The relic rusting in the driveway doesn’t get much mileage now that the last dog has died.
It sits uncomplaining, like each of my pups did whenever they sat resigned behind the picture window and watched as I, all dolled up, took my place in the forbidden, people-only sedan and left them home alone while I went to chase some fun.
I suppose I should take the old heap for a spin. A mechanic told me that gasoline gets stale if it sits in the tank too long. She said all vehicles should be driven at least once every few weeks; nineteen-year-old minivans, perhaps a tad more frequently.
But not enough time has passed since The Chariot carried geriatric Shiloh home from his final visit to the vet. It’s too soon for me to get behind the wheel dry-eyed again.
I’m sure The Chariot understands. It’s not the only time I’ve had to take it out of commission. The first was in 2004, after Cooper, another geriatric dog, died.
I’d bought it brand new a few months earlier. It was the nicest transportation I’d ever owned. Silver paint gleamed. Motor hummed. Even Cooper’s flatulence was no match for its rich, new-car smell.
Given Cooper’s fulminant kidney failure, he barely had a chance to shed in it, or to leave muddy pawprints so large they could frighten the pluckiest car thief away. As brawny as that 115 lb. German Shepherd was, he was also a pacifist who loathed using his teeth when simple, well-placed evidence of his prowess could keep danger at bay.
When I first brought The Chariot home from the dealer’s and invited him to jump in, like any jumbo-sized dog would have, Cooper wagged himself silly with joy. Years of crouching in the rear of a small station wagon must have left him feeling like he was suddenly in the heaven that all too soon would become his eternally.
For his remaining eight weeks of life, once each morning and once each late afternoon Cooper reclined on the third-row bench as regally as a Roman emperor while we headed to and from the park. When he finally reclined forever, I could no more drive his wheels than I could drive away the memory of his emissions. I longed for them as I did for the fragrance of a jasmine bloom in spring.
There’s no accounting for taste when you’re in mourning.
And believe you me. We mourned, The Chariot and I. It was the laws of nature that decreed only I should do the crying, not those of the heart.
Young-adult Waldo was the one who charmed The Chariot and me toward the road again. But not without insisting that I pimp his ride first.
A taller, lither German Shepherd, more refined than Cooper thanks to a drop or two of Irish Wolfhound in his pedigree, Waldo preferred lolling on the floor to lazing on the bench. This meant that the second-row bucket seats had to be banished to the garage, and in their stead, The Chariot was fitted with a cut-to-order black and tan carpet.
Waldo was almost pleased. But not quite. He required further refinements. Blankets, pillows, and bottled water first, followed in his sunset years by a no-slip ramp that permitted him to board and disembark without straining his prone-to-dislocation shoulders and his arthritic hips.
Nothing but nothing cheered Waldo more than the words, ‘Get in The Chariot.’ Not even summons to the barbecue for cheeseburgers, or an invitation to a bone china plate of Thanksgiving turkey and a side of giblets.
I couldn’t bear to vacuum or wash The Chariot after Waldo died, much less to turn on the ignition. And if this seems unsanitary to any person addicted to fastidious hygienic pretensions, please understand that vehicles like The Chariot who live to do, rather than merely to be, don’t give a damn about looking pretty.
When, months after Waldo’s departure, a homeless Archie inherited the conveyance, the odours left by his predecessor soothed him.
Waldo had been a gourmand with an experienced stomach. He never passed up a meal. Consequently, the flatus he had taken to expelling and that now lingered in The Chariot surely portended something good for Archie.
However fetid the evidence, knowing that past meals had been enjoyed by other dogs in the new environ, heartened the street scrapper whose worn teeth suggested a chronic hunger so desperate that he had eaten more than his share of gravelly dirt.
That Archie feasted on several of The Chariot’s many parts did not surprise the veterinarian. Nor did the gnawing seem to bother The Chariot itself.
Like all beings who are lucky enough to reach middle age, The Chariot and I both knew the blush of youth would never be ours again. We were liberated by the certainty that what is beneath the hood is more valuable than the face we present to the world.
‘So what?’ The Chariot seemed to say. ‘If Archie noshes on my seatbelts and my armrests as regularly as he wolfs down slices of bacon stolen from your kitchen counter?’
So what indeed.
Archie loved his wise Chariot, although to him the minivan was simply, ‘Cha—.’ Just the one syllable set him beelining for its sliding door. The full moniker was too hoity-toity for my tough, delinquent, unrepentant dog.
He died as The Chariot and I transported him to the emergency room at unsafe speeds, but not by accident. In fragile health since his arrival, he suddenly collapsed within a year of moving in.
His death would have been bearable if before he went, he could have eaten enough bacon, slept in comfort and safety through enough nights, nibbled on enough Chariot.
A year’s respite in a loving home is several eons from enough. Just ask anyone who has ever loved a German Shepherd. They’ll tell you. They know.
I could have bought new parts to replace the ones Archie had munched on, but The Chariot bristled at the mention of plastic surgery. My vehicle’s priorities have always been sound.
So, instead I spent the money on the shell-shocked doggie named G. Shepherd Von Something Stupid who became our Shiloh. I would like to tell you that I did it because The Chariot was in need of a dog. But that would be a lie. The truth is that after an inconsolable bereavement, the greater need was mine.
And while I’m being honest, let me also say that it wasn’t I who picked Shiloh, nor Shiloh who picked me. The fact is that the three-year-old picked The Chariot by jumping in and refusing to get out even before the unemotional breeder had transferred ownership.
Once the money changed hands and Shiloh’s escape from the trafficker was secured, he fell asleep on the third-row bench, snoozed soundly as I manoeuvred hours of treacherous rural roads to get us home, and did not stir until we pulled up to his new residence.
One neutering and a few seductive meals later, the only way you could get him to leave the safety of house and garden was to whisper ‘Chariot’.
He trusted his getaway vehicle as if it were his guardian angel. Just as he should have. Dog beach. Dog supermarket. Dog playgroup. For nine years they were all a mere motorized-hop away. And after Shiloh was adequately enriched by each outing, The Chariot was at the ready to haul him home sweet home again.
Maybe it was the medicine that helped him fight the hemangiosarcoma as the Covid years unwound. Maybe it was the menu. Or maybe he fought because he loved me as much as I loved him, and he knew what his exit would do to me.
But then again, maybe I’m thinking too much of myself. The odds are it was The Chariot he didn’t want to leave. Or the adventures it promised when the stay-at-home restrictions were lifted. I don’t know.
But I do know this: Lately, in the middle of the night, when I find myself missing my dogs fiercely—more, in fact, than I care tell anyone who doesn’t yet love me enough to be entrusted with such an intimate disclosure—I sneak out in my pyjamas to spend time in The Chariot. And I spill my guts. AQ