The green traffic arrow signaled abruptly. I turned onto the darkening highway, accelerating toward home. Twilight thickened around the horizon, pulling each vehicle along its pulsing connection to the road like a magnet. In the glow-worm shine of the speedometer, I said to myself for the first time, “This is Katey’s last night on Earth.”
I had needed an afternoon of errands and coffee and denial to let it sink in. Craig had finally asked the vet to come the next day to end our greyhound’s life. Now, all at once, southbound on Hwy 18/151, my whole body and mind knew what was happening. Whatever this precious place is – our home full of sidewalks and stars and grass to nibble on when no one is looking – Katey’s time here was passing into the softness of night, counted in hours and minutes and seconds.
There was only one thing I wanted to do, but still I hesitated. I drove all the way home, mentally listing the reasons why I could not spend this night with Katey – powerful fears masked as excuses so pitiful I can’t even remember them now. When I got home, I heated some dinner, and stood in the kitchen, eating. The fork, the stove, the counter, the dish – all seemed solid and somehow alive. My mind cleared, and I gave in to the certainty that filled my heart. In all the world, there was nothing else for me to do but get in the car and drive back to Madison, and spend as much of tonight as I could with Katey Sunbug.
For a few hours, I curled up next to her bed in front of the radiator in the living room of the Victorian house where my ex grew up. Katey’s caretakers hovered around, wondering outloud if she wanted attention or needed the incontinence pad changed. As always, Katey showed what she wanted with her gaze. We had only to follow her eyes toward her water bowl, less than a foot from her head. It might as well have been in the other room, she was so helpless to reach it on her own. After a few licks at the the bowl held under her lips, even the power of her thirst failed, and her head dropped back against the cushions.
Worried that his Sunbug might get cold, Craig covered Katey in soft fleece throws. I thought of my own father’s last hours, when he had used his remaining strength to kick off the blanket and sheets, saying, “These things keep tangling me!” We set aside the blanket, and in a few minutes, Katey settled down, nothing but skin and fur between her and the air.
Soon I knew I had truly done all I could for Katey. Her body only needed a little while longer to catch up to the freedom of her heart and spirit. Sunbug and I had seen Night together for the last time, and no distance she would cover in the next hours would give her anymore of me than I already had. I put on my double-down coat. Outside the cozy airlock of candy dishes and family portraits, the world was below zero. Mammoth icicles, helpless against the piercing light of the cloudless sun, had melted despite the temperature. The water they spread puddled, frozen across the front walk. Rather than scramble over jagged snowbanks along the curb, I sidestepped the ice flows, and walked to the corner to get to my car. The darkness shivered inky black and thin in a way that comes only with bitter cold. I breathed in sharp dry air, knowing Katey might not live to see the light ease into tomorrow’s sky. The sun was already waiting for her someplace else.