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It's Nelly's World

These Too Are Gifts

alec vanderboom

We went down to the city of the past and the present. We rode the bus. One of the aims, besides encountering the serendipities a visit to the place always provides, was to see the bonsai collection at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; the boy has become fascinated with these frozen moments, these living paintings. One thing led to another. We arrived a half hour before closing time, in a foggy gray drizzle. Only it wasn't a half hour before closing, it turned out. We walked past the windows, through which we could see people standing in the room of miniatures, gazing in silence, and when we reached the door we found it locked. A guard stood on the other side, shaking his head.

Because I had, for inscrutable and unfortunate reasons, seen the tree at Rockefeller Center by myself while the boy was still downtown, and I was saddened that he had not had the experience, I was now determined he should not miss another thing. He would especially not miss this, for which we had spent hours of travel time. I stood there and gestured, with what I hoped was a pleasant but pleading look on my face. "We're closed," he said as he cracked open the door.

I won't retail all that I said, but it was a lot. And, though he hesitated--"If I get in trouble for letting you in . . ."; "Then I'll tell them that it was all my fault," now that my foot was almost literally in the door--he relented. "Thank you. You've made a child very happy."

And indeed he had. The quiet beauty of the trees resisted time. Amazing us. Yet only five minutes had passed. On our way out, I touched the guard's arm. "You are a good man. Merry Christmas."

We walked down the street, entered the museum next. After we had wandered through four floors, just aimless and seeing what we felt like seeing, not talking too much, we went back down and sat for a moment in front of a temporary piece in the atrium. "Movable Garden," it was titled: a long brick trough of dirt in which hundreds of variously colored roses had been stuck. If you took one, the placard instructed, the t
hing to do was to pass it along to a stranger.

I called Tony on my phone. This was another aim of the trip: to say goodbye to Fannie, Tony's dog and my god-dog. Fourteen years before, we had found her as a puppy wandering alone in Prospect Park. She found us within five minutes of each other, almost simultaneously, even though we were not aware at the time, being on other ends of the park, and she further bound us together. She had always been one of those extraordinary beings, a spirit dog. We loved her with e
verything we had. And now she was dying.

Tony picked us up in his van. We didn't have long before we had to get on the subway again, to make our bus home. Fannie had lost so much weight. Her bones stuck out, and her fur was coming out in clumps. I am not sure if she recognized me. The boy put his arms around her; he loved dogs almost as if he were one. He gave Tony the white
rose he had selected.

While the boy ate some pizza at a table indoors, I finished mine outside on the sidewalk while Tony and I tried hard not to cry. I do not like goodbyes. He said Fannie would barely eat. Not even pizza, or cheese? No, not even that. But I held out a piece of crust; her eyes had been distant, but now she took it gingerly in her mouth. And chewed.

To a passerby with a dog who stopped to chat, Tony recited from memory the inscription on a stone in Greenwood Cemetery. Underneath the aged soil rested a dog, the only one in this graveyard. She had belonged to Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine. Tony had named his dog after Howe's. Fannie.

Only a dog, do you say, Sir Critic?
Only a dog, but as
truth I prize
The truest love I have won in living
Lay in the deeps of her limpid eyes

Frosts of the winters, nor heat of the summer
Could make her fail if my footsteps led
And memory holds in its treasure casket
The name of my d
arling who lieth dead

Tony could not see me at that moment, but hearing him was my goodbye. And tears fell then.

Soon we were on the bus north, to home. The boy fell asleep against my shoulder, and all was as it was supposed to be. Beginnings, endings, and in between the gifts.

Tony, right; Jupiter, in Santa's lap; Fannie, center. Prospect Park, 2009.