Waiting for life to load…
Mr. Tinker feels bad. Yesterday a woman said, “You look great.” Maybe, but he’s sick. Sometimes when a person begins to look younger, trimmer they might be in the first stages of illness: that wonderful time when weight disappears and the skin tightens, just before the life span collapses into the river.
The image makes him smile.
A message appears on Skype. Malcom Staples wants to discuss his property. Who is Malcom Staples he thinks. A veterinarian is supposed to be here in the next few minutes, but the vet will doubtless be late, so maybe there is time for a quick call. He dials Malcom’s number. The phone rings and a young voice answers.
“I’d like to speak with Malcom Staples please.”
“Yes, this is he. Is this Mr. Tinker?”
“The same,” he says.
“I’m glad you called back Mr. Tinker, I went by your houses, the ones for sale across from the football stadium, and I just wanted to ask a few questions.”
“Sure, but first who am I speaking with?”
Malcom then tells his story. He is a real estate developer who worked for one of the biggest homebuilders in Texas, but he has recently started his own company. “I see you want to sell three homes and a lot.” There is a pause and Mr. Tinker can hear papers shuffling. “I just have a few questions.”
Malcolm discusses pricing, costs of construction, city permitting, the risk of building three or four spec homes and then he comes to the main question: what is the rational to ask $2.4 million for three old homes and a lot? Mr. Tinker explains the vision. All three are teardowns and would be replaced by game day homes for rich football fanatics. The street could be renamed, “Game Day Drive”.
As he talks, 1954 settles down into the room. Mr. Tinker can see his father sitting in an old Ford, looking at the three houses as if they are pieces of art, possessions for veneration. “This is the future,” he says. “Each of you kids will inherit a house. Don’t ever let them go. I’ve been homeless. It’s something to be avoided. Remember; keep the wolf away from the door.”
The front gate buzzer sounds.
“Malcolm excuse me, I have someone calling. I need to go.”
“No problem Mr. Tinker. I think I have enough information. I need to talk to my partners and run a few numbers, but I’ll get back to you in a week or so. This sounds like a deal we might be interested in. Thanks again and goodbye.”
On his way to the front gate he picks up the little white dog. He opens the gate; it’s the veterinarian with an assistant. None of them shake hands and the assistant carries a plastic, see-through box filled with small vials and different instruments.
Mr. Tinker is breathing hard.
“Is this the dog,” the vet asks.
“Yes, this is Lady. She’s nineteen years old.”
“Besides her age, why do you want to euthanize her?” Mr. Tinker thinks about the word “want”, maybe it is the right word, but he lets it pass not wanting to get into the emotional weeds. For months he has been gauging how much she is suffering. Is it enough to take her life away? Who is hurting more, him or her? Lady is shivering as they talk; she probably knows something is up, Mr. Tinker thinks.
“Well, she’s blind, deaf, and losing her sense of smell. For the last two months she’s been having seizures. I give her calming juice, but they’re getting worse. About three weeks ago she started prancing in a circle like a horse, raising her knees sharply, head straight up, stiff neck, and panting with her tongue extended.”
The vet touches Lady and moves her head, lifts her ear flaps. “Hmmm, I don’t think it’s an ear infection, probably a brain tumor.” The assistant nods, “Yes, a tumor.”
Mr. Tinker spreads a towel on a patio table and places Lady down. She is the little dog who has been with him in several countries and too many houses to count…nineteen years. How can that be? She is more than a dog. She is the specks of love in his wife’s eyes, the blood coursing in his daughter’s veins, the long afternoon of play and laughter on sun-swept grass, all of these things and more…she is part of his waking and sleeping life, imprinted upon everything, a carbon shadow. She continues to shiver and swivels her head, fighting something in the air. The vet gently strokes her back and rubs her ears. The assistant reaches over her with a syringe in his hand. He injects Lady in her right hip with a tranquilizer and within a few seconds, Lady closes her eyes and goes to sleep.
“Let’s wait a bit for it to take full effect,” he says. Mr. Tinker can hear the air passing in and out of Lady’s nostrils. Unconsciously, he begins to count her breaths.
After a few minutes, the vet takes the second shot and puts the needle into her left leg. Almost immediately her body shifts into an even deeper limpness. Twenty-one…twenty-two, Mr. Tinker counts the breaths, but he doesn’t reach twenty-four and he sees Lady’s eyes open wide to show the cataracts that have made her blind and surely death is blind.
The vet waits for five minutes and with a stethoscope listens for her heart. “There is nothing. Let’s wait another five minutes,” and when he listens again there is still only silence. “She’s gone,” he says.
Mr. Tinker pays the $1,400 pesos and they leave. He sits at the table and places his hand on her body. She is warm. He tells her goodbye once again and goes into the house.
He checks his messages and there is something from Malcolm. “Just talked with my partners and we will need to check a few things with the city. Give me a week or so.” Mr. Tinker knows that such a communication in the real estate business means Malcolm’s partners, if they really exist, are not interested.
He takes a pillow case out of the laundry and returns to Lady. Her fur seems to be moving, ever so slightly up and down, but he realizes it is only what he wants to see. Her invisible breathing is like the pain we feel in our hand after it has been amputated, trying to pull back what is lost. He places her body inside the pillow case and carries her up to the garden. With a pick and shovel, he begins to dig a grave. As he works through the roots and rocks, he thinks about how the Serbs made the Bosnians dig their own graves. How the SS did the same thing with the Jews, the Gypsies, the Communists, homosexuals, and those with physical or mental abnormalities. ISIS and the Japanese did it. Many armies and different sorts of military forces make victims excavate their own graves. It’s easy to pull a trigger, hard to dig a hole. He wonders what would have happened if the victims refused to dig the holes. “Just shoot us now,” they’d say, “here on the flat, good soil.” At the least it would have slowed the process down and maybe even ended it, since people like the SS and the Serbs were such lazy bastards. Digging is hard he thinks and then he decides the hole is deep and wide enough for Lady’s body.
Mr. Tinker lays her down gently and covers her with dirt. The little mound on top represents the space her body takes up in the hole and his mind wraps around her, there in the black earth.
Back on the patio he sits in a reclining chair and thinks about his father and the houses. He watches as men tear them down as his father looks on. A ghastly image of the killing fields in Rwanda and Sudan invades his mind, but Lady saves the day. She is running around at a party, playing with children. It is almost dark now and the birds are flying in, taking to the trees for the night, bickering over the best limbs. Finally, the sun disappears completely and he remains on the chair listening to sounds. Thunder is in the distance and a light rain begins. Motionless, he feels the drops hit his body and slowly his clothes become soaked and then he begins to weep, nothing strong, just enough for the tears to run down his cheeks and mix with the rain. He stays still for a long time and he begins to wonder if he has the will to get up and go into the house where the objects that supposedly define his life wait upon shelves and inside boxes and at the foot of his bed.