& Caesar

Caesar the dyspeptic German shepherd: interred on March 15, 2002. The shovel cut the earth three midday hours. Bernard dug the hole. Twice, solicitous and somber, Linda interrupted the labor with a new can of beer. Wrapped in a bed-sheet, Caesar lay next to her deepening grave. Bernard rubbed the rim of his palm, felt latent blisters. He kneeled, scooped her weight -- his back tight and sore, her body warm. Carefully, hesitant to let her drop, he laid her on the clay. The burial cured dyspeptic Caesar.

Daily, Caesar eats from Pecan's bowl. Her own bowl contains hard kibble, and hard kibble grinds in her stomach like gravel. Pecan eats a spoon-piled mound with little licks. She eats only some, and Caesar eats the rest. Pecan's food also pains Caesar's stomach, but it is a softer pain.

Pecan paws through the house -- frail, incontinent, confused. Linda brushes her, since she no longer grooms herself. Caesar crouches on the kitchen linoleum, creeps to the shore of the living room carpet. Bernard refuses to let her cross. A touch of gas exiles her to the garage.

In the morning, Caesar smells salmon heaped in Pecan's bowl. Saliva runs in her mouth. Her tail bats the air. With her rough nose in the dish, she breathes the taste of the pink butter-soft chunks. The salmon gone too soon. Front paw on the dish, she licks the surface. The taste becomes faint. And she sleeps.

Caesar dreams her pains are cured. Instead of paws and fur she is limbs and skin. She is a dancer in ballet slippers and a milk-white silk chemise, stepping glissade on the ice of a frozen river. The breeze ripples her lacework hem. Her tight-strung thighs, arque knees, slender cou-de-pied, all are bare. Over the muted brass and bass cello sings a castrato.

A bone is a bone is a bone

And every dog is alone

The sky rolls through grays, changing keys with the tune. The wind strings a melody of clouds. Between the dark coasts of audience and orchestra, her slow terre-a-terre, her arms in empty carriage. Her hands, tipped with bone-slender fingers, swirl at the wrists. With each pas de chien, her slippers melt ice; raise a steam, ghostly thin.

The pills, intended to end Pecan's long suffering, missed their mark. Linda discovered Caesar, muzzle resting on the dish. Distraught, she pleaded with Bernard to leave work, told him that the blank eyes looked accusing. She wrapped Caesar in a thin milk-white sheet. Shortly her husband arrived. He hugged her, ran his thumb across her wet cheeks. She said to him, God, it's easy to die. Bernard buried Caesar. Stacked rocks on the dirt to protect the grave.

After dinner, Bernard dozed in his chair. An electric pad warmed the small of his back. Each tense spasm woke in him a new thought: about how the dog weighed so much more than the cat, about dosage, about a body that never went stiff.

On her way upstairs, Linda kissed Bernard on the crown. She said, Thank you for coming home so quickly. He touched her waist and said, I'll be up soon. She patted his shoulder. Then, like a dream, she shifted away. And Bernard let the heat warm the deep small place of his back.If she's still awake, thought Bernard, I should say how nice it is to lie down beside her.

About the author:

JM Crimmins lives in Seattle.