The fallen apples smell like cider in the hot yellow autumn air. As I move back and forth along the line, hanging clothes and calling his name.
The wind whips the words right out of my mouth. The other dogs, his mother among them, look at me, wide-eyed and confused. They bolt away, the bright light bronzing their sleek sinewy backs, their ears awry, fast-moving feet making confetti out of the freshly cut grass.
I put down a sodden shirt and begin to walk. Wet leaves skim my forehead, kiss my lips, stick to my tears.
I look for him under the grape arbor, behind the old chicken coop where his beloved bone still lays, all these days later. I search in the shadows in the shed. Will he just materialize out of the blackness, take form from the gauzy dark? I startle at a sudden movement in the glass of the long window. Was that his reflection that just shimmered across the surface of the pane?
Is he a ghost now? Does his spirit infuse the last lonely hummingbird who has lingered behind all the others, though the nights have gotten so chilly? Or has he disguised himself as the crafty raccoon who raids the bird feeder at dusk or the doe deer who leaves her droppings behind at dawn? Is he haunting the pond where the wood ducks rise from the impossibly glossy surface through the morning mists?
Yesterday I asked him to send me a sign that he was alright, that he was just fine and not caught and cut off by himself somewhere and missing us, mourning our lost company just as we are mourning his. I wanted a clean white bird to descend like an angel from the deep indigo sky. Instead I looked up to find a flotilla of dragonflies, at least three dozen of them dancing iridescent above me, their jeweled wings coruscating in the sun.
I never thought he could die. Not so young, his life unfinished. Not in his prime, ripe and robust, the gregarious and gorgeously incorrigible creature that he was. We were not the best of friends. I was never sufficiently strong to bend his vibrant will to mine. I was never enough of an attraction to call him to my side. Mine was not the voice he longed to hear. Yet inexplicably, miraculously, he looked me straight in the eyes and kissed me full on the mouth the day before he died.
Monty was a beautiful beast. Oh, I wish you could have seen him. He was a dog made in heaven to drink moonshine on the front-porch of some whiskey-loving hillbilly in the Ozarks, all heavy ears, jumbo paws, oversize nose and velvety jowls with a howl to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. His coat was coarse and crawled along his spine and flanks in short swirls and he smelled like oiled leather. He was as brown as a buckeye before time and weather fade it; his breath could take your own away. He was clumsy and clueless. His long legs loped, he drooled from his meaty lips; his life was all about peeing on trees and licking his privates in very public settings.
Monty was a connoisseur of fine rawhide, strong coffee and cheap beer, a lover of a long snuggle in a good patch of soft heat or the bottom of a canoe. I could describe him as a nefarious slayer of porcupines, affable and amiable with people and other dogs and yes, notorious. Both for his jaunty, joyous sojourns after his frequent escapes from the yard and for his classic airborne dives into the water to retrieve bumpers and frisbees and bottles and bones. People would often gather on the shore of whatever lake or pond or river where we trained to watch Monty fly. I always felt like we were at the circus.
He was never as interested in food as he was just snoozing in the truck, that man-who-was-his-master's truck, or sitting for hours on the floor in that man's arms. In fact that is where he died. After a romp in the woods of this rental house. A shrieking cut through the almost-autumn air. I heard it through the open window. By the time I ran downstairs and outside, he was dying. A dead dog walking, frantic to reach his master, his big heart, ruined and rent, pierced by a sharp spruce snag, winding down like a broken clock.
I have never heard a man cry like that before. Nor seen one. I don't want to hear or to see it ever again in my life. He looked up at me, his face crumpled. "Call 911, please call 911!," he pleaded with me.
But all I could do was to stand there listening, watching the life drain away, all that vivid, volatile, shuddering energy, all that irrepressible affection he felt for all of us going, going, going, like fire to smoke, from dazzling light to smoldering sizzle and then cooling down calm and evaporating, just some pretty steam on the wind.
If he was going to die, I thought it should have been the day the porcupine got him when it took hours and hours to remove the thousand quills from his ears and eyes and chest and snout. I never anticipated that he would die here in this house I had come to love so much, in the glorious spruce forest, all shades of glowing green, alive with ferns, festooned with lichens and moss, riotous with purple aster, full of birds who use it for choir practice, die in a flash with a stake through his heart.
I am tired of walking for now. Tonight, because I won't be able to sleep, I will stand out in the grass under the great fireworks show of stars in the same spot where I stood when a comet streamed across the heavens the evening that he died. Everything is so very terribly beautiful to me now, now that he has died. It's so much more beautiful, I know, just because he lived.