“I know, a dog named Precious – it’s pretty silly, isn’t it, dear.” Marilyn had come home from the hospital the day after the cowboy festival, and called Franny to thank her for walking the old dog. Something in Marilyn’s voice on the phone made Franny offer to come over, and Marilyn’s quick acceptance of the offer to bring a few things from the grocery reinforced the impression of frailty.
When Franny came into Marilyn’s house, she put the bag of groceries on the kitchen counter. Marilyn did not get up from her cozy nest on the couch: propped on extravagant pillows, covered in two soft blankets, both in shades of blue, with Precious curled up on the cushion near Marilyn’s feet. Franny noticed the older woman’s skin tone was a dusty gray devoid of its usual rosiness, and her cropped white hair looked limp.
Marilyn’s house smelled of ginger tea, damp dog, and something else: illness, maybe, or pain. Franny had asked if she should put the groceries away. The older woman had replied with a tsk and told Franny to come join them in the living room. Marilyn reached down to stroke Precious behind one ear, and the old dog squeezed her eyes shut in sheer bliss.
“I rescued her when she was about five years old, or so the vet told me,” Marilyn went on. “Dog years being what they are, I thought it would be too much to ask her to get used to a new name at that age. So we stuck with Precious. Now I’m besotted with the little beast, and she truly is precious to me. I can’t imagine life without her.” She made eye contact with Franny. “I wonder, would you mind taking her for a short walk again today? I’m not completely certain I’m up to it, and she is so much happier and sleeps much better when she’s had her exercise.”
“Of course, I’d love to. Did the doctor say what’s, you know…” Franny’s voice trailed off. She’d been about to say “what’s wrong with you,” but checked herself. Nothing had to be wrong, did it? Maybe Marilyn had only gotten overly tired, or her oil paints had gotten to her. Fainting spells happened.
“Oh, you know how they are. Just told me to rest for a while. Doctors rarely tell you anything useful, as they are, on the whole, the most cautious beings.” Marilyn smiled. It seemed the art professor would conspire with Franny to avoid the subject of a diagnosis of any kind.
Franny retrieved the leash from its usual hook, and Precious met her at the door, plumed tail wagging. “We’ll be back soon,” Franny called, and Marilyn waived them out. After forty-five minutes or so of Precious’s sniffing and snuffling, they returned to find Marilyn asleep. Precious returned to her spot at the woman’s feet on the couch, turning in circles to make a nest before flopping down to join her mistress in a nap.
The grocery bags were still full on the kitchen counter. Franny put the food away and let herself out, trying to shake the sense that fate had something very unpleasant in store.