In Memory of Pretzel
An Elderly Dog Story
A few years ago (16 March 2014, to be exact) I participated in the Twitter Fiction Festival with a story tribute to my dog, Pretzel, who was getting on in years (and who has passed by now), and also as an adjuct to my book You Are a Dog, which was sort of “about” her but also about every dog (I hope). The trouble with the Twitter Fiction Festival is that when you post it, it forever appears in reverse order and then never seems truly connected anymore (this was before Twitter threads).
At one time I tried reconnecting that story here on Medium, via embedded Twitter entries, but there were so many of them that they tended to hardboil any browser that tried to open it.
So here it is one last time, converted to nice, lovely, Medium text so it will load quickly and read easily and be present here in full forevermore.
You get up and come into the room and he tries to guide you toward the back door but you will not go. You lie down. You have outwitted him.
Up again… but because you want to explore the kitchen for crumbs, not because he wants to guide you outdoors.
What is this new floor? Why can you not walk properly on it? You cannot make your feet stay under you. Where have they put the old floor?
That’s what the man with the power tools and the hammers was doing — stealing the old floor. The good floor. The floor that smelled of you.
You hope they will find this man and bite him. Make him give the old floor back. The floor that was your floor. THIS FLOOR IS IMPOSSIBLE.
The new floor… you have named it “Jankery.” It is the Jankery floor. You hate it.
You will not stand for this Jankery floor.
YOU CANNOT STAND ON IT.
The new floor is mostly in the kitchen, but also in the girl’s room — and UPSTAIRS. Almost the entire upstairs is covered in this abomination.
How can this be? Upstairs used to be a place to go and hide and be away from the world, but now it is a place of panic and misery.
Can you really spend your entire life avoiding upstairs?
How do The Boys even LIVE up there? HOW DO THEY STAND ON THEIR FEET WITHOUT SLIPPING AND FALLING?
You worry for them. They are in danger of slipping and hurting themselves (as you have done). Don’t go upstairs, boys!
But they seem to manage, don’t they. They have no fear and no loss of control on the Jankery floors. Those boys. So reckless.
True, it has become difficult to climb the stairs lately, with the forever pain in your legs, but it had always been worth it before now.
It is no longer worth going upstairs, not even for the crumbs of a sandwich left on a plate near the television.
Not even worth it to find and chew a Lego toy. A bionicle. Remember the Bionicles? So chew-worthy.
Also true, you are no longer as interested in chewing or eating any toy… but sometimes he also has candy or near-empty bags of Doritos.
Not worth going upstairs even for candy or Doritos. Is that possible?
They’ve placed rugs in the kitchen as if this is supposed to hide the fact that the floors are gone.
They must be ashamed of their new naked floors.
You do hope they find that Power Tool Man so that they can retrieve the old floors, and so that he can be punished.
You should go outside now but to go out you will have to navigate the the kitchen and the back steps.
You have fallen in the kitchen and on the back steps before. You do not like them now.
It is actually easier to fall or roll down the back steps than walk down them but also humiliating and so you’d rather not do it.
There is food in the bowl? When did this happen? How did you miss this momentous occasion?
You will eat. Of course you will eat… but as you eat, there is pressure… that pressure means something… what does it mean?
It’s too late to decide, to remember, to know about the pressure, there is no time to go out now, neither hopping nor rolling.
You’ve gone toward the door but too late and he’s chasing and yelling something about having known this would happen.
“Dammit,” he says, “I knew you should have gone out,” he says, “I’m sorry, girl,” he says, “I’m so sorry.”
The pressure is gone and you begin to turn toward the bedroom to lie down because you’d rather not go outside once the pressure is gone.
“No,” he says, “you’re going out.”
But before you’re able to turn back to the bedroom he’s grabbed you up and he’s carrying you through the back door.
He’s carrying you?
Or are you flying?
You did not know he could carry you but he is possessed of unusual strength at the moment.
You light on the pavement near the back steps and since you are out here you might as well pee.
You had forgotten that you had to pee.
Peeing is promising and good.
That second pressure, relieved.
But now you are outside and you wish you were inside where your bed is.
You picture your bed, as if this might bring it to you.
Picturing your bed does not bring it to you, but it does make you long even more for your bed.
To be inside and warm.
To be asleep on your bed.
But the back door is closed now and the front door is all the way to the front of the house.
So you will make your way to the front door, slowly and surely and without question, but definitely slowly and surely.
You will also have to open the gate.
The gate can be tricky, but there is no snow today, so not as tricky today as it is when there is snow.
The snow can sometimes completely prevent you from opening the gate, somehow.
How the snow does this is a mystery, but you know it to be true from your experience with the snow and the gate.
You make your way. Slowly and surely.
To the gate.
You’ve come to the gate, which is closed. Was it closed before you got here or does it only close when you approach it?
The gate is a mystery when you are not near it. The more you question the gate, the less you seem to know.
Once you’ve approached the gate, however, it is almost always closed and latched.
But also you are tired. It seems so much further to the gate anymore.
The driveway is so much longer than it used to be.
The driveway grows longer with age, like a puppy, like your toenails, like the night.
Before you move to open the gate, you lie down in front of it and watch the vague world before you.
You used to watch for passing UPS drivers and squirrels and other phantoms but now you simply enjoy the wind and the new sun.
Every day has a new sun and sometimes the new sun is warm like this one.
You cannot hear the wind so well as you used to.
Just because you cannot hear it, though, that doesn’t mean it is not there.
The wind passes. It grows quiet. It ages, like you.
Your anxiety about the world approaching or passing is removed by the loss of some of your ability to know what is out there.
The whole world has grown quieter.
You are not so able to know when someone or some thing approaches, but this only bothers you in the moment of surprise.
You miss the UPS driver. The passing joggers. The rabbits. The squirrels.
You miss the neighborhood cats (except the ones that live in your house). You miss the post man. The birds. The insects.
But mostly you miss your bed right now.
Your bed has not come to you no matter how much you picture it, long for it, or demand it to come here.
You do not have to be unnerved by the sound of someone or some thing approaching.
But you do miss your bed.
You do not have to be unnerved by anything except the knowledge that some time again today you will have to navigate the back steps.
You will not think about it. You do not have to think about it if you don’t want to.
Get up get up.
Get up get up stand up.
You nose the latch.
You nose the latch…
You have been out here for so long.
You nose the latch but something is preventing it from opening.
There is no snow, but still the gate won’t open.
So you nose the latch and push again and something prevents it — perhaps the ring through the latch is preventing it.
This is wisdom.
Knowing that the ring might prevent the latch from opening is wisdom.
You stand and nose the latch and turn around and push at the gate but the ring prevents it you are so wise.
You turn the other way around and nose the latch and push the gate but the ring still stops the latch. You know. Because of your wisdom.
You lie down and this is what you wanted all along. You want what you have right now because you are wisdom.
Then a sharp noise — a clap — just behind you and there He is… He Who Claps for Your Attention.
He knows that his clap is so much softer these days but still it gets your attention especially this close he is also wise.
He has appeared just behind you without making a noise. He seems so silent these days. Except when he claps for your attention.
You worry about his silence but the whole world seems so silent now.
Is the world ending?
If the world is ending, it is just as well. It is too cold and too bright.
He opens the gate. You are grateful. But now you will have to navigate the front steps.
If you are lucky, the front steps will not be icy. You will not slip on them.
But as you begin to navigate the steps he is there again, his hands around you, supporting you just enough so you cannot fall.
He is holding you. You cannot fall.
Or is he just reaching to pick something up beneath you and while he’s there he’s holding you to keep himself from falling.
It’s hard to know with people. Sometimes their reasons for doing a thing do not make sense.
Holding you, for instance, does not make sense. What’s in it for him?
But if there is something there below you — that makes sense. Maybe he dropped some food?
You glance back nervously, hoping he has dropped some food. You have not smelled dropped food, but it’s worth checking.
“Come on,” he says. “You can do it. That’s it.”
The front steps seem so giant now. Like a memory. A dream. Steps all the way up into the sky.
He is soothing and distracting you. You are certain he has dropped something and doesn’t want you to know.
You look again, hoping for food, but see nothing.
You are near the top. Then at the top.
You turn again to see what he dropped there.
You check his hands and bump them with your nose.
You look at his face, at the door, at the steps. Nothing. No food. But he is smiling at you, rubbing your sides.
“There you go,” he says. “You did it. Good job, girl. Good job.”
Look at his face. At the door. At the steps. What were you searching for again?
“Let’s go inside, girl. Come on.”
He opens the door. Snow Dog comes to sniff and pester you. You grunt softly for her to move.
She does. Too quickly. Always too quickly. Always. Away, back to you, then away again. But no matter.
You lie on the floor near the sofa. You’ll go to your bed later. For now it is enough to lie down. Rest. Sleep.
Some faint memory of dropped food. A dream? A memory? A memory of a dream?
The world is so quiet, even when he brings you a handful of kibble.
He brings the kibble, sits near you on the floor.
He feeds you a few pieces at a time.
This new thing is the best thing.
And then… you sleep.