Precisely on the corner of 56th and 7th, the right rear wheel of my Pontiac snuffed the life out of a perfectly adorable jack Russell terrier mix. I couldn’t help it. I’d swerved to avoid collision with some asshole in a Jeep running a red light. By mere inches, my vehicle (and, potentially, my life) was spared. Sad to say the same could not be said for this plaintive, twitching canine. He was still alive, but barely. My heart swelled, partly in shock, part in a deep sadness and remorse. I felt awful. And panic. I couldn’t think what to do. Pick the poor twitching thing up in my arms and race him to a vet, or what.
Unfortunately, I could not do that. I was in a hurry. My wife had sent me out on a last minute venture to the supermarket. I was to pick up some onions and a pack of sanitary napkins. The sanitary napkins were for my wife, who was on the rag, and not in the best of moods. The onions were for dinner. My mother-in-law was in town and on her way from the airport, and the onions were a necessary ingredient for the dinner my wife was preparing for us. Any minute, that old bat of a woman would be setting down her bags on the front porch, ready for an extended stay at our place. My wife would be scrambling to cook dinner and make a last minute sweep of the house, cleaning up the clutter and arranging things just so. I wouldn’t dare return home without the onions.
The Jack Russell, meanwhile, slowly stopped twitching. His heart slowed. Emaciated ribcage rising and falling faintly, and then altogether resting, suddenly and finally. I supposed he was dead. My heart felt tight and twisted in my chest. My stomach churned and twisted also. I felt sick. The thing’s eyes—still open—glazed over and took on a glassy, vacant appearance. My heart and stomach still twisted and sick, I reluctantly climbed back into my Pontiac and proceeded to the supermarket. Not looking back. I got the damn onions.
“Where have you been?” my wife started in on me before I’d even stepped out of my vehicle. She had been waiting, hands on her hips, in the driveway. The old bat was here. I could smell her. And dinner was late, in no small part to a poor dead dog on the side of the road. Of all the calamities and disasters in the world today…dinner was late. And a poor, innocent dog was dead. And I killed it. For want of onions and Tampax.
“I was delayed,” I said, stepping out of the car and gripping the grocery bag with white knuckles.
“Delayed,” she mimicked. “My mother is here and dinner isn’t ready. Nice of you to be here to greet her, by the way.”
“Nice, yes I know. I’m here now anyway. Here,” I said, handing her the bag and walking sullenly to the front door. My mother-in-law was here. She was a harpy. I braced myself for the nagging, the back-handed remarks, the unsolicited advice and admonishment. “Hello, Margaret,” I said, not looking in her direction. Then I noticed something. The old mare was crying, sniffling. Sobbing, in fact. I didn’t know how to take this. Even so, my first instinct was not one of sympathy.
“Some terrible man ran over this beautiful jack Russell,” she sobbed, “…and then just sped away…like nothing had happened. Oh. That poor dog. It was awful.” The old gray mare wasn’t so much telling this to me as projecting it to the wall in front of her, to no one in particular, to who knows what or why. She kept sobbing. Sniffling.
“Sick,” my wife said, obliquely. “Whoever did that ought to be shot. Just driving off like that…”
I was at first unsure of how to process the crossfire of emotions before me; but without warning, I was at once delighted. Why? Because there on the sofa was the old bat, the old gray mare who ain’t what she used to be—sobbing, blubbering, pathetically…genuinely. Seeing her in such dire straits of emotional angst I can’t help but admit warmed the cockles of my heart. I was at once ghoulishly pleased. …as for my wife…who cares, I supposed. I could go one way or another on that one. The old bag had apparently witnessed the event, but hadn’t identified me as the culprit.
“On her way here from the airport,” my wife continued, “she sees this horrible thing. Right there.”
“The onions alright?” I asked.
“Fuck the onions, Hal,” she snapped. “A dog is dead. My mother is traumatized. Think,” she said, laconically tapping her index finger to her temple.
“The onions are alright, then.” I was secretly pleased. How I’d dreaded the arrival of this woman into my home. And now, to see her cruel, shrewish demeanor reduced to sniveling and tears… only, too bad that poor Jack Russel had to buy the farm to make this possible. I almost felt badly again, for a second, but didn’t. Ding dong the witch is dead, I thought to myself. It just might be an alright weekend after all.
“Console her,” my wife said, snatching the onions from my hands and disappearing into the kitchen.
Console her, I thought. Well, she’d only torn down my standing as a full grown man—respectable—respected—she’d only demeaned my perfectly good character and position at a reputable insurance company for years on end. “There, there…Margaret,” I said…in the slimiest dulcet tone I could manage.
“So awful,” she sniveled…sobbed.
“Life is sometimes awful,” I said. And this was the one and only true thing I would say to the woman until her eventual death…which was likely not far off.
Then again, I did picture that poor Jack Russell. Bleeding. Ribs smashed in. Leg bent in a way it shouldn’t bend. I almost felt badly again.
But then didn’t.
“Yes…life is sometimes awful.”