It was Sunday. Sunday was coffee day.
Gus knew some things, not everything, but he knew enough. He knew that the passenger seat in the old Malibu was his. He knew that when it rained his hips ached, and that in the hot months the floor of the kitchen felt good against his stomach. He knew that he was safe, loved and he knew Sunday was coffee day.
During the week, Stefanie usually brewed a small pot at home before work, but after she had gotten the old Chevy roadworthy, she had made a habit of driving to the diner on Sundays to get a cup of coffee. It kept the car from sitting and Gus loved it.
Stef would get up, attend to her morning routine, and then she would back the red ’66 out of the garage and let it warm up. While it idled, she would slip back inside, grab her purse and call for Gus. He would trot to the passenger side and wait for the door. Stef would let him in, roll down the passenger window, and hop in the driver’s seat.
Once at the diner, Stef would go inside for her coffee. She would speak to the regulars, occasionally engaging in an extended conversation about the unrestored ‘Boo, and more often than not, Gus would get a small slice of bacon or another treat from the woman behind the counter. Another nap on the way home and he would spend the rest of the day in the corner of the living room on a dog bed that was as old as he was.
Gus had no words for the old red car, its owner, or the days of the week. Like humans, he thought in pictures. It didn’t matter; he was fed in the morning and again in the evening. In the afternoon he laid next to the couch on his old bed and at night he slept on a flannel pillow in the bedroom. It had been so long ago, he had almost forgotten the pound. He was housed, fed and loved. And, for the last 10 of his nearly 15 years, Sunday was coffee day.
Today was no different. He dozed as he heard the small block fire and the car back out of the garage. While it warmed he heard Stephanie come back inside, grab her purse and call his name.
Winter was coming, so his hips hurt. The half of an aspirin ground into his food hadn’t kicked in yet, so he struggled slightly. But by the time he walked through the garage to the passenger door and looked at Stef expectantly, his tail wagged in a steady motion. Had he been human, he would have been smiling. Stef was smiling as she opened the long door. When Gus only placed his front paws in the car, she lifted his rear haunches and placed him delicately in the seat.
As they idled out of the subdivision, Gus’ nose confirmed all was right in his territory. He settled and curled into a ball, snoozing during the ride to the diner. It was chilly so Stef leaned across at a stop sign and rolled the window back up. Gus was grateful when she adjusted the heat controls to warm the cabin. He inhaled deeply and let out a contented sigh.
This was as it should be; his seat, his day. He was still asleep when Stefanie eased the Malibu in front of the diner and popped inside. She returned quickly and he didn’t notice she had left until she placed the bacon near him. His tail thumped sleepily on the dark red velour as he slowly chewed the crispy treat. When it was finished he returned to slumber, asleep before Stef even secured her coffee between her legs and backed the Malibu out of the parking space.
It was a perfect day. When they got back, he knew he would find his spot on the floor and Stefanie would spend the rest of the day on the couch, typing on her laptop and occasionally rubbing his head. It might even be cold enough to start a fire. Gus thought of the fire and how the waves of warmth would ease the throb in his hips. There in his seat, contented, safe and loved; he dreamed of that evening, of bacon, and of slender fingers gently patting his head as he slipped away.
When the Chevy made the right into the driveway the shocks creaked, making the old car bounce slow and lazy. Stefanie parked and shut the engine off just outside of the garage. Gus was still motionless in his seat, and Stef went to gently rouse him as she had many times before. This time, there was no response, no matter how long she shook him, until she stopped and collapsed forward against the wheel.
The tears started flowing as Stefanie looked for the shovel, and kept flowing while she dug an over sized hole next to the deck in the backyard. By the time she was finished, it was almost sunset. She wiped her eyes with a dirty glove and returned the shovel to its spot on the wall. Then she went to the toolbox and grabbed two wrenches.
She carefully unbolted the passenger seat and broke it loose. It was awkward and heavy, and her friend was still curled there, his eyes closed, his breath stopped. She lifted the entire seat carried them both to the back yard.
It was after all, Gus’s seat.
W. Christian Mental Ward has owned over 70 cars and destroyed most of them. He is a graduate of Panoz Racing School, loves cartoons and once exceeded the speed of sound. Married to the most patient woman in the world; he has three dogs, including the one pictured above. Her name is Shady Ray and she is quite healthy at the time of publication