“Wag” by Jeff Burt

For ten years my wife has been telling me that whenever I shed a tear out back when I am ostensibly alone, I’m missing my mother.

“Thinking about your mom? Me too,” she says.

She told me to go to counseling for a year because I never really said goodbye to my mother when she had cancer, four treatments in and not to make the fifth.

I’ve never gone to counseling.

Last week my neighbor’s dog Chili chased, if the word chased can even be used for something that waddles, a raccoon. He’s a large French bulldog, and came home after missing a night with seven four-inch slivers of pine broken and stuck in his snout and neck, bloodied, with four large gaping holes that were partially scabbed over and a nose that had been roughed up on dirt and possibly asphalt.

Those slivers were bad enough, but in trying to get the slivers out, Chili had probably killed himself without knowing.

Margaret, our neighbor, called, hysterical. Her husband had travelled to Washington on business, so I was the closest thing to a sliver-remover she could find. When I saw the dog, and actually held his head, I asked her for a pair of pliers and had her call a vet.

The first sliver, by the ear, dropped out with a little pressure. I took my handkerchief to the wound and Chili let me continue to hold his head though shivering in pain.

Removing the second sliver made him bark, but he stood.

The third sliver made me bark it came out so hard, and I scared Chili, but he stood in there like a fighter who’d almost been knocked out on his feet and whose legs wobbled but the knees locked and he stayed as if hoisted on a pole.

The other four slivers were all in the vicinity of the nose, and the loss of blood would be great.

Margaret turned on the cell phone speaker. The vet said to leave the remaining four slivers if I thought too difficult, but regardless we had to get the dog to surgery. Chili was likely in shock. He’d bleed out.

We got him to the vet. Chili sat in the backseat on a blanket resting his head in my hands the whole way. Two vet techs lifted him out. When I spoke to him, he wagged.

Twenty minutes later he was dead. They had given him a sedative and a transfusion. The transfusion elevated his blood pressure and hydrated him. They patched up all but the four gaping holes, pulling out the slivers, sanitizing, and suturing. I watched. Margaret could not. It was a gruesome sight. Periodically I’d say good boy to Chili and,, even though he was supposedly not aware, his tail would wag.

The loss of blood in combination with the sedative killed him. They upped the level about half way in and he started convulsing, and by the time they figured out what was going on Chili had a seizure, and then he went into failure mode, like a plane that begins to level out from a fast descent but can’t quite make it back to climbing and then all systems fail, and the plane plunges. Even to the end, though, through the seizures and the spasms and the declining consciousness, when I said good boy he would wag.

So that’s why I shed a tear on the deck out back. Not for my mother.

Well, maybe about my mother.

You see, we saw her about a week before she died. She was in great pain, had difficulty eating, was skeleton thin. I’d talk with her, bring up memories of her childhood, which made her animated. My wife, though, got up in the morning and did devotions with her, something my mother had never let anyone do. Early mornings were my mother’s time alone, when she said she drew water from the well to get through the day.  My wife would sit on the couch and pat the cushion next to her, inviting my mother to join her. My mother would smile, encouraging my wife to read aloud.

And I swear through all that pain my mother had, when my wife began to speak, before my mother fell to the couch, I saw her wag.

Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, with his wife and a July abundance of plums. He has contributed to Gold Man Review, Williwaw Journal, Red Wolf Journal, and Brazos River Review. He won the Cold Mountain Review 2017 Poetry Prize. Work can be found at www.jeff-burt.com.