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One More Betrayal

Francisco Martínezcuello

You pressed your head hard against my chest the way you always did when night terrors woke me.

The veterinarian’s unmarked scrubs are neat with purple pants that match her mask. We’re the first appointment of the day, but because of COVID every waiting room is a little lonelier, every examination room is a lot more sterile. It’s a warm late-October morning in 2020, when carved pumpkins start to appear on porches amidst decreasing daylight hours.

The vet summons us to the examination room. Because of your size and temperament, I slipped in sedatives before dawn when we routinely go for walks. The first betrayal. I close the door behind us, and we stare at old bleach-stained towels deliberately spread across the linoleum floor. I hear your breathing through your mouth above the buzzing sound of the fluorescent lights. My heart quickens.

A folder bearing your name lies on the center of the table. A blue pen keeps the edges of manila from touching and I instinctively scan for signature blocks. I robotically sign my name. It’s impersonal, like when I was deployed to combat zones before I met you. When all I saw were terrorists and targets but no humans. It took years of therapy to feel. You were with me along this journey, stretching me like a rubber band. I am not shocked how quickly I contract and regress. I do not look back at you.

The veterinarian enters; we know it is time. She hands me a blue nylon muzzle. I stand behind you and lean forward. You pressed your head hard against my chest the way you always did when night terrors woke me. The warm air blowing from your snout used to help soothe me, but now I don’t feel a thing as I maneuver your muzzle. I disregard your whines. Another betrayal. I secure the buckle behind your ears which makes a popping sound. Two vet techs enter. They shave your right leg, insert a catheter, and leave us, as if it was rehearsed.

The vet drones on about procedures and points to two syringes occupying the table. The first one is a sedative; it will make you drowsy. It is clear, and you will fall asleep quickly. The second one is milky and viscous; it will stop your heart.

She administers the sedative. Your blood pours from the catheter. It pools, staining her scrubs. You yelp at their incompetence and the two techs return to reset the catheter. You do your best to fight them off and I reach for my hip automatically only to panic when I realize I do not have a holster and I am no longer in combat, but that my partner is still fighting for his life. I am ashamed to admit how much I wanted to have my pistol with me, to feel the cold steel against my flesh, to align the sights and pull the trigger to end it all. One last betrayal.

Your legs buckle when they regain control and administer both syringes. I recite a poem about grief as your body gets colder. I feel numb, yet admire how peaceful you look. The vet takes her stethoscope and places it on your chest. I notice how tired she looks in her sweaty scrubs with all the splattered blood, drool, and hair. She pronounces you dead and walks away.

The vet techs plaster your paw print. Weeks later I will pick it up along with your ashes. I will buy a pistol a few months after that. I will lie to my family when I say it is to protect me, the way you used to. I will look at it, feel the weight of it, and secure it in a vault.

And I will place your paw print next to it.

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Francisco Martínezcuello is a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism – Class of ’22. He was born in Santo Domingo, República Dominicana and raised on Long Island, New York. His passion for storytelling began as a teenager and continued throughout his 20 years of Marine Corps service. He serves as an editor and contributing writer to Panorama: The Journal of Intelligent Travel. He is an Into the Fire Writing Retreat Scholarship Recipient, a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts Fellow, and a contributing co-editor of the veteran anthology, Incoming: Sex, Drugs, and Copenhagen. Francisco has been published in Hippocampus Magazine, Iron & Air Magazine, Hobart Pulp, Construction Literary Magazine, The War Horse, Split Lip Magazine, River Teeth: Beautiful Things, Collateral Journal and the Dominican Writer’s Association. Publications and social media are posted on his website –

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