At the Vet's
by Maura Stanton
The German shepherd can't lift his hindquarters
off the tiled floor. His middle-aged owner
heaves his dog over his shoulder, and soon
two sad voices drift from the exam room
discussing heart failure, kidneys, and old age
while a rushing woman pants into the office
grasping a terrier with trembling legs
she found abandoned in a drainage ditch.
It's been abused, she says, and sits down,
The terrier curled in her lap, quaking
as the memory of something bad returns and returns.
She strokes its ears, whispering endearments
while my two cats, here for routine checkups,
peer through the mesh of their old green carrier,
the smell of fear so strong on their damp fur
I taste it as I breathe. Soon the woman,
Like the receptionist with her pen in mid-air,
Is listening, too, hushed by the duet
swelling in volume now, the vet's soprano
counterpointed by the owner's baritone
as he pleads with her to give him hope, the vet
trying to be kind, rephrasing the truth
over and over until it becomes a lie
they both pretend to accept. The act's over.
His dog's to stay behind for ultrasound
and kidney tests, and the man, his face
whipped by grief as if he were caught in a wind,
hurries past us and out the front door,
leaving the audience—cats, terrier, people—
sunk in their places, too stunned to applaud.
"At the Vet's" by Maura Stanton, from Immortal Sofa. © University of Illinois Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission by The Writer's Almanac, January 16, 2010.