Fur Against Skin

by Tom Swift

They carry him in on an upside-down box-top. The thing might have once enclosed oranges. For certain, writing and colors are splashed around the thin sides. You — you and your dog — watch this small dog, its head on a swivel, aboard the cardboard transport. This dachshund — in truth you can’t see enough of him to know he’s a dachshund at all or even that he is a he — will not be in your sight long. He will be carried from the door to the first exam room, only in view for the time it takes a grown man to walk a fifteen feet. You had minutes before heard the same man speaking in hushed tones feet from you at the front desk: Don’t think he’s going to make it … The tech at the desk nodded slowly.

Not long before this moment a family that had been huddled in the corner when you came in said goodbye to their cat. The cat, if the bits spoken aloud in the lobby were heard correctly — and you didn’t have to eavesdrop to hear details — was one and half years old. For a while the family had been scrambling on the phone to find a way to pay for treatments. The cat had suddenly suffered from seizures. When the cat’s fight was over, the family — there were two young adult children, the ones with the best credit, but too young to qualify — left with red faces and hands over their mouths.

You have nothing against cats. Yet, as you have no true connection with them, you empathize for this family but more or less remain still. Sitting in the Animal ER on a summer Sunday afternoon, waiting to get in, so you can get out.

But that dog. Oh.

You know that soft brown. You know that wet nose. Or at least it feels as though you do.

Your soft brown (and white) buddy, with his wet nose, sits at your feet. And has been at your side for more than a decade.

When the man walked in he had held his dog high. Shoulder high. Maybe higher. You’re not sure why — why he didn’t carry the dog hip-high, chest-high. This man is not a small man. And his dog is not a large dog. The man had talked at the desk alone. Now his wife and boys — both look like they could have come from a ball field — follow. They all go into that first room.

Your best friend is so serene. You wonder how much he senses.

Thankfully, you are here for nothing life-threatening. You will not see the vet for more than a few minutes. For this reason the two of you have been pushed to the back of the line. You do not like that your Sunday is slipping away like this. For three hours now you have tried to breathe and not contemplate the precious afternoon being tossed in directions you don’t like.

You slowly slide the inside of your shin towards your dog, tight enough that you can feel his warmth. Fur against skin.

The door shuts. The family, including the four-legged member, is now on the other side.

At the desk, the tech lights the condolence candle.

This life. This life! One minute you’re impatient, frustrated, plans on hold, everything askew, taken by a feeling that you just want get up and go.

The next minute you don’t want to move. You want to just sit. Right here. Fur against skin. You and your best friend. Forever.