One needed a long leash.
One needed to be kept on a short one.
Metaphor for her life, it was.
She adopted both as babies. Whelped at the same time by the same stray dog, they were, and yet they could not be more different. People did not believe her when she told them that the two were litter-mates. Had she not seen it with her own eyes she might’ve doubted, too. She wondered sometimes if it was possible that they were fathered by two different dogs altogether.
A little like her own sons. Who had.
Only that she had survived her children’s births. Unlike the dog, who didn’t.
It had been a cold spell then as well. The roads had become ice-sheets and her breath had hovered so close that it was as if the air itself did not want to leave the warmth of her body for the arctic chill. A storm had been forecast and she’d just returned from the store with extra essentials when she’d heard the whine of something small and vulnerable coming from the crawl space under the house.
The laboring dog did not resist when she’d reached for the writhing pup. Panting and with her head hanging low, she just rose heavily to her feet and followed the pup to the garage. She must have recognized help, or perhaps she was just beyond protesting.
Three pups were born. One large, two small, one of which did not survive. Neither did the birthing mother, who suckled the pups but was dead by morning. Perhaps she bled internally or was too weak or otherwise beyond recovery. With the storm in full force there was no way to call the vet. Or to bury anything. She dragged the mother and babe outside, where the cold would preserve them till she could find a way to properly farewell them. And she took the two mewling wrigglers in. Where they’d stayed. Milo and Martin.
After her uncles. One robust and placid. One short and wily.
She’d padded a box with an old blanket, kept it by her bed, and set a timer. She’d fed them with an eye dropper first, then a turkey baster with a piece of cloth tied on for suckling. It wasn’t till their eyes opened and they’d began exploring that she’d let herself realize that she’d be keeping them.
And that they will be keeping her.
From the plans she’d been making.
Her sons no longer needed their mother. But the puppies did.
So she stayed.
And three years later, they were all still there.
One with his long leash. One with the short. And her, in the middle. Held by both.