Chloe came to the farm fourteen years ago. He and his littermate, Daphne, had been evicted from Tami’s abode in Raleigh for destroying her roommate’s couch.
I told Tami that she could keep them at the farm, which was a tarpaper shack with no electricity or running water. She brought her dogs. And herself. And there was life at the farm.
There was no bird life then. I remember setting up a feeder, and filling it with black striped sunflower seeds, and I remember them rotting. Last night we marveled at the rose-breasted grosbeak that was dining outside our kitchen window. Nowadays there are over a dozen frequent varieties of birds.
As puppies Daphne and Chloe were hellions. They climbed atop a pile of construction debris and destroyed the Canadian flag, which hung from the porch. They ate boots, and shoes, and chewed everything in their paths. They were misnamed after a Greek tragedy, which Tami and I eventually read in bed. In the original Daphnis and Chloe, Daphnis is the boy and Chloe is the girl.
Unfamiliar with the play, Chloe was a big male farm dog that never knew a leash or a pen. At his peak he weighed around seventy pounds, and he could easily keep a meter reader from exiting the truck.
He and his sister killed my flock of guinea hens. They killed our chickens. They brought home the entrails of deer abandoned by neighboring hunters, and dropped them triumphantly on the porch. Once they found their way into the house (both were “outside dogs”), where they gathered broken eggs, and cornmeal, and flour on our roommate Jenna’s bed. They were basically trying to make cornbread.
We lost Daphne to the road, and that was a painful experience. Many operations, some time as a three legged dog, and misery for all, which culminated in a death at the vet’s office.
Chloe was unphased by his sister’s passing, and threw his lot in with Jazz, the neighbor’s dog. The two were inseparable, having sleep-overs at one another’s houses, in which they would bray at the moon together.
When Jazz was lost to the road, Chloe parked it on the neighbor’s porch, where he sat and howled for two weeks. Eventually he came home, and when we did he was an old dog. He came home after the death of Jazz, lay down on the porch, and never really returned to friskiness.
In those days before Abeyance was developed, Chloe and I would walk the woods together. We would find our way to Jim’s, where we would stay late into the night. Chloe would lead me home, even when the moon had passed, when I needed him the most.
Together we built trails, and passages, and ponds around the place. Together we hung around Summer Shop, sometimes with the burn barrel going. Chloe watched Summer Shop transform from sculpture to biodiesel to storage to living quarters. He wandered through them all.
And tonight I put him down.
We all new his end was approaching. One day when Wilbur brought a load of wood he pulled me aside and said quietly, “That dog’s gonna need a decent burial.”
Wilbur is our neighborhood entrepreneur. He sells wood when it’s cold, and every kind of vegetable in season, azaleas when the time is right, and he runs the cemetery up on Mt. View Church Rd.
One time on the way to the refinery Tami had to lift Chloe out of the stream. He had made the half mile walk, but couldn’t finish the embankment. On one refinery Sunday, Chloe took up residence in a futon on the porch, resting up for an additional day for his return trip.
He was arthritic, and turning grey, and losing weight toward the end. And when he finally parked it on the back porch (where he knew he was not allowed), and failed to get up for the opening and closing of doors, we knew the end was near.
No one wanted to think about that. When Jess was a little younger than Arlo, she claimed that feral dogs chased her to the safety of the trampoline, and that Chloe came out of the yard with neck hair raised and fangs evident and chased the other dogs away. While this probably translates into neighborhood dogs moseying on, the kids have inserted it into their childhood lore and to this day recognize it as “Chloe saved Jess from the wild dogs”
Normally he blocked the entrance when a thunderstorm was coming. We made allowance for that. For the past few days, I’ve been waiting for the lightning. But there has been none.
Chloe couldn’t get up from his doormat position. He started defecating on himselfówhich was highly unusual since he has always modeled discrete behavior to the other dogs.
I called up Lisa, the vet down the road, and she agreed to come the next evening. She was an angel of death, perhaps an angel of mercy, and we agreed on a time when the boys would be at soccer.
Rachel called in the middle of the day and I headed to the College for a briefing. We talked about new interns and new goals and reviewed some media stuffóthe usual, and she wanted to nail down some time availability slots.
When she asked me what I was doing in late afternoon I kinda lost it.
I had to go dig a grave large enough for Chloe.
At first I thought I would do it at Summer Shop. Perhaps in the woods somewhere. At one point I thought about a “sky burial,” like they do in rocky regions, where vultures carry off the remains of the dead. There is a place on the front five where I toss deer carcasses that are too close to the road. I have found that carrion begets carrion when it is too close to the road, so I often toss it on the truck, bring it to the same place, and let the vultures and possums dine in peace.
When I came home tonight, I checked on Chloe on the back porch, and it struck me that the place for his body was in the main scene outside the kitchen window. That is after all, where we buried Tristan and Isolde, the kittens that Daphne and Chloe killed years ago.
I walked out into the garden and listened to mourning doves coo in their monotonous kind of way.
Rachel was expecting me at the refinery to help her fire up the bush hog on the tractor. I dug a hole for a while. The earth was soft and easyóunlike any of the other soils around here. As I dug I thought of the previous owners. This garden, now full of mimosas and hostas, bee balm and paccasandras, was where they once grew turnip greens. Chloe would remember this red dirt.
I jumped into some work at the refinery for a couple of hours, changed the fuel filter on the Tami Tank, and worked on the tractor some.
And when the appointed time arrived I found myself weeding and spreading mulch. I have been reading William Kotzwinkle’s Dr. Rat to the boys of late, and one of the overwhelming messages of the book is that death is freedom. I tried thinking of death as freedom for Chloe, but it offered little comfort. All I could think of was moonlit trails together.
Lisa arrived and I escorted her to Chloe’s newly claimed spot by the back door. She asked me to hold his front leg in position such that she could have easy access to a vein. She asked for more light. I slid Chloe away from the door, as has become the custom, reached into the kitchen to throw the switch.
I held his knee, she found a vein, and injected an overdose with a pink syringe of anesthetic.
Chloe didn’t flinch. He didn’t fight back. He looked up at me with dark eyes of relief, which I could barely see through my own tears.
Lisa hung around feeling for the end of a pulse, and when she found it she left immediately. I scooped Chloe up in my arms. He was heavy as a dead lift, and he had urinated all over himself and the floor. I shut off the kitchen light, carried him out to the freshly dug grave, and set him down gently.
Trail bikes were whining in the distance as I carried him out, and I found that as I shoveled the earth over his body I started crying out loud. My sobs progressed to cries that drowned out everything in the area. Mourning doves, dirt bikes, and trucks on the road, all of them dissolved into my cries as I shoveled dirt onto Chloe’s grave.
And when it was done, I wandered out to the fishpond. I called Tami on cell and told her it was done, and took a seat by the pond. I could see Chloe swimming in the pond. He wasn’t that fond of water. He could take it or leave it. But I could picture him as my vibrant companionónot as he was toward the end.
He would have swum across the Hellespont if that were the way home.