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Sophie's Last Walk
A man and his elderly dog near the end of her life
woman born in 1948
Love to write in many genres
AUTHOR'S E-MAIL ADDRESS
|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (1)
Vermont Summers (Essays) My memories of childhood summers in Vermont, at a time when children had an opportunity for unstructured play and adventure. [717 words] [Adventure]
Sophie's Last Walk
April 26, 2008
Word count: 1064
It was mid-September. A heavy, damp fog clung to the ground in the early morning hours. It blanketed a persistent chill leftover from the previous night – a chill that foretold of the long, cold New England winter waiting its turn.
Inside a small clapboard bungalow, Jake Thorton lay awake in his bed, alone. His head throbbed. He felt as if a stone was lodged in his throat, but he had cried enough. The time was approaching, creeping toward him as inevitably as the tide that rolled into the bay at the town’s edge.
He listened to the clack, clack, clack of the old dog’s overgrown nails as she hobbled awkwardly across the wood floor toward his bed. Her left hind leg gave out, suddenly, sending her to the ground in a bony heap. She gazed mournfully toward her master and whined so softly he barely heard her. She didn’t attempt to get up.
“I’ll get you, Sophie, old gal,” he said, as a large tear rolled from his eye down his cheek. “Good girl.”
He gazed at her a full minute before crawling out of bed to help her. Her eyes looked gray, clouded with cataracts. She could still see him, though. Her long tail thumped against the floor while she watched him.
Bending over her, he noticed the dull tufts of red fur that had fallen off her protruding ribs and hips. They lay around her like miniature mounds of straw. As he
scratched her head, she closed her eyes and stretched a little so that her neck and shoulder nestled onto his feet. She was in no hurry to get up.
But he knew she must. He wanted this, the last day, to be more than the crippling, heavy grief that engulfed him.
“Come on, Sophie,” he whispered, placing his strong hands under her hips. “Let’s get up. We’re going for a walk.”
Hearing “walk,” the dog lifted her head. As Jake hoisted up her body, she positioned her front legs about six inches apart. But she was not able to control the hind legs. He let her body down gently, holding her hips until her weight settled on all four paws. She took a few tentative steps and did not fall. When Jake came toward her with a leash, she hopped twice. He remembered her puppy days. Then she had danced and leaped in circles around him, whenever she spied the leash in his hand.
The fog began to lift as they left the house, but not the chill. Wearing his wool jacket, hat and gloves, Jake started down the familiar path with his companion. For the last 15 years they had turned left down the sidewalk toward a creek in the forest of sugar maples. This time of year the leaves were mostly green - just a few had turned yellow and red. In past years, Jake thought about how brilliant the colors would be in a few weeks. Today, he looked down, absorbed in the tapping of his dog’s feet on the walkway. She clicked along with a steady rhythm, her head up.
“We’ll make it,” he thought to himself. “She’ll enjoy walking on her favorite trail.”
Years ago there had been an informal gathering of dog owners who met regularly at the creek to play various sports with their pets. The retrievers loved to fetch sticks, plunging lustily into the water after the thrown objects and bounding joyfully back to their masters’ feet, sticks in mouth. Sophie was lady-like and preferred a dainty dip of her feet into the edge of the creek. Sometimes, she ran a few paces with other dogs, but usually she hurried quickly back to her owner’s side to lean against his legs. From there she watched her fellow canines safely.
Jake man enjoyed those times with his dog and the other people. They never discussed their private lives. They were there to be outdoors and enjoy their dogs, not to socialize beyond that. He wondered where they were now. After the factory closed, many people had moved away, taking their animals with them.
Today, they were alone on the wet, pebbly path along the creek. Jake was glad there was no thick mud. Sophie would have had a hard time negotiating her weak legs in the squishy clay. He let her stop and sniff bushes and trees. Then he carried her up a steep hill when the path turned sharply to the right, away from the creek. He wanted her to take one last roll in the meadow above.
A lone hawk soared slowly over the trees in the high meadow. There were no sounds except the man’s breathing and his dog’s gentle panting. Some of the grasses had already turned brown, but they felt soft as the two companions sat down.
“Sophie, do you want to take a sniff around,” Jake asked. She gazed up at him, but did not move. Then, with a loud groan, she eased herself down and lay on her side. He took off her leash, but she showed no interest in her surroundings. He sat beside her, stroking her silken ears.
As she fell asleep, he thought about the upcoming appointment for the hundredth time. He would stay with her. He owed her that.
“No one’s loved me better than you, Sophie, old girl,” he whispered into her ear. She turned her head toward him and banged her tail slowly.
A wrenching sob escaped the man’s chest as he stood.
“God help me,” he thought.
The walk home took almost an hour. Sophie’s legs gave out a few times and Jake carried her as often as he could. At one time she had weighed over fifty pounds. Now, since she had stopped eating, she was closer to forty. Even so, he couldn’t carry her the whole way.
This time, she sniffed nothing. She carried her head low. Her tail drooped. With unfocused eyes, she wobbled along the path that used to give her so much pleasure.
When they finally reached home, Jake lay Sophie on his bed and buried his face into her warm neck. Her fur smelled like rich soil and meadow grasses.
“I love you, Sophie,” he burbled. “…so hard to say goodbye.”
With a single thump of her tail, she licked his hand and fell asleep.
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© 2014 Joy Oakey
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