As someone who works at a vets, I see a lot different people reacting to a lot of different kinds of loss when it comes to their animal companions. Sometimes its expected, sometimes it isn’t. This story perhaps ended up being less about that however and more about the unspoken within familial relationships.
I feel I should warn readers this story contains animal death and a gun.
The old man is in his house, out in the dust and the flatness, two miles from the motorway. On his left arm there is a freshly cleaned and bandaged bight mark, on his right- a tiny red dot stares blandly at the pristine whiteness of a melanin pad; taped neatly across his inner elbow. He is shivering. It is warm.
The old man is sitting in his kitchen, staring at the table. In front of him, a little above his line of sight; lies his shotgun. It is clean, and fully loaded. It has been used twice in forty years. He has spent the last ten minutes making sure it is lying perfectly parallel with the edge of the table. He is shivering. It is warm.
His daughter’s car pulls up into the drive, shining beneath the dust and the high and mighty sun. When he opens the door she notices he is wearing his best shirt- pale blue with white buttons, and suit trousers ironed so rigidly they fold almost like table legs around his aching knees. The sunlight is cruel to him, he has watery blue eyes.
“Oh, dad…” She sighs.
The old man’s daughter makes two cups of tea; she knows where everything is without asking. The old man swallows, he wants to make small talk, he cannot.
Outside in the yard, under the cruel, beating heat- there is a mongrel tied to the garden fence. It is jerking it’s head to the left and frothy drool is dripping to the ground around it’s grey flecked muzzle. The froth is pink, It bit its tongue half off at the early stages of dawn- no one will notice until after. Sometimes, the dry, briny bush growing near it will sway too hard in the breeze and it will let out a low, warning growl. It is shaking. It is hot.
The old man and his daughter do not drink much tea. The sun makes a glaring yellow square on the table top, a pool of light into which they dip both hands, clasping mugs and watching steam curl slowly upwards into the to-still air.
“You can’t stay here.” The woman says eventually. “Not now.”
The old mans lips press together more tightly. He swallows. He has not sipped his tea. The shivering has lapsed. The woman notes how much his shoulders sag. Posture has always been important to her father. She presses on.
“There is a flat just down the road from our house. You’d have a shops only round the corner and that lake you like just a short walk away. There’s no back garden, but that wont matter much…”
The word now does not leave her. But they both here it settle, with deadly purpose on the tip of her tongue. She gulps it back down with a mouthful of still hot liquid. She ignores the scolding. She worse than ignores it.
The old mans hands begin to shake again. His daughter cannot stand it anymore; she is around the table and hugging him, strong arms squeezing old bones- as if keep the life from slipping off his tired frame. “Oh, dad.” She sighs again, “Oh… dad…”
They find themselves in the back garden. The tea is not finished, but they are fresh out of words. They watch the dog pacing up and down, it is watching them, its juddering intensifies.
The sun is hurting all of them. The dog’s pelt is dusted with sand and mange. Its eyes are two needles that burrow into the old mans heart, its mouth is saying accusing things, but all the woman can hear is snarling. It has deteriorated very quickly. It is an old dog. Somewhere in the distance, a coyote lets out a manic, barking laugh. The dog jumps at them as if on command, its body twisting through the air as the rope snaps into action, yanking it down to earth once more.
The old man flinches. His daughter does not. He is holding his shotgun at his side; his face has puckered in a way that almost comically echoes that of a baby’s. He is standing very strait. The lady looks at the dog, but keeps the corners of her sight on him.
“How long have you…”
She does not let herself finish. Accusations will do nothing now. She puts her hand on his shoulder. Her father slowly raises his gun.
The damn bursts. His tears make his voice wet; “Goodbye Judy, you’ve been a good girl! You’re a good dog Judy-“ His shaking makes the guns metal rattle against his wedding ring. His eyes are like melting ice cream, and his reddening nose begins to run. “Your such a good dog, I’ll miss you, I- I’ll-”
In the end, his hands are shaking too much. It is his daughter who takes the gun from him and gently presses down on the trigger with the same soft hands that rock her infant son.