- Dog Days
An aging man should not own an old dog. George turned thirteen in July. His dog days foreshadowed the doldrums into which I am slowly nodding. In past summers George loped down the lane behind the barn, air currents spinning salty fragrances around him, pulling his nose right and left. This summer George wallowed through troughs of grass, his hull slipping warped, no longer scudding in the bright sun. His head hung down, and the skin under his jaw looked like a flying jib stripped of wings. During days he wandered without purpose, one moment hunching by the steps leading to the backhouse, appearing to want to go outside, the next scratching the screen door on the porch asking to come in. Time has swept his helmsman overboard, and his tiller swung directionless. When not pitching and yawing, he clung to me, seeming to need assurance and affection. Occasionally I became exasperated and shouted, “Go to your bed.” Immediately thereafter I imagined myself tottering toward the kitchen in slippers and bathrobe, weary children saying, “Go back to bed, Dad.” At nine o’clock every night I carried George upstairs. I set him atop a pillow on the floor next to my bed, then I covered him with a blanket. At a quarter after eleven I lugged him back downstairs and took him outside so he could pump himself dry for the voyage through the night. Afterward I carted him back upstairs. Shortly before six in the morning, he stood and flapped his ears to awaken me. I took him back outside, after which I built a fire in the kitchen stove and he fell asleep on a pad beside my rocking chair.
“You live a dog’s life,” Vicki said one night.
“Not yet,” I answered, “not quite yet.”
In the past George resembled a trim bark. This summer he became a lugger. Heavily laden and lumbering, he bolted meals and lived, Vicki [End Page 28] said, to eat. “Like me,” I thought. Once a week I went to Tim Hortons, a doughnut shop in Yarmouth. I drank a medium-sized cup of coffee, always in a ceramic cup, and ate a Dutchie, a rectangular wad of glazed dough, spotted with raisins and fat. Trips to Tim Hortons were the high points of weeks in Nova Scotia, and I looked forward to them eagerly. One Wednesday an old man sat across the aisle from me, a worn version of myself, I thought. The man’s back curled like the upper half of a question mark. He wore a green and white checkered shirt, a red baseball cap, Canadian Tire sewed above the bill, boots, and dark khaki trousers held up by red suspenders. Time had shrunk the man’s hips into coat hangers, and the trousers hung loosely from his waist, wrinkled like laundry bags. His two middle-aged daughters accompanied him, one sitting on his right, the other on the left. That morning they signed him out of “the home” for an outing and for a treat brought him to Tim Hortons. The man was deaf, and while he ate a sugar doughnut, the women leaned toward each other and talked over his shoulders. The man paid no attention to them and concentrated on eating. He held the doughnut tightly in both hands, head pushed up looking like that of a turtle sticking out of its shell. His eyes gleamed alertly, as if he thought someone might snatch the treat away. “No more Dutchies for me,” I resolved. The resolution lasted only until the following week.
July was flush with beginnings. Four newly-hatched red-bellied snakes lay under a slab of plywood near the bluff overlooking the Gulf of Maine. Tadpoles, big as thumbs, roiled the cow pond. A young muskrat swirled through rushes growing beside the bridge spanning the Beaver River outlet. Seventy yards above the bridge six ermine bundled across the gravel road. A robin lured a fledgling from its nest in the golden elder behind the backhouse. Hares no bigger than fists crouched under canes of rugosa roses. Some mornings I got up at three thirty and, after brewing a...