Sam, Sammy to his friends, watched Jess delicately arrange the large bone between her paws, to gnaw in comfort. He watched her grey flecked snout curl back, as her yellow worn teeth scored the grey treat. Sprawled mere metres from the roaring fire, Sammy knew she was settled. The anger at having medication forced down her throat, forgiven and forgotten. Though the livid marks on his wrinkled hands, throbbed. He reached down to scratch under her ear. Chewing paused to fully enjoy.
Satisfied, he stood. Slowly working his seventy-three year old body upright. Greeting and countering each of the several aches and pains and tiny rebellions his body now insisted were his due, if he dared called upon it to act. Jess returned to her glee.
Shuffling as best he could, Sammy reached the bedroom. His bedroom now. Only his. He closed the door. He contemplated the photograph. A much faded, black and white, mired in dust and dirt, picture of a smiling couple from another time. He reached for it. The years of neglect shamed him. With handkerchief and spit, he restored the little window as best as he could.
The safe drew his eyes before ever turning to it. With a sigh and the written scrap, he tapped the code. The safe gave up its charge of a rifle, carefully wrapped, diligently cleaned, but long unfired and the box of .22s.
Bared and placed on the bed, it lay in waiting. Reassembled. Loaded. Ready.
There was scratching at the door. Sammy's shoulders slumped. He knew what needed to be done. He let her in. Arthritic hips and arthritic back did not stop her reaching up to lick his hand. Her big wet tongue gliding over the damage she’d caused. Sammy dropped to the bed and then to the floor. Resting his back against the wall, he hugged her close and hard.
Cancer had once left him bereft, the prospect of it doing so again, left him empty with terror. Rheumy eye, met rheumy eye. The dread shivered him. Not again he spoke into the enthusiastic licking. He playfully pushed her away, wiping saliva from his face with his much stained sleeve.
Months of agony lay in store, death and bereavement. Sammy knew his measure of strength. It no longer extended to hope after loss. Jess rested her large head on his knees, drool soaking through the fabric. With careful slowness, he reached his right hand to the rifle. His left hand never leaving the centre of his being.
Jess whined and in her curtailed state, climbed uncomfortably to a sitting position. Her face quested his. Her tongue tasted his tears. Her licks more frantic. She started at the sound of the bolt sliding the round into place. She pushed onto his lap. His aged knees rebelling at the weight. Her whines more desperate. Her paws looking for purchase in his chest.
He didn’t resist, his heart already broken. He’d thought it through. He knew to the brain would be instant, but the mess of spatter horrified. Feeling for the heart he looked Jess straight in the face. Their ancient eyes made more opaque with tears. He pressed the barrel against the heart. Jess pushed harder against him, pushing it away.
He hummed soothingly to her, rubbing his head against hers. His left hand held the barrel back in place and his right hand reached and just found the trigger. Jess became more distressed. Her paws now ripping the tissue delicate skin of his chest. The pain didn’t reach him, couldn't move him.
He pulled the trigger and she howled. The rifle dropped from lifeless hands as her licking now frantic, desperate to save.
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