a novel by
Several weeks later after all porch repairs had been completed, Gil sat in a darkened room, ZiZi at his feet, watching Mad Max, Beyond Thunderdome. He held a fistful of popcorn halfway to his mouth, eyes wide with fear and excitement. The music swelled as the crowds called for the great showdown. Kori came up from the basement wearing a pair of overalls doused in paint, several brushes sticking out the top front pocket, the paint still on them.
Gil was so engrossed in the movie he didn’t hear her enter. She surveyed the scene, strolled casually to the coffee table, picked up the remote and pressed the off button. The T.V. went blank and Gil went ballistic. With a grunt he threw a handful of popcorn at her face with more emotion than force.
“Turn it back ON!” he shouted, reaching for the remote. Taller by a head, Kori was able to withstand this onslaught with little effort. Gil clutched and yanked and tried to knock it from her hands. “KOREEEE. TURN IT ON!”
“No.” She pulled away and walked to the window, throwing back the curtains. Sunlight blasted in, temporarily blinding him. He blinked in reptilian fashion until his eyes adjusted to the glare. Kori pulled back the rest of the curtains, flooding the room with light, and pointed to the door. On her signal, Gil’s accomplice moved to the front door where he stood, head erect, tail wagging, more than ready to take the punishment with his master.
“It’s 11 o’clock. In the morning! It’s Saturday. Go outside.”
Gil took a deep breath and blew it out in a huff before turning toward the door.
“C’mon, Zi.” He grabbed a baseball cap off the coat rack, carefully pushed his bangs to the side, and held the door open for Zizi who barked once and bounded out into the brilliant sunlight. Gil stuck his tongue out at Kori and was gone. Kori watched from the window as they played fetch the stick. She smiled, and headed back to the basement.
She was halfway down the stairs when she heard Gil’s high-pitched wail.
“Zi, Zi, no! Come, Zi! Now!
She took the stairs two at a time and threw open the front door. Gil sat in the middle of the street, ZiZi’s head on his lap. He rubbed her ears and spoke softly to the inert figure. A boy of about eighteen hovered in the background, his car door still open, radio blaring, looking on helplessly. Kori sprinted across the wide front yard to the road and dropped to her knees.
Gil was rubbing one hand softly over ZiZi’s body while the other hand scratched instinctively at her favorite spot behind her ear. There was very little blood, but one look at her and it was clear the internal injuries were tremendous. She was panting, each attempt at breath wracking her body. Kori placed her hand on ZiZi’s ribs and the dog whimpered before paroxysms of coughing began.
“Take your hands off of her,” Gil said, throwing Kori’s hand back at her as if it were diseased. “This is your fault.”
Kori opened her mouth to protest; her voice caught in her throat.
“Broken,” Gil said. ZiZi’s body looked to be shrinking. She shivered and Gil covered her with his arms. Kori touched ZiZi’s nose; it was warm.
“She’s broken and she can’t be fixed,” Gil said, rocking, his eyes locked on the dog.
Kori touched Gil’s arm. It was cold, like ZiZi’s body, and his face had turned a preternatural white. He scratched ZiZi’s ears and murmured, soft clucking noises meant to soothe. ZiZi took a deep breath and shuddered again.
“Do you have a cell phone?” Kori asked the young kid pacing behind them. The boy nodded. He looked too young to have a license. “Can you call a vet? Tell them it’s an emergency.” He nodded and ran to his car.
Gil continued his quiet incantations, alternating between stroking ZiZi’s head and scratching her ears. They were like two lovers who know the end was imminent, but continued making plans for the future.
“And after lunch, we’ll go down to the creek and look for baby minnows,” he whispered, his voice straining with the effort. “And maybe we’ll take a nap under the Willow tree.” ZiZi thumped her tail once and whimpered. She raised her face to Gil with considerable effort and licked his nose. Gil stroked her head and rubbed his face in her fur.
“What do you want for lunch, girl?” Gil asked. “How about a melted ham and cheese sandwich?” ZiZi wagged her tail twice, winced and stopped. Gil rubbed her tail. “Maybe a few chips, too, huh?” Gil rubbed his nose in the nape of her neck and she moved her head to nuzzle him.
“The vet’s tech is on his way.” The young driver was back, pleased with himself that he was able to make the arrangements, but his face fell after seeing ZiZi’s condition.
Her breath came in short bursts and recognition lit in Gil’s eyes. He’d seen this before in movies and shuddered at the thought of what was coming next. Gil had watched them all. The hurt, the hunted, the hapless, their last breaths coming in fits of fury or lackluster sighs. Gil had watched people die so often that he thought he’d become immune to it. When his Mom and Dad died, he reacted in stalwart fashion, just like the heroes on T.V., dry-eyed and tight-lipped. Now he clenched his teeth, but it couldn’t stop the tears which were pouring out of the corners of his eyes like molten lava.
“Please don’t go, Zi,” he murmured. He rested his head on ZiZi’s and she raised her nose an inch to meet him then dropped to the ground, her last breath escaping in one small sigh. Gil tightened his grip, trying to hold on even as he felt her spirit go. Gil began to cry, a low, crazy moan that sounded like death itself.
“I’m so sorry,” the young driver said. “She ran right out in the road. I didn’t see her until she was right in front of my car.” Kori nodded, but Gil had no room to hear him above the sound of everything ZiZi’d ever told him.
to be continued. . .
to read what came before, please scroll down. . .