Turning and turning in the widening gyre.
"Sheba," I said.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer.
"Sheba," I said, holding her face in my hands. She looked back blindly and I saw suddenly that the vet was right, something had grown or shifted, blocking her in there all alone.
I always knew I'd have to live without her someday, I just didn't know it would be tomorrow. Things fall apart. Here in the safe silence of Ithaca, I had forgotten that.
So we stayed awake all of her last night, waiting for the vet's office to open, in the living room on the Turkish rug, in the kitchen next to her food bowl, and finally on the bed, pushed into the corner, my body between her and the edge. At some point I couldn't help it and let my eyes close, and when I did, it felt like I was turning, too, our lives unraveling like a skein of yarn stretched from Ithaca back to Iowa. I see my husband patting his chest and holding out his arms, Sheba jumping into them. I see the Lab, wearing her like a bonnet on his head. I see her running under the seabirds as they fly along the shore. Don't leave yet, I say to my husband, who leaves. "Don't leave yet," I say aloud in the darkness of the bedroom.
She used to sleep at the foot of the bed, and at first light, first twitch, would crawl sleepily up to my pillow, so that when I opened my eyes she was what I saw. The aging dog-actress face: still the dark eyes, still the long glamorous ears. Don't leave yet. If I let go of her she moves in wider and wider circles, getting close to the edge. Come back, little Sheba. We're both close to the edge now, peering over it into the great metaphorical beyond.
And then dawn arrives, and then it's 8, and I begin to move forward, into it, without thinking. I carry her down to the water and let her stand on the shore, the birds wheeling and making their noises. In Iowa she ran into a cornfield once and didn't come out for a long time, and when she did she seemed thoughtful. The Lab once went on a garbage run and afterward threw up what looked like a whole birthday cake, candles and all. I carry her back up the hill and the neighbor runs out of her house, half dressed for work, and opens the car door for me.
"Is it time?" she asks me.
"Not yet," I tell her.
All the way across town, driving and holding her in the passenger seat with one hand, I think to myself, Don't think. All the way from Iowa to Ithaca, 800 miles, she stood in the backseat on the rolled-up rug, her chin on my shoulder, and watched the landscape roll by. I feel her humming against my hand, trying to turn and then we're turning, we're in the parking lot, we're here.
Jo Ann Beard has just completed a novel.