He was just a lump on the side of the road when Clifton pulled into the drive in his beat up Chevrolet. Jane was gone to pick up the girls from school and he was the first one home. He sighed in frustration when he saw the furry, lifeless mass laying right in front of the lawn.
“Oh God,” he said.
He got out of the car and moved beside the Blue Tick Hound. He looked in both directions down the empty street only to see the neat line of homes he had seen every day before. As he picked the up, he grunted. It was an old dog. An old, heavy dog. Clifton carried it all the way to the back yard so he could figure out what to do next. He realized how hard it was to position a dead dog in any way that didn’t look awkward. He settled with putting him on his side with his arms curled up, similar to how he found him. There were a few marks that must have been from where the car had hit him, so Clifton grabbed an old, ratty towel from the shed and wrapped the dog up. He wiped his thick brow and crossed his arms across his chest. Something didn’t seem right. He pulled some lavender flowers out of the garden by the porch and put them at the dog’s feet.
With the dog in the best position he could imagine, he went inside through the back door. In the kitchen, he got a beer out of the refrigerator and turned on the news in the den. He sat and watched from the kitchen table.
Clifton and Jane had gotten the dog from a litter that belonged to a friend of theirs in the summer of 1983. Daisy was two and Jane was only about a month pregnant with Liz. The dog went without a name for a long time until Clifton decided they needed something to call him besides “dog” and “hey you.” He decided on Walter Mondale, after Ronald Reagan’s challenger for the presidency. This wasn’t out of respect to Walter Mondale the person. Clifton, being born and raised a very staunch conservative, thought the name was fitting because they were both “sons of bitches.”
So, six years later, Walter Mondale the dog was laying on lavender in the back yard, waiting for the rest of his owners to come home. Clifton tried to calm his nerves by running his hands through his dark hair as he saw Jane’s station wagon pull in the drive.
He watched as his daughters came skipping up to the front door with their mother following behind. Liz was the one who opened the door.
“Daddy! You’re home!” she shouted as she ran to his arms. Her hair bounced up and down in a long braid. Clifton hugged her tightly but didn’t say anything.
“Daddy, what’s wrong? Why do you look sad?” asked Daisy from her mother’s side.
“Guys, there’s something I need to tell you,” he said.
“Where’s Walter Mondale, Daddy?” asked Liz. “Usually he comes to see us when we get home.”
“I need to talk to you about Walter Mondale,” he said.
Jane sensed what was coming and put a hand on Daisy’s shoulder. She used her free hand to pull Liz to her other side.
“What is it, Daddy?”
So Clifton told them about the lump on the side of the road and how he positioned Walter Mondale’s arms and the lavender and before he could finish, Liz blurted, “I’m gonna get whoever did it! I’m gonna call the police right now!” She had tears in her eyes. Daisy did too.
“There’s no way to know who did it sweetie,” said Jane. “I’m sure it was just an accident. These things happen.”
By this point, Liz was sobbing and Daisy was doing her best to hold back tears. The family fell silent for a moment.
“Do you girls want to say goodbye to him?” said Jane.
They both gave a tearful, unison nod.
Clifton and Jane let the girls go to the restroom to clean up and blow their noses while Clifton started to dig a hole in the back of the yard a few feet from the swing set. The sun was falling to the horizon and the shadows of the trees crept up to him.
Around twilight, the girls followed their mother outside. They had both changed into black t-shirts on their own insistence. Daisy carried with her a white stepping stone that she had found in the shed. On it, she had written in big block letters,
WALTER MONDALE (THE DOG)
Clifton took the stone from her and looked to his wife. He tried not to laugh.
“That’s very sweet of you, Daisy,” said Jane.
“I got him some flowers,” said Liz to no one in particular. She kept her head turned to the ground and held out a fistful of dandelions from the front yard.
“They’re beautiful,” said her father. He laid them beside the lavender at Walter Mondale the dog’s feet.
Clifton and Jane couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t make the girls cry so they decided on a moment of silence. Clifton lowered Walter Mondale the dog tenderly into the hole and put a few shovels full of dirt on him. The girls both stood with their hands, one over the other, in front of them.
Clifton filled the hole until all of the dirt was used. He put Daisy’s headstone just above the dirt pile and bordered it with Liz’s dandelions and his lavender. They said a prayer and went inside.
That night, Jane made pork chops for supper. Clifton tried his best to carry on conversation just as he would any other night. He asked Daisy how her violin was coming along in orchestra class and he asked Liz if she was excited for her field trip to the science museum. They didn’t talk about Walter Mondale the dog or Walter Mondale the person for the whole meal.
When the girl’s bedtime came around, they were less hyper than they usually were. They’d had a long day. So had their parents. When Clifton came into their room to tuck them in, they were both already under their covers with only the lamp on the nightstand between their beds to light the room. Clifton pulled up a rocking chair and positioned it in between the girl’s beds. He held a copy of “Goodnight Moon.”
“The usual?” he asked. The girls both beamed and nodded their heads excitedly.
As he read through the book in his normal, charismatic voice, Jane came into the room and curled up beside Liz on the bed. She propped her head up on her arm, rested her hand on Liz’s stomach and listened to her husband as he finished the story. As he read the last words, raindrops began to tap against the window.
“Daddy, what if the rain washes Walter Mondale away?” said Liz.
“He’ll be okay sweetie. We took care of him,” said Clifton.
Daisy chimed in, “Yeah Liz, he’s a good swimmer. Remember? Remember when we took him swimming at the river that summer? Remember” She tried to wink at her father, but had to hold one eye open with her fingers to make it happen.
Liz rubbed her eyes with a tubby finger and rolled on her side to face her mother. Jane tucked the covers by Liz’s side as Clifton did the same for Daisy. As he reached to turn the lamp off, Daisy said, “Mommy, sing us a song please.”
“It’s getting late honey,” said Clifton.
“Please?” pleaded Liz.
So she did.
She sat back in the rocking chair that her husband had moved and thought about a song that her mother had sang to her when she was a girl. In a calm, soothing voice, she began to sing.
Sleep, my child, and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping,
All through the night
As the last verse rolled around, both of the girls were motionless and sound asleep. Jane closed the door behind her and met her husband who was waiting in the hallway. Tears had even welled in his own pale blue eyes.