Sitting cross-legged on the floor, petting my dog, my mind wanders.  I have paced, walked outside, sat on the porch and daydreamed.  Still my mind won't focus; it is as if it has taken a deep breath and won't let it go.  Puppy looks up at me and stretches languorously, not a care in her doggy world.  She earns a half-smile and jogs my memories of times gone by...

Once, I had another dog, Mushkae was her name.  I found her in a general store in Taos, all cozied up with her littermates on a blanket by a wood-burning stove.  "Half coyote, the mama's collie, and a sweeter dog you never will find."  The store owner assured me with a wink.  I had no money, certainly didn't live a regular life in those days, but the way she eyed me as she licked my hand...ah well, the deed was done.

Mushkae settled in on the trip home curled up on my coat, sleeping and only stirring to give my questing hand a lick or two.  It was the same when we got home.  No whining or anxious puppy piddles, Mushkae surveyed her new home with an air of having always been there.

Soon we were inseparable.  Time for firewood?  Mush bounded through the snow, clearing the way.  She curled up at my feet while i prepared the meals for the commune in which I lived.  Every once in a while she would lift her head or thump her tail if someone called her name.  I can see her now, curled up on her old rug by the long table where I worked; going outside at random times to chase down a squirrel or cricket, or whatever caught her fancy.  She was my pardner, always riding shotgun in my old Ford pickup, and waiting politely on the curb while I shopped in town.  If she did have to stay home, I would see her tearing across the foothills at the sound of my truck pulling in, leaping into my arms and shining like goldfields in the sun.

The summer I was 20, I received a call from home.  My mother needed surgery, and though I wasn't in my family's good graces, I was expected home.  Mush and i hitched a ride with an old friend, who promised to stay and diffuse the family angst (God bless her).  After arriving and making polite small talk for a while, my friend and I walked to the local convenience store, to stretch our legs and, well, it was a good excuse to escape.  Naturally, Mush went too, bounding along, intrigued with all the new smells and sounds.  Preoccupied with our chatter about coming home again, and all that it entails, I didn't notice Mush chasing something down the road behind us.  The screeching of a car and a yelp punctured our girlish laughter abruptly.  Running back, I found her dead in the middle of the road.  The driver got out and bundled her up, taking us on back to my house, I assume.  But, frankly that part is a blur.

What I next remember is my Dad sitting in the den, after we had buried her.  Somehow, I found myself sitting in his lap, him holding me and saying soothing words as I cried into his shoulder.  It helped, as it had always helped, from when I was a little girl and he would make my scraped knees all better.  There, in his big chair, all the bitter words and artificial distance of the past years disappeared.

Looking up, I saw my friend standing in the door.  Suddenly Dad's legs seemed bony and uncomfortable, his soothing tone, silly.  Terribly self-concious, I pictured how I must look, "A grown woman, crying like a baby in
her Daddy's lap."  I got up and left the den with a casual thanks to my Dad, and holed up in my room with my friend.

Mom's surgery went well, life resumed, blah blah blah, and a few days later we left, hugs all around and many promises to keep in touch more often.  Dad died that summer - I never got to see him again.  It was a very hot summer and Mom,"Didn't want to bother you to take that long trip in that sorry excuse for a truck", when he became ill.

Once, I had a dog named Mushkae, she was the color of goldfields.  Once, I had a Dad, he showed me what caring meant.  I miss them both terribly.