It was 11:39 a.m. when I answered the door. I remember. A 50-ish woman was on the porch. Her eyes were kind. A young boy, about six, with butter-colored hair, seemed velcroed to her side. He wouldn't look at me. A thought flitted through my mind: He's afraid of me.
I cracked open the screen door and smiled. "Yes?"
The woman fiddled with her hands before she spoke. "Do you have a brown dog?"
My smile grew. I stepped out on the porch. "Yes, I do," I said. "Do you have her?"
She winced. The little boy disappeared behind her.
"No. We just saw her get hit by a truck."
A truck? I sagged against the door frame. It felt like a Shop-Vac was stealing my breath. "You what? No! Where?"
"I followed her here," the woman said.
I looked left, then right.
The woman pointed behind me. "I'm thinking she's on your back porch."
I stepped back in the house. "Y'all go around," I said through the screen door. "I'll meet you."
Our middle child, the drama queen, turned 13 the day Little Paint lost her battle with a celery-colored, Ford pick-up truck. Little Paint had gotten away from me when I went to put her in the dog run that morning. I spent 10 minutes looking and calling for her.
"She'll come back," I told Daisy as I brought her back in the house after a bit. "She always does."
There she was. On the back porch. Lying down, sides heaving. She doesn't look so bad. She's just resting. I let my breath go.
I stepped out onto the porch. Little Paint didn't look up.
Kind Woman appeared around the side of the house. She approached slowly. Hands extended. Palms up. "Easy, girl."
"Thank God she's okay," I said.
"I don't know," the woman said. "Look at the contusion on this side of her face."
I had to step over Little Paint to see. A gaspy squeak escaped me. It looked like a racquetball was inside her upper lip. She didn't blink. It seemed she was looking past me, or through me.
Kind Woman didn't take her eyes off Little Paint. "She was bleeding around her rectum. I don't know if she has a laceration back there or not. Could be internal bleeding."
The Shop-Vac stole more air.
"And her chest," the woman said. "It's the worst."
I whimpered. I caught the reflection of my eyes in the storm door. They looked like Little Paint's. Dull. Shocky.
I held up my pointer finger. "Can you watch her a minute? I've gotta call my husband."
Kind Woman nodded. Before I went in, I glanced out in the yard. The blonde boy stood about ten feet away from us. He was staring at me. It was like he thought I might self-destruct and he didn't want to get anything on him.
"Call Pawprints," my husband said. "Tell 'em you're coming. See if the woman will help you get Paint in the car."
I nodded, as if he could see me. I called Pawprints. Shut my eyes and groaned when I heard, "Anh! Anh! Anh!"
I stepped out on the porch and knelt down. I gently pressed three pellets of arnica inside Little Paint's mouth. I saw the woman's eyes narrow.
"It's arnica, a homeopathic remedy for trauma to tissue."
She nodded. Her shoulders lowered.
I stood up. A blob of blood caught my eye. It was there on the hem of my shirt. That's when my brain seemed to register everything. I looked out in the yard again. Before I choked out a word, before the first tear fell, I saw the blonde boy step back and cover his ears.
"I looked for her. But it's my daughter's thirteenth birthday. So I came back in. To get ready. She wants an Oreo cheesecake."
I put my hands over my nose and mouth and smeared snot and tears across my cheeks and into my hair. I held my sticky hands in front of my face. They shook, like I'd had way too much coffee.
"She always comes back," I said, between sobby hiccups. "Or someone calls. And I go get her. Daisy too. That's her sister. They usually escape together."
The woman's mouth pulled to one side. The boy was in my neighbor's yard now. The kind eyes followed my gaze.
"That's my grandson, Owen," she said.
I snorted snot and waved. "Hi, Owen."
He looked at me. Crossed his arms. Shut his eyes. Didn't open 'em back up.
I turned back to the woman. "Can you help get her in my car?"
"Sure. If she'll let me. Sometimes hurt animals--"
"Yeah. I know," I looked past her. "Larry!"
The woman's forehead furrowed. I pointed to the yard where Owen was. My neighbor, Larry, a pastor, had walked out on his back porch.
I took a couple steps toward him, my hand on my chest. "Little Paint just got hit."
I saw his lips move, but I couldn't hear what he said. Couldn't tell if it was serrated or not. Maybe he was praying.
I inhaled little raggedy breaths. "Can you help us get her in the car?"
Larry came quickly. In his socks.
I got my keys and beeped the car. I ran to open the back door for them. Larry and Kind Lady grabbed the front and back of the porch rug Little Paint had collapsed on. She didn't growl. Didn't budge. She looked high.
I got in the car and murmured to Little Paint as they settled her on the back seat. Larry shut the door. He and Kind Woman waved at me as I drove up the alley. I saw Owen peeking around his grandmother's side.
"Thank you!" I said, as I looked at them in the rearview mirror. "Thank you so much!"
"Please don't die, Little Paint," I said as I turned from alley to road.
I looked through the blue at the top of the windshield. "God, please. Keep her alive 'til we get to Pawprints."
"How much is that doggy in the window?" I sang. "Do you like that, Sweetie?" I looked back at her when I stopped at the intersection of Grand and Wilson. Her tail rose and fell. Once.
"Where, oh where, has my little dog gone?" I chanted the rest of the song as I drove the road my husband calls the goat path, between Sabraton and the Mileground.
When I was stopped at the traffic light before 705, I heard a long, low moan. I clenched my teeth before I looked back. The Shop Vac seemed to have gotten a hold of Little Paint's breath too. I reached in back and waved my arm around. "Please don't die, baby. We're almost there."
I pointed to the right. "See? There's Exotic Jungle. That's where I get your pig ears."
I wiped my nose on my sleeve and looked up again. Have mercy. Please. On Little Paint. On me. Pretty please?
I pulled into the turn lane and waited for a break in the line of oncoming cars. I glanced in the back seat again. Little Paint opened her eyes for a second. They were more white than brown. I heard my sinus drainage go down my throat.
I pressed the gas and we jerked in front of the approaching traffic. A car horn sounded like it was cussing me out.
"Stay with me!" I said to Little Paint. I caught a glimpse of my face in the rearview mirror. It looked like a sidewalk chalk portrait that got rained on.
"Stay awake, girl. See? We're here. It won't be long now!"
I found the last spot in the parking lot. Shoved the gearshift into park. Jumped out. Didn't bother to close my door. I flung the clinic door open and leaned against it.
"Someone please help! My dog just got hit by a car!"
The receptionist jumped up and leaned across the counter, searching the floor. I pointed outside. With one hand she gave me a box of tissues. With the other, she pressed the intercom button. "All available staff to the front. Stat!"