My wife still wouldn’t leave her room so I had to take the afternoon off to bring Buster into the vet. At home the dog was hungry and all the lights were off. There were two more sympathy cards in the mail. I threw them away. Buster was tearing ass around the house and wanted to play so I had to tackle him to get him into his crate. He cried and cried.
It was Buster’s one-year check-up. The vet breathed hard through his mustache and prodded my dog everywhere. Buster sat still for once. “You’ve got a healthy little guy,” the vet said. “Weight good, heart and lungs good, teeth good, everything good.”
“His actual birthday is tomorrow,” I said. “How would you celebrate a dog’s birthday?”
The vet leaned down and said, “Happy birthday Buster!” right in my dog’s face. To me he said, “Maybe an extra treat. Maybe a new toy. However you’d like.”
“What I mean,” I said, “is how would you celebrate it in a way that the dog understands?”
“I’m not sure I follow you,” the vet said.
“I want him to get it,” I said. “I want him to know it’s his special day. A lot of things never make it to their first birthday.”
The vet shook his head. “Dog’s aren’t so good at understanding things like that,” he said.
Buster threw up in the car on the way home but not too much. I cleaned it off the seat while he chased a bee around the front yard. Jesus Christ dogs are dumb. I knew it was stupid to want to celebrate a dog’s birthday but a first birthday is a big deal.
The next day I bought a marrow bone and a new rope toy at the pet store. I let Buster chew the bone into little pieces in the kitchen. “It’s your birthday,” I told him. “You’re one year old today.” I wanted to make him understand so I got down next to him and looked into his eyes. He stopped chewing the bone and looked at me. “You’re one year old today,” I said. I heard Julie shift in bed upstairs. You’re one year old today. One year. One year boy. One year.
Ian Denning‘s work has appeared in New Ohio Review, Washington Square Review, Five Chapters, and elsewhere. He lives in Seattle, is at work on a novel, and tweets at @iandenning85.