A boy sat in the veterinarian's waiting room next to a spread-out blanket. His mother sat at the other end of the blanket. The boy wore heavy black sneakers, shorts, and a striped blue t-shirt. The mother had black hair and a tanned face. Her t-shirt was yellow. The blanket was plaid, and lay flat on the bench between them.
A television was mounted on the wall. It showed a program about penguins and polar bears. Black animals and white.
The boy was turned toward the edge of the blanket next to him and his mother said, "She doesn't want it! Leave her alone!" The boy stood and skated a circuit around the waiting room. His sneakers were the kind with wheels in the heels.
There was a dog under the blanket. She was a big dog. Her head stuck out from under the blanket at the boy's end. She had long black fur, but her face was streaked gray. Her eyes were open--black and shiny--but she did not move. The plaid blanket showed no dog shape underneath.
The mother did not look at the dog. "Sit down," she said, and the boy threw himself on the padded bench by the dog's head. "Did you take your medicine today?"
The boy said nothing, but shook his head.
A woman came from behind the counter and said, "This is Baby?" The mother said yes. The woman wore a light blue smock with little pictures of puppies and kittens all over it. She knelt beside the dog's head, by the boy. She put her hand on the dog's head and looked Baby in the eye. The dog blinked.
Without looking at the mother, the woman said, "We're prepping room four for you. It will be just a few minutes." She might have been talking directly to Baby. She stroked the dog's head, stood, and went back behind the counter. A man stood at the counter waiting for his bill. A leash was wrapped around his legs. An orange dog with a white stripe on her head was clipped to the end of the leash.
The orange dog was pulling, trying to get her nose between the legs of a nearby Doberman. The Doberman's head was wrapped in bandages and she was wearing a wide plastic cape around her neck so she couldn't scratch at her head. One ear was under the bandages, the other stuck out like a teapot spout.
The mother on the bench sniffled and wiped her eyes with the back of one hand. She had been handling the dog and she thought the back of her hand would be less likely to aggravate her allergies. The boy watched the television, where a polar bear was walking across a polar landscape. Everything on the screen was the same polar color. All the boy could see were the shadows.
The woman in the smock came around the end of the counter again and said to the mother, "The room is ready now." The mother stood and removed Baby's blanket. Baby lay on her side, her legs arranged to the side. The boy stood too. Baby's head lay limp and heavy on the bench.
The woman in the smock said, "Do you need any help?" The mother wiped at her eyes again, this time with the palms of both hands. She had forgotten about her allergies. She stepped back and the boy, barely bigger than Baby himself, hoisted her in his arms as if she weighed nothing. Baby remained limp. Her head dangled, but her eyes remained open and shiny.
The man at the counter watched the boy carry Baby into room four. The woman with the Doberman said something to comfort the mother, who thanked her and moved toward the room. The Doberman's owner said something else and the mother said, "Seventeen years old." The mother went into room four and shut the door behind her.
There's a fifty-fifty chance that Ken is wearing a shirt with a stain on it.
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6.11.07 @ 2:52p
As a life-long dog owner, this really hits home. It's something you know is in your future from the moment you bring "baby" home, and no matter painful it is, you remind yourself that all of the days in between make that moment worth while.
6.11.07 @ 5:33p
Made me cry... and appreciate my dog even more. Thanks. Sometimes it's hard not to take our fuzzy friends for granted.
6.11.07 @ 7:19p
Yeah, I almost cried too, right there in the vet's waiting room. I was with Georgia (the orange dog) for her shots. It brought back memories of Caleb, who was put to sleep right over there in room two.
6.11.07 @ 11:14p
That is very sad. I recently lost my cat... I didn't have to put her down, as she died shortly after I was told that that was pretty much the only choice I had. It's the hardest thing to know for a fact, almost, that you will outlive what is essentially your baby.
6.12.07 @ 9:02a
Oh Ken, this is so sweet, and so real. I have dreams about my last cat, Cleo, all the time. I didn't have to put her to sleep, but had to give her away because of Matt's allergies. I know the little old lady I gave her to took very good care of her, but it still breaks me up.
6.12.07 @ 9:59a
Thanks for making me cry first thing in the morning. I've had to put two cats to sleep due to feline leukemia. I lost the best cat ever last year to a horrible accident.
I gave the term alligator tears a whole new meaning.