Once I put a collar on her and attach the leash, I decide to go with the same tactic on the bus. I act confident as I wait for the bus to arrive. When it does, I get on during a rush of people, hoping this will distract the bus driver.
No such luck.
“You can’t have that dog on here,” the bus driver says.
“She’s a service dog,” I say.
“Doesn’t have a service tag,” the driver says.
I start to answer, but he cuts me off.
“Wouldn’t matter anyway. No dogs.”
“OK,” I say. I want to debate this a bit and see if I can persuade him to let us on, but my mind is blank, and I’m holding up the line. “Thanks,” I say as I get off.
I’m getting this dog to the animal hospital if it’s the last thing I do.
I walk back to Target. I go in, again with my head tall, holding Charlemagne in my arms. I head right for the school supplies and buy a backpack. I go back to the same cashier, the one I know won’t say anything, and I have her ring me up.
“You’re not supposed to have dogs in here,” she says. “That’ll be fourteen eighty-nine.”
“Thanks,” I say, pretending I didn’t hear that first part. I quickly head out, walk around the corner, and put the bag down on the sidewalk. I lift Charlemagne and put her into the bag, and then I zip it up, leaving a hole at the top for her to breathe.
I walk around to the bus station and wait for another bus. When it comes, I walk on as if I have a backpack full of books, not filled with a tiny terrier. Between my attitude and the fact that Charlemagne doesn’t bark, we’re golden. I take a seat in the far back. I gently put the bag down at my feet and unzip it a bit more. She waits quietly at the bottom of the backpack. She doesn’t make a sound.
I keep her at my feet. She sleeps for most of the ride, and when she’s not sleeping, she’s just looking up at me sweetly, with her kind face and her huge eyes. Her face is shaggier than the rest of her. She needs a bath. I’m glad she’s not begging to be let out of the backpack, glad she’s not trying to sit in my lap or play. She has the sort of face that makes you want to jump through hoops to please her, and I don’t want us to get kicked off the bus.
We pass street after street, and we’ve been on the bus for quite a while. Just when I think I’ve gotten on the wrong bus, that this all has been for nothing, I see the animal hospital up ahead.
I hit the button to request the stop, and soon the bus is starting to pull over. I stand up, picking up the backpack gently and heading for the double doors in the back of the bus. I’m standing there, waiting for them to open, when Charlemagne starts barking.
I stare at the doors, willing them to open. They don’t. Everyone is staring. I can feel their eyes on me, but I refuse to look at anyone to confirm.
I see the driver start to turn around to find the source of the noise, but the doors open up, and I run off the bus. Once we are on the sidewalk, I grab Charlemagne out of the bag. Some of the people on the bus watch us through the window. The bus driver glares at me. But then the bus is off again, crawling down the streets of Los Angeles at a snail’s pace, while Charlemagne and I are standing free as birds, just a block from the animal hospital.
“We did it!” I say to her. “We fooled them all!”
She puts her head down on my shoulder and then reaches up and licks my cheek.
I put her down, her leash firmly in my hand, and we make our way toward the building and into the lobby.
There are dogs everywhere. It smells like a kennel in here. Why do cats and dogs have that same musky odor? Individually, they aren’t so bad, but the minute you get a group together, it’s . . . pungent.
“Hi,” I say to the receptionist.
“How can I help you?” she asks.
“I found a dog on the street last night, and I wanted to find out if she’s chipped.”
“OK,” she says. “We are a bit tied up at the moment, but sign in here, and I’ll see if we can get that done sooner rather than later.” She points me toward a clipboard. Under Dog’s Name, I put “Charlemagne,” and under Pet Owner I put my own name, even though her name’s probably not really Charlemagne and I’m not really her owner.
“Ma’am?” the receptionist calls to me.
“No one will be able to help you until six,” she says.
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m sorry. We’ve had a few unexpected procedures. We’re backed up all afternoon. You’re welcome to take the dog home and come back.”
I think about putting Charlemagne back into the bag, getting onto the bus, and then doing it all over again this evening. I have no doubt that Charlemagne and I would put up a good fight, but eventually, the bus drivers of Los Angeles are going to be on to us.
“Can I leave her here? And meet the doctor here at six?” It makes me sad to think that she’d be here without me. But that’s sort of the point, right? I’m trying to find out who Charlemagne belongs to. Because she doesn’t belong to me.
The receptionist is already shaking her head. “I’m sorry. We can’t do that. People in your position often come and leave the dog, and then they don’t come back, and we end up having to put the dog in a shelter.”
“OK,” I say. “I get it.”
She whispers softly to me, “If you leave a large deposit, even a credit card, I can often persuade the vet techs to make room in the kennels. I mean, since we know you’ll be coming back.”
“You’re saying you want collateral?” I ask her, a joking tone to my voice.
She nods, very politely, demurely.
I pull out my wallet and take out my credit card. The receptionist stands up and puts her hands out, ready to take Charlemagne, but I find her much harder to part with than my MasterCard.
“It’s OK,” the receptionist says to Charlemagne. “We’re gonna take good care of you for a few hours while Mommy runs some errands.”
“Oh,” I say. “Sorry. I’m not her . . . mommy.” The word is almost laughable, the thought that I am anyone’s, anything’s, mommy.
“Oh, I know,” she says. “But you’re her person at the moment, so . . .”
“Still,” I say, “I don’t want to confuse her.”
And then I pick up my wallet and walk out the front door without looking anyone in the eye, because that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever said. The problem is not that I don’t want to confuse the dog. The problem is that I don’t want to confuse myself.
I walk outside and grab my phone. I look for car dealerships in the area. No sense in wasting time. There is a cluster of three dealerships just a mile and a half down the road. I start walking.
I’m going to cross one more thing off my list today.
Soon I might just be a functioning human being.
I called Gabby right after my family left. I told her my dad said I should move to London.
She asked me how I felt about it, and I told her I wasn’t sure.
Even though I haven’t lived in the same place as Gabby for very long, I somehow can’t imagine living that far away from her again.
“You have a lot going on right now,” Gabby said. “Just try to get some sleep, and we can go over the pros and cons when you’re ready.”
When I put down the phone, I did exactly what she said. I fell asleep.
I woke up a little bit ago and looked at the clock: two a.m.
“You’re up,” Henry says as he walks into my room. “You were asleep earlier.”
“Snoring better or worse than Gabby was the other night?”
“Oh, worse,” he says. “Definitely worse.”
I laugh. “Well, can’t you people do something about that? Some sort of surgery?”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” he says, coming toward me. “You’ve been through enough, don’t you think?” He marks things down on my chart.
“How am I doing?” I ask.
He pops the chart back down and clicks his pen. “You’re good. I think tomorrow they’ll put you in the wheelchair and get you mobile.”