Printed in the King’s River Review magazine 08-09-13.
“No, Sheba. You stay here.” Master slammed the door on his car drove away. The sound of his rattling muffler faded into the distance. Sheba stared at the corner where Master had disappeared. She lay down on the curb. She would wait, as always, until he returned.
The old dog closed her eyes, remembering the good times they had shared for so many years. She began to dream of days gone by.
It had been a warm autumn day. Master carried a long metal object and they had tromped for miles, pushing through thick underbrush, under the canopy of huge old trees, splashing across a shallow creek. On the other side, she shook herself, spraying water on Master’s legs. She rolled on the ground until she was dry. Master opened his knapsack and broke his sandwich in two and gave her half. The only sound was the whisper of leaves fluttering down from the trees, drifting into swirling piles at their feet. Master jumped up, and pointed the metal object toward the woods. Kaboom!” Fetch, girl!”
Her long golden hair blew in the breeze as she raced across the meadow, picked up the dead bird and brought it back. Her body wiggled at his words of praise, “Good dog. Good girl. It’s a fine pheasant, isn’t it?”
That night, Master and his lady shouted and slammed doors. Sheba sneaked up the stairs and put her head in the little girl’s lap, hoping her presence would be a comfort. She tried to say, Everything’s going to be alright, with her eyes, though she wasn’t sure it was really true.
The lady and the child left the next day. For several days, Master didn’t get out of bed. He drank from a bottle, and then threw it on the floor. Master forgot to feed her and she had to chew a hole in the dog food bag and drink from the toilet.
In time, better days returned and Master laughed at Sheba’s efforts to cheer him. Occasionally the child visited and filled the house with laughter. When she left, Master cried and drank from the bottle again. Sheba tried, but she couldn’t comfort him.
So that’s how it was for a number of years. Sheba and Master lived alone, and then Master sold the house and moved to an apartment. They never went hunting again. Master let his hair grow long and grew a beard. Some days he didn’t shower and he smelled bad, but Sheba loved him, no matter how he smelled.
Sheba couldn’t remember when her legs started aching or when everything began to look fuzzy and blurry. Sometimes Master called and he’d frown when she couldn’t hear him. And she couldn’t chase the ball at the park any longer. Every day, her world became quieter, blurrier and her legs never stopped hurting.
Several months ago, everything changed−the day the young dog came to live with them. Master brought him home in a crate. “This is Barney. He’s going to live with us.”
Sheba’s head jerked up. Why do you need another dog? I’m your dog.
Barney ate from her bowl, rolled in her bed and chewed up her favorite toys. He pushed his way against Master’s side and slept on his bed. Sheba tried to reclaim her rightful place, but the young dog playfully bit her ears until, seeking peace, she would relinquish her rights and lie down by the fireplace.
Sheba wasn’t able to run and could only sit and watch as Master threw the ball. Barney would bound across the grass, retrieve the ball and drop it at Master’s feet. “Good dog,” he’d say, and for some reason, a pain would sear across Sheba’s chest. And then, Master and Barney went to the park and left her home.
Day by day, Barney became Master’s favorite dog. When Master scratched his head, the young dog would stare into his eyes. Sheba knew that special look. Master had seen her eyes filled with that same love for fifteen years. She had been the one to share his quiet moments. She had been the one to fetch his slippers, bring in the paper, and chase the ball in the park. She had been the one who had witnessed his pain when the lady took the child and never came back. She had been the one to stare into his sad eyes when he drank from the bottle. But things were different now that Barney lived with them. Master didn’t seem to notice Sheba, lying alone by the fireplace.
Sheba lifted her head from the curb. She stumbled to her feet. Had she heard Master’s car? A red pickup truck rumbled past the house.
A sharp pain coursed through her hips and spread into her chest. She walked slowly through the doggy door, panting and gasping for air. Her legs didn’t want to work right. She stumbled across the room and laid her head in Master’s chair. Each breath became an effort.
Her head slipped from the chair unto the floor. Neighborhood sounds outdoors faded and the room grew darker. The only sound was her heartbeat, thump, thump…thump…until it slowed and stopped, and there was silence
Wait! Was that Master’s car?
Master came bursting through the door with the little girl and his lady. As though through a mist, Sheba saw herself rise from the floor, race across the room, jumping and prancing at Master’s feet. Master stroked her head again and again. “Good dog. Good girl.”
His lady went to the back door and threw Sheba’s ball across the lawn. Sheba leaped and caught it in midair before it hit the ground, and there was no pain in her legs. She felt the warmth of the sun on her head. Green trees reached their boughs into a blue sky dotted with puffy white clouds. Her world was filled with vibrant reds, yellows, blues and greens such as she hadn’t seen for years. She could hear the birds twittering in the trees overhead.
She wiggled from her head to her toes. Her tail thumped against her sides. It came to her mind and she knew with certainty that from now on, she would never feel pain. She would always be beautiful, strong and healthy, that Master loved her, and everything was as it should be. And best of all, Barney was nowhere in sight.