He dug himself a hole in the ground. The trees above him rustled like sails, swaying in the hot breeze. This was no day for yard work, but then it wasn't a good day to die either.
She looked on from the window, her face walled off and stony from weeks of watching that poor dog suffer. Laney was only 13, but small for her breed, abnormally so. People had thought she was still a puppy. Jessica had given up on the hope of puppies of her own years ago, content to adopt other dogs instead. Who needed the strain, the extra weight and worry of a high-risk canine pregnancy? She relegated Laney to old age instead, watching her wilt and buckle under the stresses of her diminutive stature.
He shifted the dirt pile automatically to the right, the way years of regimented training had taught him. Stab, shift weight, lever and lift. It wasn't all that different from digging trenches in Iraq, truth be told. Summer was summer, whether it was a middle eastern desert or the carefully cultivated front yard surrounded by scrubby brushes of the southern Californian mountains. You couldn’t escape from the suffocating heat. Just as you couldn’t escape the guilt that pulled you deeper, deeper, deeper.
He dug far longer than he thought he would, each shovelful of earth a commitment to his second chance. A chance he wouldn't squander. He'd been down that road before, each step taking him farther from the things he loved, a twisting turning path as narrow as his vision. The ground shifted and spilled beneath him, moving and adjusting as he continued to pick at it.
She came down to him, leaning slightly back to ensure a sure footing on the steep hill, her pedicured feet solidly placed, unmovable, unshakable. In her hand a plastic cup of water- one of those garishly purple Tupperware cups they could never seem to get rid of. She handed it to him and peeked into the hole, her hair a auburn tangle of waves and curls, what they called her house-hair, fell in front of her face.
"The vet said he'd turn a blind eye. He gave us the go-ahead," she had told him. They picked out the best view of the tilted yard, by the annuals Laney loved to lay in.
Now they both looked at the lifeless form behind him. A mass of fur and limbs, swollen with adipose tumors and a shaggy coat that had seen better days. She had hated the groomer.
Memories, unbidden, rose and caught between them. Researching dog breeds late at night as the kids were sleeping. The smile that caught her eyes when she picked out the puppy she wanted, thankful and hopeful and excited all at once. The vacation they biked around San Francisco, sans kids, towing the dog in the kiddie attachment like newlyweds, admiring the many-windowed buildings rising around them. Jess had always dreamed of visiting the city by the bay.
It was a decade ago that they had been that close. Somewhere in that time he had lost himself and his principles, given them up to someone else, a secret offering discovered. A dog's lifetime of mistakes.
It was no easy task to prove himself worthy again. Trust is hard to rebuild. But after two years of trying they still had this house. This home. He still had his wife. His kids. And this dead dog.
He broke the ground for her, but he buried the dog for himself.