by David Chartrand

He sounds sad. So does She.

So does the man in the white lab jacket.  Dr. Gray is always happy, even when he’s poking me with a needle or flushing my infected ears.

Ear infections, knee surgeries, arthritis. Growing old is no picnic but Dr. Gray makes it possible, tolerable. 

He and She bring me to Dr. Gray’s office when something is wrong. I don’t know what’s wrong this time except that I am sleepy and naps are no fun on a doctor’s exam table.  I wish He and She would take me home to my blanket by the kitchen door.

Dr. Gray whispers to Him and Her.  They whisper back. I don’t understand why they are whispering or why the whispers sound sad.

Something is definitely wrong. Everyone but me seems to know about it.

I’d like to know what they’re saying but I’d rather be napping. Naptime is happy time, especially at my age. On my kitchen blanket I can take long naps with happy dreams.  I cannot get rest, or good dreams, on a slippery, stainless steel table. 

I want to ask what is going on. But He and She tell me to hold still, which makes it difficult to speak. Difficult for me, at least. My brain does not assign symbols to words, or words to symbols. I communicate only body language, head and face gestures. You can tell if I’m happy or sad by touching my nose. I’m good at wordless communication.  Some people use lots of words and say nothing.  I say plenty with my ears.

He and She taught me all the words I need to know. They began with “food” and “water” and “walk” and “ride in the car” and “hold still.”  By age 9 (months) I’d mastered more complex expressions, like, “She peed on the carpet!”

Certain words are easier to understand than others.

I cannot understand what I cannot hear and I cannot hear what He and She are telling Dr. Gray or what he is telling them. They have their language, I have mine.  I don’t understand all their words but there is one thing I know for sure.

I love them and they love me.  They fill my days with food, water, long walks, eardrops, and happiness. I’m not crazy about eardrops. And I consider the forcible seizure of poop samples nothing short of barbaric. All I ask is the courtesy of advance warning.

Which is why I’m confused right now.  No one sounds happy right now. I wasn’t expecting this.  I wasn’t expecting poop samples, either, but I’m not complaining.

Here’s what I’ll do.  I’ll leap off this iceberg exam table and demand an explanation. I will ask, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU GUYS?  LET’S BLOW THIS JOINT AND HEAD TO THE PARK!”

Rats. I summon my legs but they disobey. I command my brain to speak but it refuses. Double rats.

Perhaps bolting for the door isn’t such a good idea at this particular moment, or at my particular age, which I don’t care to discuss right now, thank you.  Besides, I can’t see how far it is from here to the floor. I can barely see the floor at all.

My vision isn’t so hot these days. I dream better than I see.

My hearing is on the ropes, too, but I know the sound of approaching footsteps. Dr. Gray’s white lab coat comes into view; so does Dr. Gray. One hand holds a short rubber strap.  The other holds a long needle. I’ve seen this before.

The magic needle.  Dr. Gray uses it to fix whatever is wrong with me. He knots the rubber strap around my leg, then quickly, gently slides the needle under my skin just below the leg strap. Next thing I know – hours later, after a long nap —  nothing is wrong anymore.

I’ve seen the magic needle many times, usually on my annual vaccination visits or right before surgery. I see it today but don’t know why.  Nobody will tell me a thing.

All I know is that the needle is truly magic.  It stings for a second. Afterward, Dr. Gray massages the sting spot and sends me home with Him and Her.  Soon I am napping on my kitchen blanket, lost in a happy dream.

The magic needle works miracles.  So does a good nap. 

“Ready?” Dr. Gray asks.

Ready for what?  Why is he asking them?  He should be asking me.

I don’t know what’s going on but how bad I’m fine as long it doesn’t involve poop samples.

She squeezes my foot too tightly; he hugs my neck the same way. Come on, guys, you’re smothering — 

I catch a quick glimpse of the needle. I feel the quick sting.

She squeezes; he hugs.  Something warm and wet drips into the fur near on my neck. I’d swear the wetness is dripping from his face onto mine.  With any luck I’m already on the kitchen blanket, dreaming.

My favorite dreams are from the old days, before the knee surgeries and arthritis and hearing loss. There are no sad sounds in these dreams, and no needles. He and She are always there, feeding me and asking me to sit still. We wrestle on the kitchen carpet and take long walks. They take me on car rides, my head out the window and ears thrown back. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen the world the way I see Interstate 35.

The sting is gone. By golly, so is the stiffness. I’m not sleepy anymore. In fact, I feel wonderful. What is that? What the — ?  I can hear!  I hear the chirping of swallows, the rustle of maple branches.  Whose dog is barking?  How did birds and trees and dogs get in this room? Like I really care.  It’s a miracle!

A hear a voice, wobbly and wet.  I don’t see a face but I know the voice.  His voice.

“Sweet dreams, my angel ….”  

Then she speaks.  “Sleep all you want.  We’ll be with you, always.”

Hooray for Dr. Gray and the magic needle! I can go home now!  Kitchen blanket, here I come!

Unless I’m already there.  Perhaps I’m already asleep; already in my favorite dream.  She’s there and so is He.  I don’t see Dr. Gray. He’s probably busy extracting poop samples from unsuspecting patients.

I feel like a puppy again.

Tails say more than tongues and mine is flapping like a windshield wiper. It’s flapping at Him and Her. They are here! Here in my dream! Just like they promised.

I shout — head, eyes, ears, nose and tail.  “Thank You! “Thank you! Thank you!” I shout. “Good nap!  Good dream!  Good nap!  Good dream! Let’s eat!”

I see them laughing. Unless they are crying. He calls to me, “Goodbye.”  Or was it Her?  Maybe it was “Goodnight.”  Who cares?  We’re all here and I’m going nowhere.

I’m having the dream of my life.  I hope it never ends.

© David Chartrand, 2010


A puppy once more: Cayman’s last dream


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