A history of Day 2

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This is the timeline so far:

Thursday, May 23, Gallatin, Tennessee: Roo was feeling good and went for a walk and a swim. In the afternoon, she rolled around in the grass, and I noticed that her vagina was swollen. Later that night I felt the first swollen lymph gland, the right mandibular at the base of her jaw.

Friday, May 24: Memorial Day weekend, and every campground is packed. We are required to leave the campground and are invited by friend Pamela to camp at her place 60 miles south. A devoted dog parent and rescuer, she has the line on vets and arranges an immediate visit for Roo. Around 2 PM, the vet there says that Roo appears to have lymphoma. Because of the holiday weekend, test results won’t come back until Tuesday. That evening, I mention to Pamela that Roo’s belly seems a little big.

Saturday, May 25: We begin the 1320-mile drive to Maine, but only manage 500 miles. Early in the drive, Roo eats some homemade chicken jerky Pamela gave us, but by afternoon refuses to eat anything more. We spend the night in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Ashland, Ohio.

Sunday, May 26: With 820 miles left to go, we leave Ashland around 7:30 in the morning. Thunderstorms are moving in ahead of a storm system that will later spin tornadoes and drop baseball-sized hail, and my goal is to get ahead of the storms. Roo refuses all food all day. Stopping only for gas and the short walks that are all Roo could manage, especially in the 94-degree heat and high humidity over the entire route, we complete the 820 miles to Maine and arrive at Virginia and Jim’s house at 9:45. Through veterinarian friends, the get the name of the best veterinary oncologist. 

Monday, May 27: Memorial Day. Roo, exhausted and weakened, refusing to eat, is checked into Maine Veterinary Medical Clinic in Scarborough, Maine. Preliminary tests and imaging agree with the preliminary lymphoma diagnosis. Roo is placed in the intensive care unit so that she can receive IV fluids and be prepared for chemotherapy and the other drugs the oncologist might administer when she completes the examination the next morning.

Tuesday, May 28: Dr. Virginia Gill examines Roo, performs more tests and confirms lymphoma. Roo’s CHOP protocol chemotherapy is begun.

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My plan, up to the time this all began to happen so fast, was to continue eastward to Asheville, where I had to see my doctor, and then to look for a place to rent somewhere. I thought West Virginia might be a likely place. It’s not where I wanted to live, but there are cheap rents, places to hike a field dog like Roo, and it wouldn’t cost as much to move my stuff out of storage in Asheville. Nothing like that will ever happen now.

The heat — the damnable heat — had been intense for weeks. Roo has always slowed down to a crawl in the heat, and though I now realize that she was also sick, I made what I suppose, and will never forgive myself for, the mistake of not realizing sooner that she was ill.

And, she also had the lingering trouble with her paw after the surgery to remove the growth between the toes on her left front paw. The incision healed nicely, but Roo picked at a little scab and gave herself a hotspot. A better dog parent might have known better, but I chalked some of her slowing down to that. And by the Thursday on which the timeline above began, she seemed happy and healthy. Even in the heat, she wanted to walk and chase squirrels. She wasn’t allowed to because she had been restricted to a leash for weeks to prevent her from hurting her surgery paw by digging up mouses.

I also missed another hint that she was feeling bad. Roo has a bed on the floor beside mine. The problem with that bed is that it’s under the air conditioner, and she has always, at some point in the night, moved out from under that and to the other side of the bed. On that side, the space is much more narrow. It’s where she has always gone to hide. She started sleeping there some days before she swelled up. She must have been doing that because she was feeling bad. I think the hard floor felt better for her than the cushion of the bed.

The other cue I missed was that a few times each night Roo sat up and placed her head on the bed to get my attention. This is what she does when there’s a thunderstorm and she wants to come up on the bed and needs help. But there were no storms, and I attributed that to her having hear some other noise in a campground, or the heat, which the air conditioner couldn’t handle. Now I know she was trying to tell me she wasn’t feeling good. I missed that. More proof that I don’t deserve a dog.

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When Roo was checked into the hospital, she was of course upset when she was placed in a six-by-six-foot enclosure in the ICU. She found the strength to put up a powerful struggle to keep the door from being closed by jamming her nose in it. I went in the enclosure with her, but had to leave an hour later because visiting hours in the ICU are restricted. I wouldn’t be allowed to come back to see her again until 5 PM, so I used the time to drive the 40 miles back up to Brunswick, where I hitched the camper back up and then drove back to the hospital. I wanted to be close to Roo. I spent the night in the parking lot. Because it’s a 24-hour facility, I was allowed to schedule more visits. 

On the first visit, around 5, I was able to go to Roo’s enclosure and sit with her for an hour. She was sick, stressed and exhausted, and we just sat there together. Hospital staff told me to leave at 6 because of intensive activity in the ICU that would last until 8 PM. 

When I went back at 8, activity in the ICU must have been too crazy, because I was brought to a visiting room to which Roo was brought a minute later.

This was a mistake. Roo was excited to see me, but that burst of activity was hard on her and she had to lie down right away. After 15 minutes, I started to worry that it would have been better for her to settle in for the night with any more excitement. I left so that she could take the trazadone they were going to give her to help her sleep. You don’t want to leave your sick dog, but it seemed like the better way to help.

I couldn’t stand the thought of going back inside the camper, so I sat in the waiting room for an hour. There was a young couple there waiting for their Lab Cheeseburger. Cheeseburger had some blooding his urine. He was eleven-and-a-half years old. 

One of them asked what was wrong with my dog and I told them. The young man said that if Cheeseburger ever got a terminal diagnosis, he knew what he would do. He’d make a bucket list of all of Cheeseburger’s favorite things and people and that’s how he and Cheeseburger would spend those last weeks.

I said that was a great idea, but it was all I could do to keep from breaking down because it occurred to me that the only thing left undone on Roo’s bucket list was to get the hell out of the camper, something there is virtually no chance of happening now.

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Our appointment with Dr. Gill wasn’t supposed to be until June 3rd, but because of Roo’s condition she made time to see her first thing. We got off to a bad start when I asked her to humor what she might regard as a superstition, that I never wanted to discuss any of the grim stuff around Roo. Ever since the oncologist at Fort Collins told me that the only dog they’d ever cured of lymphoma was in her opinion cured because the dog was never exposed to any talk about dying, and I had talked about it in front of Orville for the entire course of his disease, it gnawed at me the way only the greatest of regrets can.

Dr. Gill told me what was next. She was not going to perform the fine needle aspirations of Roo’s liver and spleen because there was no point. Finding cancer there would not change the chemo protocol, so there was no reason to subject Roo to it. They had to do other studies and imaging, and once she absolutely confirmed lymphoma, she would administer the first of Roo’s chemo treatments. There was no time to waste.

And that’s how it went. I drove the camper back up to Brunswick because even after nearly four years, Roo is still frightened any time it is parked and hitched or unhitched. This way it would just be ready for her when she came back. Pickup time was 5:30. On the way, I bought a rotisserie chicken and found a place that had fresh goat milk, which Roo loves. She still hadn’t eaten anything since Saturday.

Dr. Gill met me — in another room, out of Roo’s earshot — and filled me in. Roo has Stage IV lymphoma. She suspects that it is of the B-cell variety, but the lab, in Colorado, won’t get the specimens until tomorrow morning. Roo was given L-asparaginase, prednisone and some other drugs, the first and critical step in trying to induce the remission that is the hope and goal of lymphoma treatment in dogs, a temporary restoration of some, as they say, quality of life, as opposed to quantity of life. The first goal is for the L-asparaginase and prednisone to get Roo feeling well though to perk up and start eating again. If it doesn’t work, the second drug in her chemo protocol will be given to her at her next appointment on Thursday afternoon.

I waited for Roo at the cashier, standing there beaten, seedy, unshaved, in dirty old clothes even though I wore my best shirt, which is 20 years old today and which I keep in the camper because it is the least frayed, called 70 on two separate recent occasions, though i’m ten years shy of that. For the second time since Friday a credit card quit at a veterinarian’s checkout, but somehow the third and last one took the load. I’m too far gone to have been embarrassed. I don’t know if the hospital was holding Roo hostage, I don’t think so, but they didn’t bring her out until the payment went through. As weak and drugged as Roo was, she was still so happy to see me and glad to get in the car. On the drive she slept for the first time in days. She woke up once and put her paw on my arm and looked at me with love and a straightforward expression that she wasn’t feeling good. It is now, as it was then, all I can do not to let her see how sad I am.

“I know you’re a sick little bear, Chig,” I said. “That’s why you had to go to the doctor. But soon you’re going to feel better and the first thing you’re going to do is catch a big, fat mouse.”

I’m not sure she saw it the same way. She went back to sleep.

We’re back in the camper now. I waited until she settled in and, while she slept I cut the chicken up and put some on a little cutting board. I got on the floor with her and tried to get her interested in it, and finally, she ate some.

It’s the fist glimmer of hope, but the truth is that this cancer has moved so fast that it seems like it will be a miracle if Roo lives much longer at all.

Here we go

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It’s 11:30 AM and we’re waiting in the emergency room of a vet clinic in Scarborough, Maine. Roo hasn’t eaten since the day before yesterday. She managed some sleep last night, but only after going outside to vomit, and after that, she went to lie down in front of Virginia and Jim’s house. She didn’t want to go back in the camper. That clarified instantly what I’ve done to her by making her live in that goddamned camper. She doesn’t want to live in it. Now she may end up dying in it. 

Roo didn’t want to get out of the car when we arrived at the hospital. I had to lift her out. It’s so high up and it’s become too hard for Roo. Her belly has become distended. Every once in a while something seems to hurt her and send her to a standing position. Other than that she doesn’t want to move much.

Someone in this waiting room has three out of control toddlers screaming and smashing things against each other, and the owners of those kids have no interest in shutting them up. Roo’s not the only nervous dog here and the racket isn’t helping any of them. There’s a sick cat meowing in her crate, and Roo is feeling too bad to care, the first cat ever Roo wasn’t interested in.

It is Memorial Day, and this is an emergency clinic, and Roo’s problem will be involved, so other dogs are taken care of first. When our turn comes, it is clear quickly that there’s no question that Roo has lymphoma. A quick ultrasound shows that her liver and spleen are enlarged. 

She has to stay overnight at the hospital for IV fluids and so that the oncologist can see her first thing in the morning. She struggled when we placed her in her enclosure, using what strength she had left to try to force the door open so could stay with me. Another little drop of heartbreak. 

I drove back to Brunswick to get the camper and bring it back to the hospital. I’ll spend the night in the parking lot. 

I went to visit her for half an hour, and she was so happy to see me. She’s too uncomfortable to bounce around too much, but it helped her to know that she’s in a place her old daddy comes back to. She lay down and pressed her face against my leg. The staff needed me to leave until 8, so I’m going back in now.  

Barreling through

Trying, anyway. Everything is conspiring against Roo. She’s feeling worse and seems more swollen. We left Nashville this morning and are now at a rest stop between Cincinnati and Columbus. If she’s going to feel worse yet tomorrow, better to get as much of the drive done as we can. The hundreds of miles upon miles of damaged roads are worse than the blistering sun. It makes it impossible for Roo to rest. Friends Jim and Virginia found the right oncologist for Roo it see in Maine. I have a call in, hopefully she’ll see Roo as soon as their office is open. I’ll keep you posted. 

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Sad news.

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Yesterday, when Roo rolled around in some nice green grass, I noticed a terrible swelling of her vagina. She’s swollen up there before, but never as badly. It happens when she itches herself by dragging her butt on something she might be allergic to. Usually, a dab of a special antibiotic ointment that Dr. Stokes gave me takes care of it.

Last night, when I was saying goodnight to Roo and telling her the same silly things I always do, I felt a swollen lymph gland in her throat. It was around 1 AM, and though I’m never ready to go to bed that early, I was going to try to because she hand’t been feeling good. I was chalking it up to the heat and the long drives. 

Orville died from lymphoma, so feeling a swollen lymph glad gave me a shock. I spent the next half hour online, where all sorts of veterinary sites reminded me that swollen lymph glands could just be infection-related, and what with her being swollen down under, I hoped that was what it was.

We had to leave the campground where we were, north of Nashville, because it’s Memorial Day weekend and every last spot was taken. The coppers over there had been unnecessarily pushy about it, so I was glad to leave anyway, though I tried to extend through the weekend in the hopes it would give Roo a little time to get back on her feet.

To our rescue through Facebook came Pamela, who responded to a desperate feeler I posted on Facebook for a place to camp in the Nashville area. It was a short drive to her place. Pamela is new to the area herself, but as a Golden parent — she has two sweet, beautiful Goldens named Taylor and Chulo, and has had several others over the years — she already has the line on veterinarians. She found out where Roo could go to be seen as soon as we arrived and parked the trailer.

Twenty years ago, my Labrador Orville and I were in Germany. Any time I walked Orville, he would come and sit under my legs whenever I stopped walking and I would scratch his chest. That happened many times every day. At five o’clock that afternoon there was something that had appeared suddenly on his chest. It was hard and the size of a golf ball. I didn’t know what it was, but I had a feeling it was bad. I found a country vet nearby. The waiting room was filled with patients. Dogs, cats, birds. 

When our turn came, the vet, who was a stark, grey woman of about 65 wearing steel-rimmed spectacles, worked with cold German efficiency. No pleasantries, no greeting, just, “Wass ist löss mit ihm?”  What’s wrong with him?

I showed her the gold ball on Orville’s chest and she felt it and said, “Lymphoma. He’ll be dead in six months,” and called for the next patient. I walked out in a daze.

We returned to the States right away and Orville got the best care possible. At one point, at the University of Colorado’s oncology department, a vet told me that only one dog had been cured of lymphoma, and she chalked that up to the fact that never once was the disease discussed in front of the dog. I had already blown that. Orville’s dying was killing me, and I had discussed it with his vets in front of him. I’m not saying that killed him.

The German vet was right. Despite the chemo and all the other treatment, Orville died six months, more or less to the day, after the German veterinarian said he would.

The vet was near Nashville, a half-hour drive from Pamela’s house, and Pamela kindly accompanied us. The vet felt Roo’s glands and said that it was more than the mandibular glands in her throat that were swollen. All her lymph glands were swollen. I hadn’t known where they were, but she showed me, and I could feel them. 

The next step was to aspirate the glands so the fluid could be examined. Roo was such a good, brave girl as two syringes were placed in her throat, one at each of the glands, and tiny amounts withdrawn.

When the vet came back, she said that a colleague more versed in these diseases said that additional fluid should be drawn from the glands in her back legs. By this time, Roo was tired and preferred to stay on the cool floor, but again she cooperated and stood stock still for the needles. I tell her several times each day that she’s the best bear in the world, and she showed it again.

Without a lab report, the vets weren’t in a position to make a specific diagnosis. But they said it’s all but certain that Roo has lymphoma. It’s the Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend, so they said though there was chance of getting a result tomorrow, the chances were that it would come on Tuesday. They didn’t have a microscope with a built-in camera, but one of them took some surprisingly good cell phone photos of Roo’s smears and sent them to a pathologist colleague. Once again, they didn’t pronounce outright that Roo has lymphoma, they just all but said she did:

These images are highly suspect for lymphoma due to there being a majority of intermediate and large lymphocytes, presence of nucleoli, and mitotic figures present in some of the images. We will let you know as soon as we have the report back from Antech lab where they can evaluate the entirety of the slides. Thank you for entrusting us with sweet Roo's care - we all loved meeting her today.

Roo is not in pain, but she’s uncomfortable. The driving is hard on her and the heat has always been hard for her to take. I don’t know where to take her, where to go. She needs to be in cooler weather, but cooler weather is far away. But it won’t get any easier on her as time goes by,

Towards the end of Orville’s life, when we came back from Germany for his treatment, we had no house, only an airplane hangar in Longmont, Colorado. Orville didn’t mind, really. It was a pretty good place with lots of space. The only thing it didn’t have were windows.

But when Orville started to slow down, especially on the few days when his chemo laid him low, I began to feel that the windowless hangar was no place for a dying dog. It seemed that depriving him of the simple ability to at least look outside was wrong. A friend found us a little farm house nearby. 

When Orville and I went to see it, I said to him, “Hey, Orv, do you want to live here? Should we live in this house?” and he answered the way he always did to let me know he understood or agreed with something. He hopped up to give me click on the nose. Not long after, he lay on the crabgrass in the little yard, more and more by himself in the last two days until he died. It was awful watching him out there. I had the feeling that he knew he was dying as he lay there looking at the mountains far away.

Now it is Roo’s turn for me to get her out of another aluminum box. I don’t know where, though. It’s been a problem. It’s a bigger one now.

Until Roo has a firm diagnosis there is nothing to do. The vet said that getting the swelling down with prednisone would make her feel better right away but would “close doors” on chemo treatment. So, in the meantime, she has to suffer through it. 

She’s lying on the floor, panting, as she has these past few days. She gets up for a brief walk and seems okay. But she’s not. Barring any miracle from the lab, my poor, sweet Bearface is dying. She’ only seven-and-a-half. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her.

It’s hard to see the letters now as I type those last words. At least I’m only typing them, because I’ll be damned if her cancer is ever discussed around Roo. I stopped the vet from discussing it more in front of Roo today. I suppose it’s insane to hope that will really do any good. I can’t imagine that hearing people discuss your upcoming death can do much good, either.

On the banks of the Mississippi

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If you’ve got any spare cash lying around to invest in a sure thing, don’t listen to all the liars on the radio trying to sell you pieces of scrub land in Colorado or smoothie franchises. All you have to do if you want to clean up is go long on air conditioning manufacturers. They’re going to make a mint. 

Roo thinks she died and went to hell. For the first time in at least a year she bailed out on her shotgun seat and went in back. Here we are in mid-May, and already the bottom half of the country is in the 90s. It’s murder out here. Everything from Atlanta to north Florida is going up to 100 this week, but that’s only a few degrees hotter than it’ll be for 500 miles north of that. Everyone all the way up to Cincinnati is going to get broiled. And just wait until July and August for the real heat to sink in. The country is going to turn into a raging tenement fire.

Not too surprisingly, the refrigerator in the camper had it up to here with the heat and called it quits today. All the special bones I stocked up for Roo in Oklahoma are shot. Nothing goes bad as fast as bones. I don’t know how I’ll explain it to her. Tomorrow morning I’ll be performing surgery on the fridge, here on the banks of the Mississippi near the Tennessee-Missouri-Kentucky border. We landed in an especially humid place favored by a breed of famously vengeful mosquitoes. It’s a miracle that they managed to get rid of malaria in this country, but they did, so at least that’s one less thing to worry about.

We made it to Mountain View (if you didn’t read about the difficulties getting there, here’s the story). I’ve never seen any place like it. Everyone in that town plays some kind of instrument. Roo and I walked down to the the city park, and there were two jams going on. One of them featured the guy who owned the RV camp where we stayed. He played the mandolin, and man, could he play. Even Roo, who has earned her profound hatred of the mandolin the hard way, was soothed by his playing. I laid off playing the thing after that, mostly out of shame after being reminded of what it’s supposed to sound like, but also to let Roo live with her good impression of the mandolin for a while. Not that it could fool her. If I ever take the thing out again she’ll be right back to wanting to chew it to pieces like a rat skeleton.

All the businesses in Mountain View have banjos or fiddles on their signboards. There are even a couple of guitars up on pegs in the grocery store in case anyone needs to break out in song as they move from the produce section to the meat racks. The campground office looked like it was one of the barber shops when I was growing up in New York, with dozens of framed pictures of celebrities on the wall. Instead of Soupy Sales and Burt Reynolds these were all country and bluegrass players. All the pictures were inscribed to the mandolin-playing owner. They all probably all tried talking him into joining their bands, but I guess he prefers to stay in Mountain View.

But there is a downside to Mountain View: ticks. Trillions of them. Last night, after the thunderstorms hit and Roo squeezed in next to me on the dinette seat in the camper, I felt one on my arm. It was a minuscule nymph. Once you find one tick you start to imagine that they’re crawling all over your body, so, even though I had checked earlier, I checked again. I had nine more.

Some of the ticks were too small to identify, but there seemed to be a variety. The good thing about getting so many different ticks all at once is the chance you get to study their different temperaments. When it comes to outright surliness, the Lone Star tick is in a class of its own. They attach themselves to you like a suture, and when you try to rip them out they hold on until your skin is stretched out in a little tent as if you’re being poked from the other side with an ice pick. When you finally get them, they’re so ticked off that they start fighting you and you have to be careful not to let them get the upper hand because they’ll wrestle you straight to the ground and start punching you in the face. Those Lone Start Ticks are a real son of a bitch, but, with the heat getting turned up the way it is, it’s their world now. We better get used to them.

Every person to whom I mentioned anything about ticks in Mountain View agreed that there seem to be more of them now than there have ever been. The woman in the office at the campground had just mentioned the need to watch out for them while I was checking in, and just then one started crawling up my arm.

“Speak of the Devil,” I said.

“Oh!” she said. I flicked him away and another one started crawling up the same arm. They were advancing like a Fifth Column.

We weren’t going to stick around anyway. My doctor in North Carolina has decided to stop writing prescriptions for me without my coming in to see him, so we probably have to go there. But with this heat, I don’t know. That, and if I pick up my mailbox full of threats from the government and various banks it’ll break the spell of ignorance.

So, our next destination is unknown, beyond the certainty that it won’t be Switzerland.

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The Master of Dead Reckoning Runs Out of Road

These days you could use a cell phone to navigate in a light aircraft. But before GPS, beginning flight students had to learn to rely on paper maps. We learned how to identify features on the map and to correlate them with what we saw on the ground. For example, you’d see a road on the map beside a town with a radio antenna. Then, you’d look around to see if anything on the ground matched up. You’d mark your course with a pencil on the map and study the landmarks you expected to find along the way. A water tower here, a small town there, an intersection of two freeways. You might follow a road, if there was one, or a river. You could see how your pencil line angled towards a lake or a hilltop and see if it lined up from the cockpit. Navigating by means of nothing more than a compass and a map is called dead reckoning. I became, if I say so myself, a master of dead reckoning. Eventually, I would stretch it to the point where I could cross mountain ranges in dim moonlight and nail a course with the precision of a World War II bomber pilot. It’s always been a point of pride.

I loved that part of flying, especially since I had always been an amateur of maps. I have a collection of them covering the entire surface of the world, huge things, four by five feet each, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other maps I’ve picked up around the world. Nothing has ever fascinated me more than maps. So much so, that the first time I traveled around the world, I chose my route by looking at a Times Atlas of the World and choosing the places that were the most alluring on the poetry of their names as they appeared in the pastel gamut of those lovely maps. Do not try that. Things like that are reserved to the Masters of Dead Reckoning.

Early in the training of any pilot, right after establishing a rough ability to take off and land and keep the airplane from plummeting unnecessarily to the ground, the student begins to learn how to fly cross country. The flight instructor shepherds the student through the phases of flight planning on the ground — charting the course on the map, anticipating the effects of predicted wind on speed and heading, airport information, fuel calculations, weight and balance — and then sits in the co-pilot’s seat for a flight to and back from some nearby airport. 

In the 1970s, when I learned to fly, there were something like 14,000 airports in America. Many of those are gone now, but when there were that many, they gave flight instructors the opportunity to pull the same time-honored trick on every student. They would command you to fly to an airport that had another one that looked just like it nearby and see if you tried to land at that one by mistake. There were a few like that in Connecticut that my instructor tried to fool me with, but it never worked. I, like most students, figured the trap out and avoided it. I was not yet a Master of Dead Reckoning, but I was on my way, and no such silly error was going to mar my progress.

Then came yesterday.

Roo and The Master of Dead Reckoning left the Eureka Springs area and headed east at an altitude of zero feet above ground level. Temps were in the mid 90s, and, without a cloud in the sky, it was a real broiler for Roo. She won’t lie down in the shade of the back seat on cross country rides. It’s part of a strict dog ethic as she sees it. She won’t do it, no matter how badly she gets roasted in the right seat.

On top of not having cooled off in days, her paw was also bothering her. Even in the air-conditioning she had been panting non-stop, all through the night. On her walks she had been slowing down to the speed of a wheelchair with a flat. Still, she insisted on the front seat where she could make sure I heard her grunting and groaning as she became more uncomfortable and annoyed.

Between Roo feeling bad and the fact that we’re just drifting now from town to town to see if we can find a place to land, I selected a destination only 100 miles east, a place called Mountain Home, a town that takes great pride in being the center for folk music. I don’t know if it is or not, but as a failed mandolinist, that drew me and I thought we might as well have a look.

When we got there, there was no sign of anything but a few miles of the same Family Dollars and Pizza Huts as anywhere else. It didn’t seem like much of a town at all. But there we were.

We went to a small campground in a state park east of town. The vibe was bad. A couple of drunk crackers, extra hot in the high temps, were yelling at each other about who forgot the motor for their bass boat. Each blamed the other and they were at an impasse that looked like it could take a bad turn, even this early in the day’s Bud Light cycle. They had a little chihuahua who was participating in the fight and who was occasionally told to shut up but wouldn’t. There was another camp nearby and we drove over to try that one. It was much nicer, even though the woman attending the pay station was prone to distraction and took 25 minutes to check us in because a park ranger threw in a remark once in a while, like, “Looks like we’re starting to get a line going here,” as the traffic at the gate backed up, and that would derail her and the only way she could get back on track was to start from scratch. Sometimes something else would go wrong even without being asked anything, like forgetting to enter whether my card was credit or debit. It didn’t matter. Somehow she had to start all over again every time. My name, my phone number, my address.

When we drove into the campground it looked familiar. Then I remembered: Roo and I had been there once, in cooler weather, back when this journey began. When you start running into towns as tiny as Gamaliel, Arkansas twice, you’ve run out of road. As unthinkable as it might be, the Master of Dead Reckoning had run out of road. Clear run out, as they might say here in the Ozarks.

Roo’s paw was starting to finally look a little better. There was a good scab on it and I was estimating that within a week she would be as good as new. Seeing the lake here, she was miserable. Being kept out of a lake in which you know from experience is perfectly okay to swim in is an insult to a dog like Roo. And in this heat.

On her walk this morning, though, she put her paw down. She had to get in that lake. She lay down on the road staring at it, panting with a tongue long and inflated by the heat. She wouldn’t move. She broke me with that and I let her in.

Roo hasn’t been in the water for weeks. She dunked her head underwater and swung it from side to side, washing her face and getting the water in her ears and eyes and coming back up for air snorting and looking happy for the first time in a long time. She dunked another forty or fifty times for the sheer pleasure of it. She must have really felt she needed a good wash. She might have been right, too: her paw looks better now than it did before. Maybe reducing her body temperature was the key but the Master of Dead Reckoning was too stupid to know it.

I took advantage of Roo’s good mood to dremel her claws, clean her ears and trim the fur from her paws. Back in the camper I got online to try to figure out just what in the hell it was that Mountain Home was talking about with all that capital-of-folk-music stuff. I figured I’d at least have been able to buy a pack of mandolin strings here. I would justify the expense on the off chance that fresh strings might produce a tone less annoying to Roo. I owed it to her to try. I looked up music stores in Mountain, leaving the rest of the field blank, because why bother when there’s autofill on the online app, another town named Mountain View popped up. Fifty miles south of here. Mountain View is the music town. Not Mountain Home. The Master of Dead Reckoning had flown to the wrong airport. He did not have to admit this to the dog, however. As far as she was concerned, my navigation had been perfect. As far as she was concerned, it was about time. She had been worrying that the Master of Dead Reckoning had forgotten something as simple as getting her to the water.

Her swimming ban is lifted. And tomorrow, the Master of Dead Reckoning will load her up and take her to Mountain View, America’s Capital of Folk Music.