By Zoe May
Mark and Jen have been driving on I-70 for the past four hours. The roads have not seen rain in almost a month, so they were able to cover a lot of ground with the posted 80 mile per hour speed limit. The summer is supposed to mean green grass and relief from the dry winter, but this summer meant brown and brittle grass as a stark reminder of the man-made drought. Life goes on, or doesn’t in the case of the grass. Their 2010 Toyota Forerunner is the only car on this stretch of road for the last 20 miles. A strange sight for the usually bustling tourism traffic. They cruise along to the sound of Jack Johnson’s guitar and kombucha bottles rattling in the cupholders. The car’s back seats are folded down and covered in old, starchy beach towels. In the very back is a medium-sized beige-colored plastic kennel with the name “Spot” written in faded sharpie across the top.
Spot was a good dog. No, Spot was a great dog, the best dog. Spot was a graduation present to Mark from Jen after they finished their Bachelor’s of Science degrees in Geology at Colorado State University. An active puppy to match their active lifestyles. Mark and Jen spent their first month post college living out of their van in Moab. The long summer days were spent mountain biking, visiting the petroglyphs, and reliving memories around the campfire. And Spot was growing up in the desert right beside them. Since she was just a baby, they would let her hike alongside them until she decided enough was enough. That meant nap time in Jen’s backpack and being carried the rest of the way. That is, of course, until her energy was magically restored and she was sprinting up and down the trails again. She was an absolute nutcase, but she was Mark’s nutcase. It only took Spot once to learn not to bite cactus and it only took Mark once to learn not to wake Spot up from a nap.
When Jen got a job working for the United States Geological Survey in New Mexico, she was suddenly gone from Spot’s life for extended periods of time. Mark stepped up into his single-dad duties for this puppy. While Jen was traveling the southwest, Spot was traveling the city. Spot was too spoiled as a baby growing up with freedom to roam and wide open spaces that reached the horizon, so this new apartment life wasn’t it. Although, the apartment was bigger than the van! Mark could see the spirit draining from Spot, so he made it his mission to take Spot to every hiking spot within 30 miles of Denver. Spot got better at walking on a leash and Mark got better at bringing a headlamp when they inevitably made it back to the car after dark. In the next few months, Spot grew bigger and stronger. Come winter time, she had a thick coat of her curly black fur to protect her from the dropping temperatures. Since Spot was already comfortable riding in a backpack, Mark decided to start taking her Alpine skiing. She got her own pair of goggles and booties to protect her eyes and paws from the Rocky Mountain winters. Mark and Spot became a sight to see on the slopes. Everyday someone new would ask for a picture of Spot looking absolutely adorable with her goggles. And she knew she was cute too. Spot was there for everything. For Mark when his father passed away, for Jen when she got her promotion, for Mark and Jen’s wedding.
Turn left and your destination is on the right.
Siri’s voice snaps Mark back to reality. They pull into a parking spot near the front entrance of “Penny’s Pets”. When Mark cuts the engine, silence is hanging in the air. Jen reaches across the arm rest and gives Mark a squeeze and a smile.
“You ready?” Jen asks softly.
Mark nods and they exit the air conditioned car into the scorching Colorado heat. The cracked sidewalk is painted with faded blue paw prints leading them to the door. Mark leans on Jen as they walk towards the building. Next to the front door is a red water bowl dried out from the sun. The bells on the top of the door frame clatter as the door is swung open by a gray haired lady in a blue apron. She is carrying a pitcher full of ice water and refills the red bowl for its next thirsty visitors. The gray haired lady holds the door open for Mark and Jen and cheerfully ushers them inside. Noticing her paw-shaped name tag, Jen follows Penny inside.
“Thank you, we are the Smith’s. We called earlier this week about Pearl?”
“Yes! I was so happy when you called. Pearly doesn’t get many callers.”
Delighted, Penny leads Jen and Mark to the back of the store. There, in a cage by herself, sat the fluffiest, currliest, and sweetest black Portugese Water Dog. Penny lifts Pearl up and hands her to Mark. Pearl licks and kisses all over Mark’s face! There is not a single spot she missed. A small tear slips out and a smile fills Mark’s face as he holds the stub of Pearl’s missing leg.
“Ahh. So that’s why you want her?” Penny motions to Mark holding Pearl’s stump.
“Well bless your heart.”
Jen and Penny talk logistics while Mark turns his full attention to Pearl. She squirms in his arms so he hinges to the floor and sets her down. She fumbles with her puppy legs, and lack-there-of. She flops to the left then spins to the right then tries to take off towards the door. She gets distracted on the way and flops over to the chew toys and picks out one to her liking. Of course she picked a stuffed duck twice her size! She grips the duck between her baby incisors and tries to drag the giant duck. At the sound of Mark’s laughter, she turns and runs full speed to him. Her running looks more like she’s in the downward dog yoga pose with her legs hoping her forward like a kangaroo. Mark can’t help but laugh at how utterly ridiculous she looks!
“Easy there, Tiger. You haven’t found your running legs yet, but maybe that’s something we can learn together.”
Another tear swelled in Mark’s eyes as Pearl ran into his arms. Looking into her eyes and running his hands through her curly black fur, he saw Spot.
He saw Spot happily pacing in the trunk of the 2004 Subaru Outback knowing they were on the way to the mountain. Spot let out an excited bark when they got on the freeway.
“Quiet now we aren’t there yet!”
The day after a 13 inch dump of snow meant an early start in order to be the first ones to the fresh powder. It was still dark out and the roads were slow. But snowy roads are no stranger to Mark and Spot. Mark did everything right. He had two cups of coffee so he was alert. He had chains on the tires to make it up the pass without getting stuck. He had his lights on. He was in the far right lane. He did everything right. So why did the snowplow hit them?
Snow has a way of silencing the world. The light, fluffy snow accumulated on the ground and acted as a sound absorber, dampening sound waves. So despite the mechanical destruction, it was a silent morning. There was no barking. There was only silence. It was devastating to lose his leg, but it was the hardest to lose his best friend. Everyone who heard about what happened told him he was lucky to be alive. No one acknowledged someone wasn’t alive. Spot was family.
The bells on the door frame bring Mark back to the pet store. At the register, Jen settled the expenses with Penny. Mark picked Pearl up and used Jen’s arm to make their way back to the car. Penny opened the door for them and the Colorado heat hit them once again.
“Thank you for your service!”
“Uh, you’re welcome!”
Mark and Jen look at each other puzzled before muffling their laughs.
“Look! She even gave us the military discount.”
Mark and Jen make Pearl at home in her new kennel before the four hour drive back home.
“Thank you for making me come. I think you are right and this will help me get better. And thank you for being here, through it all. I need you.”
Jen grabs his hand in hers and looks back at Pearl.
“I think you need each other.”
As Pearl slept soundly in her new kennel on top of her stuffed duck, silence filled the car once more. Only this time, the silence wasn’t tension in the air, but a moment of relief shared by the new family. But with new puppies silence never lasts.
“Do you smell that?”
“I think she just pooped.”