“And welcome back to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. These beautiful animals have been putting on quite a show for everyone here.”

“Yes, they certainly have. How could it be anything else? These bright and beautiful animals really are man’s best friend. They’re all so intelligent, well-mannered, well-groomed, fiercely loyal, just the best company that one could hope for. Who else greets you at the door with that much enthusiasm and joy every time you come home?”

“You mentioned how bright they are, and now here come the brainiacs of the canine world: the herding group. Starting off the display of the wonderful animals is the rough collie…”

Her dad asked, “Is…that…uhhh…Rin Tin…oh, I mean, umm, Lassie?”

“No, Dad, it’s just a dog that looks like Lassie,” said the dad’s daughter.

“Oh…are the rest of the dogs gonna look like Lassie?”

“No, Dad, these dogs will all be herding dogs.”

“I see…who are they going to hurt?”

The daughter chuckled in the hope that her dad was making a joke; he wasn’t.

“No dad, herding dogs. They…”

“Oh, of course, herding dogs. Silly of me…we used to have herding dogs on the farm. Me and my friends used to race them. It was never close. Eugene Franks, Billy Terwilliger, Nancy Toms and me used to race them. Nancy was really fast. Then we all hit 13 years old and all us boys got faster than Nancy and we all lost interest in racing the dog. My God, she was pretty…

“Must be why you married her. Things haven’t changed completely; we still have a herding dog,” said his daughter.

The border collie was laying on the couch watching the dog show as though this was the canine Playboy channel. At the mention of owning a herding dog, his head popped up, as if to ask, “You talkin’ ‘bout me?”

The father turned his head toward the dog and the dog slowly cocked his head sideways, gave the old man a sympathetic whine, and turned his attention back to the naked dogs on the screen.

“Wonder what happened to Nancy?”

“You married her dad. That was my mother!” the daughter said in playful outrage.

“Well…I…I know that, but…”

The father couldn’t put his thoughts in order. Being frustrated beyond words was a constant state of affairs for him. He knew he married Nancy, but that didn’t answer his question. He knew he didn’t remember things well, but he generally understood what was going on. Finding the words to explain his point of view was becoming more and more difficult.

Some of the problem was the fact that everyone around him spoke so quickly that he couldn’t find an on-ramp to conversations. So his only options were to be a bothersome old pain in the ass or remain silent and allow his conversational skills to further atrophy. Most of the conversations he had now were disjointed and/or one-way. He was either recalling a memory or being told what to do. Trying to join in a conversation with his different skill level and point of view just made him sound crazy.

Looking crazy had consequences for people as old as he. People treated him as though he were less than human. They spoke too loudly and attempted to explain things to him that he already knew. When he gave up the hope of explaining what he meant to his daughter, a serenity came upon him as he began to recall special moments with his wife.

The daughter was allowed to enjoy the presentation of the Old English sheep dog and the German Shepherd until…

“The Dusenberg. My dad bought a 1935 SSJ Dusenberg. He thought the Mormon Meteor or the Phaeton were just too formal and he always said, ‘If the SSJ is good enough for Gary Cooper, it’s good enough for me.’ I don’t think he could have afforded the Phaeton or the Meteor. When your mom and I drove that Dusenberg to Niagara, people looked at us like we were movie stars. My God, she was pretty.”

The father began looking around the room and said, “Your mother. Where is your mother?”

The daughter was finding harder and harder to disguise that “here we go again” look.

“She’s not here, Dad. She died. Six years ago. The day after her birthday.”

The father was silent, reflective, melancholy.

“November 11th. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month. Nancy passed on the anniversary of the end of the Great War. The war to end all wars. I had birthday cake for dinner that evening. My God, she was pretty…maybe she’s just on vacation.”

The daughter was not at a loss for words, just patience. How many times would she have to answer the same questions or explain the same thing to her ailing Dad? She stayed silent.

“What the hell is that? Looks like some demonic robot dog!”

“It’s an Australian Shepherd, dad.”

“Am I crazy or does that dog have robot eyes. I mean, our dog’s a little fucked up and has one robot eye, but that thing looks…not right.”

The heterochromatic border collie took time from ogling other dogs and snarled a little as he picked up on the insult. The daughter didn’t notice the quiet snarl, but her dad did.

“I thought you were smart enough to know where your bread is buttered, Doggie,” the father said.

The border collie was named Doggie to accommodate the father’s failing memory. The dog decided that finding another place to live was a dicey proposition, so he backed down and resumed his ogling.

“Sweetie,” said her dad, “do you think pulling Timmy out of the well counts as herding?”

It was a strange moment for his daughter. She was annoyed that her show had been interrupted again, worried because he only called her “sweetie” when he couldn’t remember her name, and impressed that he’d had made a reasonably good joke.

She chuckled politely and said, “I don’t know, Dad, maybe it is.”

The daughter had grandchildren and knew how to speak to them. It came in handy when speaking to her dad.

“Maybe your mom’s shopping. She loves her shopping. I ‘member the first time she went shopping. You know, real shopping. The kinda shopping that drives you to the poor house…drives…drives…drives ya crazy, driving…in a Dusenburg, havin’ a beer with Gary Cooper, super-duper.”

The memory was paused and his face went blank and wistful. Then, out of nowhere, he picked the thread of his previous recollection.

“…she got me a box a’ chocolate and fancy underwear. It’s not like she expected to me to wear the underwear. It was for her, but she said it was really for me. Don’t know why she thought she had to dress up. My God, she was pretty. First thing in the morning, last thing at night, when she was sick, even when she was asleep and snoring with a little drool coming from her mouth, she was the prettiest thing I could imagine. On the beach, comin’ in or out of the shower…just…”

“And now the Einstein of dogs: the border collie.”

Doggie leaped off the couch and halfway across the room and two brisk steps later was nose to tail with the virtual lookalike. He’d learned not to paw the screen, but found that just sniffing the screen did not bring the panicked reaction from his slow-witted human.

The daughter was sufficiently disquieted by her dad’s disjointed recollections to have any reaction to the dog’s behavior. She wasn’t even watching the TV. She just quietly stared into space wondering why this was being allowed to go on any further. There was enough of this in her life.

She was a nurse who escaped the emergency room and traded a job that was far less jarring for one that was far more depressing. She’d traded the frequent insanity of an urban emergency room for the peaceful, more predictable environs of a hospice. Managing a person’s final decline and having discussions with family members about what a dynamic human being the demi-corpse lying in front of them had been was interesting, but ultimately upsetting. If this is where an athletic soldier who could play Beethoven ended up, what hope was there for any of us?

She’d changed jobs because the nearly dead didn’t have the kind of emergencies that necessitated an extension to an already grueling shift of work. She also secretly hoped for a glimpse of the other side of life. Other than the infrequent, startling quicksilver raising of the arms towards the ceiling that resembled a drowning person reaching for help, she saw nothing supernatural. There was no Reaper or lollygagging spirits.

The hospice was required to give some technical dismissal of the arms shooting up towards the heavens at lightning speed as a neurological glitch. Everyone who witnessed this wanted to be reassured that this had been prompted by some heavenly vision, but medical orthodoxy felt compelled to undermine its own image by impolitely dismissing such a parochial notion.

She had the same reaction toward all of the people in her care. Why were they still here? What could possibly be expected of these completely incapacitated human beings? This was not a learning experience; this was cruel pathos. And knowing that her father was so close to this state of existence made each moment with him painful. She wasn’t sure how much compassion she had left.

The daughter understood the nuances between long-term and short-term memory, but to hear her father go on and on about life on the farm and the triumphs in his career as a pilot were doubly dispiriting because he had no recollection of what he’d said moments earlier. He’d lost the ability to distinguish the TV remote and the portable landline phone. Choosing the TV remote to answer the chirping phone and then complaining about how this new technology “sucked balls” went from outlandishly funny to terribly sad in a big hurry.

She noticed a change in her dad’s posture and wondered and desperately hoped a diaper change wasn’t needed. In her youth, she’d seen her naked dad wander around the house at midnight, sure that it was safe to get a midnight snack without being seen. Privacy and dignity were never an issue, but changing an adult’s soiled diaper was troubling even for a nurse who’d seen it all. She then realized that there was one thing to learn from her father and he’d probably never remember answering the question.


“Yes…Caroline, what can I do for you?”

Holy shit! He got my name right.

     “I have kind of a hard question for you.”


“You were always kind to me and I always felt very safe with you…but there was one time…you slapped me.”

“…I remember, I’m so sorry, I overreacted, I was very upset, you told me I was being stupid, you overstepped your bounds, I slapped you.”

“What made you do that?”

“A buddy of mine was in town. We went to lunch.”

A very long pause occurred.

“So, what happened at lunch?”

“MMMMM, nothin’ special.”

“No dad, not lunch a few minutes ago, the lunch you had with a buddy that upset you and you slapped me when you got home.”

Dad chewed his lower lip and nodded his head quietly.

“So, what happened at the lunch with a friend that upset you and you came home and slapped me?”

“Friend,” her dad harrumphed. “Some friend! He gloated about his orbits around the moon and his space walks from the shuttle. Dumb sonofabitch couldn’t find his ass with both hands most of the time and they let him fly. You know why NASA turned me down?”

“Yeah, Dad, sperm motility.”

“It was sperm motility!”

Caroline just shook her head. She mouthed her dad’s words as he said them, again.

“Why the fuck would they care about my sperm motility?”

“And then you came home and slapped me.”

Dad chewed his lip and studied the rug.

“It was the day I knew I was old. It was the day I knew there would be no great adventures for me. And then my…friend wants to share his great stories and I had none to match his. I felt like there was nothing for me. Then you told me the same thing your mom would tell me. My God, she was beautiful. She’d say, ‘it’s in the past, you foolish old man, you’ve got a beautiful family, enjoy what’s in front of you.’ It wasn’t your place to say that. It was more than I could bear in that moment. I shouldn’t have slapped you. It still haunts me.”

Caroline knew she was old, she understood. It’s a hard thing to face for some people.

“I’m sorry, Dad.”

“For what?”

“Making you angry on a very tough day.”

“Did you make me angry?”

Caroline’s tears almost made an appearance. She refused to let frustration rule the day and asked, “Dad, what was your best memory?”

“Sometimes, the best memories are the worst memories. Did I ever tell you I was considered for the astronaut corps?”

“Yeah Dad, you’ve told the story many…” She was interrupted.

“Damn fools kicked me out because of my sperm motility! Why the fuck would they give a damn about my sperm? The chance of being in space was the most exciting thing that had ever happened and then to have it yanked away for something that stupid hurt more than you can know. And flyin’ and tryin’ to shoot some…I dunno a Korean, Russian, somebody outta the sky. The strategy, the power, the G-forces, the concentration…I never felt so alive in my life. Then I got him lined up and blasted him. It was my job…but…killin’…glad your mom’s not here right now. She’d tell me to move on…move on…can’t forget that sort of thing. I used to be Superman, but now…didja ever kill anyone…sweetie?”

Well, that didn’t go the way I wanted it to, she thought, then replied, “No, Dad, I’m a nurse; we try to avoid that sort of thing. Do you remember much of the war?”

“Every last second. Names, places, kills. I had a clean job; it took nerve but it was clean. Those men on the ground, I dunno how they did what they did.”

The daughter could tell her dad was about to vacate his bowels. She was about to volunteer to get her Dad to the bathroom when, “There she is, I knew you’d be back soon. My God, you’re pretty.”

Damn, another diaper change, dead ahead, Caroline thought.

Doggie nearly lost his mind. He nearly lost his mind every time she showed up. He leaped off the couch and landed exactly at the spot where the old man was staring. He was barking and whining and attempting to smell the apparition’s crotch, but was having no luck at all. How was it possible to see something and not smell something?

The dog saw spirits all the time. The house was old and numerous families had lived there before the current occupants. But those spirits were old and faded. This one had a sheen to her that one doesn’t see often. She was certainly worth his attention.

The unseen was far more of a problem for the father than the dog. Some parts of his brain were in freefall, but other parts were trying to compensate for the massive system failure and had made a number of unusual connections. Like many other humans, he was seeing things he’d never seen before, and given the decimation of his short-term memory and the presence of unfamiliar things, he was unable to describe his visions without seeming completely unhinged.

Some things he saw were genuine delusions, the byproduct of a brain under siege. But other wraiths or specters were legit. Most of these trans-dimensional interlopers were screwups and simply wandered into the father’s space mistakenly. But Nancy was too legit to quit. She kept checking up on her doting husband.

The father thought he understood that traveling to another dimension must require the expenditure huge amounts of energy. He felt guilty about his numerous requests for his Nancy to come and he felt really loved when she’d remind him of who he’d been. He was very grateful for her visits.

“Hey Nance, did you look this nice when you were here or does being an angel make you even prettier?”


“Oh! I did not know that.”

The daughter figured she’d play along with this latest variety of crazy. Although the dog’s reaction seemed to confirm her father’s fixation, she was not at all convinced her mom was in the room with her.

“What did she say, Dad?”

“Nancy says that there are no lady angels. All the angels are men.”

“Well that’s crazy.”


“Nancy said that you can find lady angels on Christmas trees and movies and such, but you won’t find any in the Bible.”

“…It’s still crazy.”


“Oh, never thought of that. Nancy said that that’s why the angels hated humans and revolted in heaven. Humans can reproduce and can create life just like God. The angels can’t.”

The daughter just wrinkled her brow and shook her head.


“Oh yeah, I guess you’re right. And I didn’t know she was so close to her breaking point. I’ll see ya in a minute, Caroline, I gotta take a massive shit. Nancy said you were getting really upset with changing diapers. I’m real sorry about that, Caroline. Just keep your mother occupied, I’ll be back in a few minutes.”


“Caroline!!” the father called from beyond the bathroom door.

Oh God, what now?

“What’s wrong, Dad?”

“Your mother said that she was going to walk right through you in ten, nine, eight seconds. You’ll know when it happens.”

15 minutes later, her dad exited the bathroom.

“Wadja think, Caroline?”

No response. The father found Caroline wide-eyed and nearly paralyzed on the couch.

“She told me you didn’t have long.”

“…She told me the same thing.”

“She told me that she was proud of you.”

“My God, she’s pretty.”

It took the daughter some time, but eventually she asked, “If time is short, are you ready, Dad?”

“Do you know what the gateway to old age is?”

“The gateway to old age? No.”

“It’s pain. And it beats on you in such a way that after a while, you end up being more than ready.”

Caroline nodded her head. “You’re speaking so clearly.”

“Nancy does what she can for me. She always has. Say, don’t you have a big family to take care of?”

“It’s not so big anymore. The kids are grown.”

“Then bring them grandkids over. Better make it soon. I’ll try hard not to be an embarrassment.”

“Dad, you’re not an…”

“Shhhh. Don’t end this with a lie. Just come by soon.”