The First and Last










That was his life. How it always was. How it always would be. Never stop. Never rest. Just run. If he didn’t run, bad things happened. If he didn’t run, his job was left undone and his purpose… well, if he didn’t run, he had no purpose. And without purpose, there was no reason for him. It was that simple.

Eyes were always on him. Always watching to make sure he did his job. Finish what he started. How the hell did he get here? What the fuck did he do to deserve this? Nothing. He had done nothing… but do what he was told. Without question. Maybe it was his fault. Maybe he should have said, “Enough. I’m done. This job you have, this money that’s so important… I want nothing to do with it. No one owns me. I own myself.”







Every moment, every day, every year of his life, he did his job without complaint and waiting. Waited for things to end. For rest. For reward. Sometimes it was there, waiting for him at the end of the job. Most of time there was nothing but a meal and a place to sleep. He thought about quitting. Just start running and not stop. He heard about someone who had. Just woke up one day and just decided enough was enough and ran.  He heard she made it to the next town before they found her and dragged her back to the job, but she was never the same.

Neither was he.

It started as a stiffness in his joints, then a cough that wouldn’t stop.  One of the bosses took him to the doctor and he could tell right away by the look on everyone’s faces that the diagnosis wasn’t good.

But still he did his job.







And now he stood or tried to stand, but he was shaky. Even after years of running, the legs that carried him every moment of every day of every year failed him. As everyone, in the end, failed him.

Another trip to the doctor and the verdict was delivered. Tears would’ve been nice, but he knew better. Tears were too valuable for someone like him. Someone who just did his job. Without question. Every moment of every day of every year.

Until he couldn’t.

In those last moments, any thought might have filled his mind. The feeling of the sun on his back. The total exhilaration of flying across the ground, going faster than anyone or anything around him. Falling in love and having a family… like others had families. But in the end, he thought of one thing. Actually, one person. His first. First hands that touched him. First eyes that loved him. First voice that told him what to do and how to do it.  And told him he was worth something.

“I’m sorry,” a voice said.

He was lying on a table now. Only one other person was in the room with him. The lights were very bright and the smells were all wrong. Disinfectant and alcohol and something… something dangerous. He wanted to get up and run one last time, but his body wouldn’t move. Couldn’t move.

A hand on his face. Gentle. Eyes looking into his. Loving. A voice. Strange, but caring.

“It’ll be over soon,” the voice said.

He tried to focus, but his eyes wouldn’t. Couldn’t. And for a moment, he thought of that first day on the job. And his first. Smiling and laughing and telling him how well he was doing. He was so young and so stupid, but she didn’t care. The corners of his mouth turned up to something like a smile.

And then he thought he smelled something familiar. Someone he loved. Someone who once loved him. And his heart almost skipped. He wanted it to skip. Wanted to jump up. But he couldn’t.

It was sheer dumb luck that she was there on this day. On his last day. His first on his last. She was there to pick up some antibiotic ointment and she saw him. Knew him immediately.

“What happens after?” she asked.

“They didn’t want him back,” the doctor said quietly. “We’ll take care of it.”

The woman opened her bag, took out a small wad of bills and pressed it into the doctor’s hands. “I want it done right. I never… ”

Hand. Gentle. Eyes. Love. Voice. Hers.

“You did good,” the voice said. An old voice. The first voice. His first voice.  “Good boy. You are such a good boy. And I love you.”

There was something sharp in his leg. He felt something fall on his nose. On his eyes.

“Best herding dog ever came out of my place. I never should’ve let him go.”

It was the last thing he heard… and it was enough.

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1 Comment

  1. Diane, bravo for “The First and Last”! Beautiful and heartbreaking.


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