The First Line: Annie

It’s been a while since I posted.   There haven’t been any Chuck Wendig prompts since June and it sounds like there aren’t going to be any more, at least not for a while.  As a result, my blogging has been sparse since mid-Summer.

I sent in a story for August’s The First Line deadline.  The First Line is a journal that publishes four times a year and, each quarter, provides a prompt in the form of a sentence that is to be used as the first line in your story.  There are no restrictions on genre or form, but every story in each issue opens with the same first line.

I have been submitting to TFL for several years now and have yet to be published.  I usually post my story when (ok, ok, if) it is not accepted.  They didn’t accept this one, so I am now publishing it here for you to read.  I actually meant to publish it in September and just never got to it.  It’s just over 1,000 words long.  The first line for the quarter was The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air.  The day I wrote this, our next door neighbors lost their sweet dog of 12 years, and I suppose that was on my mind that night when I sat down to write.

I missed the November submission (my first one to miss since November 2016), for a number of reasons.  I want to write about that, too, in sort of a “writing year in review” piece.  Look for that sometime before the end of the year.  In the meantime please to enjoy “Annie”.

ANNIE

 

The window was open just enough to let in the cool night air.  The breeze was gentle and the smell of the petunias in the planter box lingered after the curtains stopped moving.  Summer in the mountains is beautiful.  Cool nights, low humidity, and warm days just barely verging into hot now and then.  It was why we had left the city to move north.

The breeze brought more than just the smell of flowers into the bedroom; it also carried the soft sound of crying.  I got up, put on my robe, and padded down the hall in the battered old Crocs I used as house shoes.  The front door was open, as I knew it would be, and my wife was sitting on the porch, slowly moving back and forth in her favorite rocking chair.

She didn’t look at me when I came out, so I crossed the porch to crouch down in front of her.  Still she wouldn’t meet my eyes.  I reached out and gently placed my fingertips beneath her chin and lifted her face to look into mine.  The tracks of the tears on her cheeks reflected the streetlight.  Her eyes were swollen.

“What’ll we do?” she asked me.  “What am I supposed to do?”  I had no answer for her.

Our beautiful Annie; our sweet, loving Annie, had died that afternoon.  She had shared our home, had brightened our days and lit up our lives since the day we had found her in a pile of rough-and-tumble pups up for adoption at a Humane Society event twelve years before.  She had won our hearts immediately and we brought her home and made her part of our family.

In the early days her paws had seemed bigger than the rest of her.  She had grown into them, though, as she got older.  She was kind and faithful and, even if she tended to bark too much when the neighborhood kids rode their bikes by and snapped at them if they tried to pet her, she was loved by everyone in our circle of friends.  She seemed to return our love tenfold, always having a friendly smile and slobbery kiss for anyone who got too close.

We never had children of our own, so Annie became our daughter.  Our “dog-ter,” as my wife called her.  We doted on her like any other parents, spoiled her, gave her anything we thought she needed (and quite a few toys and sweaters that I was pretty sure she didn’t need at all).  She was our life.  She was the heart of our home.

When she got sick last year, we did everything we could for her.  What parent wouldn’t?  What parent wouldn’t move heaven and earth to make certain their child was safe and healthy and warm and loved?  We did our best for Annie, letting her know every chance we got that we loved her and that we would never let anything happen to her.

It didn’t work.

The tumors had advanced and she finally reached a point where she couldn’t even stand.  She snapped at us if we tried to move her, but was still as affectionate as ever if we didn’t, stretching her head to get scratches and rubs and to take treats from our trembling hands.

Seeing her that way, unable to move or to take care of herself, was too much to bear.  We talked it over and this morning we finally decided that we had no choice.  I went to the pet supply store and bought a muzzle and a rawhide bone—the last present I would ever buy her.  I put the muzzle on her and carried her to the car.

I put her in the back seat.  She had always loved the back seat.  It was her domain.  She knew where she was.  She roused up and when my wife sat down beside her she dragged herself forward to put her head in my wife’s lap.  She chewed on her new bone while my wife scratched her ears and stared down at her, trying not to cry.  Not yet.

 

Six hours later, Annie is gone and her ashes have been spread throughout our back yard.  We spoke words over them before we spread them.  Some of our friends and neighbors saw what we were doing and came over to find out what had happened.  They stayed long into the night and we talked about Annie and told our favorite old stories and made up some new ones on the spot.  We laughed and cried, all of us.  Annie had been a part of all of our worlds.  We would all miss her.

Now my wife sits on the front porch, alone, and cries her private tears.  I have left her to her grief.  I know she is remembering the little pup with the big paws and the bigger heart and I smile at the memory.  I sit at the kitchen table, where I have cut a slice of the pineapple upside-down cake my wife made last night and poured a glass of cold milk to go with it.

As I eat my snack, my eyes wander around the room and I see Annie’s food and water bowls beside the back door.  I think of how much she enjoyed my wife’s cake.  I think she liked it more than I did.  I knew that if she was there she would be sitting right beside my knee, looking up at me with those big brown eyes, wide and innocent, asking for a bite of my cake.

I could see her there.  Only problem was, my eyes were closed.  I was seeing her in my heart, wishing she was there.  Softly, I began to cry.  My fork slipped from suddenly nerveless fingers and I laid my head in my hands and let myself go.  I miss my dog-ter.

Over the sink, the window was open just enough to let in the cool night air.  The breeze also carried the distant sound of a dog, barking defiantly into the night.

 

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