Sunday. The shaggy brown-black dog lumbers out from the garage. She moves slowly for her eight years, but with a simple appreciation for a beautiful day. Grass still green in early November. Clear skies. Bird song.
“She’s living on borrowed time,” my neighbor tells me. The words are quiet, heavy.
I scratch the dog’s head, and her black-rimmed eyes shine. Her tail wags. She seems unconcerned about the debt.
Friday. I’m at a café enjoying pancakes and hot chocolate. Conversation drifts around the sunny room. When my phone vibrates on the table, I answer it. My neighbor wants to know if I can let Lucy out next week.
“Of course,” I say. She’s such a great dog, it’s no trouble at all.
“Great, thanks. I’ll call you if anything changes.”
Sunday again. Even more beautiful than the last. Warm enough to make me take off my coat, but with a chill on the wind that raises the invisible hairs on my arms and promises winter’s approach. I wait as Riley relieves himself, then stoop to clean it up. As I stand and tie off the baggie, my neighbor drives up. She slows and pulls to the side of the road — my side, the wrong side. Her window slides down as the car stops. Her eyes are unadorned, making them look small and tired.
“I put Lucy down yesterday.” Quiet, heavy.
I gasp without sound. “Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry.”
She shakes her head, waves me off. “No, no. Don’t do that. You’ll make me cry.”
I nod, and she drives away.
I stand there for a moment, then remember the leash in my hand. The dog — my dog — still very much alive. We continue our walk up to the empty field. I let him run. I tell him that today, right now, he’s allowed to be bad. I promise I won’t even yell.
Later, when we’re home, I feed him breakfast, then wash my hands. There, standing at the sink, I finally allow my tears. Just for a minute. A little bit of borrowed time.