This used to be the happiest morning of the week for him. Now, the reminder of his greatest joy only adds to my own sadness. I stare down the driveway, and it seems like a long hard road of sorrow.
He never understood days of the week really, nor could he understand the inherent uncertainty of newspaper delivery. Mondays and Tuesdays were met with confusion and disappointment. Nothing today? Why? Missed deliveries seemed to shake his faith in humanity. Why isn’t it here? Should I check again? Yet he never grew cynical. His faith in newspaper circulation remained unwavering.
Wednesday, when deliveries resumed for the week, were filled with joy, and Thursdays — ah Thursdays! — were the best of all. On Thursdays, our daily Houston Chronicle was joined by The Villager, a free-throw weekly that was a guaranteed bonus. Even if the Chronicle didn’t show up, the Villager was always there, light and tightly wrapped, as if it were made to be carried in the soft spot of his mouth. On Thursdays, he got to make a second trip down the drive. For him, double the work meant double the joy.
Sometimes, he would bound down the drive, so overwhelmed by the options that he would pick up one, drop it, and pick up the other. He might repeat this ritual three or four times, unable to decide which to bring first. And if the Chronicle didn’t come on a particular Thursday, then he would make a detour on his second trip, darting for the neighbor’s drive to retrieve their Villager.
I once tried to make him put it back. He didn’t understand, dancing around me as I pointed toward the neighbors’ yard in admonishment. I pulled the paper from his mouth and tossed it back. He ran and got it again, his tail wagging so hard it slapped his sides. Over my exasperation, I heard my neighbor laughing. He’d seen the whole spectacle. Let him keep it, he said. Who could even think about impeding such happiness?
On Thursday nights, returning from his walk, he would scour the street, scooping up any Villagers that had been left in the driveway. Some people just didn’t appreciate the news the way he did.
In rain, sweltering heat, cold and ice, he found joy in the simple journey to the curb and back, and he dispatched his duties faithfully, eagerly, and yes, relentlessly.
He died on Monday morning, when no newspapers came. Now, it’s Thursday, his happiest day. I see the papers in the drive — the Chronicle and the Villager. Perhaps I’ll go get them later, but I will be walking slowly, reluctantly, where he bounded, tail wagging. When I return, the others, who never learned to retrieve, will not greet me at the door with envy or admiration (I never knew which). Perhaps, instead, I’ll leave the papers on the pavement, a monument for a great and loyal friend.
Eugene O’Neill, a Dalmatian owner, once speculated that in death, dogs would find “a Paradise where one is always young and full-bladdered; where all the day one dillies and dallies with an amorous multitude of houris, beautifully spotted; where jack rabbits that run fast but not too fast (like the houris) are as the sands of the desert; where each blissful hour is mealtime; where in long evenings there are a million fireplaces with logs forever burning, and one curls oneself up and blinks into the flames and nods and dreams, remembering the old brave days on earth, and the love of one’s Master and Mistress.”
And newspapers. Driveways filled with newspapers waiting to be brought to the porch.