Six Monkeys: Infected, protected and expecting

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By Kelly Dolejsi

My puppy’s stalking snowflakes, back and snout forming a long, gray line against a wet, white yard. An hour ago she sat on the arm of the couch, her front paws on the carpet and my husband commented lovingly, “She looks like a vulture.”

Sick people need puppies. I hope to be fully healthy by the time this column goes to print, but this past week I have been stuck at home coughing. I seem to have caught the same cold as everyone else, though it has hit me a little harder, maybe because I’m five-months pregnant.

Anyhow, between fits, I would stare drowsily at my youthful Great Dane, Pique, who is a warm, 90-pound cartoon.

She sleeps on her back, her limbs immodestly akimbo, her jowls sagging over her face.

She pounces on spiders, which is terribly unfair – it’s like South America swooping down on a baked ham.

When I’m on the couch, drinking another God-forsaken cup of tea, she sits on my lap, her butt on my thighs, her hind legs sprawled over my knees, her front paws on the ground and the last remaining quarter of a gutted, blue bunny in her mouth.

I try to think of being sick not as this horror through which I must suffer, but as a time when I’m permitted to be lazy. Healthy, busy people envy me, I tell myself. While they work, I can lie around reading all day, napping, enjoying steamy baths and generally taking time for myself.

True, I have blown through an entire box of tissues today, but I’m lucky, I say in my head, because it hurts way too much to talk aloud. I should enjoy this restful period, I silently order myself, because between painful, unladylike spasms of deep, guttural hacking, I can finally finish that Camus essay I’ve been mucking through for weeks.

But ultimately, I do not study existential expostulations. I watch Pique try to simultaneously carry a teal rubber ball, the pathetic remains of a stuffed weasel, a sock with a tennis ball shoved in the toes and an old, stretched-out yellow bathing suit that she keeps stepping on as she tries to bring me these gifts.

Sometimes Pique sulks, incredibly bored by my limp-armed attempts to throw her mangled orange monkey. She flattens herself out on the couch, pressing her skinny legs along her chest and burrowing her nose in her four pink-and-black paw-pads. When I shuffle by on my way to heat up soup, I ruffle her silky, sleeping ear and she glares at me through adorable eyelashes.

Even this scowl is entertaining, at least for me.

One of the excellent things about puppies is even stupid people like them. And often, I am very, very stupid, especially on these long, dull sick days, when my head is a mashed potato and my muscles feel like crumpled paper.

However, dogs do not always behave themselves.

Even when I’m laid-up, lost in a kudzu of pillows, books and used Kleenex, they show little to no respect for my condition. I can be completely immobilized in viral wretchedness and yet Pique and Zooker, my sweet but less amusing older dog, will begin barking at some random, extremely non-aggressive neighborhood noise.

My dogs believe that as long as they keep barking and therefore cannot hear the woman across the street unloading her groceries from her car, then we are safe from potential celery-hurling. Because they are extraordinarily concerned for my welfare, they prefer to bark long after the threat has gone inside, hidden the celery in a drawer, baked some chocolate-chip cookies, eaten them, watched a taped episode of “American Idol” and filed her taxes.

Typically, my loud, firm command to cease this interminable display of protection will shut them up. But when I have no strength, no willpower and no voice, what I end up with is no rest and a neighbor who can’t enjoy her cookies.

Nevertheless, being stuck in the house day after day could be a lot worse. I have a puppy to make me laugh, although even a slight chuckle leads to a ferocious whooping, choking spell. I have a shiftless older dog, who, while unexciting, will occasionally cuddle.

And, of course, I have a baby in my belly reminding me more and more frequently that she’s awake, alive and not about to let me wallow in congested lethargy forever. I’m really here, she tells me with her tiny fists and feet, so you better get well soon.

Columnist’s note: Thank you to everyone who came up to me after last weekend’s productions of “The Sleeping Beauty” to tell me they enjoyed the show. I loved dancing in my gigantic tutus, and it makes me so happy to know my community shared even a small piece of my euphoria.

E-mail Kelly at kdolejsi@gmail.com.