Sunset Lullaby – Desiree Kendrick

“Can we go? Can we?” I pant, ignoring my stale breath.  

My knobby knees bounce. I’m eager to explore the nearby ant pile.  

She doesn’t stir. Her eyes linger on the horizon. Statuesque.  

“Come on, already. If you’ve seen five sunsets, you’ve seen them all.”  

We’ve done this trek repeatedly. Every late afternoon she laces up her boots, throws on a windbreaker, and thumps down the wooden cabin stairs, while I run ahead.  

Freedom! Cool air caresses my ears. Sunshine tickles my back. A butterfly distracts me, and I jump, hoping for a body slam. Serena Williams watch out! I’ve got moves. Each day she drags those army boots, kicking up dust. We find the water’s edge together and park our butts on the grass. I like sitting to her left, showcasing my best side.  

“Come on, come on!” I huff.  

My mouth drools. I know the routine. There’s a treat waiting for me back at our lodgings. Don’t criticize my impatience. This cabin in the woods, in the middle of nowhere, is for the birds, literally. I like a more social dog park. Barks and snippy retorts, that’s my kind of party. A who’s who parade putting on a show is entertaining. Out here, we’re alone and isolated.  

“I see blue, can we go now?” I whimper. “Huh? Huh?”  

Gazing at the sky, my tongue hangs and my nostrils flare. Chasing my tail is more fun than simply sitting here staring. My head lobs left and right. Surely there’s a stick around. You toss, I’ll retrieve. It’s not veterinary science.  

“Can we go? Huh?”  

We started hanging out last month.  

“A dog will be a good companion,” I heard her mother say. “Give you someone to care for. Ease your grief.”  

Who’s grieving? I was thankful to escape that dog kennel. St. Bernard size grateful! That place was downright scary. When I looked into her glassy brown eyes, I almost leapt into her lap, except the metal bars were in my way. She bent down, giving me the once over.  

“Pick me, pick me,” I begged.  

Be careful what you wish for. Now here we are, out in the middle of nowhere, chasing flies. Well me, not her. She’s mostly sleeping, barely eating.  

A weekend at the lake’s no problem. Fresh air, evergreens reaching for the sky, and wildflowers dancing in the wind are all lovely, serene. But it’s been three dachshund long weeks. Surely we’ve overstayed the Airbnb reservation?  

Parked at the lake’s edge, her body leans into mine. Warmth. She smells nice, like talcum powder. I’ve seen her cry, sobbing into the pillow under the shelter of darkness. A pale moon spying through the window ignores us. Leafy trees whisper, gossiping, I suspect. I sleep at the foot of her bed. Sometimes she rises, stumbles to the dresser, and pulls out a tiny blanket. It too carries a whiff of powder, that newborn baby scent. She curls up under the bedspread, and clings to the flannel. She strokes the fabric with a mother’s care. That loving touch, I barely remember.  

My last owner escorted me to the vet.  

“Fix her,” he said.  

It seems so long ago that I nuzzled a young pup’s nose, cuddled and breathed in unison. Small yelps tug at my recollections.  

Staring at the electric streaked sky I exhale short, raspy gasps. Heartbeat slows. I rest my head in the grassy dirt. Peering at her, I notice that she’s wearing yesterday’s sweat pants, threadbare yet soft. There’s no jewellery on her hands. She runs her fingers through my shaggy coat. I’ve been good, no burrs today.  

“I miss him and I never even knew him,” she murmurs. “No one told me how hard this would be.”  

She exhales, staring at the disappearing sun. Crickets bicker in the grass. A frog burps. Two bumble-bees whiz past, probably on their way to a snapdragon banquet. Speaking of feasts, maybe she’ll barbeque tonight. I could use a chewy bone. Dry dog food is boring. I outgrew my taste for cracked leather.  

Living, breathing specimens surround us. They’re our witnesses, yet they seem oblivious to our silent conversation. She buries her face in my neck. Oh dear, she’s crying again. A hot tear somersaults down my face, offering a taste of her pain. I lick my lips instinctively. Anguish. Heartache. Loneliness.  
A familiar palette plays déjà vu with my memory. I had puppies once. Before I named them someone snatched them away. I lay alone, bereft. Everything went back to normal, except I didn’t feel normal. Then my owner carted me to the vet for that special operation. Barely six months later, home changed. Locked in a cage, I paced. A symphony of growls, barks, and whimpers played a nightly tune. I crouched in a corner. Silence eased my grief. She found me.  

“He was so small,” she murmurs. “His hair was finer than yours, reddish, like mine. I know I did the right thing. Yet it feels so wrong.”  

She gasps, her body heaving into mine. I place a paw on her leg. There’s no training for this. No treat erases the pain. It’ll return again and again. She brushes her hand across her damp cheek.  

“He was born at six-thirty-four in the evening. The sun was setting. Streaks of blue and purple swept the sky. I stared out the hospital window. It was easier to fade into the sunset than witness them taking him away.”  

She hiccups, wiping her nose in my hairy coat.  

The same butterfly competes for my attention. I shoo him away and sit tall. We watch the colors crinkle, like a curtain falling in ripples. I’ve lost my desire to rush home. I need to stay and stand guard. Her trusted confidante, that’s me. Together, we’ll observe the sunset melting.  

Reeds whistle, a chirpy bird finds dinner, and a swarm of mosquitoes harmonize above the lake. Our sunset is different from any other. It plays us a melancholy lullaby.

An emerging writer, Desiree draws on a cache of life experiences. She fused her Bachelor of Arts degree with a Project Management certificate. By day, she’s an Event Planner. She embraces her alter ego after dark. She’s currently working on a novel. Her work has previously appeared in Blank Spaces Magazine, Nod Magazine, Black Dog Review and ORBIS (UK).