She was my neighbor, and lived alone,
rattling around like a ghost
in that big old house her husband left her.
One Christmas, when she was sixty-nine,
I gave her a puppy, a homeless mutt I found.
She named him Benny, after Benny Goodman.
"I did some high-stepping in my day," she chuckled,
cuddling that ball of fluff in her lap.

Eight years, from my kitchen window,
I watched her throwing wooden missiles,
clapping hands and shouting, "Fetch, Benny, fetch!"

Then one day, her shriveled limbs tired, inflamed,
she put the sticks away.
I'd bring her lunch sometimes,
something warm for her to eat.
She'd fix a plate for him, then one for her.

"We're watching TV today," she'd smile and say,
limping to her chair.
With gnarled hand she'd pat her lap
and that mutt, sleek and combed, would jump.

The years went by.
Benny, half-blind, lay beside her chair.
"His rheumatism's bad," she'd say,
the furrows deepening on her brow.
"I must think on what to do."
Have him put to sleep, I'd tell her,
he'd be better off.
"Not yet," she'd say, "next week is time enough."

I found her yesterday, rigid in her chair,
linimented arms, no longer pained,
wrapped around that old dog
who'd somehow summoned up the strength
to make one final leap.

I like to think that somewhere they're together,
whole, rose-perfumed, high-stepping,
chasing golden missiles
as Benny Goodman plays.

Copyright 1994 Ruth Gillis

"Perfect Timing" received a First Place Award
in the Spring 1994 issue of Feelings;
and a First Place Award in the
September 1994 issue of Poet's Review;
and a First Place Award in the Spring 1996 issue of Apropos.

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