By Kim Charles Younkin

January 22

Dear Dad,

I’m scared. Don’t worry, though. It’s different this time. It’s Maisie. She has this infection in her glands, the vet says. I didn’t even know dogs had these glands until Maisie started scooting on her bottom all over the yard in the snow a few weeks ago. The vet says the glands leave a scent where dogs do their business and it marks them for other dogs so they all come to know each other. Maisie’s real swollen back there and it must hurt because if she’s not scooting in the yard she’s just sitting in the cold snow with her head back and her eyes closed. So this morning before Rich goes to work I beg him to take her to the vet. Of course he argues because he’s so cheap. He says “Get over it” like usual. But I’m the one taking care of Maisie and when I wet a warm cloth and pat her bottom real gently, her pointy ears go all the way back and rest on her head. She looks right into my eyes with her big brown ones and I can see she’s telling me she loves me even though she can’t say the words. It made me think of the blizzard of ‘07 when I had chicken pox, remember? I had those bumps all over my body and it hurt so much that tears just squeezed out of my eyes all the time and I couldn’t stop them. And you sat on my bed and looked right in my eyes as you rubbed that lotion on my arms to try to make them stop itching. Anyway when Maisie does that this morning and Rich is sitting right there having his breakfast, watching the whole thing and not saying a word to either me or Maisie, some voice I never heard before inside me bubbles up and tells him “I’ll pay for the vet visit myself somehow and won’t touch any of your precious dimes.” He just looks at me with real surprise on his face. So I take her in after lunch and the first thing I ask the vet is “Is it cancer?” and then I start trembling uncontrollably. The vet tech has to sit me down and bring me a glass of water and I drink it while I listen to the vet tell me that this kind of thing happens a lot in dogs, and that glands that have worked normal for years can all of a sudden start being abnormal and cause terrible problems and lots of pain. She says we can try to treat it with antibiotics first but if it continues to come back and bother Maisie, it’s best to just have a surgery and get her glands removed. When she says that, I think two things. One, that Rich would never pay for a thousand-dollar surgery for a dog, and two, that they would cut her back there and she would feel so much pain after and there wouldn’t be anything I could do about it. So I start trembling all over again and they bring me another glass of water. Maisie knows I’m having a hard time because she leans up against my leg the whole time I’m sitting in the chair and keeps turning her head to lick my knee. I scratch her behind her ears and when I calm down we take the package of pills and leave. They tell me I can make payments on the bill which is real nice of them. Now we’ll see what happens.

February 14

Dear Dad,

Well, the medicine worked for a little while. It was kind of like when Rich is mean for a long time and then I do a bunch of nice things like make his favorites chicken parm and meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinners and give him little gifts like I did today (a coupon book for back rubs when he has a hard day at work), and he gets nicer for a little while. Maisie felt better for a few weeks and didn’t scoot. And I got a job. Well, not a job like I’m going somewhere to clock in every day and get a paycheck with my name on it because of course Rich would have something to say about it. But I found out that I can help a neighbor who needs me. Mary. She’s old and she said I could clean a bit at her house and go to the grocery and pick up her cigarettes and skim milk and walk her dog, Fred (Maisie loves that), and she’d pay me ten dollars an hour. I do it while Rich is at work so he doesn’t even know, and I’m not telling him. Like you said, some secrets are good to have and this one is one of them. When Maisie felt good I worked twenty whole hours and Mary paid me in cash. I took that money right to the vet and paid my bill and it felt real good. It was just in time too, because I thought Maisie was fixed and things would go back to being normal, but a few days ago she started scooting on the snow again and I could tell when I looked at her face that she was hurting. So this morning I’m pressing the warm cloth on her bottom again and Rich sees it while he’s eating the heart-shaped pancakes I made him for breakfast without even noticing them and says “That dog’s more trouble than it’s worth.” I flinch like he slapped me and it burns underneath my skin. I only felt that burn one other time, when I got a shot at the doctor’s office once and a hot fire went up my whole arm. Except the fire is everywhere inside me and I know somehow that it’s better if I don’t say a word. He finishes his pancakes and leaves and as I watch him walk out the door I think how he doesn’t look anything like you, doesn’t walk strong, and I don’t feel at all the way I felt when I watched you walk out the door and leave for work in the mornings. Like my heart was going with you and it would come back to me later and fill up my chest again when you walked in at six o’clock and gave me a kiss on the forehead before you sat down to eat the dinner I made you. So I put Maisie’s leash on her and follow almost right behind Rich out the door to the vet appointment I’d already made. The vet sees Maisie and her eyebrows go up real high on her forehead when she examines her. Then she asks me “Have you thought any more about surgery?” Maisie looks at me with scared eyes almost like she understands the words, and she’s telling me she’s not ready for that yet. So I tell her “It’s okay, girl, I’m not ready either” and I take the two kinds of pills and an ointment I’m supposed to rub on her bottom and Maisie and I walk out into the cold. I left my coat on when we got home and we sat outside on the porch step for a while before I started writing this to you and her head was on my lap. I scratched her chin and wondered if this time maybe things will work out.

March 8

Dear Dad,

It’s hard to write this right now because I’m still shaking from the conversation with the vet today on our third visit because Maisie’s infection is back again. She did okay with the second antibiotic and the ointment I rubbed on her bottom twice a day for ten days. But the last time they gave us a steroid too because she’s so swollen in there and they want to try hard to reduce it. Well the steroids made Maisie really thirsty and she started peeing all over the house and you know what I’m going to say about Rich before I even say it. I won’t tell you the worst thing he said to me because you wouldn’t like it and because the feeling I get when I think of telling you is that I want to hide in a dark corner of the basement under a blanket. So I’ll tell you instead that the first day she pees in the house it’s on the living room rug right in front of Rich’s recliner, but I don’t know it because I don’t see it happen. Rich steps in it after dinner when he goes to sit down for the basketball game tipoff and yells real loud like he caught a robber in the house. So I run in from cleaning up the kitchen and he’s standing there sniffing his hand with his face scrunched up real tight and says to me with nails in his voice “Your damn dog pissed on my carpet.” And I just look at his tomato-colored face thinking how I thought that both the dog and the carpet belonged to both of us, and the first thing I did was find Maisie and make sure she was okay. The next few days I took her out extra even though it’s still really cold outside, and we spent a lot of time at Mary’s and I made sure I cleaned up the accidents before Rich got home. But ten days later she was still sick. So I take her back to the vet today and she tells me that sometimes dogs become immune to antibiotics. She says their body knows it has an infection and it knows what it has to do to heal itself and it even sees the medicine coming, but for some reason it just goes numb to it. She says “We don’t know why it doesn’t do what it knows it should. It just does.” When she says those words something breaks inside me. The last time I remember feeling that way was after Mom died and I hadn’t cried yet, not for three whole weeks after, and you came into my room one night and sat down on my bed. You wrapped me in a hug so tight without even saying a word and it broke me open and I cried myself to sleep in your arms. So the vet gives me a third antibiotic but when Maisie and I go to leave, she scratches Maisie behind the ears and looks me right in the eyes and says “This is it. In good conscience, I can’t do this anymore.” And I’m still shaking right now because I think I finally figured out exactly what she means.

March 22

Dear Dad,

You would think after seeing all of that blood tonight that I wouldn’t be able to write to you at all. Remember when I fell off my bike right onto my face and it knocked out my top four baby teeth? I was laying on the driveway in a puddle of my own blood crying, and the last thing I felt before I passed out at the horror of it all was your arms lifting me up off of the ground. I guess I’ve never been good at the sight of blood, especially when it’s my own. But apparently I got better with it. Tonight after dinner I was sitting with Rich and Maisie in the living room and Rich was watching TV but I was watching the storm outside, the rain coming down, and thinking about how spring is coming and things are going to change. There’s a knock on the front door and it surprises us both out of our trances and Rich looks at me of course so I get up and answer it. It’s Mary standing there. She’s smoking a cigarette under an umbrella and she thrusts out a wad of bills at me and says “Sorry I forgot to pay you today, here ya go” and then turns and shuffles off. Well when I close the door and turn back, Rich is craned around in his chair and says “What was that all about?” and I don’t do a very good job of hiding how I stash the cash in my jeans pocket. Then he’s up out of his chair and charging at me with a pointed finger saying “Where the hell’d you get that money?” And the strangest things happen to me at the same time. I start to tremble but for once it’s not from fear. Then that voice bubbles up from inside me again and says “It’s none of your goddamn business.” That stops him in his tracks with big wide eyes at the same moment thunder cracks loud through the pounding rain and Maisie yelps from her spot on the floor. I look at her because she’s never done that before in a storm. I go to her fast, walk by Rich like he’s not even there, and find her laying in a pool of blood from her bottom on the carpet. I move like I already knew what I was going to do and scoop her up off of the carpet into my arms and turn and walk straight back toward the door. Rich says “If your dad hadn’t given you that dog I would’ve gotten rid of it a long time ago.” And as I open the door with one hand and make to head to Mary’s I turn and say to him “Well, if he was still here, he would have gotten rid of you.” And I give him a look that I’m sure he knows is the last, and I see your face in my mind as the rain soaks me and Maisie all the way down the block, and you’re smiling.

April 8

Dear Dad, 

The surgery went great! It was scary that the vet put Maisie to sleep and cut her open but she took out the toxic glands. They’ll never bother Maisie again and the vet says she’ll still be able to get to know other dogs just fine. It was a rough few weeks of recovery for her but Mary’s extra bedroom is cozy and we hunkered down and got through it. Every day now before I leave for my assistant job at the vet, I take Maisie and Fred for a walk in the early morning spring sunshine. Maisie’s back to her old self. I can tell because she walks with a bounce in her step and her head held high, and I know you would be proud of her.

2 thoughts on “Excisions

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