It was still raining when I carried Fielder to the car, placed him in the back seat on an old sheet.
“I want to ride in back with him,” Liesl said, nearing the car. She scratched Fielder’s head with her fingers for the whole trip, and we both remained silent until we were inside the vet’s office and Liesl said "Hello" to Mitchell’s assistant as I carried her pet into the small building.
The aide led us down the hall to a room where Fielder had been periodically examined or treated, always against his will. I placed him on the cold, hard, stainless steel examining table, then raised him ever so gently as the assistant slipped a soft cover under him. Liesl held her throat letting a nod and her eyes say thank you to the woman.
Fred Mitchell came in, hugged Liesl, shook hands with me. “I’m sorry about this,” he said.
The aide retrieved a hypodermic needle, handed it to Mitchell. “He won’t be in any pain,” he said. “This injection will put him to sleep, then I’ll give him a second one. He’ll be totally at rest.”
Liesl bent over and put her face on Fielder’s, dropping tears on him as she did. He managed to lick her cheek.
“Good bye, good boy.”
I wept in silence, one hand on Fielder’s coat, the other on Liesl’s shoulder. Fielder seemed resigned, obedient. I saw Liesl’s chest begin to rise and fall. I knew if she spoke, she’d begin to heave and sob again, but she remained silent as the vet slipped the needle into the top of Fielder’s right front foot. Ten seconds later, the dog’s eyes closed. After a minute, the aide handed the vet another hypodermic and he injected Fielder in the other front foot.
Liesl and I stood together, each with an arm around the other, and a hand on Fielder’s body. Minutes later, when she was sure he was gone, “Let’s go, Poppa.”
On our way out, Mitchell’s assistant handed the retriever’s collar and tags to Liesl. She read both sides of the tag, smelled the collar, and pressed it against her chest with both hands, as if she were praying.
“What would you like us to do with his body, Mr. Foley?” the aide asked.
I glanced at Liesl for a sign.
“Could you just dispose of it in the simplest way?” she asked. I nodded my affirmation.
The windshield wipers slapped a sad percussion as the day’s drizzle continued in a soft but unrelenting fashion during the trip home. Neither of us said anything until the car was in the driveway.
“You think death is nothingness, don’t you, Poppa?”
“Oh, Liesl, I believe it’s something to the living, but to the dead person, or any dead creature, I think it’s precisely nothingness.”
“What if you’re wrong, Poppa?”
I wiped away the window fog with the back of my hand, gazed out at the bare ginkgo tree as if I might find a worthy answer for my granddaughter among its branches.
“Let’s go inside,” she said, before I could summon a reply.
She gave me an extended hug in the foyer, climbed the stairs to her room. She began playing her violin, in particular the simple, lingering chords of Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings.” As she played that aggrieved melody, music fitting for the reflection of tragedy, I wept at death. I knew Liesl, too, was weeping.