This story is by Pretty Til Dawn and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Pierre spun in circles for an eternity while his mother, Aja, put on a floral winter coat. His love for the outdoors fueled his excitement; you can tell by his open-mouth smile. Not realizing the hassle of putting on gloves, a hat, and boots, Pierre was impatient and released a whining yawn, annoying his mother.
“Okay, don’t start doing that. Now you’re just rushing me. I’d rather see your happy dance.”
Clicking the leash around his neck and opening the door, she says to Pierre, “Alright, little boy, let’s go.”
It was the year before Pierre became part of the family.
Aja lived the life of a creative designer in Gold Coast Chicago. Her penthouse floor, studio apartment’s aesthetic of neutrals, fluff, and texture mirrored her fashion style.
Dawn was an empty nester who traveled to destination cities every six weeks for work. She collaborated with like-minded people who care about the diversity, or lack thereof, in advertising.
Gun violence by cops against black people. Protests increased. A national insurrection allegedly started by a world leader and quarantine from a worldwide pandemic plagued the earth. An unnatural cloud released negativity, hate, doubt, and confusion. And it was Dawn’s job to help teams navigate through the dystopia.
All of that felt distant to Dawn as she sat at her apartment bar, waiting for a breast surgeon she’d never met to call. Waiting, alone with sad thoughts of mortality between meetings, she dove into planning a celebration of the agency’s ten-year inclusion efforts with minority and women-owned businesses.
Aja searched online for a Goldendoodle to bring home.
Dawn asked Aja, “Are you sure you want to spend your money on this?”
Aja giggled, “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Puppies can be a lot of work, and I won’t be able to help you. ”
“I know,” Aja replied.
“I have another surgery in a few weeks.”
Frustrated, Aja said, “I Knooooowwwww. Can you please call?”
She left a message.
“Ahhh. God Almighty.” Dawn clenched her chest, squeezed her eyes, curled up, and turned so her expression of pain, that felt like mini daggers on fire shot into her chest, didn’t imprint in her daughter’s mind.
Aja quietly asked her mother, “Are you okay?”
“Can you get my pain pills? It’s the tiny pink ones. And a can of Bubly. The purple one.”
“You’re like addicted to this drink’.” Aja snarked.
“I like the fizzy bubbles that feel like they are dancing around my face. It also carries the pills away in a protective barrier when I swallow, so I don’t gag,” Aja’s face squinched up. The meds made Dawn tired, and she fell asleep.
Dawn dreamed about the day she received life-changing news.
“How about Wednesday, April 13. 2020?” Dr. Heery asked seriously.
“No. That’s supposed to be my 50th Birthday. I don’t want that day ruined by the anniversary of the surgery,” Dawn was firm in her decision.
Dr. Heery said, “Okay, well, hospitals are shutting down. Because your breast cancer is mutative, you don’t have months to think about it; we have to get you into surgery soon.”
Dawn had a bilateral mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes on April 8, 2020.
“Mom, wake up!” Aja shouted excitedly. “The dog lady texted us back, and she’ll be home at eleven. She’s in Montclair and isn’t letting people in the house, so we need to meet her in a parking lot.”
Dawn laughed and asked, “The parking lot? What kind of business are they running?” Aja shrugged.
They needed to stop at the pet store to get a bed for the puppy’s ride home.
Aja unlocked the doors to the red convertible car, got in, and helped Dawn buckle her seatbelt. “We should put the top down even though it’s chilly so I can feel the wind blow through my scalp.” Dawn laughed at herself while Aja put the top down, and they began a new adventure.
Traffic crept on the Rt 35 circle in Asbury Park, Monmouth County. Drivers find themselves trapped in long traffic lines, leading to a roundabout or road rage. New Jersey is notorious for complicating the driving process.
Beeeep, the horn sounded from behind their car. They looked back, and a larger car attempted to squeeze between the passenger side and the curb. Dawn hollered while her life flashed before her eyes, unsure why he was so angry and almost causing a significant accident. “What the freak? What is he doing? I can’t believe that idiot rushed to the side of us screaming like that.”
Aja nodded, “Yeah, you saw when I stopped? He almost ran into the car in front of me! Then he looked scared. Serves him right.”
Dawn said with relief, “The devil is always tryin’ us, but he won’t ruin this day!”
“You got that right.” Aja agreed.
After shopping, they headed to Montclair, NJ, for a new family member. Dawn couldn’t stay awake for the hour after taking her morning medication, so she napped during the ride.
Aja has desired a new companion ever since she left Smokey, a ShiPoo she got at age ten, to attend university. Excitedly she woke her mom to text the breeder as they were only fifteen minutes away.
Dawn voiced her second thoughts, “You realize it will be three of us sharing a one-bedroom.”
“Yeah, but according to Google, he should top off at twenty-five pounds which is small.” Aja imagined carrying him on the plane and in the stores.
Knowing she was a killjoy, Dawn unbuckled her seat belt and got out of the convertible. It was her first ride in the past six months other than to a hospital. She stretched her legs and arms to shake off the tightening of her chest and back muscles.
Dawn peeked into the truck’s back window and squealed, “Oh my God, they’re adorable.”
Aja pointed out, “There’s only one white.”
She wanted white because Smokey was black. The white pup looked different from the rest; his feet were gigantic, his eyes were a unique blue-brown, and his legs were skinny. Because he was taller than the others, they wondered if he was authentic.
“The breeder said he was from the previous litter,” whispered Aja.
“We could wait for the next batch?” Dawn suggested.
“Probably why she didn’t send us a picture,” Aja wondered.
When the breeder placed the pup into Aja’s arms, Dawn stared at him inquisitively and said, “Look at him; he looks… French.” His hair fell straight around his face, wavy and blonde. “He’s precious. Look at his eyes; they look human and so big. They look like mine.” The pair took home the hazel-eyed runt with all of his oddities.
A year later, a few favorite restaurants in Asbury Park were closed, the environment felt like racism before civil rights, and number forty-five continued to tweet that the 2020 election was a scam.
Dawn, Aja, and Pierre still lived like clowns in a punch buggy car. Aja launched a spiritual guidance business. Pierre learned to follow commands. Dawn optimistically suffered from side effects of chemotherapy, physical weakness, and depression.
A cold, wet nose pressed against Dawn’s face while she slept on the couch. Groggily she awoke and rubbed her eyes, “Oh, hey Pierre. I love you so much,” she responded as she always does. Then her insides deflated as Dawn realized it was Monday, chemo day. She buried her head into Pierre’s thick, fluffy coat.
Dawn fretted about the multiple needles she’d receive when the nurses drew blood and administered infusion treatments. She wondered whether the nurse would get the needle inserted in one attempt. She used to have plump accessible veins in her arm; now, they were hard to find because her skin changed; it’s leathery and sometimes rejected the needle. When this happens, the nurse has to use the veins on the back of her hand.
When Aja walked into the living room, Pierre wriggled out of Grandma’s lazy hold to meet his mother at the door. His tail, long like a horse’s, showcased Pierre’s distinctive identity. He noticed it and the chase began. He attempted to catch it at full speed, heavy-footed, mouth wide open, and Dawn couldn’t help but laugh aloud.
She named it ‘the Happy Dance’ because he looked as pleased as a human about to receive a ten million dollar lottery payout.
Pierre loved the beach as much as his grandma and was part of why she took walks as the doctors instructed. His appreciation was evident when he was released from his leash to free towards the ocean. Pierre’s gratefulness reminded Dawn that so many miracles surrounded her; sand between her toes, ocean waves rising high, sunsets and pretty pink, yellow, and purple skies, and her healing from breast cancer fighter to a breast cancer survivor.
The family of three, crammed into a small one-bedroom apartment on the Jersey shore, survived every day with gratitude.
Not only did Dawn, Aja, and Pierre live happily ever after.