As it turned out, I accomplished even less than anticipated after such a morning. The memory of little Astible in my neighbor’s arms and my own, almost unacknowledged, feelings for my own little dog were so distracting it was all I could do not to run home to be sure Juniper was alive and well. In fact, I did go back to Monnish Court for lunch. On cue, her fluffy head appeared in the window frame as I approached the veranda. She must recognize the sound of my footsteps.
On the way back to campus I met Professor S. and pulled him into the Quik Snack. Astible was still at the vet’s office. “She’ll hold her,” he said moistly, “until I can get her grave ready.”
Authors of trendy garden books shy away from a discussion of the darker powers of herbs and plants, but Good Houskeeping will tell you not to mix Clorox with ammonia. And Martha Stewart will tell you not to give eight ounces of chocolate to a small dog.
“How did she come to get so much?” I asked, knowing, as all pet owners do, that if you bring your dog to a party you need to monitor it carefully. Juniper is never so adorably well behaved. She will sit straight, lift paw, roll over and lick for a cheese straw. She was probably spared the brownies because Astible got them all.
“She must have eaten a whole plate,” he said, shaking her head. “The little pig.”
Food had killed his dog. And now food was offered to him. Our neighbors have been busy with gifts, he said, telling me about Phoebe’s apple and potato quiche, Veronica’s deviled eggs and Mrs. Moth’s cheese straws.
“She keeps a supply in the freezer,” he said.
Ah, to be prepared. I offered him a cup of coffee at the Kwik Snak and the loan of my garden as a grave for Astible. But I’d been anticipated there, too. Veronica and Phoebe, he said, shaking his head, had offered room in their respective spaces at Evergreen, a pretty cemetery that backs up to Monnish Court on the east. Veronica’s got a cat in hers and Phoebe an assortment of relatives.
We drank coffee together (waved to Peter and friends in a back booth). I couldn’t get away from the desire to help Professor Sergeant in some way. People who don’t have pets, especially people who don’t have dogs, don’t understand what it’s like when one dies. Part of the pain of falling in love with my own dog was knowing that she has a scant fifteen-year life span. Chances are I will bury her.
“It’s ridiculous to think of your time with a dog as a countdown to grief,” I said. “I could easily get run over by a bus.”
He smiled at that. “Or an undergraduate in a red car.”
I offered him a box I’d made in a woodshop class two years ago to use as a casket, but he said he’d be burying her with her old pillow and rug she’d used. “I’ll bury her toys, too,” he said.” But he had not decided on a plot. Tuscaloosa does not have pet cemeteries.
I thought of the blue marble and the charm bracelet I’d found yesterday. I was wearing the bracelet. “I found this yesterday when I dug my plot,” I said. “Buried treasure and a blue bead, too. One of those Turkish good luck charms.”
“That’s what I’ll do,” he said. “Someday another gardener will find Astible’s toys.” He will plant a garden, he said, maybe a little wider than mine, on the other side of the front steps. It was a very good idea; the second garden would balance my own and we could keep track of each other’s growth.
“Scratch the date on the collar,” I said and he agreed.
“I want you to have her new leash,” he said. “It’s a retractable. And take Juniper off that choke chain.” This was an order. I thought Juniper was too little for a choke chain, but her trainer had insisted and, frankly, it worked wonders. But Professor Sergeant looked so fierce, I agreed. “Just get to know her better,” he said. “You’ll learn to mind each other.”
“In the time I’ve had a dog I’ve learned more from her than she’s learned from me,” I said. “She’s made me a lot friendlier. People smile at her and then at me. I can’t help but smile back. And they’re always petting her, so we talk.”
“’If you feed me we will need each other,’” he quoted.
“That would make a good epitaph.”
“It would,” he smiled. “Thanks.”