“Son… We’re gonna have to put him down.”
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to move, but he was quite positive that he couldn’t regardless. Staring down at his magic-markered and blood-covered fingers, he felt his mouth dry out. The white-coated man cleared his throat, undoubtedly wondering if he had been heard over the scratchy, electric notes falling over themselves on the way out of Simon’s oversized headphones.
“Can you just…?” Simon’s hands tightened around his knee caps, which were peeking out from his tight, thrift-store jeans, before reaching up to slide his headphones down to his neck. “There isn’t anything…?”
“I’m sorry.” The veterinarian lowered himself into a neighboring seat. “There was just too much damage.”
“So he’s in a lot of pain right now, too much to really recover from at his age. The best thing to do is to let him go.”
Simon turned to look at the man directly. The vet’s eyes were a hard green, like wine-bottle glass, but they weren’t lying. This was the only way. Maybe on another day, Simon would have been grateful for the honesty, but in this moment he felt only an amplification of the incessant rage characterizing his life. Why his dog?
He’d found the dog wandering underneath the same bridges Simon liked to frequent when his parents were raising all kinds of hell in their double-wide. It wasn’t likely they’d get divorced; the people from around here just liked being miserable, and they raised their children in a similar fashion. Simon could escape it all, though, with the help of his furry friend. They’d walk for hours, going nowhere and everywhere. Even as he grew up adding more chains and snarl to his appearance, seeing those big, brown, deceptively woeful eyes made Simon’s heart warm.
Lately, Bubbles had slowed to a near stop, barely able to hobble to his feet when Simon entered the bedroom. It was expected—Simon found him 10 years ago, and who knew how old the dog had been then—but it cut to Simon’s core every time.
He knew that poor little basset was cutting it close, but he never imagined it would go down the way it did. He never imagined it’d be his fault. It’d happened so fast. His friend pulled up… He didn’t know Bubbles had been wandering around outside… The terrifying sound that tore the breath from his lungs… The feel of Bubbles’s shallow wheezing in his arms… The blood…
“Son? Are you going to be all right?”
He almost laughed; when was the last time he’d let himself cry? It was surprising how often he wanted to, but he usually dealt with the pain by slugging some sweaty partygoer in the face while an even sweatier group of musicians destroyed their own equipment. Here, he left the tears on his face undisturbed as he answered.
“Yes.” His voice cracked. “Can I be with him?”
“Is that really what you want?”
The veterinarian led Simon through the double doors and into a hallway that dead-ended into another a few yards away. This was really only the third or fourth time Simon had been in the vet’s office; his new job finally allowed him the luxury of affording doggy doctor visits. He wondered where the other hallway led and where all the healthy animals were and what their owners were doing.
He’d never turned off his cassette player, so his music was climbing the vacant walls and multiplying in shallow, tinny voices.
The room was bare bones: a couple framed posters of household pets and their owners, an ad for a brand of heartworm medicine, a built-in desk with some medical supplies, and two chairs. In the middle of the room was a small, gurney-like table, and Bubbles was lying on top of it, breathing shallowly. His body was crumpled, blood matting down his fur in several places. It was a difficult sight for Simon to take in, and a flip in his stomach was nearly enough to turn him around and lead him out of the room and clinic. But his emotional pain didn’t matter anymore, not now.
“I’m going to inject him with a euthanasia medication. It will be a painless transition.” The vet stood next to Simon, hands in the pockets of his medical coat. “I’m going to go prepare it now.”
Simon nodded, not wanting to waste any of his words on the vet. The man walked out, the echo of his shoes sliding through the crack under the door and rattling around in Simon’s ears.
He suddenly wished he wasn’t alone; why had he sent his friend away? But he knew. This moment was too personal, and this was a side of himself that no one from the club really knew. He began to lean down, needing more than anything to bury his face in the warm fur of his best friend. Tears clung to his eyelashes as if for their lives, waiting until the last moment to drop down onto Bubbles’s nose.
He kissed the areas around Bubbles’s head and neck that were free of blood. There was more he wanted to say, but he couldn’t manage it. He cradled the only face that could recognize the real him and looked deeply into eyes that were already starting to fade. He trailed his fingers behind Bubbles’ left ear, the sweet spot, and broke to pieces on the inside when it didn’t get the reaction it used to.
The vet reentered the room quietly, carrying a small vial of liquid and a syringe. Simon straightened up, his emotions crawling down his throat and sitting, hot and leaden, in the base of his stomach. The vet prepared the dosage, looking to Simon for confirmation.
Simon nodded one last time, allowing his hand to rest on the top of his old dog’s head. He couldn’t look, though. He didn’t want to see the needle go in, and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to see the lights go out. It felt strange, being faced with death in this way. He certainly thought about it a lot; what it might be like to slip away, what it might be like to take his own life, how his life might be different if his parents were dead… But he never wanted to think about it like this. In this way, he was still like a child. Dogs live forever, don’t they? But reality was all around him right now; no, they don’t.
The rough hand of the vet descended upon Simon’s shoulder like a guillotine, and he knew it was over. It was harder than anything he’d ever done to not collapse. He shivered. For the first time since this all started, he heard the music that was providing an unintentional soundtrack to the saddest day of his life: Nothin’ to do, nowhere to go. Oh, I wanna be sedated.