102 Degrees of Love
He lies there, belly swollen from ever-guilty handouts at my table. Although not old, he has the shopworn shab of a much-loved sweater passed hand-to-hand. His muzzle, now grey, bears hard iron bristles where once only soft velvet bloomed. It is his eyes, though, that are forever young, limpid pools of chocolate that well in perfect, precise pain.
Before, he was treated rough – a young woman beat him for his toilet mistakes; the new family with small children troubled by his rambunctious charm; the kill-shelter he was rescued from as his last owner looked only to profit from his snaggle-toothed smile.
Stretched on the chenille couch cover, his legs kick in sleep-jerk staccato memory. I wonder what he remembers of his life before us, the times before the perfect meeting of July the Fourth? It was his own true Independence Day having waited for us and our move out from the city where we could never truly love him properly. The hard clamor dirty streets, marred by shrieking police sirens and too-small parks filled with needles, were no place for such strong-willed passion. Once he deemed us worthy, I took him alone for the first walk to test our new friendship with one another, hoping to enjoy the company of new master and freshly-found companion.
We walked sunbaked gardens skirted by the tussled hillocks bracing the manicured parkland.
We clambered over paths still flitting with the sand lizards intent on avoiding the blazing sun.
We gamboled by the lakeside, our feet baked by sand and blackened by the melting blacktop.
As day stretched ever-long, we trundled home with no recollection of time spent, the day melting in hazed first honeysuckle memory as we passed the milestone together.
Yet when we crossed the shaded crossroads, he stumbled, rolling onto the patchy grass, his locomotive panting muffled in stupor, though his eyes still shined in glazed adoration.
I carried him home that sun-blasted day, bitter tears wet on my face as I chanted apologies, that I hadn’t meant to hurt him, how sorry I was, to keep on breathing, please, please, to keep breathing. My wife met us at the door, icy shock rippling as my heart keened when she wrapped him in fresh kitchen towels wetted from the sink, an eyedropper of water teasing water out as we lay together on the tiled floor. I wept in prayer and shame as my wife brought him back to us.
We do not speak of that first day and he has the graciousness of his kind not to remind me of my near-fatal love. As he sleeps, curled in deer-like fashion, I wonder if I too have joined that list of cruel first loves?
Julian Grant is an animator, an educator, and author of strange and unique short stories plus full-length novels/ non-fiction texts and comics. A tenured Associate Professor at Columbia College Chicago, his work is enjoyed worldwide. Find out more about him at www.juliangrant.com.