The Last Night
by Acacia Grace Oyler
"I'm sorry, but we have a No Pets rule in the hospital." said the receptionist, a skinny bespectacled man whose clothes fit loosely on his frame as though they detested him. The collar tightened around my neck as Jeffery pulled on the leash, not because he was nervous but because he was terrified as he looked at the man hearing, but not accepting, the words.
" My wife...she loved this dog...please...." Jeffery's voice faltered off into the vast silence and stared apathetically at the marble counter, clenching his jaw to hold back tears. I knew the receptionist had heard Jeffery's unspoken words, that Brielle, Jeffery, and I were her last medicine. For I had been Carissa's baby, her darling ever since I had been given to her as a slobbery, furry, wedding present.
The receptionist looked at us, pity detaching him from his stereotypical professional demeanor. I wonder how many deaths he had witnessed, how many times he had seen loved ones torn from their family.
" Just this once ," he muttered.
"Thank you ," Jeffery gasped. Nothing else needed to be said, Jeffery's thanks was understood just as his plea had been.
"You're welcome ," the receptionist said and went back to paperwork, then paused. "I lost someone too," he blurted out, "my sister ... she died last year. Cancer. Every day I miss her." He turned bright red and went back to paperwork. Jeffery looked at him with benevolence, then turned away and walked toward the elevator.
" Can I push the button, Daddy?" asked Brielle, skipping ahead. The small child had no idea what was happening.
" Sure ," Jeffery said, ruffling his daughters hair, then turning his head away so she hadn't seen the grief that had contorted it. Everyone always said Brielle was the mirror image of her mother.
The elevator opened with and we stepped inside. Brielle hummed one of the songs from her Pre-K class while tapping on the floor with her pink sneakers. Jeffery closed his eyes, taking deep shuddering breaths, trying to prepare himself.
I had never felt the raw pain of leaving a loved one. The early section of my life, before I was taken into the Robert's family, was brief. Once I had joined the Roberts, life had become predictable. It had been a comfortable life with a surreal glitter.
The elevator doors slid open and I padded out. The smells made me recoil. It smelled of disinfectant, false cleanliness, and underneath the smell of decaying humans. It was vile, and if it hadn't been for Carissa I would have run out whimpering with my tail between my legs. I have a feeling Jeffery would have done the same.
" Daddy, is Mommy really sick ?" Brielle asked, no longer humming, a worry line appearing on her countenance. My leash tightened again. They had been hopeful she would recover, but then last night, three days before she was supposed to come home the doctor telephoned. He had said that there had been a relapse and other scientific jargon before the plain truth finally burst out in three words. She won't live, but, Brielle, at four, did not understand the concept of a life stopping when hers had only just begun.
"Brielle, honey," said Jeffery, going down on his knees so he could look at her straight in the eye. She met his gaze with honest worry which sent a stab of nostalgia through my heart as I saw the seriousness in her eyes which contrasted starkly with the sparkly headband.
" Mommy is very sick," he said quietly, his voice cracked, and if I had been a human I most likely would have hugged him. Instead, I licked him. Brielle looked at him, tears forming in her eyes, brow crinkling with worry.
"Will she .... be okay?" she asked. The naivete of the question hung
sparkling in the air,
attracting our attention while Brielle looked to her father, desperate for reassurance . That life would always have a Happily-Ever-After, and they could return to the contended bliss she had always known. But his face told it all, and Brielle's face crumpled as she understood, it dawned on her that there was something worse than her toy cat being accidentally chewed by yours truly. It showed clearly in her face, now filled with pain, and similarly echoed on her fathers face and I could only try to imagine the pain at not only losing your wife, but your child's innocence. It would be horrendous, trying so hard to keep your child sheltered, but then their eyes are opened to the heartbreaking reality.
" It will be okay Daddy," Brielle said, placing her small hand in his calloused one. "I'll try to be brave."
" Oh baby," Jeffery said, sweeping her up into his arms, "I never worry about that, it's me you'll have to watch out for." Then they walked hand in hand into the room where Carissa lay.
" Hi Mommy," Brielle said, shyly approaching the bed where she lay, " I made you a picture ."
Ah, the picture. The charm of round headed, one dimensional people, a line for mouth, dots for eyes, and dancing over a rainbow, never fails.
"Thank you so much, monkey!" Carissa said, laying aside the book she had been reading to lift Brielle into her lap. If I had been a human when I had saw her I would have gasped and perhaps fainted. The cheerful, effervescent person I had known was gone and a emaciated shell had taken her place. Skeletal hollows filled her cheeks, and her eyes looked as though someone had erased that part of her face and placed a dark hole there instead. Yet, she was smiling for Brielle and examining over every small detail in the picture while Brielle explained it to her (NO, not a bunny, its a Platypus!), but her hands shook as she held the picture and her laugh sounded falsely bright.
Jeffery stood close, Carissa's hands clasped in his, her face cadaverous. I could tell that in her last night they wanted to make up for the years they would miss: the holidays, family nights, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and parties.
Their conversation was bright, words flowing from all three sides as they tried to tell each other everything that had every happened, everything they had every thought.
"Daddy," Brielle finally said, "I need to go to the bathroom ."
"Okay baby." They opened the doors and walked away, leaving me in the room with Carissa
"I've missed you, Winston ." She said these words weakly, patting the air until her hands reached my fur. A deep ache grew in my heart so I thought I would explode. I wished I could have told her all the wonderful little things she had done for me: jerky-wrapped potato treats, giving me a bath in the backyard which ended in us both being soaked, treating me for fleas, walking me every day, and knowing where my favorite place to be scratched was. In the end it's those sweet, heartfelt gestures that you remember, not the expensive dog bed that felt worse than the old one. Yet, being nothing but a dog, I could do nothing but hang out my tongue, pant, and give her the general happy-dog look.
"I'm scared Winston ," she said softly, " I've tried to beat it, but it feels as though I'm standing on the edge of a dark void that I'm about to fall into. The unknown waits for me, and the world I held so dear is gone, ripped from me. I don't want to let it go, I want to hold onto it until the last breath is pulled from my body. I will hold onto this world, kicking and screaming, until my fingers are pried off and I fall into the void. Winston ....I've fought so hard .....I don't want to leave Jeffery and Brielle—they need me-----but I'm so tired, my life is slipping through my hands and I can do nothing to stop it. Dying is not for the weak. It is pure torture to see, of no fault of your own, your body slowing and muscles becoming weak. People around you suffer because of you and you can do nothing to ease their pain .... Oh Winston !"
I whined unhappily, frustrated at my inability to do anything and horror at the awful feeling that death was coming, his dark shadow and grinning face covering us.
"We're back !"Jeffery announced in a buoyant tone, rushing in to spare the thirty seconds it would take to walk while Brielle chattered about a Shaun the Sheep episode.
Minutes changed to an hour as they talked, voices warm and soothing to me, a reminder of what life had been like and what I wished it could be. Brielle fell asleep in her mothers arm, childish face set in repose. Carissa talked long into the night, but soon her eyes closed too. I, however, stayed sentinel. Death would come creeping through the doors on silent feet and only I could frighten him away. I turned to look at Carissa, a slight smile was frozen on her lips, as she dozed. Suddenly, she thrashed and her eyes flew open as she felt what I had felt. The rotting presence of death.
" Jeffery!" she gasped, though it was more a scream, as she reached out her hand. He leaped forward, grasping the pale, white hand in his while screaming for the doctor. They came, coats flapping behind them as Jeffery held desperately onto his wife with one hand, trying to anchor her soul to earth, and onto Brielle's with the other.
"Do something !" Jeffery screamed. One of the doctors turned to him and pointed to the heart- rate monitor. 47.
The doctors began applying their fancy little machines to her, but I - the dog - knew it was to late. Her soul came to do what it had to do and now it would depart. The doctors, with their fancy machines, could do nothing.
Time seemed to slow down around us, the electronic hospital lights blinding overhead.
Brielle was crying, tears shimmering down her face while Jeffery held her, eyes filled to the bursting with unfiltered grief as he spoke to his wife even though she could no longer hear.
It is a risk you take when you live, to love, to have friends, because sooner or later they will be ripped from you leaving with you with only half a heart. Love for them will never die even though they do, and you will never truly recover.
I remembered a Dylan Thomas poem that Jeffery had read aloud to us a long time ago while an infant Brielle slept in Carissa arms,
"Do not go gently into that good night,
Old age should bum and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night".
Yes, she had raged against the dying of the light, and we were now left to struggle in the darkness left behind, like when a single, burning candle was extinguished in a dark room.
To some extent we all know our time on earth is limited, that one day we will not wake, but it is always a surprise when some ones life is snuffed out.
She is dead. Jeffery's dry, hacking sob was combined with Brielle's childish wail. The sound of grief and human suffering.