Platters of gooey deviled eggs jostled congealing casseroles on the overladen dining room table. Grandma’s house was as crowded as the table. Aunts, uncles, random old people, and cousins he’d didn’t remember huddled in groups talking and eating. Eyes down, Ryan slipped between clusters. He found his dad first drinking brown liquor in the backyard with his Uncle Mitch. Ryan could tell by the set of his father’s shoulders that it was pointless to talk to him about leaving. Next Ryan looked for his mom even though she was a longer shot than his dad.
Ryan found his mom in the kitchen with grandma. The kitchen swarmed with ladies. He wished for an invisibility cloak. Ryan pretended to be fascinated with his phone. Aunt Lea started making him a plate of fried chicken, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, ham, and her weird broccoli casserole. As he tried to explain he wasn’t hungry Great Aunt Billie added a slice of pound cake and a scoop of banana vanilla wafer pudding to his plate. Desperate Ryan gave his mom the I’m bored and I want to go home face. His mom was hugging grandma at the kitchen table and shot him a look of annoyance and sadness. Ryan escaped back into the yard, wandered to the front, and finally decided to eat his unwanted plate on the porch.
Sandy was there. The taffy colored Corgi with a fat belly and grey on her snout stood on the porch top stair and ignored Ryan. This was her waiting spot. Ryan patted her head just to be friendly. She was grandma’s dog but Ryan knew Sandy loved to sit with Gramps while his grandfather gardened. Patiently Sandy accepted the pat without taking her eyes from the cars driving past the house. Her ears were erect; her nose twitching searching.
It felt good to be ignored, to not be hugged, or make small talk, to not be asked how you are holding up. Dying was weird enough without out all the talking and crying. Sinking into the quiet, Ryan ate the pound cake. Gramps always ate dessert first because life was too short he said. Ryan smiled around a mouthful. What Ryan saw in the hospital wasn’t his grandfather. Gramps was loud and a little rude and his stories went on forever, not sick. Ryan brushed his cake crumbs on the dog and wiped his fingers on the coat before starting to eat his banana pudding by hand. Surprised Sandy looked at the boy but then ate the buttery crumbs. She realized she was hungry and she whined at the boy.
Ryan offered Sandy ham and torn off bits of chicken while he ate potato salad. Next Ryan offered Sandy the broccoli casserole. The dog sniffed and growled at it. Ryan laughed. Sandy wagged her tail, which wagged her whole body. He climbed off the porch and buried the casserole under the mulch in Gramps’ garden. Skipping down the stairs Sandy joined him to investigate the burying.
On the bright green grass Ryan sat down not caring about his new suit or the neighbors or anything. Ryan rested his head on the dog’s head the way he had done as a little boy. Laying down, Sandy curled around the boy’s head like she did when he was young. Watching over the boy, the dog found comfort in the smell of his familiar skin when so many strangers in her house, so many changes. She was happy to have his company while she waited for her old man to come home.