I woke up before my alarm, which is not unusual for me. I didn’t get up right away, knowing I had a bit of time before the alarm actually went off. I closed my eyes, imaging how today would be a good and easy day. It was sunny outside, the air smelt fresh through the open window and it was the last day before I started holidays. I opened my eyes and looked at the alarm. I squinted. Somehow I thought that squinting would make the numbers on the clock change in my favour: I had fallen back to sleep and slept through my alarm.
I rushed out of bed, adrenaline and thoughts of my morning routine flooding my mind. Priorities first, as time was limited: coffee. Stumbling downstairs I opened the cupboard and grabbed the bag of coffee, my hand firmly making contact. As I clasped my fingers, I could feel them give a little into the bag creating a large hole. Before I could think, I pulled the bag out. Beans flew everywhere, scattering across the counter and floor. I cursed my haste and clumsiness: I didn’t have time for this.
Retrieving the dustpan and broom, I bent down to start sweeping the mess. The aroma of the beans wafted up, surprising me with the pungent smell and flavours. My senses felt overwhelmed, the smell assaulting my nose, my eyes, and my memory.
I remember when I was overwhelmed by this sensation years ago. It was a similar morning, sunny and easy. I was getting up for work; my job then was much different. I was working for a forestry company, spending many hours of my day hiking and traversing mountainsides. As this involved long hours and a lot of solitary work, I often brought my dog along with me for company. She would lope along beside me, surveying for bears, chasing squirrels, listening to my stories and sharing my lunch.
As I was getting ready that distant morning, I had a very similar routine. I would go downstairs to make coffee once I had dressed. Waiting for the coffee, then, I would also say hello and feed the dog, readying us both for our day. On this day, I went downstairs and started the coffee, commenting to the dog on what a lovely day awaited us. There was no response, though this was not unusual (who has a talking dog?), but I usually got a tail thump in recognition. Today there was nothing. I pushed the button to start the coffee maker and turned my attention to my dog and dog food.
I scooped out the dry and crunchy food, trying to sound encouraging about the same breakfast she had eaten for the last 5 years. Usually by this time she would be pushing her wet nose into my hand, nuzzling my face, waiting for food. I looked over at her and she was still on her bed. She looked up, her eyes barely moving.
“What’s up girl?” I encouraged. There was a weak thump with her tail, more like a sweep across the floor. It felt like a pained movement.
I crouched down beside her, patting her head. Her body felt hot, her eyes weeping and her breathing fast and raspy. She let out a hollow sound, eminating through her throat more than her mouth. This was not like her at all. I sat beside her, unsure of what to do. Should I just carry on as though nothing was wrong, encourage her to eat? I was no dog-expert, my dog was always healthy and happy and easy. She was my buddy, my co-worker, my confidante. I was pretty sure she wasn’t feeling well, but what could I do? What should I do?
I sat there for a few moments, stunned. The dog did not move. At one point she stuck her tongue out slightly as though to lick her lips. Her tongue seemed thick and awkward in her mouth, too dry and obstructive. I was encouraged by the movement, til I could see how it pained her. She let out a low, groaning sound, as though the effort was more damaging than comforting. I could see that this would not be a day when she would be joining me on the drive or the hike. I was starting to think this was also a day that I would not be going either. I couldn’t leave her if she could not even get up on her own.
So I sat on the floor beside her bed. I patted and waited and hoped. I thought something would change to let me know what to do. I needed some sign or indication, I looked to her to tell me what to do. I couldn’t just let things stay like this. She was silent, only blinking wearily as her eyes shifted within her head.
I called the vet. The vet asked a lot of questions and said she would be over as soon as she could. The vet was not sure what was wrong, but had some suggestions and ideas, things that I could not understand or comprehend. I was holding the phone and listening, but my attention was only on the dog. The coffee percolated and rumbled in the background. I could hear those sounds above the voice on the phone. I hung up, trying to remember suddenly if I had said goodbye or not.
I sat down on the floor again, trying to lift her doggy head onto my lap. I was trying to provide comfort for both of us. I felt silent. Time seemed to stretch and pull. I wasn’t sure if I wanted things to go faster or slower. I could feel tears sweep my face, the dog let out dry, heaving coughs. And as we sat, the coffee smell soaked into the air. It grew heavier, like a heavy wet blanket. I wanted it to stop, for something to change. I wanted the air to be fresh, for our day to go back in time and continue normally. I struggled and pushed against everything that was in front of me. I knew what was coming.
And the smell of the coffee was everywhere. Acidic, pungent, sour and darkening.