I’m horizontal on the living room floor, Spud by my side. The minutes lift into hours as the liquor leaves my system. A car idles outside, blaring radio. A parade overtakes my ceiling — crip-walking giraffes and twerking rhinoceri. A phone call halts the illusion, I struggle to sit up. “Kitty?”
“Expecting a call from a housepet, are yeh?”
“Champion,” my boss says. “Change of plans. Need yeh here tomorrow. Target the red-eye.”
“Wait,” I say, floor spinning, “you want me to leave tonight?”
“You undone at the moment?”
“Buttoned up. Knackered. Flat-lined.”
“Said you could handle your liquor.”
“I can,” I say. “I, I had a lot.”
“Get moving,” he says. “Flight can’t be that far a sight.” He calls for someone in the background and the line goes dead.
I climb into the shower and try to steam out the whiskey. Towel-clad and stumbling, I assemble client files, toiletries, underwear. Miracle, miracle —everything crushes into an oversized suitcase and one carry-on. I call the airline and charge the astronomical change fee to my corporate card. I reach the hotel in Dublin, where an extra night on short notice costs double. I try to negotiate while flipping through the pages of my passport. I haven’t been abroad since our honeymoon.
I stop zigzagging the apartment long enough to meet Spud’s eyes. He’s cowering at the foot of the bed, watching me. “Hey, it’s okay, puppy boy,” I say, bending down and kissing his forehead. I thought I’d have another day to get him in order. “It’s okay.”
I throw on the first clothes I find and we rush to the deli, luggage in tow. I buy him roast beef that he gobbles slice by slice while we wait for the car to arrive. It takes half the cash in my wallet convincing the driver to allow him. Then Spud pukes halfway to the dog boarder, covering the entire back seat in frothy yellow. I hand over the rest of my cash to make amends.
The dog boarder, naturally, needs Spud’s vaccination records. I try explaining to the Eastern European girl at the counter that until now he’s always stayed overnight with a member of his vet’s staff, that his vet happens to be my wife, that we happen to be separated. I’m in a situation, I can’t just call. I know this is last minute. I’m sorry if I’m coming off like an asshole. Please just make an exception. I can’t afford to miss this flight.
Company policy and city law dictates otherwise. Her hands are tied.
I retreat with Spud to a seat in the waiting area. He’s shaking, I try to calm him down as I dig out my phone. The poor boy thinks I’m giving him away.
I call the vet, hoping beyond hope that Ginger answers the phone. The universe listens.
“Mr. Buckle,” she says, knowing my voice. I detect more than a hint of trepidation.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “for the last time I was there.”
“That’s none of my business.”
“I know. But I need a favor.” No answer. “I’m traveling for work last minute and need to board Spud.”
“Are you —”
“No, no, I just need his vaccination records sent over.”
“It’s not a problem.”
“Thank you so much.” I give her the information. “And Ginger? I’d really appreciate it if no one else knew about this.”
“It’s a shared mailbox, Mr. Buckle.”
“Maybe you could just, delete the email after you send it?”
She falls silent.
“I understand,” I say. “I do. Just. I feel like a shit parent already leaving him somewhere he’s never been before and I really need Dr. Pierce not to know.”
“I’ll do what I can,” she says.
“I’m sorry to put you in the middle.”
“Please don’t do it again,” she says, hanging up.
I return to the counter, and together we wait for the records to come through. I speed through the registration paperwork, repeating my own number in the Emergency Contact field. She spots it straight away, listens to my sob story a second time, and nonetheless forces my hand. I scribble Kitty’s number, requesting that they please not call her unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“Not a problem, not a problem,” the girl says. Eastern Europeans are nothing but smiles so long as everyone follows procedure.
As the minutes tick by, my departure time edges closer. Other dogs come and go. Small talk informs me that my boy’s new caretaker is originally from the Ukraine, that she operates this outfit with her family. She bends down to introduce herself to Spud, who bares his teeth, barks, and shivers.
The bag of generic dog food I bought at the deli screams bad parent. Punching rapidly at my phone, I order cases of organic pureed pumpkin along with canned beef and sweet potato. I inform the girl that it’s scheduled for delivery in a couple of days, Attention: Spud. Please change him over from the generic crap when it arrives. It’s been awhile since he’s eaten dry food only and it’s probably going to make him antsy.
The vaccination records reach her inbox. On cue, Spud cowers against my leg. We share a rushed farewell and I watch her lead him toward an isolated pen.
The driver’s outside waiting, halfway through cleaning the dog puke. I apologize again, question everything, then speed toward the airport.
Security, by comparison, is a breeze. Business class, apparently, draws an altogether better lot in life. After checking my oversized bag for free and scooting through pre-clearance, I make my way to the airline’s private lounge. I slug down a dry Irish cider or two — again, free of charge. Their finger sandwiches suck, but no one said that money buys taste.
I am cordially invited to board early. The attendants ply me with champagne while the passengers in coach are still crowding the aisles. No embellishment, they wrap me in a plush blanket and click my seatbelt shut.
The tin can lifts off the ground, rising, rising, rising away from the city I’ve called home for more than a decade. The sky is pockmarked with tiny clouds, sun playing peekaboo on the edge of night.