On this hot May day, a week before Vader’s death, the sun breathes strong upon our necks like a welcome lover. We bask in its whispered promises. Tori, my four year-old niece, and I are headed off into our shared world of wonder and imagination. We are taking Vader with us. He is failing. He has lost the use of his back legs and now his front. He can no longer use his doggie cart and a sore has appeared on his front leg. We place him in a doggie stroller and push him to the small grassy island of flowers across from the house. We lift Vader out and place him in a secret pocket carved amidst the flowers.
“Vader is going to have to go to heaven soon,” I tell Tori.
“When?” she asks.
“In about a week,” I say. Vader labors in the heat, but I want him to have a moment outside. I prop his head up on the stuffed yellow dog he has loved since he was a baby.
Tori, decked out in her fairy wings, leans in planting an angel’s kiss on his head. “We’re going to miss him,” she says matter-of-factly. “Why does he have to go?”
“He’s old,” I tell her. And, tired I see now.
“Oh, poor Vader,” she says. She doesn’t cry. Instead, she kneels in the grass beside him. I snap their photo – stealing a cherished moment out of time’s clenched fist.
Now, on this December evening, near the end of the year, I search my hard drive for photos to place in the annual scrapbook for Vader’s breeder. I stumble upon this picture of child and dog, angel and fairy. To look at him now I see his withered body, the glassy eyes already staring beyond this world, I feel a twinge of pain because I can see how ready he was to go, how little of him remained here. I know I kept him longer than many would, unsure how to end this life. But, I also see him through love’s eyes and I remember his soft breath, his ceaseless cravings for fish fillets, the way he’d raise his head and stare directly in my eyes as I bathed his weary body. Back then I saw his tender soul and wondered who am I to choose his fate? In a week he made his journey. We miss him as Tori predicted. It is December now, but in the end, I choose to remember May – the sun, the fairy, my dog and me setting off on a grand adventure.
I smile now because I know a secret– in an ocean of time that rolls endlessly forward, exist tiny islands outside the daily flow. A small triangle of grass standing at an intersection of town roads becomes a garden hideaway, a magical world where a sweet young girl and a precious dog revel in the sun and the whispered promises of life.