Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Nurse the Hate: The Last Cold Snap

I remember the last cold snap we had like this.  It must have been January because it was pitch black by the time I was driving home from work.  I drove into the driveway and heard the snow crackle under the tires.  When it sounds like you have a gravel driveway, you know the weather report says “really fucking cold” with that time tested graphic of ice on the thermometer. 

I had to stop halfway into the driveway and park in the street because I was having firewood delivered.  Two young boys had the unenviable task of hauling and stacking wood across the frozen tundra backyard against my back fence line.  Although they were in snowmobile suits, their faces were glowing bright red with shiny runny noses.  I walked over to them to check in with their progress.  As I spoke to them, I noticed a strange large shadow to the extreme left of the fence line.  It was dark in the back corner, but something was unmistakably there.  I broke off my conversation with the boys and crunched cautiously in the snow over to the large object on the fence. 

As I got closer I saw the profile of a large dog, about the size of a Newfoundland, caught on the fence.  The dog wasn’t moving.  As I got closer I saw his collar was caught up on the fence, like he had some type of accident while trying to hop over it.  He was dead.  He had hung himself on the fence.  His body was cold and had already stiffened.  I had the image of him struggling to free himself in the late afternoon light with no one home to possibly see him struggle.  I love dogs and this image was way too heavy for me to think about.  I tried to banish it from my head as I furiously hoisted the dog free from the fence.  He landed with a dull thud on the hard ground.  The boys stared at me with muted surprise, their arms to their sides. 

I recognized the dog.  I had seen him one time before.  He had hopped over the fence and surprised me one night by staring in the sliding glass door at night.  It was startling to see a large animal staring at you when you don’t expect to see it.  I opened the door to try to figure out whose dog it was, but he gracefully leaped the fence by placing his paws on the fence line and effortlessly hopped over.  I knew with some certainty how he had died now and once more the image of the helpless animal struggling filled my head.  

I could see my breath billow out white on the dog’s body as I looked for a tag to identify him.  I found a tag with address and phone number.  Fuck.  I was going to have to make this call and tell these people their dog had died.  Fuck.  I opened my cell phone and called the number.  A woman answered.  I asked if she had a missing dog, and she said she did but without explanation handed the phone to an older man.  “I don’t really know how to tell you this, so I’m just going to be direct.  I came home and found your dog in my backyard.  He had an accident and he died.  I thought you should know right away.  I…”  The man cut me off with a high pitched cry.  He asked me for my address and hung up. 

I stood outside for the next ten minutes with the boys waiting for the man.  We engaged in that awkward small talk people have when they don’t know what to say, reviewing what had just happened as if we all had somehow forgotten.  A pickup truck pulled into my driveway.  An older man and a big teenage boy got out of the truck dressed in blue collar work outfits.  I slowly walked up to the older man and explained what happened, not really finding a way to somehow cushion him from coming to the same terrible conclusion of the final turn of events for the dog.  The boy didn’t say a word and emotionlessly picked up the stiff dog corpse and placed it in the back of the truck.  The older man began to cry.  I said I was sorry, feeling somehow responsible.  The man ignored me, climbed into the driver’s side and drove away.  I walked inside my house as the boys resumed stacking the wood.  I never saw any of them again.



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