“Listen to this, Trish. ‘Vela Constellation: Scientists Discover Closest Earth-Sized Planet Outside Solar System’ That’s it, Babe. I’m outta’ here.”
“Vela, in the constellation Vela, there’s a planet, it’s hotter than Earth but so the fuck what? ‘GJ 1132b’. What kind of name is that?”
“A NASA name. I wish you wouldn’t use that kind of language in front of the dog. Is it inhabited?”
“It will be. I’ve shoveled my last driveway. Pulled snow off my last roof. No more pet-safe ice-melter for me, or Joker here, right boy?” He ruffled the ears of the aged golden retriever who was always by his side. “Space, baby. I’m going into space. I was just waiting…”
“A planet in a different solar system — hell, that won’t even BE a “sol”ar system. Who knows what they name their salient star! Wa-HOOO! C’mon boy, let’s get that rocket rolling.”
“Rockets that roll don’t make it to other constellations, sweetheart. Could you reach up there and get the big platter down?”
“What do you need the platter for?”
“Thanksgiving? Two weeks?”
“Oh man, I KNEW there was a reason I wanted out of here. Who all is coming?”
“Your sister, her husband, their grown kids, their little kids, same-ol’ same-‘ol.”
“But WHY? I’d be a helluva lot more thankful if they DIDN’T come.”
“It’s YOUR family.”
“Not my fault, babe.”
“What would you rather do, besides go into space and live on a hot planet? We have hot planets in our solar system. You could go to Venus or, uh, Mercury.”
“How? The only planet in our system with people on it is this one.”
“Right? Crowded. I’m going out to the garage and get to work on the ship. C’mon Joker.” The old dog slowly rose, his lopsided motion revealing the painful arthritis in his left hip.
“Joker should stay in here where it’s warm. Poor old guy.”
“I don’t think he wants to, do you boy?” Curtis reached down to scratch his dog under the chin. In that very moment, Joker collapsed on the kitchen floor. “Trish? Trish?”
“I’m right here, what happened.”
“I don’t know.” Tears streamed down Curtis’ cheeks as he felt the old dog’s neck to find a pulse. “He’s dead. Just like that. Right here.”
Trish went to the pantry and got a large trash bag. “What is that for? Are you putting Joker in the TRASH?”
“No Curtis, no, but any minute now his bowels and bladder are going to realize he’s gone. It’s pretty messy when that happens.” She gently placed Joker’s lower quarters inside the trash bag. “I think you should call the vet.”
“Why? Joker’s dead. What is the vet going to do with a dead dog?” Tears and snot mingled at the end of Curtis’ nose.
“Here babe,” Trish handed him a dish towel.
“Now I REALLY don’t want those idiots in my house for Thanksgiving.” Curtis wiped his face. “I’d better go dig a hole.”
In the end, the dog was wrapped in the trashbag and carefully carried out to the wildflower garden in back where Curtis and Trish had dug the hole. It was Joker’s favorite garden because it attracted the most butterflies. Joker had always loved chasing butterflies, and it was a lovely sight to watch him.
“I’m sorry, honey. I know that dog was your best friend.” Trish wrapped her arm around her husband’s waist. He wrapped his around her shoulder.
“There’s only one thing to do now,” he said.
“What’s that? Get to work on the rocket?”
“Hell no. What would that trip be without Joker by my side? We need to go to the shelter. I think there is another dog waiting for us. Remember how we got Joker?”
Trish thought back. Well, of course. That had to be. “Captain was hit by the car and that night, Joker showed up at our front door. We weren’t even ever going to have another dog.”
“Nope. We weren’t.”
Curtis left the space ship behind and he and Trish headed down to the shelter where a goofy, wiggly brown and white bull terrier girl with a huge grin showed an obvious preference for Curtis over every human in the world. “I’m naming her Star,” said Curtis.