[Sunday, December 19, 2021]
Cabela’s nose is to the ground. I stand at the bottom of the deck. Our rabbit-in-residence streaks at warp speed across our backyard into the neighbor’s yard. Lately, I’ve been going outside with Cabela in the morning, and the rabbit is usually eating breakfast, nibbling at vegetation visible through a thin layer of snow.
Each morning I wonder if this time Cabela will spot the rabbit and give chase. (She hasn’t yet.) This morning she doesn’t see it because she’s sniffing the ground. She doesn’t hear it because she’s nearly deaf. But after it has kicked up snow, she smells it, points her nose to the sky, and inhales short snorts of frigid air. Even if she saw it, she’d have no hope of catching it—the rabbit possesses afterburners for hind legs and Cabela possesses thirteen-and-a-half-year-old hindquarters. We also have an electric dog fence.
It’s 6:30 a.m. and dark. First light will come shortly after 7:00, followed by sunrise just before 8:00. It’s 11 degrees, the wind is 9 m.p.h., and the feels-like temperature is 0 degrees. I don’t want to be outside. I’m sleepy, and I haven’t had any coffee. But the rabbit is entertaining.
Because of the electric fence, I should be able to put Cabela’s collar on her, let her outside, and wait at the door for her to return. But Cabela has taken to barking at things that I can’t see, and perhaps she can’t see. She’s eighty-five in human years. In a skewed aging process, Cabela entered our home as a puppy but is now twenty-three years older than me. Routines have changed, and allowances have been made. But at 6:30 in the morning, I don’t expect my neighbors to give Cabela a pass if she decides to bark at nothing.
I wear a mid-calf-length coat and a knit hat with a gold pom-pom. My feet shilly-shally in a pair of oversized, old sneakers my husband keeps by the back door. My hands are shoved in my pockets. Under the coat, I wear an ankle-length flannel nightgown, which, unfortunately, isn’t completely covered by the coat. I think about my nana who would walk outside in her nightgown and housecoat in the morning if she needed something. She lived on a city block in Milwaukee and, as a little girl, I thought she shouldn’t go outside in nightclothes where the neighbors could see her. Nana believed in ladylike behavior and good manners, so I concluded that old people, like babies, must be allowed outside in their pajamas.
Cabela saunters to the side of the house, scheming to enter the front yard. I block her path and point toward the back door. She still understands hand signals. She turns and canters to the deck and climbs the stairs.
One day last week every time she went outside, she stationed herself in the front corner of our yard and looked across the street. She barked then paused, barked then paused, again and again, as if to say, “Hey, is anyone there?” or “Hey, I’m over here!” Each time I had to go outside, walk up to her, and touch her to get her attention. I couldn’t see anything, but each time I went to get her, I stared across the street longer and longer, looking for a person or an animal. Once I looked to see if smoke was coming out of the house or garage across the street. I wondered if she was hallucinating.
Sometimes Cabela is in her own world. She awakes from a nap and stands, head bowed, as if she’s trying to remember why she got up. She’ll stand, motionless. Sometimes I bend down, rest my cheek against hers, and murmur, “Do you want to go outside? Do you need a drink of water? Are you okay?” She doesn’t respond to my questions. She moves only after she has made a decision about something that I’m not privy to.
To keep Cabela from barking, I’ve started going outside with her in the early morning hours. I shamelessly throw my coat on over my nightgown. She’s already waited for me to pee so she can go outside to pee. She makes it clear that she doesn’t want to wait for me to get dressed. I’m not being unladylike; I’m channeling my nana.
Once outside I stay close to Cabela. We’re two senior citizens starting our day, grateful to be together, and happy to be alive. But only one of us is thankful that it’s too dark for the neighbors to see her outfit.