The snow is falling incredibly thick and I have to set my wipers to max just so I can see. I hear sirens in the distance, and I wonder if someone crashed up ahead. Not that it would need to happen to cause bumper-to-bumper traffic here. I roll slowly onto the Brooklyn Bridge, careful of the shiny black Porsche in front of me. I've already rubbed the warning clip off my breaks, and if I hit that car... Well, I couldn't even pay for the cup holder in one of those things. Has this guy never heard of a winter beater? Why the fuck would anyone drive something that nice out into this shit? I see a yellow light flash at me from the left. Seriously buddy? You want in now? Moron.
I crank the heat and thumb the Libra Peek-a-Pooh I have dangling from the dial. Whatever, dingle douche, you can worry about Mr. Shiny Sports Car. Fuck, this is going to be a long ride home. I look out the foggy driver's side window and I can just make out a couple of joggers trucking it through the snowfall on the upper walkway. Poor determined bastards. I look out my other window, over the frozen East River, and I see the lights of Lady Liberty reflecting off the ice. I may as well take in the scenery, it's not like I'm going anywhere fast.
Someone, somewhere in this sea of cars, honks. Probably getting cut off too. I turn down my rear view mirror to see my sleeping German Shepherd, Genie, in the back seat. I must love this dog if I’ll drive through New York traffic in a snow storm to take her to and from the best vet I can possibly afford.
Tears prick at my eyes as I look at the way she sleeps, her tongue hanging out to the side. Genie’s always done that, ever since she was a pup. She and her siblings were all nearly identical but you could always tell Genie apart when they slept as a big bundle of fluff, with that little pink slip poking out of her black muzzle. I remember the lecture Mom gave me when I told her I wanted nothing more than to keep Genie.
“Ellie, a dog is a very big responsibility. You simply wouldn’t have time for her. I don’t think you’re mature enough to have your own dog. Besides, you’ve never trained a dog yourself before, and a German Shepherd is certainly nowhere to start learning.”
But I was damn determined not to let anyone take her away from me. Not that I didn’t love the other puppies too. It was just that, with my parents being breeders, I was used to letting them go after a month or two. Even so, I just couldn’t handle the idea of losing Genie. She was special.
I resolved not to let anyone see her when Mum and Dad put the puppies up for sale. I even offered to take care of the sale of the litter, including making the appointments for people to come by. Every time someone came to visit, I hid Genie away in my room.
Eventually, all the other puppies were sold to safe, loving homes, and only Genie remained. My Dad thought there must have been something wrong with her and repeatedly asked me if she was ill-tempered with the people that came to see her. I told him no, of course not.
One night, walking by my parents’ bedroom, I heard Dad talking to Mum about Genie.
“Sarah,” he said, “I think we need to drown that one pup. I don’t think Ellie is being truthful about her temper. That must be why she’s not selling.”
“Jack, you’ll break her heart. She loves that dog. If you do that, I don’t know if she’ll ever talk to you again.”
“I’ve had to do it before,” he said.
“This one is different.”
I heard my dad sigh.
"I have to do what I have to do, Sarah.”
I remember running back to my room, pitching myself onto the bed and just crying. Dad was going to drown Genie, and it was my fault! If I had just sold her like I was supposed to, she would have been safe. I don’t know how long it was before Dad came in to see me. Might have been an hour, could have been ten minutes – time doesn’t exist when you’re in that much pain.
“Ellie, honey. What’s wrong?”
“You want to put down Genie! I heard you and Mum!”
“I was worried you overheard that… Listen, sweetheart, no one wants to take her, and if we kept every dog that no one wanted, we wouldn’t be able to afford them all. When you’re an adult, you have to make the hard decisions sometimes, but—”
Then I said something that I had never said to my father before or since; I said, “I hate you!”
Dad just stared at me, completely stunned. But I meant it. God, did I ever mean it, right then and there on my sunflower bedspread that seemed such an unfit place for such a painful conversation. He wanted to take away the only thing I’d ever loved, and I hated him.
“Ellie, she’s just a dog.”
“She’s not just a dog, Dad! She’s not! Not Genie!”
He thought for a long moment, then said, “Then she’s your responsibility.”
It was my turn to look stupefied.
“W—What?” I said.
“She’s all yours, Ellie.”
I don’t think I’d ever hugged him so hard.
Ever since then, Genie and I were inseparable. I took her to the dog park almost every day, she slept in my bed at night, came with me on my paper route, and, when I was studying, she would lay next to me and contently gnaw on her rawhide or her KONG that I filled with peanut butter.
Her first winter was bitterly cold, so I went and got her a jacket and booties to wear when we went out for walks. I remember when I first put the booties on her and she flailed her legs around, unsure of why they wouldn’t get off her paws when she lifted them, high, as if she were stepping over a hurdle. Eventually, she had enough, laid down and rolled over, waiting for me to remove them. When I did (after I stopped laughing of course) I got down on the floor beside her, anticipating her to be a little annoyed with me but as soon as I was in range, she began giving me kisses. As far as Genie was concerned, I could never have enough; and I never got tired of it. I never got tired of her waking me up every morning at seven, like clockwork, to take her out. I never got tired of her shadowing me around. I never got tired of her goofy antics and playfulness. I never got tired of how excited she was to see me when I walked in the door, even if I had only been out to the shed for five minutes and I was always just as happy to see her smiling face and wagging tail. I still am.
I hear Genie yawn from the back seat and I turn to look at her. She’s awake, smiling, tail wagging.
“Hey, girl. How’d you sleep?”
Genie raises onto her front legs and I see her try to stand with her hind legs too, but they fail her.
“It’s okay, baby,” I say, extending out my hand to pet her and get inevitable slobbery kisses. Genie’s specialty.
I smile at her and try to hold back the oncoming monsoon of tears. Genie gets upset when I cry. She flattens her ears and cocks her head at me. As much as I try to hide it, she always knows when I’m upset. Back when I was a teen and I was having a really bad day, I’d sit down and read a book with Genie cuddling next to me. Sometimes I read to her, which I think she liked, just hearing my voice. I guess she could hear in my tone how upset I was because she would do that same thing: flatten her ears, cock her head. She also would nudge her head between me and the pages, with a goofy grin on her face. Then she would give me kisses and just cuddle.
That's the thing about Genie. While everyone else wanted something from me—my parents wanted me to have good grades and go to a good school, my friends wanted me to do things for them, boys wanted me to do things with them—Genie only ever wanted to love me. Through arguments with my parents, losing friends, and getting my heart broken by boys, Genie was always there. Silently constant. My rock. My soulmate has four paws and lots of fur.
The car behind me honks. Shit. I’ve just been sitting here like a dolt with two car lengths in front of me. I pull up and take the lid off Genie’s water dish that I have jury-rigged to attach to the back of my passenger seat.
When Genie’s done wetting her whistle, I screw the lid back on the dish and pet her a bit, this time keeping my eye on the road.
“We’re gonna go home, eat some dinner, give you your pills and just relax tonight, huh Genie?”
And those pills had better work. Not only are they expensive, but she doesn’t deserve all this shit. She’s a good girl.
I feel Genie gently nudge her head into my hand, then suddenly go stiff. Fuck, no, not again!
I undo my seat belt, throw the car in park, and reach back to hold her through the seizure.
“It’s okay, Genie. It’s okay girl. It’ll all be alright.”
Her body is rigid, like rigor mortis has already set in. No, Ellie, don’t think like that. She’s not there yet.
I just hold my girl while the episode runs its course. People are honking at me, we’re probably moving again but I don’t care. The honking fades out, all I can hear now is my sobbing and Genie’s laboured breath.
“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay,” I say to her through tears. Or am I saying it to me?
Genie relaxes a bit, and I unscrew the lid of her water dish in case she needs some. The sounds of honking come back to me. I wipe tears from my eyes as I turn back around and pull forward again. Maybe we should leave the city. This goddamn city. I think Genie would like it better out in the country, back at Mum and Dad’s. I just want her to be happy. In my head, I replay what the vet told me today.
"I’m sorry Miss Jones, but the brain tumor that’s causing this is inoperable. We can try to treat the symptoms, but it’s just a matter of making her comfortable now.”
Those words echo in my brain, bouncing from one side of my skull to the other.
Just a matter of making her comfortable.
Gen Taggart was born and raised in the city fun forgot. She has what's probably an unhealthy obsession with Doctor Who and is a hoarder of notebooks full of half-finished short stories and tattoo ideas. When not jotting down ideas for the next bestseller or trying to navigate the complexities of being single, she can often be found cuddling with her dogs and binging on Netflix.