Fred's Ashes:


I picked up Fred's ashes today, playing Bruce Springsteen very loudly in the driveway of the animal shelter. It had taken me two days of failed attempts to actually drive in. A woman fought me over a parking place and I had no patience with her, so I shot out around her and grabbed the handicapped spot.

The door of the building slammed behind me, before the driver was out of her car. I waited at the desk while an older woman slowly approached. I said, "I am here for ashes." She slowly bent down and stuck her face into the cremation cabinet. She brought out a small crisp white shopping bag with Fred's name on the side. I inhaled. She couldn't find his name on the roster. I saw it and pointed it out to her.

"Have you paid?"

"No," I replied

"How much do you owe?

"I have no idea" I said coldly. I tapped my pen irritably on the counter.

"What kind of dog was it?"

"Shih Tzu," I said trying not to conjure up any images of warm mops. She began scrolling through her computer looking for the price of incinerating my particular breed.

"That will be $60." she said blandly. I filled in the check, gave her the check, and in exchange she handed me a small white shopping bag. It was light as a feather. I opened the back door of my car and put the bag on the floor-just what I would have done if I had just bought a new lipstick.

While I was driving home, a young man in a small green pickup pulled up beside me on the left. He looked over at me. We made eye contact and I looked away.

I wanted to tell him that Fred is supposed to be up in the back window. That is where he sits, not on the floor. Fred hates people who go by outside the car. He should be barking at you. Fred also chases people when they leave the house. The traffic light was taking forever.

I wanted to tell the driver that I had gotten Fred before my youngest child went away to school. He was my pal. He followed me everywhere. When I was sick he'd lie with me and not even need to go out. He put his head on my tummy. He watched TV and hated horses on the screen even more than dogs. If a dog walked by he'd follow it and look behind the TV to see where it had gone.

The light changed and the truck and I advanced down the boulevard in tandem. Fred and I played hide and seek and when he found me he would lick me all over. When I talked to him he would rotate his head and try so very hard to understand.

I can't believe Fred's thick fur is ash now. I can believe his bones are cinders, but that his fur should be gone is somehow unreasonable. He was the most intelligent dog I'd ever had. He anticipated my every mood.

The truck and I got stuck together side by side again at the next light. The guy in the truck was staring again. Maybe sex with a stranger would help. "Happiness is a Warm Gun," played on the radio. I hadn't heard it in five years. Maybe it was a sign. I wiped my eyes and seriously gave the stranger the once over.

Fred would have crawled up in my lap by now in the car and licked my arm because he'd know I was hurting. I peeled away from the truck at the next green light and drove home. I put the white bag in my office without ever looking in it.

I am not very good at emptying out my heart.

JANET ALEXANDER is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout Rhode Island and nationally in a variety of publications including Redbook. She has also worked at the University of Rhode Island as both a teaching assistant and a writing tutor.