Friday, August 22, 2014

An August Evening

Three orange plastic chairs. One that will be pulled off to one side for the moderator. The spotlight will be on two women, sitting in the center of a boxy wooden platform. Two low mikes on long arms stand ready for their voices. I sit in an aisle seat in the second row, sipping wine from a small Ball canning jar. This room reminds me of a warehouse, high plaster walls, no windows—the Space Gallery, Portland, Maine. I’ve come to listen to Roxana Robinson and Ann Beattie read from the work of writers they admire, then discuss their selections. Later, each will read a selection from the other’s work. They rise from front row seats in the section on my right, Roxana leading. She wears red ankle length trousers, a white and black striped three quarter sleeve top, a black and white striped matching cardigan tied over her shoulders, red flat canvas shoes with closed toes. Ann wears black and white. What I notice about Ann are her long fingernails, polished fire engine red, then her toenails, polished the same red. Each has chosen red for her splash of color.

The selections they read are by Peter Talylor, Robert Stone, Grace Paley—Ann; Elena Ferrante, Hillary Mantel, Alice Munroe—Roxana. Now, Roxana reading from Ann Beattie’s “In the White Night,” then, Ann reading from Roxana’s Sparta. All of the writing is arresting. Stunning. Some writers rely on exposition, others on scene—which ever each chooses, he or she is a master. Each voice is unique.

How delightful to listen to two very smart accomplished writers talking about writing. But I as a writer can’t aspire to write like any of them—and I shouldn’t. Each’s wonder, each’s brilliance springs from an unknown quality that is his or hers alone. As I leave the gallery and step out into the cool of an August night, their words, their stories, their characters, the moods they create linger like a brush of silk on my skin. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

That Night

Sam and I in better days. 
I’ve been meaning to blog all of July, hoping to get a post up before the month ran out; then, life rolled in like a tsunami, sweeping away intention. The only thing left was that night, Saturday, July twenty-sixth. Two dogs, maybe four, attacked Sam, my beloved standard poodle. Dick, my husband and I, had left Sam in the care of a dog sitter, a woman we knew. What we did not know was that she would leave Sam and her four dogs gated in her living room and leave on her bicycle to get ice cream. Her housemate found Sam lying in front of the gate, his breathing harsh and gurgled, his fur soaked with blood. Sam survived, still survives with severe bite wounds to his neck, impaired breathing which may require surgery to open his air ways, nerve injury to his right eye. He can’t blink. May never blink.

That Saturday night, the veterinarian gave Sam a fifty-fifty chance. It was two in the morning when Dick and I arrived at the hospital. Sam lay on his side, in an oxygen cubicle, his neck so swollen, he looked like he was wearing a ruffled Elizabethan collar. He smelled foul—like blood and rotten flesh. His fur has been shaved, revealing severe bite wounds to his neck, one about four inches long and two inches wide—and so deep. His white skin was the color of strawberries. An IV dripped into his left front paw, administering fluids, morphine and antibiotics. I held my hand to his nose. Sam licked my fingers.

For days my sadness was visceral, sapping my energy and my strength. I couldn’t read. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t think. I could empty the dishwasher, walk in the rain. This was grief. For Sam’s suffering. For his wounds. I blamed myself. I shouldn’t have left him with a woman who owned four dogs. Shouldn’t have made Sam the outsider. Wasn’t that what I wrote about, the outsider? But the woman knew Sam. Sam knew her. And he’d spent time with her dogs. But never without the woman present. She was distraught. So sorry. She would pay. She didn’t care how much. She wanted Sam to live. She didn’t know what she’d do if Sam died. Early, in his care, I set limits. No resuscitation. No breathing tubes. If Sam was going to survive, he’d need to pull through on his own. Sam has a big heart, a steady slow determination.

After five days, I brought him home, that large wound still open and draining, smaller wounds open and draining, too. I changed his dressing, fed him pills, antibiotics, painkillers, an appetite stimulant, each wrapped in brie. Brie is soft and smelly. Sam loves smelly. I sat on the floor applying warm compresses to his wounds. Sam leaned back into my hand, the hand that used to bandage a son’s skinned, then lift a lock of sweaty hair from a forehead. With touch, Sam’s breathing eased.

This morning, Sam lies on his bed in my study. This is our routine; Sam rests in my study as I write. And I’m beginning to write, first this blog, then perhaps, tomorrow, I’ll return to the work I left before the night of Sam’s attack, my book of essays about Jews, war and Vichy France. Sam has patches of dead skin that may transform into open wounds. Weeks will tell the extent of injury to his trachea. It will be months before we know if those nerves in his face will regenerate. I stoop down to scratch, lightly, on his head. He doesn’t move. He is content, hardly laboring as he breathes. Perhaps, no surgery. I turn back to my desk. Together and slowly, Sam and I re-enter our lives.