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She Closed the Door
If only she had known.
It was a sunny day in March when Penny Gifham dropped her kids off at daycare. She’s a busy working mom, and can’t afford a private nanny. So every day at seven o’clock round she drops off her children at “The Kids Place,” where the plastic ball pits aren’t sterilized but are at least sanitary, and where the attendants are predisposed to feed their charges before popping a “Barney” DVD in the television and leaving for lunch.
That sunny day in March seemed like any other, besides the inordinate amount of traffic. Her scuffed pump toe eased on and off the brake in the stop-and-go traffic to her office. She hit the wheel in frustration, her nails, with their remnants of chipped beige paint, feebly slapping the imitation leather. If she wasn’t herself, she would have laid on the horn until the cars parted like the Red Sea. But she was, and instead she carefully weaved through the trudging cars until she reached the stoplight. It was red, and it was long. And she waited.
“Screwdriver!” she exclaimed, though she meant the non-child friendly version. “The darn dog. I forgot the goddarned dog!” She had put the dog in the kennel when it got too busy last week, but she’d promised the kids it’d be back today. They’d gotten Taps, a beagle, right after their father had left, and the pet had taken some of the man’s place in their hearts. It was a better companion, alright, but much more work. At the end of the day, it wasn’t rational that she deal with that it on top of all of her other responsibilities, she had reasoned. Now it needed to be picked up, or she’d have heck to pay when the children got home.
“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time,” she muttered, wondering how her near-foolproof plan still backfired somehow. She pulled over, turned around, and headed back in the direction of the kennel. Thankfully, when she got there the lot in front was mostly empty, and she hastily parked. Jogging in, she dug in her crowded purse for the voucher. She finally unearthed it under the purse’s pocket infrastructure, and handed it off to the worker volunteer at the counter. While he went into the ominous backrooms of animals, she subtly twisted her neck to scan the waiting room.
There was just one worn, frayed-looking woman staring blankly at the wall in the seats lining the room. The clear, midday light cast a pure light on her face, but didn’t do anything to light up her dull eyes. Looking more closely, Penny realized that she was twisting an old dog’s collar in her hands. The vacant look must have been caused by the death of a pet. Quickly, Penny looked away.
The employee returned soon, leading Taps on the leash. The little dog started barking when he saw her, almost as if it could pick up on the frantic emotions barely concealed by her demeanor. She thanked the worker, grabbed the leash, and gave it a stiff yank to stop the yapping. Promising that she would work out her account payment over the phone, she ran out the door.
As she opened the car’s backseat door for the dog in the parking lot, she spotted a neon pink “Dora the Explorer” backpack and a “Transformers”-emblazoned blue one. The kids must have forgotten them, she realized with dismay. And today was show and tell. An overwhelming sense of despair came over her, but she pushed it away before it could sink in. Compartmentalize, girl, she told herself.
Shaking back her sleeve, discounted business-casual, she looked at her watch. She was late already, she reasoned. The kids are having show and tell in the afternoon, and she could definitely make it there in time. She jumped behind the wheel and made a snap decision. She’d drive to the school, drop off the kids’ backpacks, and then tell her boss that one of them had been sick and needed her to take care of him.
Channeling a person much braver than herself, she drove like a madwoman through the traffic. At the school, she dropped the backpacks outside her kids’ respective classrooms, and then went back to the car. About to head to work, she remembered that she had forgotten to fix one problem. Taps was still sitting in the backseat, his tongue hanging out unconcernedly. She turned the wheel in the direction of the neighborhood park.
There, she flung open the rear doors, and Taps hopped out.
“Shoo,” Penny ordered. “Please go. It’s too much.”
He looked towards the woods at the edge of the park, beyond the jungle gym with its rusty bars and peeling paint. There was a trail there, that she and him and walked on many times while the kids played. She didn’t know where the trail ended, only that it wasn’t in sight.
Taps wasn’t showing any sign of jumping out on his own. She grabbed one of his tennis balls. They were always rolling around the back seat; it was a miracle of the kids hadn’t tripped on one yet. She was doing this for them. And her.
Slowly, she started towards the woods. The nubby, scratchy material of the ball was rough against her hands. Taps trotted along beside her, tongue still lolling in the wind.
She stopped. And with one powerful swing, launched the ball far into the trees. Taps went racing after it.
She walked away. Opened the car. Got in. And drove away.