Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (21 page)

Back in Tokyo, our neglected toilet yawns reproachfully. David has left his special allergy-free toothpaste behind in Kyoto, the stores are closed tonight, and when I finally manage to turn on the complicated BlackBerry NHK loaned me, it's jammed with a series of text messages, forwarded somehow from my American cell phone: Mother Brigid's in the
hospital
?

I did try to set up a plan before leaving in case something like this happened. Colette is already on it in England, talking on the phone to nurses
(Don't worry, Sizzle, she tripped on the way to the bathroom, just a little break, no surgery. Everything will be fine)
,
Gaillard has looked in on her already
(Don't worry, Susan, I left by the exercise room while Lilly was sleeping. Everything will be fine)
,
and the best news for Ma is some of her priests are in town
(Mother Brigid says don't worry, Susie; we've blessed her. Everything will be fine).

So. I guess everything will be fine. No sense in calling; they're all fast asleep. A familiar weightless sensation washes over me again, the feeling I had when Sam took care of his father earlier this month.

Transferring the Kyoto pictures to my laptop, I pause. This moment at the pond, when I'd tossed Hiro the camera and took David's hand—it's familiar. I scroll through my files, searching among scanned pictures from the dawn of time. I know what I'm looking for.

Hiro told us stepping-stones are a meaningful feature of a Zen garden, symbolic of the Way, the spiritual journey through life. They force us to slow down, enjoy the sights, appreciate the dangers, and live each moment in the now instead of focusing on some imagined destination. This, I now see, is what we've been trying to do all these decades—navigating births and earthquakes, health crises and rogue toilets, doing our best to stop when we can to savor the scenery, and contemplate the murky depths with respect. Even if we don't know where we're going, we can always take time to see where we are.

Found it. A visual haiku. Perfect bookends.

Lying Dragon Bridge, 2012

Grand Palace, 1988

15.

Front-Hall Bridge

SEPTEMBER 2012

T
hey're doing it again.

She's rolling around on the bed, saying,
“I'm coming, David, I'm coming, wait, where is it, oh, oh, oh, wait I'm coming!”
And he's saying,
“EL. E. EL. O. EL. E. ELLLLL.”

It's very dark in here, which means this is not breakfast time and you should stay.

She drops everything on the floor and says,
“Darn! Where is it? Here!”
And he says,
“ELL,”
and she says,
“I'm spritzing, David, I'm spritzing, don't you feel it?”
And he says,
“ELLLLL!!!”
and she says,
“Rats. Hang on, let me think of something else.”

I'm learning to expect the unexpected. Back in Hell's Kitchen in the 1980s, if you'd told me the bohemian actor I'd fallen for would eventually want to move with me to my upper-crusty birthplace and take up golf, I'd have said,
David? In a polo shirt? Out on the driving range comparing handicaps with Addison J. Waspington III? Never.
And then, if you'd told me I'd voluntarily spend every second of my own spare time seated at a card table—
Me? Playing bridge? Nibbling cocktail nuts?—
I'd have laughed in your face.

This is my friend Ellen's fault—she tricked me. She knows I'm not the garden-club type, but she also knows I'm a compulsive puzzler. Plus, she knows we have an empty nest most of the year now.
It's what we're all going to be doing when our children are gone, when we're too old to do anything but sit.
I thought,
Not me,
but I agreed to step in one time when they needed a fourth, strictly out of curiosity, and now I can't stop.

It's a sickness, and the three ABBA ladies I play with are my codependents. We're mostly at Courtney's—I steer us there as often as possible because Courtney has no cats or tiny edible dogs, meaning greyhounds are welcome, and Lilly's friendly with Courtney's two Labradors, Maggie and Milo. We walk our dogs together in the woods—Lilly dainty on the leash; Courtney hollering at Maggie and Milo, who like to barrel ahead tracking down filthy discarded soda cans and castoff condoms.

Courtney's from Nashville, a survivor on two levels—first of a haphazard, eccentric
Glass Castle
–style upbringing, and recently of breast cancer. She's a skilled architect—not for hire now, because her husband provides well and she's been raising three athletically intimidating kids. Courtney channels her creativity into their ranch in Idaho and her home around the corner from my place: a 1912 Arts and Crafts with a front hall to die for, the size of a small ballroom, looking out on the garden, easily accommodating two fabulous craftsman-type bridge tables.

Bridge is a four-person card game played by opposing sets of paired players. Courtney's most frequent partner is my Drayton cousin Ruthie—another survivor. Over a decade ago, Ruthie's beloved brother committed suicide (depression) at age forty-three, leaving behind a fine wife and three young daughters. Then, less than two years later, Ruthie's father died of dementia. So Ruthie's been holding the family together. She has three kids, including one math whiz about to graduate from a top university, and another Ivy contender currently entering his crucial senior year in high school wearing an elaborate, scary-looking brace from neck to waist—three fractured vertebrae—following a near-tragic accident, a dive off a pier into shallow water on Martha's Vineyard last July. Ruthie's maiden name is Strong, and she has earned it. She's our most advanced player, devastatingly quick-witted, and a stickler for propriety.

We all worry Ruthie may abandon us—she's had formal bridge lessons and we've been taking a while to catch up to her level. Plus, her partner, Courtney, is only playing for laughs. Meaning Courtney blatantly cheats, shamelessly bombarding Ruthie with an illegal fusillade of throat clearing, obvious hand signals, and facial tics during the crucial bidding phase of our games when the goal is to communicate as much as possible to your partner without flat-out telling her what's in your hand.

Courtney's illegal signaling makes me crazy. I tend to scream and curse a lot when we play, even though (I probably shouldn't admit this) my partner Ellen and I have our own scam going. Ellen is a tad psychic, and I think she pretty much knows everything about my hand before I've picked up my cards. Ellen's the only one of us with an actual day job—she's been using her considerable social skills as the alumni fund-raiser for a local school for years now. I think Ellen's focused intently on bridge these days because she wants to stop working soon to be with her husband, who's working a lot in New York, but she's mainly in it for the fun (like Courtney) and because (like Ruthie) her father died of dementia and she wants to keep her mental muscle in shape in case of any lurking tendency in her genes. Ellen's a compulsive puzzler like me, wickedly competitive but naturally adept at peacekeeping, knowing instinctively when to break the tension with a deftly placed wisecrack.

The first time we played, Lilly had a hard time settling down because of all the screams and laughter. Now she makes herself at home, cheerfully fending off attention from Maggie and Milo, and reclining decorously by my chair on the designer carpet in Courtney's front hall, which suits her.

Courtney keeps marveling lately at how much Lilly's adjusted in the last two years. She really has unfolded, just like a flower. She knows our routine and loves it. I first noticed the change last June, after Japan. As is our custom, we left Asia on separate flights, not just as a precaution but because David's car was still in New Orleans and he had to pack up the rental house before driving north for the summer. Lilly always sticks even closer to me for a while when I'm back from a trip. As usual, she dogged me around the house the first few days, and she was only just beginning to trust me out of her sight by the evening David was due to arrive home.

Lilly was on her favorite bed in the living room, asleep, when David's car pulled into the driveway. I was in the kitchen putting dishes away when I heard his key at the door, and before I even processed what was happening, Lilly came bounding in from the living room,
grinning
, pushing past me to sniff David's suitcase and shoes, insisting on having her ears rubbed in that special David way, the way she
likes
it, prancing across the driveway with him for more bags, wanting to assist, her tail high like a flag. When he finally sat at the kitchen table to look through his mail, Lilly was still there, fleetingly resting her needle nose on his knee, politely claiming his attention, and then, catching herself, careful not to overstep, regretfully turning to trot out of the room to her bed.

David and I sat together holding our breath for a few beats, marveling, and suddenly, as if she just couldn't help herself, back Lilly came to sniff one more time, and flop at his feet with a sigh.
He belongs. He is ours.

That's when I knew: Lilly has found her true Forever Home.

Here's the kicker: Linda O'Brien discovered a website where you can plug in your greyhound's official racing name and get a much more complete record of racing results. I knew Lilly had competed for a few seasons and even had a couple of wins, but the printout I was given when we adopted her had some odd, longish gaps. I'd always wondered darkly if the gaps were due to her injuries—those scars—the deep one on her front shoulder, that shredded ear.

When I plugged Lilly's formal racing name into the site Linda found, it turned out our shrinking violet was practically a star. Lilly raced uninterrupted for over two years: more than a hundred starts with a total of fifteen wins. The figures include brief notes describing the nature of the dog's performance in a given race. Some are harrowing—
Fell first turn; Hit—
but my favorite note is for a race Lilly ran one February in Texas:
Flew to wire inside.
Flew! That's our Lilly (as if we'd had anything to do with it). Then, using the new information, I found actual videos of her last few wins in Florida, and we saw Lilly in her glory, running, bursting out of the gate, flying around the track with abandon, lengths ahead of the pack—magnificent.

Googling greyhound races is not for the faint of heart. Inevitably, you wind up watching videos of accidents—dogs tumbling head over heels, shattering those lovely, delicate limbs, lying still on the track in crumpled heaps. The inner rail that runs the lure they chase is electrified­, and dogs have been literally fried on the spot when they cut a turn too close. There are all kinds of horrifying stories: track dogs found with cocaine in their systems, presumably to make them run faster; greyhounds riddled with parasites, stacked in crates for years, turned out only a few times each day, dying of heatstroke while racing­ in hundred-degree temperatures; then sold for medical research, or disposed of in sickening ways. There's disagreement in the rescue community about whether or not this kind of abuse is still unchecked. Some experts say conditions are much better in the US now, and I hope that's true. The worst crimes seem to take place in Spain, where dogs are being starved, hanged, decapitated, and everywhere photos of pile after pile of emaciated greyhound bodies.

People who have devoted their lives to rescue have a reputation for fanaticism. When you really think about what they've been rescuing these dogs from, you understand. It's shocking and inconceivable, and somehow knowing the risk Lilly took each time she raced distinguishes her triumphs even further. Whether striding bravely or creeping tentatively toward unavoidable new challenges as she ages, like all the ABBA ladies and friends I admire, Lilly is with us in that darkened
Toy Story
movie theater, our throats catching as Woody and the gang grasp hands, paws, and trotters on their way down the chute. Lilly, with all her quirks and hang-ups, is one of our heroes, an exquisite force. A survivor.

Things are really good right now. Both boys are back in college—Ben still in Texas and Sam has officially transferred down south. David's on another summer hiatus from
Tremé
,
filming at home for a change. Eliza's up from New Orleans for the month, hired to take stills on the independent movie David's doing, so they're having fun together. After a brief incarceration in the skilled nursing wing arranged by Colette while I was in Japan, Mother Brigid's in fine form as well—working on her iPad skills, which, while not perfect, are pretty good for a ninety-year-old:

From:
Mother Brigid

Date:
Sept 18, 2012 2:45 pm

To:
Susan Morse

Subject:
Autumn Colors

Live as we are meant to do. Every blazing leaf is a sign of who is in charge.

In our Saviour's love the only Friend of MAn, unworthy nun,pilgrimess, Ma.

Sent from my iPad

I can't help my tendency to mistrust happy times, though.

—Ma. This e-mail of yours about who's in charge. I have a question.

—Yes?

—I feel like we keep having one calamity after another. I know we're blessed and everything; things are basically good, relatively speaking. But I don't understand why I'm constantly putting out fires—earthquakes, health crises, whatever—I think I'm supposed to be learning something and I'm not grasping what it is.

—Oh. No. Those are the demons doing that. You're under attack. We all are, always, and the best thing to do is say our prayers.

—The Show Business Demons? When did I tell you about the SBDs?

—The what?

—Never mind. Yes. Thanks, Ma. Demons. I'll say my prayers.

The phone rang while I was exercising this morning. It was almost a relief, a chance to let off some steam.

—Hello?

—Cracklecracklecracklecrack.

—Yes?

—Cracklecracklecracklecrack.

—If this is a robo-call I'm hanging up.

—Cracklecra—

—Okay. Here I go, I'm hanging—

—CrackleRe-ports of shots fired near insert lo-cation here. Crackle.

—Excuse me?

—CracklePolice are re-sponding. Crackle. Remain in-side slash seek shel-ter immediately. Cra—

—What?
Wait,
what
? Police?! SHOTS FIRED?!

—CrackleUpdates to foll-ow. Cra—

—Shots fired
where
? Hello?
HELLO?!

—Click.

I peered out the window, feeling both frantic and foolish, seeing no SWAT team in our immediate vicinity. I tried CNN: nothing. But clearly something was up—wait, didn't I sign up for incident alerts with Ben's and Sam's colleges? While I was still paralyzed, trying to decide which boy to call first, our phone rang again. I picked up immediately, the familiar static sending a jolt of adrenaline up my spine.

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