“You meant exactly what you said,” said Ruth Bentley. “If Dog wasn’t family, he was nothing. God, I loved him.”
A fresh burst of tears ensued, during which Roger Bentley brought a blanket to put over Dog, but Susan stopped him.
“No, no.1 want to see him. I won’t be able to see him ever again. He’s so beautiful. He’s so – old.”
They all carried their breakfasts out on the patio to sit around Dog, somehow feeling they couldn’t ignore him by eating inside.
Roger Bentley telephoned his other children, whose response, after the first tears, was the same: they’d be right over. Wait.
When the other children arrived, first Rodney, twenty-one, and then the older daughter, Sal, twenty-four, a fresh storm of grief shook everyone and then they sat silently for a moment, watching Dog for a miracle.
“What are your plans?” asked Rodney at last.
“I know this is silly,” said Roger Bentley after an embarrassed pause. “After all, he’s only a dog-“
“Only!?” cried everyone instantly.
Roger had to back off. “Look, he deserves the Taj Mahal. What he’ll get is the Orion Pet Cemetery over in Burbank.”
“Pet Cemetery!?” cried everyone, but each in a different way.
“My God,” said Rodney, “that’s silly!”
“What’s so silly about it?” Skip’s face reddened and his lip trembled. “Dog, why, Dog was a pearl of… rare price.
“Yeah!” added Susan.
“Well, pardon me.” Roger Bentley turned away to look at the pool, the bushes, the sky. “I suppose I could call those trash people who pick up dead bodies-“
“Trash people?” exclaimed Ruth Bentley.
“Dead bodies?” said Susan. “Dog isn’t a dead body!”
“What is he, then?” asked Skip bleakly.
They all stared at Dog lying quietly there by the pool. “He’s,” blurted Susan at last, “he’s … he’s my love!” Before the crying could start again, Roger Bentley picked up the patio telephone, dialed the Pet Cemetery, talked, and put the phone down.
“Two hundred dollars,” he informed everyone. “Not bad.”
“For Dog?” said Skip. “Not enough!”
“Are you really serious about this?” asked Ruth Bentley.
“Yeah,” said Roger. “I’ve made fun of those places all my life. But, now, seeing as how we’ll never be able to visit Dog again-“ He let a moment pass. “They’ll come take Dog at noon. Services tomorrow.”
“Services!” Snorting, Rodney stalked to the rim of the pool and waved his arms. “You won’t get me to that!”
Everyone stared. Rodney turned at last and let his shoulders slump. “Hell, I’ll be there.”
“Dog would never forgive you if you didn’t.” Susan snuffed and wiped her nose.
But Roger Bentley had heard none of this. Staring at Dog, then his family, and up to the sky, he shut his eyes and exhaled a great whisper:
“Oh, my God!” he said, eyes shut. “Do you realize that this is the first terrible thing that’s happened to our family? Have we ever been sick, gone to the hospital? Been in an accident?”
“No,” said everyone.
“Gosh,” said Skip.
“Gosh, indeed! You sure as hell notice accidents, sickness, hospitals.”
“Maybe,” said Susan, and had to stop and wait because her voice broke. “Maybe Dog died just to make us notice how lucky we are.”
“Lucky?!” Roger Bentley opened his eyes and turned. “Yes! You know what we are-“
“The science fiction generation,” offered Rodney, lighting a cigarette casually.
“You rave on about that, your school lectures, or during dinner. Can openers? Science fiction. Automobiles. Radio, TV, films. Everything! So science fiction!”
“Well, dammit, they are!” cried Roger Bentley and went to stare at Dog, as if the answers were there amongst the last departing fleas. “Hell, not so long ago there were no cars, can openers, TV. Someone had to dream them. Start of lecture. Someone had to build them. Mid-lecture. So science fiction dreams became finished science fact. Lecture finis!”
“I bet!” Rodney applauded politely.
Roger Bentley could only sink under the weight of his son’s irony to stroke the dear dead beast.
“Sorry. Dog bit me. Can’t help myself. Thousands of years, all we did is die. Now, that time’s over. In sum: science fiction.”
“Bull.” Rodney laughed. “Stop reading that junk, Dad.”