We didn't know it would be his last day.
It was a Friday. Thank God it was Friday. I took Felicity to school, had coffee with a friend, went back home to do some work. I walked in the door, let him out of his crate. He tap-tapped around the kitchen a little bit, ate the rest of his breakfast. I stood by the window a long time in the early spring light, reading a book of poetry that my friend recently published. He was there, clicking in and out of the room, a presence and a comfort, my brain tracking his coming and going from the room without fully registering it.
I went into the bedroom and sat at the desk. He followed me in, hopped up on the bed, started to sniff around. He'd been having accidents a lot these past months, so I plucked him from the bed and tried to hold him in my lap like I'd done for two hours the Friday before, absently petting him and murmuring into his silky ear as I worked. He wouldn't settle into me, so I placed him on the floor and he trotted out to the living room.
If only I'd gone and retrieved him, made him sit with me. If only we'd had those two more hours of him nuzzling me, his breath whooshing through that long hound-snout that could get right up in your ear, wet nose tickling. If only I'd known.
I had to go get Felicity, take her to lunch with a friend. Service was slow, we got dessert. We were going to stop at the library on the way home, but found it was closed for a short construction project. Someone looking out for us, maybe. We walked home in the chilly breeze, blissfully unaware, giddy with ice cream.
Felicity wanted to stop at the tulip garden, but I said no, we should go home; Miles has been alone for a long time. He needs to go out. Maybe we can take him to the garden on his walk. "Yes," she said. "He likes to sniff the flowers."
I bet he really needs to go out, I said as we opened the door. Bag down, leash swiped, baggie in pocket. I looked in his crate. He was lying in a strange way. "Miles?" I could see his side moving. He was breathing, but he didn't move. I reached in and lifted him out. He was limp, body warm, nose dry. I laid him down on the rug. He didn't try to stand. Felicity pulled the cashmere throw out of the bench and laid it over him. "Here's a blanket for you, Miles," she said tucking it around him.
I gathered him in my arms; he tucked his nose next to my body. I kissed his head, my tears running down, salt on top of his little nut-scent. I held him, rocked him, whispered in his ear. Felicity tried to comfort me. "He's ok, mama. He's just a little sick." He lifted his head a little.
I carried him in my arms, his warmth huddled against me, my coat flapping in the wind. Felicity patted him as we went. My face in his neck. My voice, wavering but clear, hushed. "Good boy, Miles. You're ok. We love you, Miles."
At the vet, they saw my eyes and they took him from me, and moments later our doctor came and told us. They would make him comfortable but he would soon be gone. My husband would try to get there, but it was rush hour -- few taxis, so much traffic.
"Mama, I don't want another family to take Miles," she whimpered.
I had to tell her. She started to wail, finally comprehending.
We held each other and rocked.
The doctor returned. Quietly, she told us he had stopped breathing and she needed to give him the shot to stop his heart. She was so gentle with our crumpling faces, our disbelief. She came back a few minutes later. She told Felicity that she hadn't wanted him to be scared when he couldn't breathe, that it was better that he was only sick for this one day, for a few short hours, than for a really long time. That he didn't suffer, that the nurses had been with him the whole time since we'd come in the door. That he was never alone.
Joe arrived. Felicity wanted to see our sweet dog. The doctor prepared her for what he would be like, sleeping but not, careful as she would have been with her own children. She brought him in, cradled in her arms, wrapped in pink towels. We covered his head with kisses. We didn't want her to take him away again, but the door swung shut and the new hole in our lives opened up.
"I want to write a book about what a wonderful dog he was," Felicity said.
"Maybe we can get a new puppy," she said.
"I miss Miles," she said at home, the emptiness of his crate echoing at us. She drew pictures. "Here's us, with sad faces, carrying him to the vet. Here's me walking him. Here's a rainbow heart for him, Mama."
"My dog died," she said the next day to a friend's mom, like she was reporting the weather. But at night, the tears came again, for all of us.
"I miss how Daddy would call him a taco head. I miss him sticking his nose up my ear! I miss his little tap-dancing feet on the floor. I miss giving him pets," she said on the way to school today. "We loved him so much, Mama."
The cat sniffs around the apartment. He meows at us, questioning.
We keep looking for him, too.
(Here's the story of us, from years ago.)