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Baloo

by Katie Koeblitz about a year ago in dog
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(and me)

I awake on the 192nd day of quarantine to a pounding on my door.

It’s September and a heat wave makes the days foggier, stickier. Even now at, what— 6:43am, my thighs have suctioned. More knocking. My feet are heavy. I remember the virus, find a mask. Briefly, I’m grateful for its ability to trap my morning breath.

Through the peephole I see my neighbor Jamie. I open the door, a welcome breeze gained by this act. My eyes are drawn downward. Jamie’s German Shepherd tilts its head, its mouth just open.

Jamie’s eyes are puffy on top and purple underneath.

“Hey,” he says. Jamie is thin with dark hair that he can tuck behind his ears now. He talks like his father might have an Italian accent, and he works in marketing. Worked, I should say. Thin walls and boredom have yielded Jamie’s secret, unemployed for 3 months.

Jamie’s face contorts. I snap back into the present moment through a thick layer of grogginess and realize that I have no idea what’s happening.

“Hey Jamie,” I offer.

The words sputter before they spew. “Hey, so I can’t — I don’t know.” He shakes his head and moves his eyes to my feet. “I thought I had a backup. I had some money. I mean I have no idea. I can’t— I was already cutting it close, is the thing. But I had that money, I had it.”

Jamie begins to sob, lurching. His thumb and middle finger are on his temples. I want to reach out and grab his arm, but I don’t. For one thing, I’m not sure if he’d like that. The virus, for another.

In a moment he gathers himself and raises his wet eyelashes. “Okay, here’s the thing,” he says. “I’ve gotta leave, I can’t afford the rent. I can’t take Baloo with me. I need you to take her. Can you please just take her? I don’t want her to go to a shelter. I don’t have family here, my friends are idiots. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh, I um… I don’t know, Jamie,” I begin. “Do you mean just for a couple days or something?”

Jamie shakes his head. “I don’t know,” he says. “I need to go stay with my uncle in Arizona at least for a while, I don’t know how long I can stay with him. I don’t— well, no.” Jamie is sobbing again. “It’s— no, it’s not for a couple of days, I can’t do it. I can’t take care of her. She needs to be taken care of.”

I’m stunned. Jamie is locking and unlocking his phone, tilting the screen toward himself to check the time every 10 seconds. I look to my right and see three packed bags in front of his door. Jamie begins to hyperventilate.

“Okay,” I say, “I can figure this out. I’ll figure it out, it’s fine.”

A few guttural sobs leave Jamie’s throat. He picks up what was once a large bag of dog food, rolled down to the last 3 inches, and hands it to me. Out of his back pocket he pulls a neat, black leather notebook, which he also hands to me. He kisses the dog on the head, grabs her face between his hands. “I love you, Loo.” he says. He hands me the leash.

Jamie is burying his eyes into the crook of his elbow and walking to his front door and grabbing his bags and walking down the hallway with them.

I am standing in my door frame at 6:47am with a German Shepherd named Baloo.

We pass the next couple of hours seated together on the cheap laminate floor made to look like hardwood. Baloo whines and looks at the door every 30 seconds or so. The dog is huge. As we sit there, two bewildered strangers, I see a lot in her eyes.

I page through the black notebook, its pages satisfyingly crunchy with the weight of ink. Jamie writes on both sides of the page. The notebook is two-thirds full of short, concise entries that he has written about Baloo. A preservation of memories.

Today we hiked Mt. Lukens, she was such a trooper. So good off the leash, too. Tried to chase one squirrel but came right back when I called.

Today was her third birthday. We got a box of “pupcakes” from this place in the neighborhood.

We began our Utah hiking trip today! First night in the tent. Baloo has her own sleeping bag.

The last entry is short like the others, and is written on the left page in the notebook. On the right, Jamie has written in larger, sloppier letters in marker.

**DANIELLE**: 1 and ¼ cup in the morning and the same in the evening. Give arthritis chews at night. She likes three walks but two is okay. Loves to sleep, don’t worry about too much sleeping. Likes the dog park but scared of smaller dogs. Sleeps in bed with me. She really just wants love. Thank you, Danielle. Jamie.

I’ll call a small adoption organization. I’ll post on Facebook to see if someone is looking for a dog. I’ll think about it. I mean, maybe this was meant to be. I am so bored, maybe I could use a dog. I’m not ready for a dog! I’ll talk to Jen. Jen knows that rescue dog lady, she’ll know what to do.

Baloo vomits up her entire breakfast. The mass seems to inflate instantaneously, a big, puffy mess of brown, swollen ovals.

I have no idea what to do with a dog. I have no idea what to do with a vomiting dog. It’s 9:02am, and I have no idea what’s happening.

10 minutes later Baloo vomits again, squarely atop the shining patch of Lysoled floor I’d just cleaned. This time, it’s a mostly-white foam with a few pieces of kibble. She heaves again and again, straining. She’s panting now, her wolven head bobbing. I Google “dog vomiting”, look up nearby clinics. I call my mom, who has only had cats.

At the third heavy recht, she rotates to lay on her side. Her whole body rises and falls more rapidly now. “Okay, Baloo,” I say.

I put on deodorant and a bra. Grab my mask. I drag the lethargic dog down to the parking lot by her worn leash and push her into the backseat of my Civic.

The clinic isn’t letting “humans” inside because of the virus. Every so often, a masked vet tech appears at my window with an update. Needs a blood test. We’ll have to try a radiograph. Intestinal blockage. Has she been eating normally? Lethargic?

I open my bank account app. My balance is $2,283.29. Okay.

Seven hours later, I am sitting in my car and the surgery is complete. A large blockage. I’ve turned the car on to let the air conditioning blast my face for 30 second stints, kept the cool trapped by the windows as long as possible, rolled down the windows to wait until a sweat bead drops, then rolled the windows up to blast the air for 30 seconds again. I have no idea why I wasn’t able to go home during the surgery and recovery, as the staff had suggested. It’ll be a while.

A young, attractive woman in scrubs appears at my window. “I’m Doctor Franco,” she says. Dr. Franco tells me that “my little baby” made it through surgery just fine and is starting to wake up. They were able to remove the blockage.

“Well,” she says, presenting a small, zippered pouch, “I assume you were looking for this.” It looks like a pencil case I had in college, but thinner. It’s dark purple, the material of a tent. The pouch is crinkled and ragged. Mercifully, someone in the ER must have wiped it down.

Dr. Franco tells me how to take care of Baloo while she recovers for a few days. She tells me that my big baby will be out in about 15 minutes, and that a member of the team will collect payment at the car. She thanks me, and her eye twinkles at me before she walks away and up the ramp into the office.

I begin to unzip the pouch and the thin, white edges of paper appear. As I keep unzipping, I can see that it’s money. This entire pouch is filled with money. Not just money, but hundred dollar bills.

I begin counting. Before Baloo begins her hobbling descent down the building’s ramp, I’ve counted $20,000 in cash.

I had some money.

Jamie and I had never exchanged phone numbers. We were neighbors who said hi and chatted for three minutes here and there. We’d seen each other at the same concert once, so we knew we had music to talk about. We’d both ended up in my apartment after that concert with hot breath and bodies that momentarily collided, but we stopped before it went much further. Hallway chats became a little more awkward. We had messaged on Facebook a couple of times after that- random happenings in the building, album releases.

I open my Facebook app and search for him. His profile is gone. I try Instagram, LinkedIn, Google. His name is a little too generic and he was a little too private.

When Baloo approaches the car, I help this new staff member to lift her into the back seat. He gives Baloo a pat on the head, tells her that she’s a little trooper before telling me that someone from the front desk will be out in a minute.

I’m back on my phone- scrolling, swiping, thinking. We didn’t have mutual friends in the building. I only knew Jamie through the wall and on Facebook, and from that one hazy night.

The front desk worker descends the ramp, her weight lingering on the inner edge of each foot a little too long before shifting to the next. She approaches the window and tells me that today’s total will be $2,136.00.

I ask her if they take cash.

When we get back home, I unroll the money and tuck it into the black notebook. I shove it underneath my mattress, and heave Baloo up into the bed with me.

dog

About the author

Katie Koeblitz

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