As preoccupied as they are with tomorrow's Open House—Ruth has barely touched her chicken dinner, Alex has eaten most of his, but without pleasure or awareness—they still remember to set aside a few choice pieces for Dorothy.
From the kitchen doorway, Dorothy watches Ruth pick up Alex's plate, scrape his contribution into a bowl, add some morsels of her own, and then set the bowl on the tiled floor between their chairs. At twelve, eating is Dorothy's last great pleasure. Her dachshund face, mostly snout, is now completely white, whiter even than Alex's. She is missing two canines and three back molars. At her withers she stands eight inches tall, weighs ten pounds two ounces. She tries to get up again, but nothing happens. Her hind legs have turned to ice, burning ice. Without even knowing that she's doing it, she relieves herself on the tiles. She only knows that she has done so because of the odor; it smells sour and sick. She lets loose a shrill yelp.
Ruth looks in her direction, blinks for a moment or two, as if Dorothy had roused her from a trance. "Dorothy, have you wet yourself?" she asks, crossing the kitchen and bending over her.
With waning hope, Dorothy searches Ruth's eyes—mapped in wrinkles, putty-gray and magnified to omnipotence by thick glasses—for instructions. Should she stay put, or try to stand up again? What does Ruth think? If something truly bad had happened to her back half, wouldn't she see it in Ruth's stare, smell it on Ruth's skin? Ruth reeks of fear.
"It's okay, Dottie, we know you didn't mean to," Ruth murmurs. "Alex, something's terribly wrong with Dorothy."
Alex joins them on the floor, slips his hand under her belly, another under her chest. "I'm not going to hurt you," he says, gently lifting her out of her mess. When he sets her down on all fours, she sinks backwards again, as if her ice legs had already melted in the fire. She shrieks.
"You're hurting her," Ruth says.
"I'm trying to find out what's wrong. She may have something stuck in her paw." Leaning closer, Alex examines her back feet. All she can feel, though, is smoldering numbness. "Walk away, Ruth. Pretend you're leaving. Open the door and call her."
"You think it's something in her paw? Dot can be such a little Sarah Bernhardt when she wants to be." Ruth unlocks the front door, holds up Dorothy's leash and collar, and waves them enthusiastically. "You want to go for a walk? Come on, Dottie, we'll go to the falafel stand."
Dorothy hears her tags rattling for her, but all she can manage is to scoot herself forward, an inch at a time.
"I'm calling the vet," Ruth says. Still holding the leash and collar, she hurries back into the kitchen. Dorothy fears she's coming back to yoke her to that lead, but Ruth steps over her and reaches for the phone.
"It's past six, no one will be there" Alex says. "Let's just go straight to the animal hospital."
Ruth puts down the phone.
"It may be nothing. Remember last year?" Dot acted as if she was dying. Seven hundred dollars later we found out she had gas."