Before we eat our snow cones, pet this dog. Don’t expect to earn a Wolf badge for your troubles, or arrow points, but maybe your hand will learn a thing or two. Start with the ears and the head, then move slowly down the back, like you’re taking your fingers on a trip, until you get to the bulge on the haunch. Yes, it’s a tumor. Yes, it’s cancerous. Pet it like it’s nothing special, just part of the dog. And no whining or saying sick or gross or disgusting. Do you really want to talk like that in front of a yellow Lab whose days are numbered? We’ll talk about snow-cone flavors in a minute. Can’t you see we’re petting the dog right now? As for tumors, they’re nothing to be afraid of, unless you’re afraid of life. Cancer is not an outside, infect-your-hand kind of thing. It’s an inside, metastasize-and-spread-through-your-interior-organs kind of thing. The vet says this dog has two weeks, maybe a month, but we want him to go in peace, so we’ve already made the final appointment. We’re just six days out — six days till a sad vet visit with a glistening needle at the end of it. The dog’s goodness is in this room, and the tumor is in the dog, and the dog is in this house, and death wants to gobble up this house and every other. And everything has a smell to it. Even if you can’t smell it, the dog can. He has so many badges in how to sniff the air that no one can count them. He can smell fear, and he can smell happiness. So, please, act like men today, act like princes, and don’t give him your fear. Once you’ve petted him, put your hand near his mouth. A lick means he’s made his peace with you. I know you want your snow cones, and I want you to have them. To be distracted is good. A crazy flavor may do it for you. For him, maybe a dog treat that tastes like chicken. But did you ever consider that being licked or licking a salty hand could be the treat the soul secretly craves? Sometimes it takes a lifetime to figure this out. This afternoon we’ll start with three choices: Mango Tango, Tiger’s Blood, and Piña Colada — all of which may taste slightly bitter, given the circumstances. Which is a thing to celebrate. Think of your snow cone as a first step toward enlightenment. Flavor can be a distraction but also a way to remember. Pet with your right hand, eat with your right hand — see what I mean? I want us to be together on this, each of us imagining holding the dog, who has exactly six days left, and very soon six hours, then six minutes. Close your eyes and taste the snow cone. Picture yourself in the windowless examining room, the vet walking closer with the syringe, and now you’re closing your eyes and holding the dog in his final moments. Can you taste death? Nod if you can. Your mouth is deliciously cold and filled with sweetness, and your best friend is making his exit. Your world has never been sadder. Sweet and then sad, and then, sometime soon, sweet again.