Saturday, October 15, 2011

Mornings With the Old Girl

Saturday morning, 6 a.m. Her wet nose nudges my shoulder. Groggy with sleep, it takes me a moment to orient myself. My blurry eyes scan the room: ceiling, wall, morning light streaming through the window. Bedside table, lamp, a nose in my face. Floppy ears. Those soulful, imploring eyes.

I rise from my bed in a swift motion -- my least favorite activity of the day -- and wrestle a white t-shirt over my head.

She beckons me to follow her downstairs, let her out, fill her bowl with kibble. Her hips are cranky, her hind legs stiff with age. Her back paws drag ever so slightly on the carpet, making a scuffing sound like an old lady shuffling around in rubber soled slippers. She looks back to make sure I'm following her lead. Hurry up, mama.

In the kitchen, she dances with excitement as I scoop kibble from the bin and dump it in her bowl. Clink, clink, clink. The kibble bounces against the porcelain. Up on her hind legs, she jumps like a kangaroo, her advanced age temporarily forgotten. Defied.

I pop her daily medications into little pill pockets, brown and squishy and bacon scented. Drool pours from her mouth in anticipation of her morning treats. Boing, boing, boing. Again, she dances.

The kitchen floor is cold under my bare feet and I shiver. I put the kettle on and take a mug from the cupboard. Tea.

She shadows me as I go to work making breakfast in the tiny kitchen. 

"Excuse me," I say brightly, and she moves aside so that I can reach into the cabinet for the skillet. "Excuse me," I say again in a singsong voice, and she moves from in front of the refrigerator so I can get the eggs, butter, berries.

"Pardon me." She moves again and again as I move around the kitchen, all four steps of it.

She settles at my feet in front of the stove. Crack, plop, whisk, pour. I stir and swirl the eggs ever so gently over the flame. The toast pops up from the toaster and I slide the skillet to a rear burner on the stove. Scrape, scrape, scrape. Butter, knife, bread.

I slice berries into a bowl, portion the eggs onto a plate and crumble sea salt flakes between my fingers and onto the eggs. The sound reminds me of the noise at the beginning of a record, after the needle drops.

Elbows on the counter, I tuck in to the eggs and sip my tea. The old girl is at my feet, alert for any morsels that might come her way.

I move to the sink behind me (turn, step) and wash my plate. Warm mug in my hands, I take my tea to the sofa where the old girl hops up onto her blanket. She settles next to me, groaning with relief as she sinks into the cushions.

Feet up on the coffee table, mug in one hand, I scratch and pet her muzzle with the other, my fingers tracing her cheeks where teeth have been extracted. The recesses make her face look older, wan.

I twirl her ears in my hand and run my fingers through her fur, now more taupe than grey. It is soft and worn like a wool rug after years of foot traffic.

As has so often been the case this year, when I look into her eyes I see my mother in her distant gaze. And, as usual, the tears come easily and my heart catches in my chest.

These mornings are a lingering goodbye, a meditation on impermanence. Time is measured and fleeting. And yet. These mornings, time seems to slow a little.

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