Lily’s dog had been sick for two weeks, but it wasn’t until the storm struck that Lily realized it was going to die. Sheila, a Dalmatian she’d owned for nine years, didn’t bark at the thunder like usual, even though it was the heaviest storm the town had seen in over two decades. Instead, the dog lay prone in the living room, whimpering sometimes, shutting its eyes. Whenever thunder clapped, Sheila’s ears twitched.
Sheila died two days later. Lily went downstairs that morning and found her lying on her side in the front hallway, her tail tucked inward, her legs reaching out for something that was not there. For a moment, Lily was unsure whether Sheila was dead or simply sleeping, but when she knelt down and saw the dog’s eyes wide open, she understood.
She called the vet’s office and was told that someone would come to pick up the dog. Lily explained that she had to get to work.
“Okay,” said the woman on the other end. “Well, we can come by now or later. It’s up to you.”
“Just come by later,” Lily said after a moment. “I really have to get to work.”
Half an hour later she pulled up to Vigo’s, the grocery where she was working over the summer. She went inside and saw Wendey frantically bagging spinach at one of the counters.
“Hi, Wendey,” Lily said. “I’m sorry I’m late. It was—my dog died.”
“Oh, my god!” said Wendey. “I’m so sorry! But, why are you even here?”
“Rick’s already mad at me for missing that day last week. I don’t think I can miss another on such short notice.”
That wasn’t why Lily had come to work. Seeing Sheila in the hallway that morning had upset her more than she’d expected. She’d known the dog was sick, and it had always been her mother’s dog, not hers. But her mother was in California now, and Sheila was Lily’s for the summer. Now the dog was dead, and Lily wasn’t sure what came next.
“Okay,” said Wendey, looking confused. “Well, take that counter. We’re swamped this morning.”
Twenty minutes later, Lily was bagging groceries rhythmically and easily. The crowd had died down, too, and Wendey took the opportunity to start talking.
“Are you going to get a new dog?” she said. Lily remembered that Wendey had only ever had goldfish for pets.
“I don’t know,” said Lily, bagging a carton of milk for a man whose ears were very red. “It’s really up to my mom. I mean, I’m leaving for college soon anyway.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Wendey. “I’m so excited for college. But, I guess… it’s also just gotten me thinking about all the stuff I wish I did here, you know?”
Lily looked at the blueberries in her hand. “I guess,” she said, and handed them to Wendey. “She was a good dog.”
“You were always complaining about how bad she was,” said Wendey.
“Yeah, but that was just, you know, kidding around.” Lily had always wondered how much the extra e in Wendey’s name accounted for her personality. She wondered what life would be like if she, too, had been given one. Liley.
“Oh, okay, I get it,” said Wendey. “So you really loved her?”
“I mean, yeah,” said Lily. “I had her for a long time. It was nice having someone around besides my mom.” The man with the ears coughed slightly.
“I’m sorry about your dog,” he said. His voice was as red as his ears. “But you’re taking an awful long time with that arugula.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lily, stuffing it in a bag, shooting Wendey a glance.
After the man left Wendey spoke up again. “Well, if you do get a new dog, whatever you do, don’t do what my cousins in Arizona did.”
“What did they do?” asked Lily.
“Their dog died,” said Wendey, her eyes widening, “and when they got a new one, they named it after the old one!”
“Oh, that is weird,” said Lily. “I don’t want to do that. Besides, if I do get a new one, I think it might be a boy.”
“Ooh, you could name it Garth,” said Wendey. “I always wanted a pet named Garth. Or a baby. But my landlords don’t allow pets.”
“Maybe I’ll name it Garthe,” said Lily.
“Yeah,” said Wendey. “Or, if you get a girl, name it Daisy. Because then you’ll both have flower names.”
“Yeah, Daisey,” said Lily.
Lily called the vet at the end of her shift so she wouldn’t have to wait at home with Sheila for long. When she opened the door, Sheila was exactly where she’d been that morning. Lily didn’t know what she had expected. The dog’s paws were still stretched out desperately, her eyes still staring ahead. It was only now Lily saw they were fixed on a toy, a shredded purple starfish, which was sitting across the hallway underneath a chair. The starfish, according to Lily’s mom, had once been plump and smiling. Sheila had mutilated it while Lily was still young, but the collection of residual scraps had remained the dog’s favorite toy. Lily didn’t know if it was better that it had been there for Sheila to see or not.
Through the window, Lily saw a car pull up and two men get out. Already bent over to adjust Sheila’s paws, Lily slid to her knees. The men were large, with short hair, one dark and one blond. They didn’t know Sheila’s name. Lily looked down at Sheila and heard the doorbell ring.
She had left those eyes open all day, she realized, and closed them now, pulling each eyelid shut slowly. Now Sheila really did look asleep. Lily reached over and picked up the starfish, and placed it next to Sheila’s face. She straightened Sheila’s tail and tucked each paw in closer. The doorbell rang again. Lily looked once more at Sheila, and then got up and opened the door. “I found her like this,” she said, pointing into the hallway. “I’ve had her forever. What am I going to do?”
-Story Ponvert, class of 2018