The thing about death, Liza thought, is that every new experience feels like the hardest one you’ll have to go through.
She set the crocheted throw into the ‘keep’ box, tucked safely next to the small pile of yellowed paperbacks and porcelain knick-knacks. After the arrangements, the funeral, the will, the estate, and divvying up the various items of value, it had fallen to Liza to sort through the rest of her father’s miscellaneous belongings that were left in his three-bedroom ranch home.
She heard a scuffling, and two quick barks in the other room, and sighed. And oh yeah, that thing too.
Along with his belongings, she’d been tasked with either adopting or re-homing her fathers’ one hundred pound plus Old English Sheepdog.
It’s not that Liza hated dogs. It’s just that this particular dog had tried even her father’s patience, who was known for his ability to train even the most stubborn or cognitively challenged dogs. Shena had proved him wrong at every turn, made worse for the fact that she didn’t fully realize her own size. There was already a pile of broken antiques that Liza was forced to delegate to the trash pile that had either already been broken when she’d arrived, or subsequently broken in Shena’s excitement at having another person in the home again.
She sobers at the thought. A kindly neighbor had been stopping in to take care of Shena, but she’d been alone a good portion of the time since Liza’s father had died. Shena’s excitement had been palpable, and the guilt was like a gnawing beast in her gut, the grief slithering into her veins around it.
There had just been no time, no matter her feelings now. Her father’s death had caught everyone off guard.
Defeated, she drops the coffee table book into the ‘donate’ pile and sighs. I won’t be getting much more done today, she thought. My heart just isn’t in it. The more she went through, the closer the memories, and it was like a blindfold around her eyes. They stung, her throat closed around the grief.
She was drawn from her thoughts when she heard a crash and jumped to her feet. She rounded the corner in time to see Shena’s tail disappear under the desk in her father’s study, but it was too late for her departure to make a difference. One of the small bookcases was overturned, the books halfway spilling out of the shelves. But what caught her attention was the shattered snowglobe, the carpet a wet stain with white sparkles and a smiling snowman scattered on the floor surrounded by glass that had fractured into a hundred pieces.
She felt light-headed, her face heated in anger for a moment before the blood seemed to drain from it completely. There was no use getting angry, and though anger was easier, the overwhelming sense of loss was more than she could bear.
Liza leaned against the doorjamb and slowly let herself fall to the floor, legs crossed and hands dropped onto her knees. She leaned her head back and let the tears fall down her face, felt the heat like a balm on her cheeks. Her eyes burned with the sheer unfairness, not of some silly bauble crushed on the floor, but the loss of a great man who meant so much to her.
The sobs wracked her body in a way she’d never let anyone else see. She was alone, no one to pretend for, no one to save from her misery. She wailed out her pain, crushed into herself as she cowered into the doorjamb, held her arms to her chest.
When the sobs died down and the tears were a trickle, she felt the soft brush of fur on her forehead, and looked up to see Shena sitting in front of her. She wasn’t yet ready to forgive her and debated shooing her away when she saw she was holding something gently between her teeth.
She reached for it, and Shena let it go into her hands. It was a wooden frame with a photo, a bit bigger than the palm of her hand. She vaguely remembered seeing it in the living room. Looking closer, it was a picture of her entire family on her father’s last birthday. It was the last time when her immediate family had all been together, brothers, her father, and herself.
Curious, she opened the clasps on the back of the frame and found several other photos behind it, dating back several years, each featuring the entire family. She replaced the photos and clasps and turned the frame over.
She brought it closer to her face, realized that there were the tell-tale signs of teeth marks along with the wood—not just from today, but as if Shena had done this before.
A smile played on her lips and she gave Shena a fond look. “Trust dad to train you to bring him a photo whenever he was upset. Of course, he wouldn’t brag about something like that, would he?”
Shena butted her head against her cheek, nose wet and fur tickling her face. She giggled a wet sound that was equally laughter and sob. “Alright, alright,” she said and reached out a hand to pet her. “I guess you and I are going to get better acquainted then.”
Liza looked down at the photo, at the smiling face of her father, his square jaw, and close-cropped white beard. Happy.
“Family is family.”