By Jenny Kalahar
Morton and Tess, retired teachers, would often walk their small, curly caramel-haired dog, Waggles, at the same time in the morning as I walk my Terrier, Weegee. Weegee and Waggles would tug and tug to get close to each other, and then a lot of sniffing, tail wagging and silent communication went on while the Smiths and I would catch up on each others’ news.
Over the summer, Waggles had started to slow down, and he was nearly blind the last time we all met under a maple tree a couple of months ago. I heard the sadness in Tess’ voice when she told me of her dog’s heath troubles, and Morton’s silence said more about how he was feeling than I can describe. When we left them, I lifted Weegee into a tight hug and buried my face against her soft neck fur for a few minutes until I could bear to walk toward home again.
One late morning, I heard from the mail lady that Waggles had crossed the rainbow bridge. We both stood at my mailbox frowning into each others’ eyes for a moment before Weegee barked insistently at the front door to follow me out to wherever I was planning to go. I stepped inside, placed my mail on a table, put on Weeg’s red leash, and then the two of us walked a block to see the Smiths.
Tess answered the door. Morton was reclining on his brown, overstuffed lounge chair watching a TV show about classic car repairs. Weegee and I followed Tess into the bright, sunny, 1970’s style kitchen and I sat while she poured cups of water for our tea. Weegee was given a handful of small dog biscuits to munch, and a light pat on the head in greeting.
“Morty just watches car and sports shows all day and night now. Falls asleep in that chair, too,” Tess said, sitting across from me at their olive green table. “I can’t blame him. I feel like I can barely function now that Wags is gone. I am … we are heartbroken.”
Her gray-blonde hair was messy and she was still in a bathrobe. Dirty dishes sat piled up in the sink and around it on the countertops. The house was colder than usual, too. This was so different from the clean, warm, and happy Smith home I had been in several times before.
“Are your kids coming home for Thanksgiving this year?” I asked, trying to find something cheerful to talk about. I took a sip of pomegranate tea and then smiled.
She shook her head. “No. We told them not to visit.”
The volume of the TV set increased then, as if Morton didn’t want to hear any part of our conversation. I bit the corner of my lip, wondering what to say next. Weegee had finished her snack, so she put her front paws on my leg, asking for “up.”
I lifted my dog, holding her so she could face Tess. Weeg gave a very soft, tentative “woof,” probably asking where Waggles was hiding.
“Wags is gone, baby dog,” Tess answered in much the same tone of voice she had used when speaking to her own dog. “You want to go see his garden spot now, baby dog? Hmm? Want to see it, baby?”
Weegee leaped off of my lap and headed for the sliding glass door behind Mrs. Smith. We ladies stood and then were led out to the large back yard by my dog. Weegee sniffed a thousand blades of dying autumn grass, wilted leaves, rocks, fence boards that had fur tufts clinging to them, and the few balls and toys that were nestled into random nooks across the yard. Finally, though, she stopped sniffing and sat with a deep sigh next to a disturbed area of sod beside a dormant lilac bush.
“We ordered a stone lamb from a catalog. We’ll put it at Waggles’ head,” Tess said. “It’ll have a little name plaque on it. His first stuffed toy was a … was a black and white lamb.” She frowned and nearly cried.
I did sob. I reached out to hug Mrs. Smith, but she merely accepted my embrace without returning it.
“I miss him. We’re not the same people at all without that little dog.”
Weegee walked over to sit near us. I let Tess go, and that’s when Weeg leaned against one of the lady’s legs in commiseration.
“You really should get another dog from the shelter,” I said. Tess looked down at Weegee, who had raised her dark eyes to ask questions of the both of us.
“No. I couldn’t,” Mrs. Smith said firmly. “I don’t need that pain, or misery, or trouble. We don’t need to go through training a dog again not to chew our shoes, not to leap up at people excitedly, and to scratch twice at the door if he needs to go potty. We don’t need to buy dog food and toys and treats and sweaters and all of those things again at our age. We don’t need another dog to sleep with or to walk. We don’t need another dog!”
I bent to pick up Weegee, and when I held her out for Tess to hold, I saw tears in the woman’s blue eyes.
“Oh, I understand how you’re feeling,” I said as Mrs. Smith finally took Weeg tightly into her arms. “And that might indeed be true, Tess. But I’m sure there’s another special, lonely dog eagerly waiting for you and Morton at the shelter. One who very much does need you.”
Jenny Kalahar, her husband Patrick, and their pets live in Indiana where she sells used and rare books and writes novels and poetry. She is the author of a fantasy novel about teens stuck with the worst-ever magical power, This Peculiar Magic. Her two novels about fostering cats are Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, and The Find of a Lifetime. Her collection of nostalgic and humorous poetry is One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. For more, visit her blog.
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