put down

I just sent this in to Jesus Manifesto; it's a story I wrote years ago when I was upset and needed an outlet. I don't think I ever put it in my journal before. It's called "Put down":

She ran her fingers through his thick hair and scratched the back of his head. He smiled at her. He liked that.

"Good boy," she cooed, "you're a good old dog."

"But unfortunately you have good old dog breath, too." She wrinkled her nose. "Too many meat by-products." Then she moved around behind the big dog and her hands began to work the strong muscles of his shoulders and back. There was still a lot of raw animal power there. And when his large head swung around with its long, jagged rows of teeth, it still inspired a healthy respect. But his fearsome days were over. He slept most of the time now, and when he did get up, it was always a struggle. "But you always get up for me, boy, don't you?" He flashed a wolfish grin at her.

Tomorrow he was supposed to die. Be killed. Though her father always chose to say they were having the dog "put down." She didn't see how that changed anything. She scratched behind his ears and tears came to her eyes. He had been part of their family since she was four―how could they kill him? He was in pain, they said. But he never whined, even when he fell; he always got up and wagged when she came home; he danced around like a puppy when they filled his dish; and he still loved taking a walk, even though he couldn't go far. He still strained at the leash when a squirrel appeared. Strained for life. How could they destroy that?

He was sprawled out now, relaxed by her massage. Then with a twist he was on his back, presenting his fuzzy belly for a rub. She smiled. Her father said she was selfish for wanting to keep him alive any longer. But she didn't feel selfish. And she wasn't asking them to "keep him alive"―just not kill him. She didn't want any special operations or expensive drugs. But why not let him strain at life's leash as long as he wanted to? Why send him away, when he wanted to stay with them?

Her father came into the living room and she turned away, not wanting him to see her crying. "Oh, hi honey," he said. She got up and left the room.

She had to get out. Grabbing her keys, she fled the house and jumped into her beat-up car. Squealed away from the curb. But then she didn't know where to go. She needed to talk to someone, but her thoughts felt too heavy, too adult, to lay before her teenage friends. And she was sure they couldn't answer her questions. Then she noticed she was on her way to the facility where her grandmother lived.

Gramma invited her in without any questions and put on some water for tea. She plopped down on the ugly sofa. "Why do they have to kill him?" she cried. "I mean, I know he's gonna die, everything dies, but he's not dead yet, he's old but he's still alive, you should have seen him just now, he still wants to live, I mean, just look at how he eats, he gulps it down... God! Why do they have to kill him?" She looked at her grandmother, her eyes pleading.

"Because they can't bear to watch him die," said the old woman.

She frowned at that. "What?"

"It's easier to kill him than watch him die," Gramma said softly. "Dead is not so bad. It's the dying we're so afraid of." The old woman went into the kitchen, leaving her to puzzle over that.

When her grandmother returned with the teapot and two flowered cups, she asked softly, "What do you mean, Gramma?"

Her grandmother's lips tightened. "People don't want to see dying. Just look around. They hide it away in places like this place; get the dying out of our homes and our hospitals and hide it in nursing homes and hospices. It's dreadful, really. I have a private apartment here, for now, so it's not so bad. But I've seen where they'll move me if I can't take care of myself anymore. It's not very nice, even if they decorate it pretty and everyone smiles all the time. How could it be? It's a death house." Her grandmother's hand trembled pouring the tea, and her voice softened. "But it gets the dying out of sight. For everyone except us."

She was speechless. Then Gramma noticed her eyes. "Oh, dear, it's not your fault. I got carried away―I'm sorry... Tell me about your dog."

She told how her father explained it, how he said it was compassion, to spare the dog's suffering. "But the dog never complains! If he's suffering, he's taking it better than anyone I've seen. You know, maybe you're right. Maybe it's our suffering he really wants to spare. Dad even said it was his duty. I hate that word!" She fell into an angry silence as Gramma watched and sipped her tea.

Then the old woman put down the cup. "Why don't you bring him here?"

She looked up at her grandmother, who seemed to be completely serious, and she didn't know how to respond. "We're not supposed to keep pets," her grandmother continued, "but no one comes in here. And there's always dogs around, for pet therapy or when relatives bring them for a visit. We could just take him out when you're here. Do you think you could come before and after school to walk him a little? I think I could handle the rest." Gramma was serious. All she could think to say was "He's gonna get worse...."

The old woman smiled. "Yes, I know, he's dying. Like the rest of us here. It's not pleasant, but it's not all bad, you know. I've even come to see that dying is an important part of living, do you believe that? If we're not willing to die, we can't really live. Did you know it even says that in the bible? But there I go again. So what do you think? Are you willing to be with him even though he's dying?"

No one was home when she got back. And with some peanut butter on her fingers it was easy to coax her old friend onto the back seat of her car. Then she tossed in his leash and dish and bag of Healthy Chunks dog food and they made their escape.

The last thing Gramma had said was that when her father started demanding answers she should tell him to call his mother.

There are more stories like this one here: (very) short stories