only Tuesday

I walked him early this morning. Figured it would be his usual quick trip around the corner, but when we got back to the building he looked up at me, then down the street. Let's go to the library.

Sidewalk commuters smile at him over their Starbucks cups; a few comment on his size, or ask his breed. Eight years of this and I never get sick of it. Him neither.

The library grounds are more marshy than usual, unkempt and overgrown. Not so great for my shoes, but Chaucer is in heaven. Wet, green smells everywhere. His paw pads sink slightly into the soil and he pushes his muzzle deep into bushes shining with dew.

I groom him, long slow strokes of the wire brush, lightly so it doesn't burn his skin. Then the rubber spike brush on his belly and legs. "What level of handsome are we going for today?" He glances at me, panting happily. "Level ten? Are you sure? Oh man Chaucy, I don't know if the world can handle it. It's only Tuesday." No one can hear what I'm saying, but every so often I notice someone watching us from a car window, as they wait for the light to turn. If I'm a crazy person for talking to my dog, it's the kind of crazy I'll always be. "When people start spontaneously combusting because of your handsomeness, that's on you. Ok buddy?" His furry chest heaves under the brush. Good. Keep that big heart strong.

When I'm done he noses at the bag I carry, the one with his brushes and travel bowl and tennis ball. This is rare. Wanting to play is rare these days, so I quickly pull out a red and blue ball and throw it across the grass. As he bounds after it I watch his hips and legs, looking for signs of pain. Sometimes he favors his left leg, and every so often he has trouble standing up. Not today, though. We are in full puppy form today.

On the way out a man in a faded black sweatshirt, plaid dress pants, and no shoes stops us. "That a mastiff?" Sure is, I tell him. "How old?" Chaucer ambles by him unbothered, concentrating on something in the grass.

"He's eight," I say, hearing the subtext in my voice. Old.

"They don't live long, you know." I'm used to this, and don't take offense.

"I know."

"How's his hips?"

"Pretty good," I nod.

"Well, he's beautiful."

"Thanks."

On a bench near the exit a homeless man sleeps. A sign set down on the path beside him says Spare Some Change. The cursive letters are painted in thick black strokes, and he's filled in the loops with red accents. Chaucer, ahead of me on the walkway, steps around the sign lightly.

Back at home I wipe his paws with a warm washcloth, rubbing one toe at a time while he lays on his side. White tile is unforgiving, and if we don't take a minute to clean him off after each walk the floors are a wreck almost immediately. Sometimes it's a pain, especially when I'm in a hurry. But mostly I don't mind. Him neither, I think.