It seemed that dying was not such a dreadful thing anymore, because David Bowie had died. She was not supposed to outlive Bowie. He was too important to her to go first. She claimed she had been to every live performance over five decades. She even claimed she had had sex with him in her groupie days. She had every one of his albums. Actually, she had two copies of each one, one to play, another shrink-wrapped virgin vinyl, unopened, she was keeping to pass on to her children and grandchildren. She didn't have any progeny, however. Being obsessed with Bowie meant that venturing into other social interactions was simply not on her list. She had recorded every TV performance, now collected on a shelf of VHS tapes she could only play on an obsolete machine she finally had found at Good Will.
Anna could see herself going out, fading away, with Bowie. It lent a romantic respite from the toxic melancholy that had tormented her since she had heard her diagnosis. A diagnosis like his. Coincidence? Their connection was strong. Among her phases of denial, anger, pleading, and acceptance, romance sneaked in right at the end, courtesy of her absentee man who had sold the world. Yes, I can go out with my David, she mused. When she ate, drank, slept, and breathed her disease and mortality every waking and sleeping moment since her bad news, it was easy, even comforting to imagine that the disappearance of Bowie had a fateful relationship with her own pending disappearance. Let the world do without the both of us, she thought. A small black Pug jumped onto her lap.
“I won’t leave you, though” she promised the small dog. “No, we’re a package deal, huh?” She continued her conversation with the Pug who barked his responses. “I should have named you Diamond, right, Elvis?” she said to Elvis, what she had really named him. “Or Major Tom, or even…Ziggy! Yes, Ziggy!” Elvis yipped in agreement to the happy chirpy sounds of her voice. “So, what do you think about all these ch-ch-changes to my health?" she asked, and laughed, and Elvis laughed with her. "Did you even know who David Bowie was? I guess not, sweetie.” She made exaggerated smooching noises all around his head as Elvis licked her face.
“I guess I should feel deserted,” she said to him. “My life is leaving me now but my David has left me first. He was unfaithful.” Elvis jammed his snout firmly into her belly and snorted and sniffed rapidly. He could smell her disease, her scary monster. He had smelled it long before any biopsies, scans, or even suspicions had hinted of it. “But you’re not leaving me. Not you. You would never do that, would you?”
She knew that to Elvis, she was his Bowie, his ultimate destination, his million points of light. She was his hopes and dreams, even when his time was to come, his own eternal rest, because dogs were not supposed to outlive their masters. He had never heard Bowie, even as often as it played throughout the house, because he never listened any further than Anna's voice. He had never even seen the stars because he had never looked any higher than her face. Just as Man had reached for the stars, Elvis had reached for her. His small canine brain saw himself as much a part of her as her own arms and legs and tumor. When she suffered, he suffered. When she would grab her lower abdomen and groan in pain, Elvis would slink toward her, his legs all double-jointed and his tail down. It did not matter to Elvis that Bowie was gone; it only mattered to him that Anna was still here. But as small as his mind was, it sensed her coming departure from his world.
She thought of it often, but she never spoke of it with him. She knew some things dogs understand without knowing any words except for treat, vet, bath or his name. Anna was fond of saying that dogs were a gift from God, and truly their dedication—total, loving, even ridiculous—could only have come from God.
She also had a cat that she seldom saw. It was an outside cat, living a cat people life that was interrupted only for a visit to the milk bowl on her step. She knew that the cat knew there were no more Bowie, but that it simply didn’t care. Cats knew almost everything, but cared about almost none of it. They were survivors and would do just fine dealing with the loss of Bowie or anything else. But she also knew a cat would have no clue of the rot inside her that doomed her and threatened the milk supply.
Elvis knew that no dog should outlive his master. It just wasn't allowed. It was just the way it was. A law. His small canine mind couldn’t use a vocabulary to put it into words, but somewhere among his simple synapses he could sense the train wreck coming and that his stars, his ultimate destination, and his million points of light would soon be gone. He knew, then, that he would be gone soon, too, and first, according to the law.
He cried at night, even if Anna didn’t know why. He cried for both of them, even if Anna didn't know how.
She labeled Elvis her comfort dog, insisting he accompany her to the grocery, to the mall, even to her doctor’s office. Old Dr. Burgess saw her in his office when she had kept her follow-up appointment. She sat in a chair and settled in, as he looked with disapproval of the dog on her lap. He raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t even start. He’s my comfort animal.”
“Comfort, hmmm…You shouldn’t have canceled your chemotherapy appointments or refused your radiation if you wanted comfort. In fact, you have refused to discuss further any remedy at all.”
“Remedy? Is that what those things are? They’re remedies? They will fix me?”
“Anna, you know what I mean. I agree that the survival rate—”
“My rate? I’m going to have a rate of survival?” Elvis picked up on the sarcasm and yipped a high-pitched bark that hurt Dr. Burgess’ ears. The doctor flinched.
“Enough to make you deaf!” he complained.
"Deaf-er, you mean."
“No reconsideration, Anna?” She sighed.
“No, not for me.”
“Why do you keep refusing?” he asked.
“Again, you ask me? Again, Dr. B., I ask you back, did you know that Bowie was gone?”
“Oh, that. Yes, I have. And again I ask, how does that figure into a decision to not do what’s best for you?”
“Dr. B., I've had radiation all my life. Cosmic rays, X-rays, gamma rays—all from the stars. And the day Bowie left us is the day you gave me my diagnosis. Advanced this or advanced that.”
“Advanced mixed muellerian carcinosarcoma.”
“If you say so.”
“Well, then,” he said with a mischievous smile, “maybe all that radiation kept your cancer away. More reason to consider it now since you’re on your own.”
“Funny, Doc, real funny,” she said. “A 10% survival rate with your man-made radiation?”
“Yea, I know.” He understood. She knew he understood. “You have to try,” he urged her, having to try.
“No, I really don’t. Look, all I know is that I came from dust and to dust I will return. With or without radiation.”
“You came from the dust of stars,” Dr. Burgess added. "Just like all the radiation you were talking about. And the the iron that sits in your hemoglobin, even though you're anemic; the oxygen you breathe, even though you're short of breath; the stuff that makes your bacteria—both the good and the bad, although in you the bad seem to be overpowering the good. The hydrogen, the nitrogen, the magnesium, the sodium, the potassium—all of these things came from the stars. You came from them."
“I stand corrected,” she said. "Not dust to dust. Stardust to stardust." She laughed to herself, but then suddenly became sad. "My dust—my dust is supposed to go back into the stars, but I guess that's impossible right now because it has to go into the Earth first, and it won't be back into the stars until the Earth falls into the stars. When will that happen, Dr. B.?"
"Not for another five billion years or so."
"Oh, I'll be long gone by then. But I guess I'll finally be home. But for now, my dust will be parked. It will be worthless. It will be wasted.”
"What about David Bowie's dust? Is that wasted?" he asked.
"Oh, Dr. B., that is good dust."
“Well, don’t throw away your dust just yet, Anna. It’s good dust, too.” He paused. "David would have thought so." He paused again. "Ziggy would have thought so."
“Shame,” she said with a sincere smile that in some way expressed some finality. As she began to rise from the chair, Elvis jumped down. She left with Elvis prancing behind her. To a dog, life was good.
There weren't many days left for her--for them--but during the few they shared, Anna and Elvis were happy. Even when Anna was more sarcoma than she was Anna. No dog should outlive his master, Elvis kept gestalting in his limited dog brain way, without words. So when Anna finally left Elvis' world, he felt very un-dogly about himself. She had deserted him. She had been unfaithful to the law. To him. She had Bowied him in infidelity.
It was against the law.
There was a celebration of life at her house the evening of the funeral. Dr. Burgess was there. The pastor who presided over the burial was there, too. It wasn't important to Elvis that there was no one else present, because dogs do not keep score. They only count to two, and now he had an equation with no sum. He left the kitchen through the doggy door and walked into the backyard. The feral cat hissed at him, but he didn't care. He saw her on the fence, and she was stunned that he didn't care. His eyes didn't stop there. He continued to look up, and he reached a point where he could see twinkling, sparkly dots of light strewn across the sky. He listened to the music coming out of the house. It was Bowie. He knew the words by heart.
Oh no love! You're not alone
You're watching yourself but you're too unfair
You got your head all tangled up
But if I could only make you care
Oh no love! You're not alone