You have been home about two hours when she brings it up. You’re standing on the concrete that forms a bank for the green on her lawn, a little cold with just socks on your feet but you’re only out here for a short while. You both watch Belle as she trots around slowly, sniffing and moving her head all around her as if aware of something baffling and elusive. Mum says I worry about her and you keep your face closed because you know that Belle is frail and you feel the sorrow that wells at the suggestion not made yet like a needle in you. You look at your mother as she looks at the dog and you say mmm hmm because you are listening and open to what she says.
She is old, nearing seventeen which is good for a dog. She doesn’t see, or hear much at all. She always seems agitated now. Your mothers voice is normal but you know there is weight behind it. She says she walks all around the house. I don’t know if she’s comfortable. She says she could be in pain and inwardly you wince
I wonder (she hesitates or maybe you just think she does) if I should have her put down. Here her voice raises a little, a note of desperation enters as she feels she must explain herself. Belle is old. Belle is not happy.
You nod and you know she’s right and you keep your voice steady as you say should we do it while I’m here then as you think hell there’s no turning back around now.
The next morning Belle walks into your room in her gentle, confused way and mum comes in and lifts her onto your bed. She curls in to a ball, hesitant and weary. She is a tiny shape. You’ve always loved the feeling of her small weight on your bed, next to your legs. You would seek her out when she settled away from you, wrap your feet around her side, pray she didn’t move. You look down at her and gently, slowly touch her back and even then she flinches but she stays in her ball next to you on the bed as you marvel again at her bones through her skin. Such a tiny thing now.
You slide down the bed so she doesn’t have to move and she’s still there an hour later.
Those you do tell ask how will you do it, it will be awful for you because they know you’ve had her since you were quite young and how you get emotional and you smile and agree and talk of other things.
You are at your brothers house and you watch your niece play and laugh and occasionally you almost understand what will happen at six o’clock. Your mother has made an appointment. It seems odd that you can ask someone to do this for you.
Your mother is talkative, she is keeping her quiet lake of grief at bay with her words, she has had Belle for company for longer than you. You are carefully still sheltered behind a wall of not thinking about it. You leave before five, so as to make your appointment. You go home to get her and in the kitchen you slip a little and tears form a barrier between your eyes and the small greying dog, looking blindly up at you. You remember without choosing to when she was a tiny black and brown thing, all fur and miniature legs and bright eyes and a yippy bark, hitting a tiny ball with her head, panting in glee and zooming across the lawn to push it back after you kick it away.
Your mother asks if you want a leash on her and you say it’s ok, you’ll hold her. You lift her, she weighs hardly anything at all and you carry her to the car, climb into the back. With the window down it is cold but she has always loved to have her face in the wind, used to ride in the car all the time. You want her to have this and you smoosh your face into her side and her mouth is open in the wind and she leans back to sniff your face.
It seems a shame to cry like this in front of strangers but you don’t even have it in you to care. There are two people in the waiting room and you don’t look at them much, but they murmur in the background. She is jumpy but you hold her tight while your mother talks to the lady at the desk, pays the fee. You are silent, but for occasional murmurs of comfort for Belle. You don’t want to talk to the lady at the desk for you are steeling yourself.
When you ask your mother if she wants to say goodbye her voice breaks and she says just go so you turn and you open a door and behind it is a man who smiles at you because he knows why you are here. You ask him if this is the right thing, your voice hitching and your words sliding around your sobs awkwardly. You tell him: she is old, she’s not happy. He nods and says her so thin is not a good thing, it could be any number of things that all point here and he pats her and blows in her face to engage her, to make her happy and you love him for knowing that she matters. He takes her away for a catheter and says wait here, sit down, I’ll be back in a minute.
Not for the first time you feel this can’t be happening, not because people’s dogs don’t die, but because the shock of such grief, such a kind of crying out loud in public as compared the usual cadence of your life is extraordinary. You sit but you’re thinking oh god she must be scared, why am I here, she must know what if it went wrong what if they just do it I need to be with her she must be scared and I need to comfort her how can I comfort her when I brought her here to die and you pace in a tiny back and forward motion and you’re crying and craving the last tiny space you’ll get with her and the minutes stretch and you feel like you’ll have to pull open the door at the back of the room because it’s surely been too long and what are they doing and then the vet comes back in with Belle and he puts her on the table and you feel her bones through her skin again.
He has a needle and he says I will give her a little, and she will go to sleep then I will compress the syringe and that will stop her heart and you think, oh, her little heart.
You have your arms around her, her tiny frame and you tell her she is good dog, that you love her. He pushes down a little and she is agitated but soon she does fall asleep and you can’t control your voice and you wail a little as she is there sleeping because it’s a lie and he pushes down on the syringe again and you want to yell at him to stop, it’s not too late yet, she is still alive and can stay alive and your little Belle for a while but it’s already decided so you watch him stop her heart.
She is so still and he has a stethoscope. He puts it to her chest for a moment and says in a very soft voice she’s gone. You cry loudly, you can’t not cry loudly how could this have happened, how have you let this happen, how is she so still and you can’t stop noticing her small frame feels heavier now and how she is still warm, her little body.
Later in the car you swear you feel her move, and you horrify yourself imagining her buried but awake but your mother says no, there’s nothing. You bury her in the backyard next to Jake, your mum has dug the grave this morning, knowing she wouldn’t have the strength tonight, tonight is given over to her, to what she meant.
Your mother goes back inside for the shovel and you look at the small red bag the vet gave you and you tell her you are sorry that you did this. I am so sorry.
She is covered over with dirt. Later you will feel as though your eyes are broken, that too much salt water has made them permanently blur. You can’t sleep for wondering if she knew when you took her there that you were betraying her. You ask your mother and you curl up next to her as your eyes blur again and she says no, sweetie, she didn’t know, she was old, it’s better this way and you both talk about her and what a good, good dog she was, how she really wasn’t her anymore anyway and though you feel better you cry yourself to sleep, because you are full up of tears that must be evacuated whether you like it or not.
The next day you are so heavy. You feel weighed down and you get up and dressed too early for when you finally slept but you and your mother drive you to the airport and you look for parks and joke about having to walk a long way. You worry about your mother in her house without the tiny dog following her, needing her assurance. Your mother is quieter now, you think she’ll fall apart more when you’ve left. You say goodbye at the gate and sleep on the short flight home.
It’s easy once at home to get on with things, because what else are you going to do, you can’t stop because your dog is dead. This is special kind of sorrow, it will brown if you air it too much. After a few days, you think you can’t keep being a little quiet, because she was a dog, that worse can happen and has and you feel foolish for the consistent crying when you are in bed. You are more tired than you’ve felt in a long while and you mostly put it down to being away, not sleeping well. But, you feel better when you’re talking and working and soon it’s easy to be the normal you and the times when you are stabbed with guilt that you killed her come less and less frequently now.
But, you will be at the sink, or walking to the tram, or in a park and still be floored by the memory of her small, warm weight in your arms, of your feet around her in the dark as she sleeps.