There were too many dogs in the room. The call came in from the hospital: her grandmother had passed.
Her mother must have gotten the call too; she dialed her right away. She wouldn’t ask.
Light moved into the room. Milo had nosed the door open to leave, and she had forgotten to turn off the light in the hall.
Bax stayed put, not approaching her hand, but not giving up yet. There was space up there on the bed. The apartment was cold and she cut his hair too early. Spring was not here. Besides, he liked it when he stretched long and she stretched long, and he placed his back against her leg and leaned into her. That way he could tell if she woke up and moved. He could tell if she had left.
In the place before he had to back against a crate’s enameled metal. Nothing around him was stable. The crate did not support him—he could feel the space he pressed into between the bars. He could smell the people when they left.
Her grandmother had dementia. Seven years of disappearing from herself. One of the first Christmases she told her family she was leaving for the West Coast by herself. One of the last she didn’t talk at all.
It was for the best, her mother said. It was time.
Jackie, who had been her grandmother’s dog, pressed into her body.
Her mother told her animals are conscious, they have memories. She said this before other people like her said it. Even now, they brought their dogs to the closet mirror together, and they watched how their dogs watched themselves. Milo was nearly eight, and had seen the mirror many times. He pressed his cold feeling nose into his cold unfeeling nose, and if he did this more than once, he could obscure his vision of himself.
She didn’t know who she was anymore, hadn’t for years, she said to her mother. Perhaps she could again, wherever she was. Her mother agreed, perhaps without agreeing, and said good night.
When she was little, her mother would come to her room before she slept, and they told stories back and forth about their dogs’ lives. Lady had three puppies they had never seen because she kept them in the closet. This closet had a portal—a door opened on the other end and Lady took her puppies anywhere, everywhere they desired.
Her mother took her to her favorite café sometimes, usually just one weekend a month. There they heated the chocolate so hot she had to wait ten minutes to start, else she’d be scalded. When she forgot and drank too early, besides the burn, she noticed that the milk felt thinner, closer to water.
Someday, she will take her son to a different café in a different state. He will want hot chocolate and she will order it for him, even though he’s really too young to drink it. She’ll wait at the other end of the café after paying, her son on her hip. He will be getting too heavy by then—she will jut her hip out and feel the muscle stretch over bone to hold him. When the barista hands her his drink, her son will bounce from excitement and she’ll almost drop the drink. She will hold it far out, in case he bounces again, so that the movement tips it onto her hand and not onto him.
They will choose the best table open and sit down. She will get his toys out so he doesn’t have the impression of waiting as his drink cools. He will drink the hot chocolate, and he will say he loves it, but will be unable to finish it. She will hold his stuffed dog as he drinks, so that she can hand it to him when he says he’s done. She will watch him play as she sips the rest of his drink. Her heart will ache.
Natalie Gerich Brabson is currently a student in the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence College. Her work was published in New World Writing, and was included in Go On Girl! Book Club’s Magajournal as the 2017 Unpublished Writer Awardee.