The little hill behind my grandparent’s house is a piece of sacred earth to me. My grandmother planted a dogwood tree there when I was just a sapling myself. And beneath its blossoms I have planted three flying squirrels, a basset hound, and a kindly old cur dog. To rest in the shade until the Day dawns.
I know how easy it is to get attached to a good animal. How they can scratch and paw their way right up next to your heart. But until today, I never would’ve thought I’d spend a Saturday afternoon digging a hole and saying words over the remains of a stranger’s dog I found lying on the side of the road.
Sometime around noon I decided that I wanted some fried chicken livers. But alas, this was one of those rare and sad occasions when I had no entrails in the refrigerator. At this point some people would just opt for a sandwich instead. But I have been down this road before. When a certain kind of craving gets flung on you there’s nothing to do but satiate it or spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been. And I wasn’t particularly in the mood to face such an existential crisis, especially on an empty stomach.
I contemplated picking up a box of livers from the local Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the last time I dined with the Colonel he tried to kill me. So I decided to swing by the grocery store to get some fresh livers and fry them myself.
As I pulled into the Brookshires parking lot, I noticed an elderly lady wandering around handing out flyers. I figured she was inviting people to church. After all, converting sinners in parking lots is not an uncommon evangelistic tactic here. But when I came out of the store she approached me, and I could see a sadness in her face that had nothing to do with my soul.
“His name is Roscoe,” she said, handing me a printed picture of a black labrador retriever. “He’s been missing for two days and that ain’t like him. Ain’t like him at all.”
I studied the picture as she continued talking. “He was my husband’s dog. Cancer took Emmet last Summer, and that dog is the only real company I’ve got left. I’d be lost without him.”
The dog did look familiar to me. There are a lot of dogs that run loose around town. So at first I thought that perhaps I’d seen her lab with a pack of strays that hangs around the chamber of commerce building.Studying the picture further, I knew that I had indeed seen him, and where. But I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
“If you see him please let me know. My phone number is on the bottom of that paper. My name is Edna. I hope he’s alright, but I want to know all the same.”
“Yes ma’am,” I said. “I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m pretty sure I saw him this morning lying beside Highway 133.”
“Oh no,” she said. “I was afraid something like that might’ve happened. He’s a house dog and don’t know how to behave on the road.”
“It’s only a couple of miles. I can take you there if you want me to.”
“Would you? I’d sure appreciate that.”
I turned around and got back in my truck and she followed me just north of town. After we parked, she walked over to where I was standing. The corners of her eyes were damp.
“That’s him,” she said. “That’s my Roscoe.” She daubed her cheek with her sleeve. “I sure would hate to leave him here.”
“I will help you bury him,” I said.
“I would be grateful.”
I wrapped him up in a piece of old tarp I had wadded up in the back of my pickup and followed her a mile or two back to her house. Her house was small but well kept, and hemmed in with well-tended rose bushes.
“We can bury him out back,” she said. “I think he would like that.”
As I wrestled the heavy load out of the back of the truck she retrieved a shovel from her late husband’s shop.
“I’m going to dig pretty deep,” I said. “This may take a while.”
“I’ll keep you company,” she said. And she told me all about Roscoe and Emmet as I worked.
“Emmet didn’t even like dogs,” she said. “But this poor thing wandered up one day and Emmet made the mistake of feeding it,” she said, laughing. “After that, they was thick as thieves. At the end, when Emmet was so sick he couldn’t get out bed, Roscoe would lay at his feet. Wouldn’t move to eat or anything. I think he knew, and he wanted to be there.”
“Yes ma’am. I believe they always know. And they grieve too.”
“He was always Emmet’s dog. But he warmed up to me after he passed. I think he knew I needed the company.”
“Yes ma’am. I believe they know that too.”
When I had finished digging the grave for Roscoe, I laid him in it, tarp and all. As I covered him with dirt, Miss Edna walked over and clipped some blooms from her flower bushes.
“There,” she said. “Isn’t that nice?”
For the next few minutes neither of us spoke. We just stood there thinking of good dogs and old men and how it always ends with tears and dirt and roses.
“Please let me pay you for helping me,” she said.
“Oh no. I wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Well, I want to thank you. Have you eaten? Could I fix you dinner?”
“I was actually picking up chicken livers to fry when I met you. You wouldn’t happen to know how to fix those would you,” I said.
She laughed. “Of course I do. Come on in the house. It’ll be nice to cook a meal for a handsome man again.”