Tuesday, March 4, 2014

"The Gift" - A short story by Carmen Baum

He woke slowly, feeling an unfamiliar smile just around the edges of his lips. Sleep was loosening its grip, but he was still warm with the lingering images of the dream he’d be having of home. Yet this morning, strangely, the dream did not leave him aching, but instead, hopeful. He blinked back the bright sun, feeling that it was already starting to warm the room. The tiny dust particles twisting slowly in it’s beams were a sight he hadn’t seen in quite some time. A little more sleep fell away. Could today be the day?

He was torn between not wanting to leave the comforts of his dream, and the excitement of what the day might hold. He rose as he did every day, but today, something was different. An almost imperceptible shift had occurred, but he could feel it in his heart, and he was more certain than ever, that today was the day.
Not leaving anything to chance, and because he’d become a little lazy lately, he chose to dress for today. What would people think? They hadn’t seen him in anything more than jeans and a t-shirt since the day he arrived here. He felt almost giddy with excitement as he dressed and readied himself for the day. This was a feeling he thought he had long forgotten.

He rushed down the stairs and out the door, not entirely sure where he was going - just, that he was going. The door swung shut roughly behind him like it did when he was a boy, tearing out on a new adventure. He heard the now familiar rattle of the loose numbers and knew the last number, the 0, had come loose and swung down, making it now look like the house number was 119. Someone had put them up in a hurry before he arrived and didn’t have time to secure the last one properly. He made a mental note to fix it.

As he passed the pond on the south side of the property he wasn’t even tempted to stop. He had spent so many mornings just sitting there, staring across the water and feeling alone, yet this morning, he felt full. Overflowing with something almost unfamiliar. Promise? Joy? Hope? As he raised his hand to gesture good morning to his neighbor, he was blissfully unaware of the stares and the others that were crowding to their doors and windows to see him rush down the street, a soft glow beginning behind him.

It felt to him like entering a too dark house on the evening of your own birthday. Would all of your friends jump out to scream surprise with a giant cake, or would you find just one with a smile and a hug. Perhaps it would only be the thumping of a tail and few sloppy kisses. At this point, the pull of “something” had taken over his heart and it was as if his feet were not his own as they carried him around the corner and into the park.

The sun was just peeking over the tops of the big old trees making shadows where later people would gather as they did each afternoon. At the far end of the park, he could see a number of dogs, all gathered around the gate that marked the entry to the pathway beyond. He had only ever been on the path once and that was the day he arrived. As he thought about it now, he couldn’t remember what lay beyond the gate, just that it felt in some way familiar. As he stretched his mind for the details a great excitement rose from the dogs waiting at the gate. Ears and tails went up, noses sniffing the air. They circled around, each pushing to see down the path. From where he was standing he could see nothing but wagging tails. Even though they were way across the park, the barks and yips coming from the pack were unmistakable. A friend was approaching.

Where just minutes ago he couldn’t stop himself from rushing forward, he now felt rooted to the spot. He had no idea what to expect, but he knew that he needed to be waiting here when the gate opened. He didn’t even hear the old hinges of the gate creaking in protest as it opened over the din of the excited dogs. As he watched them all circle around and around, sniffing, yipping and delivering their excited greeting he slowly started to see what all the excitement was about.

From the middle of the pack a black face turned to lock eyes with him. His heart raced. Could it be true? Had she really sent her best friend for him? His vision clouded and swam as he blinked back tears of surprise, excitement and disbelief. Was this really what he was seeing, or was it just a mass of dogs, playing as they did every day? He stretched up, trying to again lock eyes with that familiar soul, lost now in the swirling mass of fur and whiskers. Was his mind just playing tricks on him?

Just as he was starting to doubt it all, he saw that face again - older than he remembered. The grey on his muzzle and the shuffle in his step showed his years. In that moment, he felt like his heart might burst. He needed a friend so badly and she had known. She knew him so well.

The black dog shuffled out of the crowd, eyes on him, brightening with each step. He wore the happy years heavily on his back as he made his way slowly, but with purpose, toward the man who was standing, as he had done so many times, in full dress blues, a shine on his shoes and his hat neatly tucked under his arm. While he could still feel the aches and pains of his age, they started to almost melt away as the sun warmed his fur. He took one look back over his shoulder for his girl, but knew he would have to find her now, in his heart.

The dogs steps quickened, he was almost trotting now, and was surprised as he had forgotten what that felt like. It felt good! Ahead of him, the man wiped a tear and dropped to his knees, arms open. The dog could feel the glow of his girl’s love behind him, guiding him along, pushing him toward the man. As the grass brushed his now almost prancing toes, he remembered all of the days he had spent in the park, even after he was too old to do anything but lie basking in the sun and the love of his girl. What a life they had lived together!

As he reached the man he could see the tears streaming down his face. He had seen a lot of tears lately and knew they were the price you pay for love. As he melted into the man’s embrace, he felt that familiar feeling of home. The big warm hands that stroked his face and ears were gentle and the soft whispers in his ears and tears on his fur were welcome. They stayed like that for a long time - happy to see each other and yet both basking in the love that they had for her. Pain and happiness tugged at their hearts as they though of her, and how much she meant to both of them. Was it selfish of them to be happy in this moment? Was she going to be ok without them? They had so much of her to carry with them. They could only hope she would do the same.

Slowly, the man rose and shook the grass out of his hat but left the paw prints on his pants and shirt. He wore them as proudly as the badge on his chest. The two turned and started walking for home, a warm glow surrounding them. They had each other now, and with the immense love they both held for her shining down like a beacon on her heart, they knew she would be ok.

With a flick of his wrist, Paul grabbed a stick from the ground and let it fly, then surprised himself with a big booming laugh as Keziah, equally surprised, raced after it…a puppy once again.

By Carmen Baum
February 22, 2014
In Loving Memory of two amazing souls...

Keziah (May 1998 - Feb 2014)
Paul Butterfield (Feb 1970 - Sept 2013)

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