you're past 80 it can't be a tragedy." I also loved the conversational way the mother confided about her cancer as though it were an upcoming trip to Florida - that's precisely the way my mother-in-law would discuss it but I never would have thought to describe it that way.

    I don't know whether this story is true. If it is, I'm sorry. If it isn't you certainly captured the truth because you brought so many true memories and feelings back to life.


  2. Thanks, Liz. Yes, it's true. All of your comments are much appreciated. Your mother-in-law and my mother would probably have got along very well. :)

  3. Very sad but also there is hope in it, the way you tell the story.

  4. I was drawn into your dialog and your characters. Effective and very moving slice of life.


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