Nails clicking on the hardwoods, he pads toward my dawn-chilled room. I see his greyed muzzle poke around the open doorway, black nose wriggling. His old limbs are stiff, but he’s always been like that; he was never young. Churchill’s Black Dog was never a pup, never a young whelp filled with enthusiasm and love of life. He’s always been a grizzled, aged hound, waiting out his final days in lassitude and despair.
Tottering in, he looks for a sunny spot but finds none in my shadowed den. Thick through the middle, callouses on his joints, his coat is dull with dust and dander and his droopy eyes are rheumy and silvered with cataracts. He stumps over to the corner, turns two inelegant circles ’round his tail, and clumps down in a heap.
We exchange a glance. His eyebrows twitch upward in exhausted entreaty: Can’t you fix it? Can’t you make it better? Everything is so hard. Everything is so…bad. I want to reassure him. I want to make it better, but his futility is a contagion that sloughs from his coat like shed hair, and I am infected. Everything is hard. Everything is bad. Or at least it seems so. When Churchill’s Black Dog visits, there are no flowers only weeds, no questions only demands, no sunshine only brightness, no evening only gloom.
He’s not a bad dog.
He’s quite well behaved, actually. He doesn’t bark or whine. He’s as continent as a bunker. He doesn’t steal food off the table. He’s a good dog, and I find it difficult to dislike him, but I do. When he’s here, life has no joy, every ill is magnified, every sweet thing embittered, and I want nothing more than for him to go away. If I had the strength, I’d put him out on the street, but where would such an old dog go? And what kind of person am I that I’d do such a thing to a helpless old hound? Trapped between my future guilt and present despair, I must wait until he decides to move on.
He’s not going anywhere today.