My Grandma Riggs had a dog named Tina. A temperamental, fickle daschund with a weak bladder and a strong bite. I spent every other weekend with that dog.
“Play with Tina,” my Grandma would say, handing me the dog’s blue ball with a jingle bell inside it. “Throw it down the steps and let her chase after it.”
Now I know that Tina was a high energy dog and that my Grandma was trying to wear her out. At the time, however, I thought that Grandma was trying to kill me off with boredom.
But, I was taught that I must never disobey my Grandmothers. And that even thinking about disrespecting or talking back to my Grandma was a sin. The unspoken, eighth deadly sin. Unspoken because it is just understood that breaking this code was punishable by cookie denial and an empty candy dish. I still think that.
And, so, I took the ball from my Grandma, letting it jingle.
“Come on, Tina. Let’s play,” I said.
Tina chased after me, excited about playing her favorite game.
“You’d better piddle her first,” my Grandma called after us.
I took the dog out in the backyard and patted her back until she piddled herself dry. (NOTE: we had to do this whenever Tina got excited…or else).
We came back inside the house. She waggled her tail, waiting at the top of the basement steps. Looking back at me, her whole body wiggling and her mouth open in a dog smile, she waited for me to toss the ball.
Jingle, jangle, jingle, jangle. The ball bounced down the steps.
Tina waited for the ball to get all the way to the basement floor before she rushed down after it.
Now, if you know anything about daschunds, you know that they have long bodies and stubby little legs. Not necessarily the best for a dash down the stairs. And yet, Tina did it without too much trouble.
She brought the ball back to me. Barked until I threw it again.
We did this back and forth for the better part of an hour. On the brink of insanity by way of jingle bell ball and wiener dog, I told Tina, “This is the last time”.
Well, I whispered it. Had my Grandma heard me, she would have instructed me to keep playing until Tina was worn out. I’m convinced that I would still be playing that stupid game in that case.
Tina growled at me as if to say “Throw the ball. I own you.”
“I hate you,” I thought, not daring to utter the words for fear of breaking my Grandma’s heart.
The ball left the palm of my hand, lightly touching my fingertips as it went spinning down toward the basement floor. Its silent flight ended against cold, gray cement.
Bounce. Jingle. Bounce. Jangle.
Tina pounced, bounding down the steps. This time, though, her back legs got the better of her. Her hind end lifted until she was essentially doing a handstand on the steps. In a feat of gymnastic grace, she did the perfect back flip. End over end over end, she flipped down the steps.
She landed on on the floor out of my view. Standing at the top of the steps, I didn’t know if I should be afraid or impressed by the performance.
It seemed like the stairs multiplied as I inched down one at a time. No jingle jangle of Tina’s ball. She hadn’t found it. No barking of impatient dog.
When I at last reached the bottom of the steps, I saw her. Her long, brown-red, stumpy legged body lay on the floor. No movement. Eyes closed.
“I killed Tina,” I whispered.
The ramifications of killing my Grandma’s favorite creature in all the world made me dizzy. No more cookies. No more access to the never-ending Brach’s candy. Oh goodness gracious! The punishment was more than I could bear.
“Tina?” I said, my soft voice trembling.
Squatting near her, I inched my hand closer to her. Would her body be cold already? Stiff? I pulled my hand back, too afraid.
“Susie, Tina!” my Grandma called from upstairs. “Time for a treat!”
Taking a deep breath, I once again put out my hand to touch the dog. This time, I didn’t retract it. Her coarse fur under my fingertips, I pushed against her shoulder.
She jumped! Up on her stubby feet. Growled at me.
Falling back, I gulped air, my heart about to explode from fear and relief.
She found the ball. Up the steps she bounded. When she reached the top, she turned and put the ball on the floor. Barked at me.
“Oh, I guess Tina’s not done playing,” my Grandma said, looking down the steps at me. “I’ll just put these cookies away so you can finish your game.”
Just a note: The next night, while I was sleeping, Tina pooped on my pillow. Right next to my head.
Oh, that dog.