“Good morning, Max.”
His eyes popped open with a flip of his salt-an-peppered brows.
Max wagged his tail with a slow thump, thump, thump. His muscles jerked and jived. Big brown eyes watched as Walter clicked the lock, downed the shades, and then moved over to the radio, switching channel to channel until sweet ivory keys floated a tune as sweet as soft as a thistle’s wishing pollen floated on a hot summer wind.
In the small apartment on Harmony Street in a little town called Affinity, Pennsylvania, Walter Goodman boogie-woogied over to the table of gathered items, mouthing the voice of Billy Holiday singing, “There ain’t nothing I can do or anything I can say…” He shuffled over to the table wrapping his bathrobe snug as a rug around his thin, slim waist, his long bony legs, and a manhood that had seen better days. His fingers shook, but not from fear, not a man afraid; he shook no worse than any other day.
The clinic had said nothing could be done. They’d said to put Max to sleep. Only the two souls, man and dog, were a fusion, an amalgamation of time and trust, days born hand in hand, and there was no way Walter would agree to swing until the very last gig without his best friend.
Besides, with Mildred gone, sleeping her blues in a heaven of wings and white, there was nothing more to do or more to say than what Walter planned this very April day.
“No road map to life,” Walter said to Max. “No cheat-sheet to wrong or right. No caution signs you’re heading in the wrong way. Hell, the blues’ll find you under a yellow umbrella. It keeps on raining no matter how much the sun shines.
“It’s time, Max. It’s time.”
As if he were on a dance floor and the band was playing his request, Walter put into his robe’s pockets the items from the table. Then stepping across the room, he sat down by Max, his knees cracking like fingers giving a rhythm snap. He leaned over and patted Max’s head. Max’s black lips pulled back into a toothless grin, and Walter laughed, having not put in his own choppers. Walter grinned right back at him. Together, they had their last laugh.
A plastic bag came out of his pocket first, along with a rubber band. He gently slipped the bag over Max’s nose and up and over his furry head.
“Ain’t nobody’s business if I do,” Billy sang. But Walter changed it to we. “Ain’t nobody’s business if we do.”
With a wag, wag, thump, thump, thump of Max’s tail beating a rhythm of jazz on the worn carpeted floor, Walter pulled out the only things left in his pocket. Another plastic bag. A rubber band.