I was in the kitchen pulling the slightly wilted romaine and mushy radishes out of the fridge, when Penny came and leaned up against my legs. Her tongue was hanging out of her mouth, almost purple at the tip and her eyes were red and watery as she leaned up against my bare calf, panting, panting, panting, like she'd run a mile and couldn't catch her breath. Her rib cage was heaving and I knelt down onto the marbled rubber floor, and put my hand on her head, her chest, her ribs, all hot and sweaty but she'd only been sleeping in the living room, on the couch, which I knew she shouldn't be doing. But before my brother went on vacation with the wife and kids leaving me with the four cats, and Penny, their beautiful Brittany spaniel who always greeted me at the door with a frenzy of delight. When they'd left, I said "my job is the same as it is when you used to leave the boys with me. Keep everyone alive until you get back." And here she was looking like she was having a heart attack if dogs can even have heart attacks. And they're at Atlantis in the Bahamas and I don't have the vet's name or phone number and I don't even know which of the five or twenty-five hotels they're staying in and my brother isn't answering his cell phone, no one's responding to the texts.
I breathe deep and slowly as I bring Penny over to the chaise longue that sits under the air conditioner that I've had turned off, even though the days have been muggy, the constant noise and cold air is worse than the still mugginess. I get Penny up there and turn on the air and spend the next five minutes on the phone with various operators in Atlantis spelling my brother's name, and finally, Hamilton, my teenage nephew comes on the phone and I don't recognize his voice. And then he wants me to call another number, in the adjoining room, and I tell him "Just go get your father or mom. I don't have time to call back." So he does.
"Does she look like she's having a seizure?" Sandra asks.
"At first, yeah, she did, but she's a little better now. Less distressed, like she's slowly catching her breath."
"She's had these spells before. She might be overheated. She might be having a little seizure. one time her legs gave out when we were walking down the steps to the park and she was shaky and confused."
I lay damp paper towels on her, slowly pat her head, let her lick the water from my fingers. She won't drink from the bowl but will only stick her pink tongue out to lap it off her paws, my fingers, the damp fabric of the chair. Slowly, in fits and starts, she returns to normal, her breathing slows, the racing heart beat returns to normal. Now she lies on the cool wooden floor behind the sofa, resting softly. Occasionally her head pops up when she hears one of the cats or something catches her attention, as if nothing has happened. She's back to normal. But I'm not. I'm alert to every sound she makes, every time she moves her body and I hear her nails slide across the floor. I have the vets info now. I know who to call. I can relax. And so can Penny.