How could she leave me?

Darla lay on the floor of the cage, barking for her, begging for her to return the only way she was able. She hated places that smelled like this – like the waste of other animals covered over with some strong cleaning substance. They took her to a place like this when there was life within her. They made her sleep and when she woke, her belly was scarred up so badly she believed she would never recover. Since then, the smell inflicted panic within her. What would they do to her here, this time?

Somehow, even this place was different. The other places were bright and full of life – other dogs walked around with their owners, well-meaning people in white coats were all around, and even though it was a scary place, her owner never left her side except for a few minutes at a time.

Not today. This time, she was carried back through a long hallway, past all the other animals and into this dank and lonely place and put into a cage. She was never put in a cage before this. Her owner would never allow it.

And her owner would never leave her like this�but she did. Darla watched as she walked away, weeping into her handkerchief.

“Come back!” she was trying to say. “Please! Don’t leave me here! Come back!”

“Hey!” a raspy voice said in the cage above her. “Knock it off, will ya? I’m trying to get some rest here.”

Darla kept barking. “Come back! Please! Please! Don’t leave me in this place!”

“She ain’t coming back, okay?” the raspy voice said. “So, you might as well knock it off.”

“You don’t understand. She’d never leave me here like this.”

“Yeah,” the raspy voice snickered. “That’s what I used to think. You might as well get settled, sweetheart. This is the end of the line for us.”

Darla was shaking with fear now. “What do you mean? What are you talking about?”

“You really have no idea, do you? So, what’s wrong with you?”


“I asked what was wrong with you. All of us that end up here got something wrong with us. So what’s wrong with you?”

Darla didn’t know what this had to do with anything, so she really didn’t want to answer him. All she wanted was her owner back. She kept peering out of the cage for her to return.

“I saw she kissed you before she left,” the raspy voice said. “You’re lucky. She must have really loved you.

“She still does love me,” Darla said. “And she’s coming back. You’ll see.”

“I’m telling you she’s not.” There was a pause between them and the raspy voice dog chuckled. “You’re an old girl, aren’t ya?”

“What’s it to you?”

“I’m just saying, they don’t bring no young ones back here unless their crazy or injured. You don’t sound crazyâÂ?¦and you don’t talk like you’re young.”

Darla didn’t respond. She didn’t want to talk. That damned smell was starting to make her sick.

“I’m fifteen years old,” raspy voice said. “In human years, that is. I was the last one left in my house. I watched my brothers get old and sickâÂ?¦and they were taken to a place like this. Never came back.”

Darla’s heart started to sink. It had been too long. Maybe her owner wasn’t coming back. “W-what’s wrong with you?” she asked the raspy voice dog.

“Oh, we don’t never really know that,” he chuckled. “I figure I got the bug though. Started getting real weak about six months ago. Started puking and shitting blood three weeks ago. Bug’s eating me from the inside out.”

“Didn’t your owner take you to be fixed?”

“No, ma’am. Wasn’t no fixing my brother and ain’t no fixing me. It’s just as wellâÂ?¦I’ll be happy to get a good sleep for once. I haven’t had one of those in so long.”

Darla could relate. She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t wake up in the middle of the night because of the pain in her hips or because she’d rolled over the wrong way on the tumor that hung from her chest.

Her owner had tried to have her fixed, as soon as her hips started hurting and when the tumor was smaller. She talked to the lady in the white coat for a long time, then when they got home, she started putting powder in her food. The powder helped with the painâÂ?¦but the tumor got bigger and eventually the pain in her hips got to be so bad that walking was torture. Before her owner took her here, she dared not walk anywhere if she didn’t have to.

Darla laid her head on her paws sadly. There was no fixing for her either�and that was why she was here.

“What’s going to happen to us?” she asked the raspy voice dog.

“Don’t know exactly,” he responded. “All I know is that we ain’t going home again.”

That made Darla sad. She loved her owner and she loved her home. She just wanted to be lying on the carpet under the dining room table, resting her head on her owner’s feet, or at the foot of her bed as she slept. That was the only place in the world she wanted to be.

Before much longer, a man walked into the room. He smelled strange and sweaty and Darla was frightened of him. He stepped in front of her cage and she shrunk back, but he didn’t bend down to her. He was opening the cage above him.

“See you later,” the raspy voice dog said. “That’s my ride.”

“You’re coming back right?” she called as he was lifted out of the cage. “You’ll be back, won’t you?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “See you around.”

She watched as he was carried out of the room, then shuddered in her solitude. In the minutes that passed, she thought about her owner and wished for her to come back. She tried to lie on her side to ease the pain of her weight on her chest tumor, but her hips weren’t listening to her. Lately, they’d just stopped listening and she found herself stuck in the same position until they would work. It was a miserable existenceâÂ?¦but it was just fine so long as she was with her owner.

After a while, the man returned without the raspy voice dog. “Okay,” he said as he bent down before her cage. “Let’s go.”

He opened the cage and Darla panicked. She barked at him and snapped at his hands as he tried to reach for her. He tried a couple of times before sighing in exasperation and reaching into his back pocket.

Before she knew it, she was muzzled, stopping her only line of defense. Her hips wouldn’t move and the pain in her back was keeping her from struggling too much as she was lifted up and carried out of the room.

Darla’s heart was sinking as she was carried into a white room with a metal table. It looked like the same kind of room that her owner had brought her to before when she tried to fix her. She was laid on the table and a man in a white coat came into the room.

She was shaking so bad that her back creaked and sent shockwaves of pain through her body. The man in the white coat pet her on the head softly and smiled down at her.

“It’s okay, girl,” he said. “It’ll all be over soon.”

Darla didn’t know what that meant and she shook some more. Her back creaked and the pain was almost unbearable. She just wanted to go home. Just let me go home. Please.

Then there was a prick in her pawâÂ?¦she shook until a strange calm took over her body. Suddenly, she wasn’t scared anymore. The pain was going away and she was getting very tired.

She thought about curling up at the foot of her owner’s bed and how her room smelled and remembered how happy she was there. She imagined herself there now, sleeping as her owner slipped her feet under her bellyâÂ?¦

“Hello?” she heard above her. “Darla? Hello, there?”

She looked up to see a white shape. It glowed so bright above her that she had to squint to look up at it. “Yes?” she said.

“It’s time to go, sweetie,” the shape said.

Darla thought she would leap for joy. “I’m going to my home?”

There was a pause. “Is that where you want to go?”

“Oh, yes. Please. I just want to be with my owner.”

“Oh, but you could be in paradise.” She waved a hand and the next thing Darla knew she was standing at the gates of a park that went on as far as the eye could see. There was green for miles and miles, balls and sticks that bounced endlessly, waiting for some dog to chase them. They looked on birds that gathered in clusters, bringing on Darla’s instinct to run for them until they dispersed in a great cloud in the sky. In the corner of the field was a pit full of sand with tiny cat turds peeked out from beneath the dunes. It was everything that Darla ever lovedâÂ?¦

“This can be your home now,” the white spirit said. “Just let go.”

“It’s wonderful,” Darla said. “Who am I kidding? It’s everything I’ve ever wanted. ButâÂ?¦but is my owner here?”

“No. I’m sorry.”

And Darla’s heart sank. It was beautiful and it was wonderful and it was everything that she ever, ever loved in lifeâÂ?¦except for her owner.

“I want to be with my owner,” she said to the white spirit. “My home is wherever she is.”

“Are you certain? Your owner’s time on earth is limited. This is forever.”

Darla looked out at the paradise, but her happy feeling was tainted by the absence of her owner.

“Yes,” she said. “If it’s all the same to youâÂ?¦this is very nice. Heck, it’s more than nice, it’s incredibleâÂ?¦but if she’s not here, it’ll never be paradise.”

“So be it. All you need do is think of her and you’ll be there. Your body is no more, so you will be but a spirit in her household.”

Again Darla wanted to jump for joy – so she did. The pain in her hips was gone. She could run miles now. “That’s good enough. My body was holding me back anyway. Thank you.”

Darla closed her eyes and thought of her place on the bed in her owner’s house and when she opened them, she was standing in the doorway of the bedroomâÂ?¦and her owner was sleeping soundly. Darla took a deep breath and inhaled the smell of the room, then walked over the threshold.

She stood at the foot of the bed hesitantly. She hadn’t been able to get up on the bed in monthsâÂ?¦but her hips didn’t hurt anymore soâÂ?¦

She took a moment, then leapt up onto the bed with ease, her old instincts returning. She found a comfortable spot and flopped down next to her owner’s feet. Her owner stirred a little and slid her feet beneath her belly.

“Welcome home,” she muttered in her sleep.

It’s good to be back, Darla thought and slept a good sleep for the first time in years.

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