After Laura Passin
I throw the tennis ball. She chases it, grabs it in her mouth, sprints as far from me as possible in our fenced-in yard. She plops down beneath a Leyland cypress. The day is filled with opposites: moist mulch and dry grass, broken branches and wholehearted effort. Here, I call, using the sweet voice the vet psychiatrist recommended, not the hell no one I prefer. Here, I call again. I use the hand signal to beckon her, holding my right hand out, palm facing me, and then bringing it to my chest. In my left hand, a chicken-flavored treat. My dog holds the ball in her mouth, blinks at me. Uh-oh, I say. Uh-oh is our neutralizing word, the word the trainer said to use when the dog ignores your command. You’re not supposed to keep repeating the command or else the dog learns to respond only after the third or fourth or fifth time. Or, in my case, never. Here, I say, do the hand signal again. Who wants a treat? Already I have resorted to pleading. When my husband first brought her home, she was fourteen weeks old, and I was so overwhelmed by her wildness, her whimpers, her ignorance of rules that I had a meltdown on our corduroy couch. One day you’ll love her, he said. How do you know? I asked. I know, he said, because I know you. He settled down beside me, held me in his arms. That saying about love being patient, I suppose it’s true. You don’t always get a choice about what life brings, what it does not. Here, I say. She stares at me. She spots a squirrel, darts after it, leaves the ball behind. There are a hundred lessons she must be trying to teach me, and I have hardly mastered one.