Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
by Arlene L. Mandell
She's still with me, just a few feet from my desk. Once in a while I reach down to stroke her silky coat. Instead I encounter Ringo, a sturdy little fellow always waiting for me to toss his tennis ball.
Gabrielle, an eleven-pound bichon frisee, began life in Closter, NJ, on a wooded property near the Hudson River. In winter she struggled to climb through snow drifts. In summer she panted in the shade under a lounge chair at the pool, but hated the water, though swimming cooled her off.
Whenever I read a poem aloud, to listen for subtle interior music, she would tilt her head, as if considering whether the word "celestial" was too sibilant for my intention.
Her worst habit was pulling Natasha's ears. Natasha, a marmalade shelter cat, took to hiding behind the thesaurus on my bookshelf. "Leave the cat alone," I would say in my sternest voice. Gabrielle would use her "alert and adorable" expression, then wait till I turned my head. Then Natasha would give an aggrieved yowl, and in a split second Gabrielle would revert to her "perfect pet" imitation.
From time to time, she would escape, squirming under the fence and dashing around the corner where children returning home from the Hillside School would make a big fuss over her and feed her Sugar Pops. She only ran away at three p.m.
For our cross-country move to northern California, Gabrielle and Natasha were sedated by small doses of veterinarian-approved Valium. On the final leg of our journey, I broke airline rules by removing her from the carrier and cuddling her under a blanket. The flight attendant brought her a small piece of grilled chicken left over from first class.
After we arrived, Gabrielle refused to eat for several days. Panicked, we located a local vet who found nothing in particular wrong. The next day, having expressed her dismay at the unfamiliar surroundings, she resumed eating.
Gabrielle lived fifteen years, the last year troubled by kidney malfunction and arthritis. She became grumpy. I had to bathe her at home after she nipped the pet groomer. When she could no longer jump onto our bed, I offered her booster steps, but eventually had to lift her, very carefully, then lift her down in the early morning.
Finally the sad day arrived when she took her last trip to Dr. Patrick. I won't describe the scene. If you've had beloved pets, you already know it.
Did I want her ashes? he asked. With pets I've had in the past, I always said no, considering it too sentimental, but this time--yes. A week later I returned for a small redwood box with a brass plate engraved with her name. I placed her ashes on the top shelf in my bookcase.
And just now, looking up toward the ceiling as I searched for a word, I saw her tilting her head and listening to the sound of my voice once again.
Arlene L. Mandell lives and writes in Santa Rosa, CA. She is a frequent contributor to Tiny Lights.
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