The garage door was open. It was summer. The radio was on. A rail thin woman with long, dark hair set in perfect curls came up to my driveway. I had been working on my car all day. She said that she‘d lost her dog and asked if I could help her look for it. Grasped in her long and bony red-nailed fingers was a full color flyer with a blurry photo of her dog on it. She called me ‘sir’ multiple times. I didn’t feel old enough to be called ‘sir’.
The woman looked semi-familiar to me. I asked her where she lived.
“I am staying with my father, just up the street from here. He suggested I ask you for help, because you are one of the only people in this neighborhood who has a car.”
I nodded, and invited her into the only-slightly-cooler-than-outdoors garage. It smelled of sawdust and gasoline.
I did not care much for dogs. I had never owned one, and didn’t give much thought to the beasts when I saw them attached to the ends of leashes walking by my old and crooked house. I certainly had never helped anyone look for their lost dog before. I wondered how she had lost her dog in the first place. Aren’t they supposed to come when you call them? I tried my best to make conversation.
“What is your dog’s name?”
“Benny.” she paused.
“Will you help me look for him? It’s getting late and will be dark soon, and then it will be harder to find him.”
I asked her how long she had owned Benny.
“Only a year. I was sick. My father adopted him for me to aid in nursing me back to health. Benny helped me more than any of the expensive medications ever could.”
“Everyone thinks I hate dogs, but I don’t really hate them. I’ve just never had one,” I told the woman defensively. I don’t know why I felt the need to tell her that.
“What were you sick with?” I asked reluctantly.
“I had a brain tumor. I don’t remember much of that time, because all of the medications made me very weak. I spent six months in the hospital, and once I got out I was confined to my bed at home for another six. If it hadn’t been for Benny, I absolutely would have gone nuts. I think he has healing powers.” The woman smiled crookedly as she gently brushed one of her dark curls out of her face with one of her sharp red fingernails. It dawned on me just then why her hair was so perfect. It was a wig.
“A brain tumor, wow. I was just reading an article about brain cancer statistics yesterday. It explained that it is more common in men than in women, and is very rarely found people under forty. “
“I am under forty,” she said quietly.
“I think I have also read somewhere about people bringing dogs into cancer wards to help brighten the moods of the patients,” I went on.
“Mmhm, there were other dogs that they brought into the cancer ward I was in, but Benny was the only one who would get under the covers and snuggle with me on my hospital bed.”
“Yes,” I said, my voice rising, “do you think you could tell me more about him?”
She stared at me for a moment, thinking.
“No,” she said, cautiously.
“I don’t have much time. It’s getting dark and I need to go and look for my dog.”
I struggled to think of a proper response.
Looking at the artificial center part in her wig, I thought to myself that she was right – she did not have much time at all.
The woman handed the flyer with the photo of Benny on it to me. Her pale hand was shaking subtly until I grabbed it from her.
“Have you ever seen him?” she asked.
Upon closer inspection of the photo, it registered with me that I had seen the dog earlier that day, digging though my neighbor’s tipped over garbage can.
“Let’s go and look for him,” I told her, knowing he couldn’t be far. We got into my mint green ’76 Cadillac Eldorado together and drove only a few blocks before we simultaneously spotted the mutt. I’d never seen so much genuine joy on the face of another human being as I did on hers right then.
I kept in touch with the woman after that evening. A couple of years later, her brain cancer came back and killed her within just a few short months. I took Benny in when she died. He was the best thing that has ever happened to me.
From time to time I tried to explain to people why I had adopted Benny. After awhile, I moved to a different city where no one knew that I hadn’t always been a ‘dog person’.