Home > A Curve in the Road(11)

A Curve in the Road(11)
Author: Julianne MacLean

“Thank you,” I say. “I’ll call first thing in the morning.”

“Good,” he replies. “And get some rest, Abbie. It sounds like you need it.”

“I will. And thank you again. You have no idea what you’ve done for me and my son tonight. We’ll never forget it.”


I wake with a start and sit bolt upright in bed. The morning sun is beaming through ice crystals on the window glass. They shimmer like diamonds, and I’m momentarily blinded because my pupils are dilated from sleep. Only then do I remember where I am and why I’m here.

Last night I was in a car accident, and my husband died.

I feel as if I’ve lost a limb or an internal organ. I wish someone would walk in and tell me it was all a bad dream, but I know it wasn’t. Today I must rise and come to grips with Alan’s passing and start to think about practical details I don’t want to face—like coffins and obituaries, hymns and flower arrangements.

If only I could go back in time and relive yesterday. If that were possible, I would get up in the morning and insist that Alan forget about work and come with me to my mother’s house. Then none of this would be happening. I wouldn’t be waking up in this hospital, drowning in grief, unable to hear my husband’s laugh or smell his musky aftershave or find comfort in his arms.

Then I think about Winston, and I want both Zack and me to be at the vet hospital when he wakes up. I want to stroke my dog’s soft golden head and tell him everything is going to be okay.

I need to say those words out loud, to hear them myself, to try and believe them—for Zack’s sake as well as my own.

Tossing the covers aside, I slip out of bed and look out the window. It’s still early, but salt trucks and snowplows have done their job through the night, and the street appears to be clear.

I wipe the tears from my cheeks, collect myself, and turn to my mother, who is still sleeping.

“Mom, wake up,” I say, gently shaking her.

She opens her eyes. “What’s happening?”

“It’s morning, and the roads are salted,” I say. “I’m going to call Zack now and get Maureen to bring him directly to the vet hospital so that we can see Winston together. Can you drive me there?”

She sits up and glances around. “Yes, of course, but are you allowed to leave?”

“They can’t hold me against my will,” I reply, sitting down on a chair to pull on my sneakers and tie the laces. “Besides, I’m fine. Just a little stiff and sore in the legs, that’s all.”

It’s my heart that hurts the most, but I don’t need to tell my mother that—she knows.

I call my son, and we take a few moments to comfort each other on the phone. Then I tell him where he and Maureen should meet me.

I also ask him to pack a bag for me at our house and bring it with him. I give him specific instructions about what I’ll need—my toothbrush, socks and underwear, jeans and sweatshirts. A black dress.

The sound of a meal cart rolling down the hall on squeaky wheels causes my mother to rise from her bed. “You should eat something.”

“Yes. We both should, but let’s try to be quick because Maureen and Zack are leaving Halifax now and should be at the vet hospital in just over an hour. God, I can’t wait to see him.”

The porter brings in two trays, and I thank him. Even though I have no appetite, I force down a few bites of oatmeal before I go to the nurses’ station to let them know I can’t wait around for the doctor to discharge me. I need to leave immediately. I explain why—because of Winston—and the duty nurse understands because she’s a dog owner too. I promise to return for a follow-up with Dr. Sanders very soon.

Fifteen minutes later, Mom and I are pulling out of the hospital parking lot, and I feel a sudden pang in my gut to be leaving the place where Alan died less than twelve hours ago—where his body is still being held. I turn in my seat to look out the rear window and watch the building grow distant.

I hate leaving him behind. A jagged lump forms in my throat. Stop! I want to say. Take me back. But I know we can’t stop. We have to keep going. I need to stay in the car and keep moving toward something that could potentially be fixed.

My mother turns a corner at the end of the street, and the hospital disappears from view. I face forward again, finding it difficult to breathe through a thick haze of sorrow.

As we pull into the driveway of a blue Victorian mansion with white trim, the warmth of the sun is melting the icicles that hang on trees and power lines. The whole world is shiny and dripping.

We find the clinic accessible from a side entrance leading in from the yard, which has been converted to a small paved parking lot with space for about five cars. There’s a charming painted sign over the door that says OCEANVIEW ANIMAL HOSPITAL, with paw prints at all four corners.

“This is it,” I say to Mom, who pulls into a spot next to the only other vehicle in the yard—a white van with the Oceanview logo printed on the side. As I get out of the car, I realize it’s a fully equipped ambulance for furry creatures.

“I’ll meet you inside,” I say to Mom, not wasting a second as I shut the car door and maneuver through slushy puddles toward the entrance.

An old-fashioned bell jingles over the door as I cross the threshold into a cozy reception area that matches the Victorian exterior. A gigantic aquarium full of colorful tropical fish fills the space to the right, and there are several amusing plaques on the walls with phrases like CHILDREN LEFT UNATTENDED WILL BE GIVEN AN ESPRESSO AND A FREE PUPPY and LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD.

Directly in front of me, a red-haired receptionist with a bouncy bob and red plastic-rimmed glasses sits behind a high counter. Her name tag says Ruby. She immediately glances up from her computer and smiles.

“You must be Winston’s mom.”

“Yes.” I feel winded and anxious but also comforted to hear my mother enter the clinic behind me.

Rising from her chair, Ruby moves out from behind the counter and waves both of us forward. “Come with me. He’s out back, and he’s doing great.”

My entire body floods with relief. I’m grateful for this precious, sorely needed moment of good news.

Ruby pushes open a glass door to a back hallway. She leads us past two small examination rooms and finally to an expansive, ultramodern, and brightly lit treatment area with floor-to-ceiling windows at the back. The walls are white, and the surfaces are stainless steel.

A female technician in blue scrubs sits at one of three computer workstations in the center of the space, and to my right, there’s a high-tech surgical suite with a glass door and glass walls for easy viewing.

The whole world disappears, however, as Ruby escorts us into the recovery unit located behind sliding glass doors. There’s my Winston, lying on his side in a large cage.

As soon as our eyes meet, a smile spreads across my face, and I say in a quiet, loving voice, “There’s my boy.”

He’s too weak and medicated to move, but his tail begins to thump on the floor of the crate. Soon he’s trembling with happiness, and I burst into tears.

Ruby opens the cage door so that I can stroke him and kiss him, and I weep openly. “My sweet boy. I’m here now, and everything’s going to be okay. We’re going to take care of you and get you home soon. You’re so good. Yes, you were so brave.”

Though he can barely lift his head, his tongue sneaks out to lick away my tears. Soon, I’m laughing and crying at the same time, feeling unexpectedly jubilant, considering all that’s happened over the past twelve hours.

Ruby pulls up two rolling chairs so that we can sit next to Winston’s crate. I lay my hand in front of his nose, because I know it comforts him to smell me. He’s quieted down since my arrival and is content to simply lie there, blinking slowly and reveling in my presence as much as I revel in his.

After a short while, the sliding glass doors open, and I turn to see a man in a white lab coat, who I assume is Dr. Payne. His voice on the phone led me to picture an older gentleman, perhaps in his sixties, with white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, but the Dr. Payne who stands before me now appears to be in his late thirties, with brown hair and blue eyes.

“You must be Abbie,” he says.

I rise from the chair. “Yes. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done. I’m so grateful. You have no idea.”

“It was my pleasure,” he replies, and I notice that his jaw is unshaven and his eyes are bloodshot. It’s obvious that he’s been up all night. Just like me.

“Your dog’s a real fighter,” he says.

For some reason, Dr. Payne’s words hit me hard, and I can’t help it—I start to cry again. My feelings are so intense my knees buckle, and I reach for the back of the chair to keep from hitting the floor like I did in the ER last night. It’s embarrassing because I’m not usually an emotional woman, but so much has happened, and I can’t seem to stop crying.

“I’m sorry,” Dr. Payne says, gripping my elbow to help steady me. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

My cheeks are on fire, and I struggle to collect myself. “You didn’t. It’s just been a really rough night, as I’m sure you can imagine.”

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