- Why did you throw Clonchik?
- Why didn't you give me the leash?
- You could have held on to her collar.
- You shouldn't have called her shithead.
At six-thirty my mother picked up the phone. I could hear the agitation in her voice. The ten minutes she had spent at home not knowing where I was had taken their toll. For ten minutes she had been the mother of a dead child. I explained to her about the dog and felt a twinge of resentment when she said "So it's just the dog?" Behind her I heard other voices. It sounded as though everyone was speaking at once, pursuing personal agendas, translating the phone conversation from Russian to Russian until one anguished voice separated itself: "My God, what happened?" Rita.
After getting the address from the veterinarian my mother hung up and ordered another expensive taxi. Within a half hour my parents, my aunt, and Misha and Rita pulled up at the clinic. Jana and I waited for them on the sidewalk. As soon as the taxi doors opened we began to sob. Partly out of relief but mainly in the hope of eliciting sympathy. As I ran to my mother I caught sight of Rita's face. Her face made me regret that I also hadn't been hit by a car.
As we clung to our mothers, Rita descended upon us.
- Children, what oh what have you done?
She pinched compulsively at the loose skin of her neck, raising a cluster of pink marks.
While Misha methodically counted individual bills for the taxi driver, we swore on our lives that Tapka had simply gotten away from us. That we had minded her as always, but, inexplicably, she had seen a bird and bolted from the ravine and into the road. We had done everything in our power to catch her, but she had surprised us, eluded us, been too fast. Rita considered our story.
- You are liars. Liars!
She uttered the words with such hatred that we again burst into sobs.
My father spoke in our defense.
- Rita Borisovna, how can you say this? They are children.
- They are liars. I know my Tapka. Tapka never chased birds. Tapka never ran from the ravine.
- Maybe today she did?
Having delivered her verdict, she had nothing more to say.
She waited anxiously for Misha to finish paying the driver.
- Misha, enough already. Count it a hundred times, it will still be the same.
Inside the clinic there was no longer anyone at the reception desk. During our time there, Jana and I had watched a procession of dyspeptic cats and lethargic parakeets disappear into the back rooms for examination and diagnosis. One after another they had come and gone until, by the time of our parents' arrival, the waiting area was entirely empty and the clinic officially closed. The only people remaining were a night nurse and the doctor in the bear paw slippers who had stayed expressly for our sake.
Looking desperately around the room, Rita screamed: "Doctor! Doctor!" But when the doctor appeared she was incapable of making herself understood. Haltingly, with my mother's help, it was communicated to the doctor that Rita wanted to see her dog. Pointing vigorously at herself, Rita asserted: "Tapka. Mine dog."
The doctor led Rita and Misha into the veterinary version of an intensive care ward. Tapka lay on her little bed, Clonchik resting directly beside her. At the sight of Rita and Misha, Tapka weakly wagged her tail. Little more than an hour had elapsed since I had seen her last, but somehow over the course of that time, Tapka had shrunk considerably. She had always been a small dog, but now she looked desiccated. Rita started to cry, grotesquely smearing her mascara. With trembling hands, and with sublime tenderness, she stroked Tapka's head.
- My God, my God, what has happened to you, my Tapkachka?
Through my mother, and with the aid of pen and paper, the doctor provided the answer. Tapka required two operations. One for her leg. Another to stop internal bleeding. An organ had been damaged. For now, a machine was helping her, but without the machine she would die. On the paper the doctor drew a picture of a scalpel, of a dog, of a leg, of an organ. She made an arrow pointing at the organ and drew a teardrop and colored it in to represent "blood." She also wrote down a number preceded by a dollar sign. The number was 1,500.