Being Good

Daniel is sick. For as long as she can remember. He walks with a limp and coughs at night. It keeps her awake. Although it has only recently begun to grind. He is a good dog, she knows. And God knows, she tries. So she drives to the vet with a heavy heart. Daniel, on the backseat, coughs harder than ever, as if spurring her on.

‘Be good,’ she whispers, but he doesn’t respond. He is tired and breathless after the long gravel path that leads through the trees to a small Victorian house. He waits by her side as the receptionist fetches a form, and she wonders whose idea it was to paint the reception desk sky blue.

She drums her fingers and reads something in Latin over the waiting-room door. Be Good, she thinks, is what it should say.

The waiting-room itself is pleasant enough, but she feels like an intruder when the waiting crowd turns to watch her enter and find a chair. Daniel bristles beside her. ‘Be good,’ she whispers, and is surprised to hear it echo around the room. ‘Be good. Be good,’ everyone mutters, absentmindedly petting their animals. One by one, the patients and their carers are called into the vet’s practice, until she is left alone with Daniel, and then it is their turn.

‘Take a seat,’ says the vet. She feels faint and obliges. ‘And you,’ he continues, ‘Daniel, up here.’ He points to a chair in the middle of the room. At least, it looks like a chair, like you see at the dentist. Daniel hops up. So good, to the end. The practice is lined with more sinks than seems necessary and some very dull cupboards. She lets her mind wander, he’ll say when it’s over. But a few minutes later she feels choked and must ask, ‘Will it hurt? Will it take long? Is it humane?’

The vet looks over his shoulder. ‘Excuse me?’ he says, then turns round to face her. She feels flustered and hot. ‘Will he go peacefully?’ she wonders. Because that is important.

Behind the vet, Daniel is stirring. He tries to speak but his cheeks bulge with cotton. Cotton for what? The vet shakes his head and takes off his gloves. ‘Your son’s teeth are fine.’

‘But what about Daniel?’

‘He’s fine,’ he repeats, bowing his head and looking at her over his glasses. ‘Your son is just fine.’