(photo by Matt Mellina)
The old man was forced into early retirement at age 59, on account of his heart. Mom made him quit smoking and brought home a couple of miniature French Poodles. They were tiny, no larger than a women’s purse, with jet black, curly hair. She named them “Nuit” and “Noire.”
“They’ll keep you active,” she said to my father, who hated the dogs on sight. He had never liked dogs.
“Stupid animals,” he said. “Just as soon lick their own asshole as they would your face.”
Despite their lack of discernment, my mother made him walk the dogs four times a day and while he resented the lavish attention she bestowed upon them, he secretly grew to love the animals. They were nasty little shits, who would bark and nip at small children, delivery men, and other dogs three times their size. The old man admired their audacity and their complete disdain for all people other than my mother. They followed her everywhere throughout the house and dutifully slept at the foot of her bed. At night before he went to sleep, the old man would take them out into the back yard so they could “do their business.” He would always sneak a cigarette on the stoop. It became a nightly ritual that they shared.
Five years later, mom was dead, the cancer having eaten away at her stomach. I remember Nuit and Noire watching from the bay window as the paramedics loaded her body into the ambulance. Whenever I visited the old man I would see them there, watching at the window, as if expecting her to return at any moment. They grew despondent over the weeks that followed and eventually gave up. The old man followed suit and stopped walking them. I think it reminded him too much of my mother.
Two months later, as the old man was receiving yet another Bundt cake from one of the neighborhood widows, Nuit bolted out the front door. She was much too fast for the old man. Nuit was found dead the following day. She had been torn to pieces by a neighbor’s German Shepherds. I dug a hole for her in the backyard as the old man and Noire watched mournfully.
The next week, while driving to my aunt’s house in Canarsie, Noire jumped out the open window of my father’s Cadillac, onto the Long Island Expressway. The car was moving at more than 60 miles per hour. Noire never had a chance. That was the only time I can remember seeing the old man cry.
I stayed close to him in the days that followed, half-expecting that he might try to off himself — as if he had been part of an unfulfilled suicide pact with two French Poodles. But the old man hung on. He still slips out the backdoor, late at night, and smokes a cigarette on the stoop.
© gibson grand