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It's Nelly's World

Her Seventeen Lives: Eight-point-five and Counting

alec vanderboom

This is just a story. There is no narrative arc.

The walk was the time-honored cornfields walk, the rocky path between the Esopus Creek, sent on its way after a sojourn in the drinking water reservoir of the great metropolis to our south, and the seed-corn fields. We've been coming here for eight years. It is convenient. It is a good walk the dogs love. We have only to dodge the detritus left by other users of this old-time private-but-public place: rusted fishing hooks, half-burned beer cans (one of the towering challenges beloved of the local yahoo set), dismembered deer legs. (Once I found a rottweiler's severed paws, tossed by the side of the path, but this belongs in a different story. Although thematically related to this one.) I can tell it's spring again, because the black garbage bags are blooming by the riverside; their presence is a mental puzzle I use to keep my mind fit as it tries to figure out why people choose to drive their bags into the beauteous landscape rather than to the dump. I have not succeeded in untying this particular knot yet.

Today it's the usual crowd--Bonnie, Janet, their four dogs, and Nelly--only, actually, it's sadly not very usual anymore since I've moved. Anyway.

On we go. Bonnie stays in her car with the pile of New York Timeses Janet has brought for me; it's too cold for her to walk. So her Malcolm comes with us, while Nora turns back soon and rejoins her human. Dogs--as individual in their proclivities as each of us.

We walk to the end, the literal bend in the river, where last time we saw a quick brown fox jump over a log.

That is not a story. That is true. A true story.

We turn back. Nelly is searching frantically (she has no other channel than the frantic one here) for rabbits in the undergrowth. At one point I see her in the field chewing on what looks like someone's coonskin cap, but I actually call her off of it, so there must not have been anything left but hair.

Ah, the getting back in the car part. Always a challenge. Bonnie got out and spied Nelly at the water's edge, down the ravine. It was just a matter of waiting for her to decide--or not--to come. Miracle of miracles, she soon did. Hup! I say, and she jumps into the back, with a bit of biscuit as thanks.

When I started the car, I noted by the clock (though no timepiece I own tells the actual time; all are set differing times ahead, though none has yet succeeded in making me anything but late) I had fifteen minutes to spare. So I ran to the drugstore for an errand. Then it was time to make the after-school pickup, at which I learned my son is the school's top expert on, and much in demand for advice on how to beat the next level. It was hard extricating him from there.

And so it was that, after an hour of waiting, the little miss was on her way home. We were on the final curve before the drive, and What should we have for dinner? Well, I have some-- Suddenly from the backseat came the most horrific sound my dog has ever produced. It was a howl of agony. By the time I'd braked to the side of the road, hit the hazard lights, and turned around, Nelly had vomited all over the exactly five inches of upholstery that was not covered with old dog blanket. Now the deed was done, I raced to home. When I had the proper perspective to actually inspect the stuff, my stomach clenched in fear. Blue and green crystals of some sort--nothing that nature could produce. It looked like something I had seen, but what? How did I suddenly know it looked like rat poison?

Nelly was now consumed with an overwhelming desire to re-consume what had just been forcibly evicted, and she waited panting by the closed car door to regain entry.

I ran in to call Bonnie. She confirmed what I already knew: get to the vet. I looked at my watch. Ten minutes to close.

I had to weigh the choices. So I told the boy, who is not old enough to be left home alone, to stay home alone and do his homework. I didn't need to tell him to avail himself of one of the electronic babysitters, perhaps finish watching that HBO series on John Adams. Then we got back in the car, Nelly this time perched on my lap with my fingers around her collar so she could not get access to the backseat again. And I drove, fast fast fast.

It cannot seem like luck to have your dog ingest a poison that will kill her in the most brutal, bloody way possible. But it was a series of individual pieces of luck that unreeled this movie backwards. The what-ifs are arrayed like the spindles of the hard-to-hit carnival ring toss game: if we got home any earlier, she would have gone out somewhere in back field and I would never have seen what she threw up (and ate again). I would have watched her drink increasing amounts of water all night, to no avail, and merely wondered why. If the vet's office had not been open, they would not have been able to induce her to vomit the rest, and given her quick applications of medicine. What if, what if.

What if Nelly were not here now? But she is. Sidelong on the couch behind me, three feet away at this very moment, and I can hear her gentle breath. Sleeping beauty. And we lived happily ever after.