[From the author’s next book, a work-in-progress, as yet untitled]
He was named for Saint Valentine’s Day, the day that commemorates love, and she had certainly failed at all attempts at human love. Instead, what she found on that day, five years ebfore, was a sickly puppy in an animal shelter. She had gone to the pound to “only look, nothing more.. Perhaps she had been driven by a need for love, but she’d never admit to that. What she found that day was a fellow downtrodden being in need of medical care, a tiny one at that, who had incurred costs, kept her up at night, worried her to no end, and then rewarded her with unconditional still aggravating” love.
Unlike her ex-husbandunlike her children, who had moved far away to opposite coasts and had their own problems, perhaps driven away by the two people who had spawned them. She could hardly blame them. Better to run while you can than suffer the sufferings of love. She had forgiven her children long ago, but she had never forgotten them, or all the missed birthdays and holidays, and all the recriminations and guilt they might have brought had they remembered her. If they still remembered her.
The shelter worker who had placed the shivering, fevered puppy in her arms years before had said, “he’s a Jack Russell Terrier-mix, we think he may have distemper. Our shelter can’t pay for veterinary care, so he’ll likely be put down tomorrow” if he makes it through the night.
She had spent an entire lifetime being putdown and she did not consider that an appropriate solution for anyone. She got the puppy well and kept him.
She had grown up with dogs. The parade of family dogs had ended with the husband who claimed he was allergic to dogs, but hed also claimed a lot of other things. So had a lot of her family. So had a lot of her former friends, but they had gone away long ago. She missed having a dog, and it was only her situation of being the kind of lonely that few will ever admit to that prompted her to lift the puppy from his earlier circumstances and save him, at a time when she still doubted that she could even save herself.
She no longer cared about saving herself. In fact, she was exhausted living an imitation of life and tomorrow was her birthday. She knew there wouldn’t be a card in the mail, she knew there would be no bouquet of flowers, and the gentlemen callers had disappeared decades ago. For her, it was a mark of honor that the interest in her had waned before her physical beauty had. Even at her age, she was a pretty woman with qualities nobody ever noticed. At the end of the day there was still no human there for her and even in a crowd she felt invisible. Only Valentino was ever present.
She had formulated a plan and she considered it symbolic to leave this world on her birthday. It might finally get the too-late attention of those whose attention she had never been able to command. She had accumulated a drawer-full of medications from doctors who had prescribed everything without caring to ask what their predecessors had prescribed before. She planned to use those pills to bring her an ultimate peace. But there was still the problem of the dog.
Valentino was quite simply the most trying dog she had ever known in her life. He ended up being impeccably housetrained, he had his charming and endearing moments at home, but he had a reputation at the local dogpark of being a “tyrant.” He made her go for walks when she wanted anything but a walk. He wanted dinner when the thought of food disgusted her. He wanted rubbed and stroked and kissed when she didn’t want to admit that she had ever known any such thing. He demanded affection and that was a concept she had given up on long ago.
She believed, perhaps because she watched too much television, that animals can be telepathic, and if that was true, Valentino needed a psychic muzzle. She felt that he commented on everything that met with his displeasure. She had been chastised by Valentino about too late meals and too late walks. Rarely had she tolerated such insolence from any being.
She sat in her comfortable chair, rubbing Valentino’s ears, and mulled over the perfect timing for what she had planned. The problem was that she had not only not made appropriate arrangements for Valentino, although the finances for his well-being were assured and she certainly resented leaving her estate to anyone she was related to by blood she simply didn’t know anyone she could trust with the care of such a demanding dog.
Valentino jumped down and started spinning in circles. He pawed the air. He interrupted her thoughts and attempted to command her attention. He returned to her, dragging his leash in his mouth, and she relented. “One last time, Valentino,” she agreed, as she felt a twinge and her resolve waiver. Surely, someone kind will take care of him, she thought, as she descended the apartment elevator with him.
Once outside it was a different matter. It had begun to snow and the streetlights created a diamond effect, and Valentino was the star. She saw an older couple walking arm-in-arm, she heard laughter, and a group of girls on a corner were trying to outdo each other with their dance moves and blaring music. Valentino tugged at his leash, snapped at snowflakes, and captivated an audience of pedestrians, who all seemed to feel a need to speak to her, because of him. Forced to engage in conversation with two ladies attracted by Valentino, she mentioned to them that tomorrow was her birthday, they congratulated her, and one woman pulled out a flower from a wrapped bouquet she was carrying and handed it to her. For you, she said.
Valentino communicated to her, I want to go for the longest walk of my life, Mama! and she barked back, “You are the most difficult dog I have ever met in my entire life!”
At the moment she uttered those words, she realized that the critical, shared word in their exchange had been the word life, and that changed everything. She took him for the longest walk of his life. And sometime later, at a very advanced age, she might even choose to forgive him for it.