Why is my dog shaking his head


Why is my dog shaking his head?"

"His neck is hurting. Maybe he's hungry."

"Well, let me feed him, and then we can all sit and listen to the crickets sing and the frogs croak, and no one will be able to tell that you called it quits."

I am surprised that my father has become so domestic. But then, I've seen him make do with very little.

"Okay," I say. "Okay."

We both stand in the yard. I'm trying to decide what to feed him first.

"Can I play you some music, Dad?"

"Yes, yes. I'd like that."

"I'm going to take the radio into the bathroom, but I'll be right back. You can sit in your favorite chair."

In the kitchen, I take the radio from the cupboard and switch it on. I hear the first few notes of a blues song.

"We could sit together in the yard," I say. "Listen to the music."

"I'm not going to listen to the radio, Ruthie. Please let me listen to the radio."

"It will be fun."

"Don't touch anything, Ruthie," he says.

"Oh, Dad."

"I'll sit right here in my favorite chair. If you go inside, you might forget something."

"Okay, I won't forget anything."

When I get back outside, he's still sitting in the chair. He leans his head back and closes his eyes. He's holding a tissue in his hand, which is shaking.

"Come in, Dad. I'll get you something to drink."

"Please, Ruthie. No one wants me to die."

"I'll get you some of that orange juice."

The radio is playing another blues song, with words I don't understand.

I sit on the floor at Dad's feet, stroking his black-and-white-spotted back.

"Dad," I say. "Please let me hold your hand. I'll do anything."

He turns his head and looks at me.

"Would you like me to hold your hand?" I ask.

"Please, Ruthie."

I stand and come close to him. I sit on the arm of his chair and take his hand. It's cold.

"Would you like me to talk to you?"

"No."

"Dad, why are you crying? What's wrong?"

"Go inside, Ruthie."

"I'm not going inside."

"You might forget something."

"How can I forget something when I'm right here with you? I won't forget anything."

"You'd be surprised."

"I won't be surprised if you're wrong."

"Ruthie."

"Dad, I need to be with you."

"You need to go inside."

"No, Dad. I won't go inside."

"I'll make it easy for you."

I look down. I can't see his hand. He is pressing his head back, almost over the back of the chair. I am in this chair, looking down at his head, and I have to push myself away from the chair. I am thinking that I would rather die than let this happen to me.

I leave the room and go back into the hall. Dad has taken the blanket off his bed and spread it out over him.

My mother is sitting in her chair by the window. She looks up and says, "They said that his organs are shutting down."

She stares at me, and I stare back. I wonder if she remembers what I looked like when I was five. She says to me, "They took him back to the hospital. But it's just another routine thing. All of this isn't routine, Ruth. It's too much for you, for everyone."

The ambulance came in the middle of the night. It was so quiet. When I woke up and realized what was happening, I wondered what I would have done. Where would I have gone? Would I have screamed? Would I have been able to think straight? What would I have done if I had lost him?

"You go back and take care of yourself." My mother's voice is low and calm, like someone trying to keep her own voice from breaking. I turn and walk away from her. I walk down the hall and stand in the front doorway of the living room. I can't make it go away.

For a long time, I think about that summer. I think about those last few days with my father. I think about him lying in that hospital bed, waiting to die. My mother sitting there by his side.

In that room, he would have been very still. At the moment he breathed out, I would have held on to him tightly. I would have looked into his eyes and begged him to stay. But he wouldn't have listened to me. There would have been a calmness about him, the quietness of a man who had done what he had to do. He would have wanted to die. My mother would have stood over his bed and held his hand. But the minute that he felt the moment of life slipping away, he would have pulled his hand away from her and looked at her, and he would have said: _I have failed you._ He would have said it to her with his eyes, and no one could have answered him.

All those weeks before, I would have been afraid that I would find him in that hospital bed. In that silent room. And I thought of the last night we had together. All those kisses and kisses. All those soft caresses. He would have whispered my name as he turned his face to me. Then the sound of his breath would have grown faint, and there would have been a smile on his lips.

I think about all that, and I am afraid that the next day, he will come home.

This is the first thing I've heard all morning, but it has been there, growing and growing in my head. I turn and walk back down the hall, back toward her bedroom. I think that maybe, in that final moment, he was waiting for me. And I think that if that is what he wanted, then he got his wish.

"Mira, what's wrong?"

I turn and look up into my mother's eyes. "I need to get to work," I tell her. "They're waiting for me."

Mira's eyes look tired. "Please," she says. "Stay for a few minutes. They're your _moments._ "

I feel my face twist, and I realize that she is right. It is mine. My turn.

"Okay," I say. "I'll stay. I'll take a break from the game for a few hours. If you're not back by lunch, I'll leave and do what I need to do."

I am glad that my mother nods in approval. I know that if I stayed here and did not go back to work, I would be wasting my time. She thinks that a game of _moments_ is something I have to do—that is how I am so good at it. And she is right. I am good at this game.

I pick up my backpack, then head down the stairs. My mother is sitting on the floor,


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