Barefoot

By Dan Hein

    I saw her through the window, in the arms of my father as he walked along the yard to the front door. She wasn’t moving. It was crushing, seeing her being carried across the front lawn like that. He was carrying a part of me, a part that had died, across the front yard, and I was watching him do it. It frightened me. I knew she had gotten out, I knew she had been hit. And when I saw her, it just confirmed my worst suspicions. I knew she was gone; something deep down in my body was screaming at me: she’s dead, Dan, and there’s nothing you can do about it!

    I tried to shut it up. I didn’t want to listen to it. But then my dad opened the door. He wasn’t carrying her anymore.

    “Macy’s been hit by a car,” he said to me and my brother. And without pausing to breathe, he continued. “She’s dead. She’s in the back of my car, so go ahead and say goodbye to her.”

    Me and my brother just looked at each other for a moment. We were silently pleading with each other that it wasn’t true, that it was just a nightmare. We wanted Dad to smile and say “just kidding,” and laugh like it was some sort of cruel joke. But he didn’t. We got up from the couch and walked outside.

    The cold December evening air blew calmly as we stepped outside. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, without any underwear on, and I was barefoot. That was what I slept in, even in the coldest of winter nights. I winced as my unprotected foot hit the cold asphalt that made up the driveway. It was a sign, I thought. It was like there was some invisible portal that separated my warm, comforting house from the harsh, cold outside world. And the dividing line was: out here, my sister lay dead in the back of my dad’s SUV. In there, she was very much alive.

    Our mother was already out there, sitting on the back of my dad’s Hyundai, sobbing her eyes out. She was taking it pretty hard. She had let Macy outside to do her business without bothering to watch over her. She had cooking to do, and besides, Macy usually stayed in the yard and came to the door on her own when she was done. It was only the times where she smelled something, or saw a little creature to chase, that she would run off – we only had fences at certain edges of the yard - and we would try to teach her not to do it anymore. Sometimes, we just got careless, and let her run around.

    Mom figured that it was cold, and Macy wouldn’t have wanted to be out for long. She wasn’t watching. She blamed herself, as anybody would have. I never blamed her for it, but if she wanted us to forgive her, then, well, I did.

    I had learned what exactly happened later. She was hit by a car on the main road our street branches off of. The car was doing about forty miles an hour – she never had a chance. She was hit on her side. Death would have been quick. I hope it was.

    The bastard who hit her had driven off like a coward. If I knew his name…well, I guess it doesn’t matter now.

    I sat down on the end of the open trunk and looked at her. She looked just like she did when she was sleeping. I was hoping she would lift her head up and look at us, and that the whole thing would be over. But she didn’t. She was just lying there, and that was all that she could do. She looked peaceful.

    I petted her thick head. She always pointed her nose upward when you petted the top of her head. My juvenile mind found it amusing every time. I petted her dark brown ears. Her ears were incredibly soft. Sometimes I would lie down with her and scratch her ears for minutes on end. I petted her big belly. She had gotten a little fatter than she should have been. We had been putting her on a diet. I petted her soft paws. One of her front paws had white freckles on it. We called that one the pretty paw. I petted her black nose. Her muzzle was starting to grey. Just two weeks ago, I had commented that she was going to be six years old in March.

    That’s what made it hurt. She wasn’t even six. She was just a baby. My grandfather died at eighty years due to cancer. My aunt died at fifty-five – cancer. We had a dog before Macy named Pako. He was fourteen. He had developed a lump on his leg; it hurt him when he walked. We had him put down. And then here was Macy, little baby Macy, dead at nearly six from a hit-and-run accident.

    She was barefoot, too. In that instance, I didn’t care about the distinction between skin and fur. Me and her were one. Both of us were dead, spirits floating around the back of a 2013 Hyundai.

    My mom looked at me and noticed what I was wearing. “Are you okay wearing that out here, Dan?” The question pissed me off. I was saying goodbye to my dear departed sister, and she had the nerve to ask me if I was comfortable? In my heightened state of emotion, I wanted to strangle her. I would have been no better than the bastard who ran Macy over.

    “I’m fine,” I snarled. She reeled back.

    My brother – God, my brother – he took it worst of all. He was sobbing softly to himself, crying into Macy’s corpse. He didn’t move at all, just quietly buried his face into her back. He was as dead as Macy – in that moment, anyway.

    He was fifteen. The concept of death hadn’t gripped him yet. The death of our grandpa and aunt hadn’t phased him. Even Pako’s death wasn’t too hard on him. But this – this pierced him through the heart. For a while, he wasn’t my brother – he was a soulless zombie, trapped in the world in the living with the rest of us, slowly dying of this blow to the heart.

    I didn’t believe in the afterlife – I still don’t – but God willing, if there is one, I wished for Macy to rest there in peace.

    I remembered when I last saw her alive. I had given her her dinner. Just like I did every night, along with my brother. It was a ritual that we took for granted, and we never thought “this is gonna be the last time I’ll see her”. And in hindsight, I wish I could have made it special. I don’t know why, but I think that might have helped.

    Hindsight – oh, I fucking hate you, hindsight.

    My dad came out, finally. He was inside during the whole ordeal, calling up the pet crematorium. He knew, in that moment, that he had to act as the big man and set up the appointments to have Macy cremated. He would cry about it later. Right now, he had a part to play.

    “Okay, it’s time for her to go,” he said. He said it softly, but firmly. I got up from my seat, but my brother remained glued to Macy’s back. I had to pat him on the back for him to get up. I walked back into the house with my arm around his shoulder. I don’t know if he would have been able to walk away from her if I wasn’t there with him. We went inside, and my dad drove off with her body in tow.

    We spread her ashes across the yard, in all her favorite spots where she liked to sniff around or go to the bathroom. We had done the same thing for Pako. We had a gravestone that we had made for him when he died in 2008. My dad made a second marker for Macy and affixed it under Pako’s name. We’re going to keep the grave there as long as we own the house.

    We have a new dog now – a black lab named Sadie. She’s almost two years old now. We’re taking much better care of her. We don’t dare let her outside without anybody watching her. We always keep in the back of our minds that if we slip up, even just one time, she might suffer the same fate. We’ve learned our lesson.

    One day in the summer after Macy died, I walked outside for some fresh air and to stretch my muscles after a long morning of doing nothing but sitting around. I walked over to the gravestone and stood there for a few minutes, just remembering. My mind drifted back to me sitting down in the back of a Hyundai where Macy’s body lied, and I felt a chill. I had accepted her passing, but I was reminded then of the fear that I had of my own death, which I knew was rapidly approaching. It was going to hit me, and it was gonna either hit me hard and quick, or slowly eat away at me. I didn’t know which it would be, and I didn’t know when. I still don’t.

    All I knew, in that moment, was that I missed her terribly. I recall now that while I was standing over the grave, I was barefoot.