18: Daddy Can

18: Daddy Can

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Daddy Can

Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is a life diminished.

~Dean Koontz

The end was nearing for Daddy. The brilliant mind, fastidious habits, acerbic wit — they’d all disappeared a few years earlier. He’d been a leader of men. Now he had trouble guiding his fork to his mouth.

Gone were the days of erect posture and immaculate grooming, well-cut suits and blinding white dress shirts. It was easier now to keep him in pajamas. He was still terribly handsome for a man of his years, but shaving that cleft chin was a chore.

He’d cursed us recently for installing a zoo in the back yard. It was “unsanitary.” It was “unthinkable.”

It was the great-grandchildren’s inflatable toys bobbing in the pool.

I had always relied on Daddy. No matter how big the problem to be solved, my first thought was, “Daddy can.” I didn’t know how to let him go.

The time came when a gray hearse took him from us.

When I saw him next, he looked plastic, made up. We, as a family, do not fear death as some do; we never skirt the subject in conversation. So it was no great surprise to anyone but the undertaker when I shooed him away and reapplied Daddy’s make-up myself. My father would never go out in public not looking his best. He didn’t “feel” right, his skin not responding as it would have in life, but I’d expected that.

Mother had chosen his navy suit for burial because it made his eyes so very blue. It didn’t matter that nobody would see those clear blue eyes again.

Arriving home from the service, my heart in shreds, I found my closest companion of thirteen years whimpering in her dog bed. The knots and lumps under her skin had reached critical mass, and she shivered with pain. Now? It couldn’t be. How could I give up my best friend today, of all days?

My skin went clammy, and I felt faint. I lay on the floor and wrapped myself around her, murmuring soft words with a coppery taste in my mouth.

Eventually, my husband pried my arms from her and lifted her, bed and all. “I’ll take her back to the vet and see if he can do anything for her. But if not . . .”

I told her goodbye.

Bereavement settled its weight on me. Moving through quicksand, I laid aside my black suit, now dappled with gray fur, and huddled between cold, white sheets to wait. God, how can I bear this? I could not judge the passage of time. I began to hear something, some mournful sound, low and guttural. The volume grew. I was alarmed by it, but the heaviness of despair held me fast, and I could not rise to investigate. It morphed into a wail, and I began to shake, as I realized the noise was coming from me.

By the time he returned, arms empty, I had quieted. “He put her on an IV drip and will keep her overnight, but he doesn’t know of anything else to do. We’ll see how she is in the morning. Then we’ll decide.”

You will decide. I cannot.

When sleep finally overtook me, it was the heavy, drugged feeling of one who doesn’t care about ever waking. Daddy came to me in a dream.

He wore the navy suit he was buried in, but he’d taken off the jacket and neatly rolled up his sleeves the way he had every evening after work when I was a girl. He was holding my dog. A balm of warmth permeated me, carried by his subtle spicy scent and the light that came from everywhere.

“Don’t worry, child. I’ve brought her back to you.” His baritone voice was warming and silky, like his favorite single malt.

I had so many questions, but he was gone, and I would never see him again. The warmth of his light receded.

I squirmed back into the cocoon of my bedding. Many hours passed. I was unaware of the sun forcing its way around the edges of the drapes, trying to break in.

Then a familiar sound dragged me out of the numbness — the clicking of thick toenails on hardwood. I pushed my hair out of my face and pulled myself upright as my husband lifted her onto the bed beside me, stubby tail wagging her entire rear end, wet nose nuzzling my neck. I held her tight and stared a silent question at my husband.

“The vet said he came in early this morning to check on her and found her trying to claw her way out of the kennel. She seems fine. Tumors have shrunk. He can’t explain it.”

Gratitude ran down my cheeks. “Daddy can.”

~Kemala Tribe

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