“I don’t have the taste buds I used to have,” says Bernie.
“Mine are intact,” says Stanley, circling the small dining table, as is his wont whenever he smells food.
I’m back home with the Man and the Dog. It’s Sunday evening and there’s the smell of coriander in the kitchen.
“For instance,“ continues Bernie, “remember how long it took me to like coffee and Diet Coke again after the stroke? Right now, I actually prefer the Coke without the fizz rather than with it.”
“Uggghh,” say I.
“And you know I can’t eat steak with my teeth the way they are,” he continues.
“My teeth are fine,” says Stanley, circling the table faster now.
“Easy, Stan,” I warn him, only he can’t hear me.
“And you know how I loved the fried chicken from Wolfie’s? Didn’t want anything else from there, only the fried chicken. Well now, I can’t really bite into that fried chicken anymore, can I?”
“My mouth works perfectly, thanks for asking,” says Stan in a pant. “My teeth, my lips, my tongue, my taste buds, the works—all work great, so just give me everything you can’t have.” By now he’s moving so fast he’s creating air currents. It’s getting windy in the kitchen.
“And finally,” continues the Great Man, “Indian food. Remember how much I loved Indian food, like this chicken with rice and dal? Only now it doesn’t do much for me anymore. Here, Stanley,” and he puts his plate down on the floor.
I have long ago stopped telling Bernie not to put his plate of food down by the table for Stanley. By now there’s no use anyway; everything I feared has come to pass. Stanley, who for 12 years never even imagined begging at the table, has become the world’s great culinary schnorrer, rushing around the table, whining urgently for us to hurry up and finish eating so that he could lick off our plates. It’s the worst thing to do if you’re training a dog, but I realized that Bernie loves to feed Stan.
Bernie had never been much of a dog lover, and certainly didn’t encourage anything like feeding a dog at the table. But things have changed since his stroke. Now he likes to pet Stanley’s back as he wolfs down the remnants on the plate, and there’s always something. Bernie insists on never finishing his food regardless of my remonstrances; he wants to feed Stanley.
That’s what he does now, but only after he looked up at me, a little ashen. “I forgot to leave him some chicken.”
Stanley sniffs the plate. “Rice? Dal? You think I’m nuts? Where’s the Tandoori chicken?”
“Stanley, your gluttony is embarrassing, “say I.
“I know you think I’m old, but I ain’t senile. Where’s the Tandoori chicken! Where’s the Tandoori chicken!”
“Control yourself, Stan.”
“Where is the Tandoori chicken!”
I’m back home all right. Just did some laundry, including Bernie’s gray zippered sweater, only to find that he left his used tissues in the pockets, so that when I get the sweater out of the machine the linings of the wool are full of tiny, white tatters of tissue. I get annoyed—how many times have I told him to please empty the pockets before he puts things into the laundry bags! Just as I get pissed at Stanley for scampering round the dinner table and no longer letting us eat in peace.
Aren’t these the very things that we’ll remember about beings we love, human and canine both? It’s always the imperfections we recall, nothing else.