We canines live in the present; if something impacts us, it remains in every moment of our lives. Such is my first day at the beach. The scents yank at my nose as I yank at my leash in the dune grass: birds and mice, coyotes and deer, and the many, many dogs that have been in this place. Over the dunes, upon a sharp briny breeze, layers of life and decay thrust themselves into my nostrils with a roar. When the Boss finally releases me, I succumb to an ecstasy of overstimulation, running wide circles around her, sand flying under my feet, warm sun on my back. The vastness overwhelms me: an infinite expanse of sand and wind and water and sound. My ears thrum with the calls of seagulls, the hiss of sand, the pounding surf. Faintly, behind it all, I barely make out the Boss laughing, calling helplessly for me to come, come, come boy, come.
The Last Day
This is my final trip to the beach. It is cold and windy, but I can smell the promise of warmer days to come. The Boss carries me because it hurts too much to walk any more. It hurts even more to be carried, but I don’t tell her that. She needs this moment with me out here. She sets me down in the sand and collapses, hunched over on a log, sobbing. It is not unusual for her to cry, but this is different. It is my job to help her feel better when she weeps, but today I am the reason for her tears. I cannot provide any comfort, and that is even more painful than the terrible aching of my bones. We witness each other’s misery, knowing there is no relief, and also knowing that our devotion is eternal.
All the Days in Between
My work day begins when the Boss unclips the leash. I charge through the dune grass scouting the route, alerting her to all dangers along the path. Once out on the open sand, I can barely contain the puppylike thrill. I just have to run a few stupid circles with my tongue hanging out before I can get to work. My first task is to inspect chunks of driftwood to see who has been here in the past day. I lift my leg to reply to their greetings and grant permission to share my territory. Next, I must find out what new items have washed up. I love the rich, rotting smell of seaweed on the beach—so much complexity in those tangled salty bundles. What I’m really hoping for, however, is rotting flesh. Dead crabs can be interesting, fish are better, and bird carcasses are sublime. To push against the bones and cartilage, to feel the slime against my snout and neck, to work the aromas into my fur is absolutely irresistible. I try not to let such distractions keep me from my most important duty: saving the Boss’s ball. She cherishes it more than anything, but soon after our arrival at the beach it starts jumping from her hand and flying over the sand. My task is to chase it as hard as doggedly possible, grab it before an animal or a wave gets to it, and return it immediately to her feet. She is never so happy as when she gets her lost ball back, and she praises me mightily for my skillful retrieval. I save that ball over and over again, never showing any exhaustion, until finally, she decides to keep it. Then it is time to lead her back home, panting with satisfaction at a job well done.
Andy Barker taught creative writing as a high school English teacher before retiring a few years ago. He now spends most of his time in Manzanita where he volunteers at the Hoffman Center for the Arts. His stories have appeared in journals including the North Coast Squid and Rain Magazine.