We were sitting, GConradS and I, at the kitchen table late on a fall evening. Chatting. It must have been a Sunday, because I was feeling the tug of some mild stress regarding some pending college assignment. We were lazy, being funny.

Mom came in, she had been across way at the neighbors' place. Mr. McJ had been in the hospital for several days. He wasn't dead, but he might as well have been. Aneurysms are like that. His widow-to-be was in shock, understandably. She did not know what to do with her husband's dog.

The dog was as old as he was, in dog years, and should have been put down months ago. He just loved it too much. I remember walking past their house when I was little, and having the dog try to bark at me, only it couldn't because it always had a tennis ball in its mouth, and god forbid that it would spit it out for half a second. Stupid dog. Good dog. When the dog could no longer walk, Mr. McJ would pick it up and carry it outside so it could crap.

We were needed. Some other neighbors saw the writing on the wall, and decided that the dog had to be put down, because the missus could not be expected to tote the dog about the house. All that was needed was to carry the dog from the basement to the tailgate of their minivan. Somehow, we had been volunteered for the task. We exchanged uncomfortable glances, and took our time walking across the street.

I had never known the McJ's very well, and I'd never been more than two steps inside their house. Now, immersed fully in one of life's terrible moments. Mrs. McJ and her daughter-in-law stood glassy-eyed, to the side. They might have attempted some half-hearted thank you. Everyone was uneasy. We went down to the basement.

Something concrete to focus on, people! It was like they were thankful for this most troubling distraction from Mr. McJ's fate. Everyone had a suggestion, a dog-transportation stategy that could be applied. As the anointed, we ignored them for about five seconds. Without speaking, we each grabbed two corners of the flannel blanket that the dog was resting on. They were quiet, "Oh, yeah, the blanket."

We began to lead a macabre procession through the walk-out and around to the front of the house. The dog was silent, it looked at us, peaceful or oblivious through its runny eyes. It was big, overweight, stiff and heavy. We placed it in the back and glanced at it one more time. What if Mr. McJ gets better? He'll be pretty pissed. Kill a man's dog while he's down, why don't you? We looked at our feet while she thanked us, wondering how long we had to stay around, for politeness' sake. It was warm, late into the fall

Mr. McJ died three nights later. I had never been to an open-casket wake before.

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