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Belle’s Last Walk

BELLE, our beautiful big tan pothound, made her last walk last Sunday, Emancipation Eve. She limped from her home of ten years to the spot on the hill where I had already dug the one sure thing that awaits us all. Whatever is left of Belle lies there now, on the edge of eternity and her favourite cane field.

She was a fine specimen of canine pulchritude and a natural athlete. Let off the leash on a walk, Belle streaked away like a tracer bullet.
She hasn’t run like that this year.
In a matter of weeks, severe bone cancer speedily reduced the scourge of the postman’s motorbike to an invalid forced to take a standing rest every half-dozen steps. Once, she was like a cat with the old couch on which she liked to sleep: she only had to look at it and she would BE on it. For the last week of her life, she couldn’t pull herself up laboriously on to it.
Her last six nights she spent limping from point to point in a small triangle around the living room couch. She lay, whimpering softly, trying to get past the pain in her body to reach sleep, which lasted half-an-hour if it came. That may well have gone on all night; she was always awake in the morning.
Give me a boy for the first seven years, say the Jesuits, and I’ll give you the man and the Holy Ghost Fathers had me until I was 16. I had to overcome the guilt those firetruckers put in my heart to do what I knew in my head was right.
We’d had a morbid dress rehearsal two Sundays before, when the vet forgot the drug that would end life and Belle got a stay of emancipation. On that last Sunday in July, she’d walked quickly across the savannah; barely two weeks later, it took four times as long to reach her last picnic blanket last Sunday.
The vet didn’t forget the drugs this time.
We’d learned from the death rehearsal. Because the pain in her legs was too great to allow her to accept a needle in an artery, the vet had brought a sedative that could be administered intramuscularly. So Belle spent her last minutes on the planet stoned; before the vet arrived, though, her last hour with us was joyous, playful and loving; and, I swear, she was conscious of what was coming, if only because she could read our hearts so well.
The vet, marvelling at the strength in Belle’s spirit and mind, if not her legs and body, had to use an extra sedative to get her relaxed – stoned – enough to get the drip in, to begin administering her end. Even after her eyes glazed over completely, under my fingers I could feel the power of Belle’s heart still beating in her chest.
I’ve seen life leave bodies before and knew what to look for: the moment she ceased to be, her whole face changed. Where our beautiful Belle had been there was now only a dead dog. Those unlucky enough to see a loved one in a casket know that entirely blank look of absence subsuming presence: the body we buried in 1993, that weird puffy face looked nothing like my father. My wife’s cousin Luke, not yet 27, one of the most effervescent people I ever met, what he left behind was so unanimated, it just couldn’t be him. You couldn’t smoke a cigarette with what was left of my Dad, drink a beer with what the undertaker said was Luke or hug this imitation of Belle to your chest.
So I wrapped her in the picnic cloth and lifted her corpse – I know that word is generally reserved for human beings, I know what I mean – and got down into her grave with her, favouring my own untrustworthy knee the way she had favoured her useless front leg.
And then I dragged the pile of hard Bajan earth that I’d piled up a month before over her and patted it down in lieu of her.
One day, soon, if my spirit can take it, I’ll cross the small savannah opposite where I sit now, and stand next to where I saw her last.
And my heart will break all over again but no one will hear me whimper because I will be alone.
And I’ll thank Belle for having been here in the way she was for as long as she was.
And be happy, through my tears, for all the people and things I’ve loved that have filled my life, empty though my heart might be for the moment.

BC Pires is laughing all the way to the crypt

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