by Roger Real Drouin
She’s unsteady now on her feet—that’s the medicine. Phenobarbital, strong stuff. She lifts her white-striped muzzle, sniffing the air and looking toward the early light. We’ve got some time, a little time, so we stay here and receive the day’s warmth.
Once, she was a just a pup, close by. I pour some water out for the pup and the last of the coffee from the thermos into the stainless mug. The coffee’s no longer hot, but it’ll do. Myrtle warblers trade their echoes and flicker through the oak’s branches.
Listening to the warblers, the hound mutt pup stretches to the only patch of pale light washing through the dense hammock. Lying on her side, the hound pup turns to me.
“We’ve got time, girl,” I say. And we stay until after the coffee is finished.
I put the thermos back in the pack, and the hound mutt is ready. She bounds ahead on the trail, stopping soon to wait for me to catch up. From fox’s low road we take the narrow trail a good way south and further east through the last of the hammock. We hike past the first of the pines when the warmth of the sun comes sharp and bright, the hound running ahead, her faint, white-striped, narrow doe muzzle sniffing the wind when she stops to wait.
We stay out here, under the palmetto, let the sun warm us. Facing the light, her markings whiter and her fur blonder than her pup fawn-coat. Her eyes tired. I haven’t rested. But we’ve got time. I drink the almost last of the coffee, the warm, metallic, burnt taste on my tongue.
We hike further, through the tallest of the slash pines, further from fox’s low road, from the truck, from my dusty apartment and neighbors arguing, from my old man, who had moved on a long time ago, from the girl who left only a faded shirt.
Low clouds hang like wildfire haze. I get used to the weight of the rucksack but pull the straps just to relieve some of the pressure on my shoulders. I feel the sun warm on my neck and arms. We take the trail past the lone scraggly scrub oak, crossing the tiny rabbit tracks, past the yellow seedbox growing up from the thorns. The hound stops.
“What do you smell, girl?” All I smell is me, and the wind. The wind almost as strong as the sun, smelling like steel-just-sanded-bare, I think. We hike further. Before her, I resided alone, and lived alone. But there are two shadows wandering now.
She circles, the slow, measured steps of the hound mutt fourteen-and-a-half years old, until she finds a good spot among dirt and grass and warmth. The hound mutt closes her eyes, breathing deeply, falling asleep, dreaming.
Time passes, and Sandy the loyal hound leans against my legs this last time, leans her narrow doe muzzle close. In scientific but soft words, the vet explains the procedure: first the injection, through the catheter, for sedation. Then, the euthanasia. You’re doing the right thing, she says. But hell, I want to turn back time. Freeze it. Sandy has her slender paw on my sneaker now, her heartbeat still fast, but more steady. The vet has the sedative ready; she tells me to talk to Sandy.
“You’re alright girl,” I say.
“You won’t feel anything.” — I focus on speaking because it matters. — “We can’t stop time. But we’ve had it, time, haven’t we?”
She looks back at me. For a moment, just a moment, but this is enough, she’s stopped on the trail there waiting for me. Then she leans lower, the sedative slowing her heartbeat, her intent eyes relaxing. She’s leaning, falling asleep. The vet tech looks down. During one of the last visits, examination over, I saw her pet Sandy’s chest gently.
Sandy’s asleep now. The tech and vet leave quietly.
She’s asleep, peaceful. We’re left in the room together.
Bio: Roger Real Drouin’s novel No Other Way was published in 2012 by Moonshine Cove Publishing. His short stories have appeared in the Potomac Review, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Grey Sparrow Journal, Pif Magazine, Pindeldyboz, and elsewhere. His essays have appeared, or are forthcoming, in the journals Border Crossing, Concho River Review, EarthSpeak Magazine, and Sugar Mule.