I could just barely hear them speak, but I could feel the rumble of their voices through the bed. When I peeked one eye open, Mom and Dad were on their sides facing each other. They spoke in small voices that matched their pinched faces.
My ears perk up when Mom says my name. I can’t help it. I love when they talk about me. My tail wags, slowly because my hips are sore, and Mom and Dad both look at me. For a moment they both look sad. Then it’s gone, wiped away like eye boogers on an early Sunday morning, and they are both smiling.
“Good morning! Sweet Carly girl, good morning!” The words are spoken in cycle, a chant, a morning ritual that we rarely break.
Standing is difficult, slow, painful. The bed is too squishy, and it hurts my hips each time I try to slink across the uneven surface. I manage it, though. I won’t miss out on my morning cuddles. Dash isn’t in the room, so I have Mom and Dad all to myself. These are the perfect mornings. It’s like being a puppy again, back before Dash came into our lives. If only my legs worked like a puppies. I miss running with Dad, and dancing in the kitchen with Mom. Cuddles are great too, though.
Mom pulls me into a hug against her chest, and I fall over by accident. I land without grace. The whuff of air that escapes her makes Dad laugh. Mom laughs too as she readjusts me. Her arms are gentle as she moves me. Then we settle into the ritual of petting. Mom rubs my hips with gentle circles. Dad plays with my paws and rubs my chest.
He finds that one spot, and I try to kick my leg to tell him how wonderful it is. Before I can stop it, a whine escapes my mouth. It hurts to kick my leg. My hip feels like it’s on fire. I am crying. Dad pulls his hand away like I’ve bitten him, and Mom grabs my leg to still it. She moves my leg for me, putting it back to a place where it starts to feel much better.
“You can’t do that. She can’t help herself...And I hate to hear her cry.” Mom says, and Dad nods. He looks defeated.
I lick the air in the direction of his face, trying to tell him that I know it wasn’t his fault. We’ve been to the doctor for that hip a lot lately. I got shots the last couple of times, but they haven’t been helping anymore. It just aches all the time.
“Sorry, pretty girl. I didn’t mean to get you worked up,” Dad tells me softly, and he leans in to get a kiss.
Scratches at the door break our solitary moment. Dash must have heard me crying.
“Mom! Dad! I gotta go to the bathroom!” He whines and scratches at the door.
I can tell that Dad isn’t ready to get up, but he sighs and pats my head one more time. As he turns over and climbs out of bed, I watch him go. Mom continues to pet my side for a few more moments, before she sighs and starts to climb out of bed as well.
“Time to go outside, my girl.” She rolls me over to the edge of the bed so she can pick me up. I haven’t been able to get on or off the bed by myself for a few weeks. Not since I fell. I do my best to make it easy for Mom. I know I am heavy, so I try to stiffen up so she doesn’t have to work as hard to pick me up. “I know you don’t like it, but it’s better than falling...” She tells me, lowering me gently to the floor.
Outside she has to pick me up once more. The stairs are too steep, and Dash likes to knock me over sometimes.
The day is beautiful. There is a slight breeze, and I can smell grass and food. It’s not too hot, so my dark fur isn’t making me uncomfortable. Dash is playing catch with Dad, and they both look so happy. I am glad Dad has Dash, since it’s so hard for me to play anymore. Dad loves to play, so he deserves someone who can keep up with him.
“Let’s go potty, Carly. After we’re all ready to greet the day, we’re going to go on an adventure,” Mom tells me.
Adventure! That’s so exciting. We haven’t gone on an adventure in a while. I hope I have enough energy!
Half an hour later, business accomplished, Mom brings out my jacket and my leash. Dad takes Dash inside, and comes back without him. An adventure with just the three of us? I begin to think this might be another trip to the vet. The only strange thing is that Mom doesn’t call those adventures. She doesn’t like to trick me.
“We’re going to the park! And we’re going to go buy breakfast. It’s a perfect, cloudless day. The best day for a walk,” Mom says. I can’t help but agree.
Dad opens the window, and already I am having the best day ever. I love the way the air blows across my face. It pulls at my cheeks and I start to drool. It’s such a great feeling. People look at me from other cars, and I flash all my teeth at them in a smile.
“I have such great parents, don’t you see? They take me for car rides, and adventures without my brother!” I try to tell these people, and they smile back at me, so I think they understand.
The lady in the drive-thru when we stop for breakfast clearly doesn’t share my excitement. I try to tell her how wonderful the day is, but she just won’t smile. She and Dad exchange stuff, and suddenly the car smells great. Dad has bought me food from here before, as a secret when Mom isn’t with us. He must worry too much, though, because she doesn’t seem to mind me having some now.
She hands me a little circle that is warm and crunchy and tastes wonderful. I gobble it up eagerly. After the first one, though, I find I am no longer hungry. It was too good, I guess. My stomach decided it was happy. Mom looks sad when I won’t take a second little circle, but she doesn’t press.
“We can always try to eat more later, right pretty girl? We have all day, just for you,” she tells me, and she tucks the rest of the food away in the bag. She doesn’t eat anything either. Dad eats a little, but I can tell he puts half of it back in the wrapper. I guess we’re all just too excited for the adventure.
There are leaves all over the ground at the park. We’ve gone to the place by the big water, so everything smells clean and new. I can’t remember the last time we were here, so I cannot contain my excitement. I wiggle my way out of the car, and Mom almost drops me. It is all I can do to wait patiently while they close up the car. I am ready to go.
I pull and I sniff, I wander and I explore. I walk and I walk, and the day feels endless. Mom and Dad try to stop for food, but I can’t stop. I just want to keep going. They can’t possibly be tired, not if I can keep going. It’s like I’ve been filled with a new spirit. For just a moment, I’ve been given my wish. My legs don’t hurt, and I can walk with Mom and Dad like a new puppy again.
Then it all comes crashing down. My leg twists beneath me and a searing, blinding pain runs through my leg. I fall, and I can hear myself cry out. Mom is crying, and I feel so guilty. I lick her hand, and she buries her face in the fur around my neck. I can feel her shudder with each breath, and I start to whine. I didn’t mean to make her sad.
“Honey, don’t scare her. You’re making her upset by crying,” I hear Dad say. Whatever the words mean, Mom goes still. She’s barely breathing, and when she backs up, her face is as pleasant as she can manage.
“I will never forget that sound...” She tells him.
We sit in silence for a while, but it feels wrong. I struggle to stand, even though it hurts. We have to keep going. I have to keep going.
When we finally get in the car, we don’t go home. I am not surprised. The fall was pretty bad, and Mom can see through my pretending. We arrive at the vet, and I know I am going to get another shot for my hip.
The room is small, and there is no tall table. Instead, there is a blanket on the floor. The vet comes in quickly, and Mom can barely speak. We all sit down on the floor, and the vet gives me a shot. It’s not in my hip like normal, but in my arm.
It makes me tired. Mom is upset again. I fight against the tired. I need to comfort her. She needs me, I can’t sleep. Then she is lying on the floor beside me, just like when we go to bed. She pets my sides, and holds me close.
I fall asleep as she whispers she loves me.