Vancouver
4 min

Gifted

The little dog just knows

I finally got all my stuff out of storage and went through it all. There was the usual garbage bag full of clothes I wouldn’t wear again and didn’t miss, and I bundled them all up to donate them.

It was one of those days: take out the recycling, pay the bills, mail stuff, buy dish soap, and drop off the old clothes.

I took the little dog with me. He is friendly and I am prone to chatting up strangers, so it wasn’t unusual when the lady bent down to pet the dog and the two of us got to talking.

“He’s so sweet and friendly.”

I nodded proudly. He is. He had flopped his head over her bent knee, and was reaching for her hand with his face.

“It’s like he can tell I was having a shitty day. That I needed a bit of love.”

This was all I needed.

“Actually,” I told her, puffing up a little, “he is a gifted therapeutic pet.”

He blinked at her with his watery brown eyes. I continued.

“My puppy sitter takes him in to visit her father with Alzheimer’s. That’s how we found out about his natural ability to comfort the sick. And then he started visiting her mom, who has since passed away.

“The nurses take him around to visit the other patients. They say he’s better than the trained animals that come in. He always was good at knowing when someone wasn’t feeling very well. He’s extra sweet if you are sick.”

He had his forehead pressed into her thigh now, his tail wagging slowly, the rest of him motionless.

The woman raised her face up at me, and that was the first time I really looked at her. Her hair was cropped close to her scalp, and she had amazingly beautiful big eyes, which were shining full of tears. She let out a long breath.

“You should take him into the cancer ward. They would love him there. He really is a special guy. They could use him there. I should know.” Her eyes met mine. “I’ve just come through my third battle with cancer myself.”

I knew I had seen that haircut before. My friend Carole from Ottawa, most recently. The short, short hair of a woman who recently had none at all.

Not short hair like mine. Short hair like hers. Short hair that her girlfriends try to tell her just makes her look younger, like a supermodel, or that gymnast in the ’70s, what was her name again? Short hair that is growing in a different colour, so much more wiry, or curlier than her hair used to be, before all… this.

I didn’t say much, just mumbled something awkward, around the lump in my throat.

She stood up, wiping her hands on her slacks. Then she pulled a giant ring of keys out of her handbag and opened the trunk of her car. She hauled out a vacuum cleaner and turned again to grab a milk crate full of cleaning supplies.

I stumbled over the dog’s leash to help her with the crate, but she beat me to it. Pine Sol, ammonia, bleach, Pledge, Windex, stuff like that.

“You moving in here?” I motioned to the empty house on the other side of the hedge that bordered the sidewalk where we were standing.

She shook her head. “I run a housecleaning business. The real estate agent hired me to do this one.”

She exhaled and dropped the crate of cleaning supplies next to my boots, and turned to grab a Home Depot bag full of what looked like paper towels and rags. I looked down at all those chemicals.

“You’re back at work already?” It sounded stupid, even leaving my lips.

She smiled, shrugged a little. “A girl’s gotta work. Cancer doesn’t care about who pays the rent.”

The little dog was wagging around her feet now, flipping his ears back like he does, looking for some more pats. I pulled on the leash so she didn’t trip over him. I told her it was nice to talk to her, wished her best of luck.

We exchanged a few more niceties, told each other to have good days, and she bent down to pick up her vacuum cleaner. I got about 10 steps down the sidewalk before I stopped and turned.

“You wouldn’t happen to know anyone who needs some clothes, would you? They’re all clean and in good condition.”

Her eyes glanced up and down my frame. “They would probably be too big for me.”

“They’re all men’s clothes,” I told her. “Shirts and ties and stuff. I just thought maybe you might know someone who could use them.”

Her eyes lit up. “Someone like my 19-year-old transgendered son?” She reached out a thin arm to take the bag from me.

I smiled wide. “Yeah, someone just like that.”

She opened the bag, and closed it again.

“He just came out to me recently. He will love this. We can’t afford a whole new wardrobe right now.”

“Tell him someone named Ivan Coyote gave them to him.”

“I thought that was you.” She was beaming now. “He loves your books. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to seem weird.”

I didn’t hug her because I didn’t want to seem weird, I thought, but said nothing.

“Tell him hello for me. I’m not sure if any of them are cool enough for a 19-year-old, but tell him hey for me anyways.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you.” She started to shake my hand, and then pulled me into a stiff, awkward hug. She smelled like something vaguely lavender. “You take good care of yourself.”

“You too. You take care.”

Me and the little dog left her there, dragging her cleaning stuff up the stairs of the refurbished heritage house that wasn’t hers. There was so much I wanted to say to her but I couldn’t speak. So I wrote it down.