Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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Coyote: <panting> “Mom?”

Me: “Yes, Coyote?”

Coyote: “This part is hard.”

Me: “I wish I could make it easy for you.”

Coyote: “I don’t. It’s part of becoming something new. It’s just how it works.”

Me: “Is there anything I can do? To help?”

Coyote: “Can you rub my belly? You know, like you used to when I was scared?”

Me: “Of course.” <rubbing her belly> “Are you scared, baby girl?”

Coyote: “A little. But I have you and Bodhi. And Sachi will be waiting for me.” <pause> “Mom?”

Me: “Yes?”

Coyote: “Do you think I’ll sparkle? I mean, when I cross?”

Me: “I’m sure of it, Princess.”

Coyote: <closing her eyes and starting to drift off to sleep> “Good. And, by the way…”

Me: “Yes?”

Coyote: “I know that when you call me ‘Princess’ it isn’t a good thing.” <she sleeps>

Me: <to myself> “It is now.”


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Vigil

vigilvi-jƏl \ n.  wakefulness; watchfulness; a night of spiritual preparation

——

Coyote woke us the other night, crying in her sleep. Bodhi stared intently at her, beaming love from his place on the rug. I spoke soothingly, letting her know we were near, watching over her. She started awake at my voice, dazed, and met my gaze. Unable to hold her head up longer than those few seconds, she flopped back over onto her side and slept.

Later, around 4:00 a.m., I woke again to her crying. This time, she’d struggled from her bed, disoriented, and had nosed herself into a corner of the room. She couldn’t turn to free herself, relying on the wall at her side to keep her upright. Her rear claws scrabbled desperately on the wood floor, pushing her farther into the wall ahead of her, and she cried out in her panic. I turned her around and guided her outside, where she immediately squatted to relieve herself. She stood shaking under the stars before moving one, painstaking step at a time toward the gate, where she’s always loved to stand and look at the world.

I crouched near the door, giving her space but letting her know I hadn’t left her alone. The night was cool as I kept my vigil. It’s almost time, I thought. I anchored myself in the moment, burning it into my memory. I was strangely awake for such an early hour.

When she’d drunk her fill of the view and the breeze, Coyote managed a clumsy turn, and we were suspended there, facing each other in the moonlight, our connection humming between us. I breathed in slowly, waiting for her to signal what she needed next. In answer, she tottered toward me: One. Two. Three halting steps at a time, pausing for long seconds between each small progress, panting and holding the lifeline of my eyes with hers. If I tried to rise to help her, she turned her head in clear refusal. So I honored her dignity and stayed in my crouch, my hand silently outstretched to her, recalling our beginnings, when she crawled across the floor toward that same open hand — terrified then, her new life with me uncertain.

Her life is certain now. We know the direction, and there is no turning back. The days — the hours — are numbered, so very finite.

We have only to wait. Watch. Prepare.

Dictionary page with definition for vigil


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Bodhi Makes a Tactical Error

Bodhi: <from the dining room> “Huh. That’s weird.”

Coyote: <from cushion in living room>: “What’s that?”

Bodhi: “Usually when Mom gets mad, she puts us outside. This time, she put me inside.”

Coyote: “What did you do?”

Bodhi: “I don’t know. We were playing ball, and then Mom was doing something, and I went over and laid down to wait.”

Coyote: “OK…”

Bodhi: “And I love my ball. It’s so green and bouncy and-…”

Coyote: “Right, right. You love your ball. But what were you DOING?”

Bodhi: “So I rolled in it, and Mom said something I didn’t really understand-…”

Coyote: “It’s probably just as well.”

Bodhi: “Hey! I think one of the words rhymed with that!”

Coyote: “And, when you started rolling, where were you lying?”

Bodhi: <sighing happily> “Over in the corner. The yummy-smelling corner…”

Coyote: “Where Mom grows her strawberries.”

Bodhi: “That’s the one! They smell so sweet and yummy when you crush them against your fur.”

Coyote: “And then she sent you inside.”

Bodhi: “No, then she picked up the ball and threw it.”

Coyote: “I don’t get it. What happened? Did you chase it?”

Bodhi: “No, I kinda lost track of it. I got distracted for a second.”

Coyote: “By…?”

Bodhi: “Well, I went to chase it, and there was this HUGE bowl of strawberries sitting there, and-…”

Coyote: <rolling her eyes> “Let me guess: You shoved your whole head into it and started eating.”

Bodhi: “YES!” <pause; then, in an awed voice> “How did you know? It’s like…you’re magic!”

Coyote: “OK, so. Some parting words of wisdom for you. First: Leave the strawberries alone.”

Bodhi: “OK.”

Coyote: “Second: Leave the strawberries alone.”

Bodhi: <cocking his head, unsure> “Those sound really similar.”

Coyote: “You noticed that, huh?”

Bodhi: <wagging proudly> “I did!”

Coyote: “You might actually survive a couple of weeks after I’m gone. Now, come over here. I’m too tired to get up and kiss your foolish head.”

Bowl of ripe strawberries


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A Walk in the Fading Sun

On a walk in July…

Me: “I used to bring you and Sachi here to run sometimes.”

Coyote: <sniffing deeply at something in the grass> “Mmmhmm.”

Me: <continuing> “Well, I did, once I could trust you off-leash.” <pause, reminiscing> “It always amazed me how consistent you were, coming when I called, especially since in the beginning you spent so much time and energy trying to escape.”

Coyote: <pausing in her sniffing to glance up and ponder> “Well, I knew it was a bargain, and I had to keep my end of it. You’d let me off the leash, but only if I came back when you called. You made that pretty clear.”

Me: “Yeah, but Sachi wasn’t always that consistent.”

Coyote: “Sachi didn’t come from where I came from. She had a very different history. I was awed and touched by your generosity and trust.”

<I break down.>

Coyote: <looking up sharply from her sniffing> “What are you doing?” <I can’t answer.> “Oh no-no-no! No you don’t! Stop it. No crying. Not on a day like this. Look at how beautiful the sky is! Listen to the birds! Use that weak, generally useless nose of yours to sniff the breeze! NO. CRYING.”

Me: <finding my voice> “The weather is turning.”

Coyote: “It is.”

Me: “And you said you didn’t want to stay for the heat and humidity.”

Coyote: <exasperated now> “I don’t. But I’m not gone yet! And today is too beautiful to waste a single tear on it. Celebrate today, Mom. Just stay here with me, now.”

Me: <kneeling down to her level> “I just hate that you’re leaving us. I don’t know what we’ll do without you. You keep us grounded.”

Coyote: <her tone softening> “I told you: I’m not going anywhere. I’m just shedding this sick, old body. I’ll be right there with you and Bodhi until it’s time for the two of you to cross over. Then I’ll be there to guide you. Now, c’mon.”

Me: <trying to pull myself together> “I’ll miss how soft and thick your fur is. I’ll miss your velvety ears. I’ll miss the freckles on your pointy little nose.” <kissing her nose>

<Coyote leans in to kiss the tip of my nose, as she sometimes does, then suddenly stops and turns her head.>

Me: “What? No kiss?”

Coyote: “I’m SO not kissing that! It’s all drippy.”

Me: <tearing up again> “Dammit.”

Coyote: <huffing> “What now?”

Me: “I’m even going to miss the snark.”

Coyote: <returning to her sniffing> “Good. If you had any idea how long it took to perfect that… You might be a blubbering fool, but at least you appreciate art.”

Coyote walks in the field.


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Advice from One Who Has Crossed

Bodhi: “When will Old Auntie cross over?”

Sachi: “When she’s ready. You know her; she has to do everything her own way. But I don’t think it’ll be long now.”

Bodhi: “Why do they call it ‘crossing over?’ What will she cross?”

Sachi: “It depends on who you ask. Some people think it’s a rainbow bridge. For some, it’s a high ridge, beyond where the pine trees grow. For others, it’s just stepping over a kind of doorway into another world.”

Bodhi: “Well *you’ve* done it! Which is it?”

Sachi: “You’ll find out when your time comes. If I tell you, it would spoil the surprise.” <teasing him> “No fair telling!”

Bodhi: <whining a little> “What’s not fair is that Old Auntie is leaving us.”

Sachi: “Oh, Little Brother. You’re so wrong. Death is the only thing that *is* fair. Everybody has to do it — even trees and grass and…stupid chipmunks. No exceptions.”

Bodhi: <crying> “But I’ll miss her! She’s helping Mom raise me up right. I won’t know the right things to do!”

Sachi: “I know you’ll miss her. But it’ll get better after a while. And you’ve learned enough from her that you’ll figure things out.”

Bodhi: “She misses *you,* you know. Will you be waiting for her?” <suddenly panicky> “What if she gets lost when she’s crossing?”

Sachi: “Don’t worry about Coyote. She knows the way. You just focus on taking care of Mom.”

Bodhi: “Mom is going to miss her a LOT. She says Coyote grounds us.”

Sachi: <gently> “Yes, Mom will miss her. So taking care of Mom is a really important job.” <pauses> “And I know you’ll be great at it. Coyote and I chose you because you’re a sweet, smart boy. You are and always have been exactly what she needs.”

——
Me: <relieved> “He’s stopped crying.”

Coyote: “Thank goodness! How am I supposed to get any sleep with all that racket?”

Me: “Oh, now…he’s definitely not keeping you awake. You’ve been snoring all morning.”

Coyote: <grumpy> “Hmph!”

Me: “Oh look! He’s wagging. I love it when you guys wag in your sleep. It’s so sweet.”

Coyote: <grumbles something and turns a clumsy circle on her bed, trying to find a comfortable spot before plopping down with a grunt>

Me: “I’m worried about him, Coyote. He’s going to take it hard when you leave.”

Coyote: <opening one eye, then the other, to gaze fondly at Bodhi; in a soft voice, she says> “He’ll be all right, Mom. He’s getting some very good advice from an old friend.”

Bodhi, my Golden, sleeps


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(Re)Defining Kindness

It occurs to me that there comes a point at the end of any beloved creature’s life when we no longer know what kindness looks like. It’s not just that we can’t find its edges anymore or can’t quite remember its shape. It’s that we’re hard-pressed even to find a reliable definition for it.

I rise stiffly from where I have been crouching, tenderly stroking Coyote’s head and shoulders, and hobble unsteadily from her bed to my own. Her breathing is loud, a labored inhalation, and the whoosh of her exhalation is more a release than a breath. The stink of a waiting death oozes from her and fills the room. I curl onto my side, resisting the urge to keep curling — to tighten into the fetal position — and stretch my arm out under my pillow. The weight in my chest, I realize, must be my heart, but I’m still dry-eyed even as I feel the waves of grief crest and crash over me, pulling some essential part of me with them as they ebb and gather and crash again. And then I realize that my outstretched hand is resting in the loop of my Sachi’s collar, which still hangs from a cross-bar on the bed frame, and the tears finally come. This particular path is unfamiliar, yes; but I know the destination well.


It’s weeks ago now, since the stranger in the pick-up truck watched Coyote and me shuffle our way slowly down the hill toward home, measuring our walk in driveways passed instead of streets or blocks or miles. “Is she sick?” he asked me, bending to stroke her head, ever so gently, with his big, callused landscaper’s hands.

“She’s dying,” I said simply, gazing down at her.

He asked about her care — what I was doing, what I was not doing — and I began to tense up, expecting judgment but (blessedly) finding none. I was struck by my reaction, attributing it to my own, aching uncertainty. After a few minutes, I closed our conversation by telling him, “I’m following her lead.”

He knelt again to give Coyote one last pat, and we moved slowly away.

I feel the feather-light pressure of Bodhi lifting himself onto the bed and curling against me. I marvel at how such a big dog can be so gentle. I know he’s checked in with Coyote, sniffing her face and touching his nose to hers before joining me, because that’s what he does when she’s in distress. I leave my right hand in Sachi’s collar and reach out with my left to tangle my fingers in his long, red fur. And I wonder: Has he come here to comfort or be comforted?


“Ma’am?”

I turned.

“You’re honoring her, you know. By letting her choose her own death.”

What did it matter, really? We were both — all — in need of comfort. My beautiful boy who tried so hard to love everything into rightness for Coyote and me. My sweet little girl who was struggling up the long hill toward Home. And me. I had walked this path with her, desperately clinging to my heart-felt conviction that this was what she wanted, this death was what she was choosing. But I could never be sure that what I was doing was kind. Or, even, that I knew the meaning of that word anymore. And, yet, when the doubt threatened to push me to take over, to take the decision away from her, to shorten her laborious leaving:

“You honor her,” whispered my friend, Lori, as she watched Coyote lying on the deck, listening to the sounds of night.

“You honor her,” my friend, Mary, messaged me as Coyote turned from her food, leaving me tearfully resigned.

“You honor her,” said my friends Kelli, Faunette, Stacy — all at different stumbling points in this long, painful journey.

“You honor her,”  offered a man I’d never met before, his foot poised on the running board of a pickup truck.


I managed to thank him for his kind words before tears closed my throat, rendering me unable to speak. I turned again, with Coyote, back toward home. He turned the key in the ignition and was gone.

Bodhi checks in with his sister, Coyote


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Let’s Take a Walk!

From a summer out of our past. She really was a snarky little girl in her heyday.

Coyote: “Hey! I know! Let’s take a walk!”

Me: “I’m kinda busy here.”

Coyote: “What could be more important than a walk?”

Me: “Sanding down the spackling on this wall so I can wash it down again and get some primer on it tonight.”

Coyote: “I repeat…”

Me: “Weren’t you the one who was complaining that it was hot earlier when I let you outside?”

Coyote: “It *is* hot! But it’s not as hot when you’re taking a walk. Well-know fact from physics.”

Me: “Right. Because sniffing dog pee somehow cools you down.”

Coyote: “It does!”

Me: “It’s not like we don’t have dog pee in the yard.”

Coyote: “But that’s self-referential pee.”

Me: “Self-refer-…what the heck are you reading NOW?”

Coyote: “It’s a dog thing. You wouldn’t get it.”

Me: “Look, I’m up on a ladder here. Just go take a nap or something.”

Coyote: “Up on a ladder, huh? Easy enough to fix…”

Chipmunk: “What are YOU doing out here?”

Me: “I’m not sure. Might have something to do with the swearing when she shook the ladder.”

Chipmunk: “Doesn’t explain *how* you got out here.”

Me: “I opened the door to boot her outside, and found myself out here with the door closed behind me.”

Chipmunk: “Aren’t you the one with the opposable thumbs? Let yourself back in.”

Me: “She locked the door.”

Chipmunk: “How’d she do that?”

Me: “Look, you little rodential pest, why don’t you go find some poisoned peanuts or something?”

Chipmunk: “Still not over that strawberry thing, huh?”

Me: “Get. Lost. NOW.”

Chipmunk: <diving down hole> “Touchy!”

Coyote looking longingly out the front door.