Lucas was such a good kid. Tanvi made the right decision in choosing him. He walked the dogs every day, and, unseen, I rode the breeze behind him.
Bartholomew seemed lonely, clinging to Lucas and looking up at him with sad eyes.
Get a puppy, I whispered to Lucas. I hid in the bright sunlight, but he must have heard my voice, for a few days later, he browsed the Dog Haven website and filled out the adoption application.
The next day, Mochi was dropped off.
She was no bigger than Lucas’s hand.
I don’t think he had any idea how intimidating he looked from puppy perspective, with his lion mane, wild eyes, and crack of a grin.
But Mochi must have like the way he smelled, for she let him pick her up for hugs.
I expected the day would be spent settling in the pup, helping her get to know the house and garden, the other dogs, and Majora.
But her first day brought heartbreak.
Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe watched with moist eyes and drooping heads. This was their third tour through this tired routine.
I thought we might catch a break when the Reaper’s scythe stuck in the pergola. Give it up, Shepherd! I called.
But he swung it free.
Stay or go? I asked Majora quickly.
Stay! Stay! And, reluctantly, the Reaper handed her light to me.
“One of these days, one of them is coming with me,” he said from his black maw.
“That’s not the deal,” I replied. “The choice is theirs, and if they choose to stay, I’m here to receive them.”
Before the sun set, my stone stood flanked with those of my two companions.
I wished that evening, as I have wished every time, that I could offer comfort to the family left behind. It feels so final, so wrenching. If they only knew we were here, we were with them, always, until they come to join us.
The grief proved to much for Nibbler. At nightfall, she lay down and let her light escape.
Mochi looked away in terror.
But Bartholomew and Babe kept their eyes on their dam’s rising light.
I looked around for Bosko. He’d wandered off. Just as well–let him roam. He’d seen enough passings for a lifetime.
Poor Tanvi recoiled when the Shepherd returned. She seemed to be more afraid each time she saw him.
I suppose that Death isn’t a sight that the eyes of the living become accustomed to, even when they see this dark form twice in a day.
I have nothing to fear from him, nor would Nibbler when this was done.
Her light was so bright.
Come on, girl! Good dog!
Begrudgingly, he handed her to me.
I watched behind the growing line of tombstones. Soon the procession would come.
But Babe, usually the first to come and the last to leave in the line of mourners, stopped at the garden arch.
I heard her whimper once before I saw her purple light.
The Shepherd, who hadn’t left from the work of Nibbler, drooped tiredly around the house to the back garden.
“Just leave her,” I said. “You’ve done enough for one day.”
“She wants to be with you,” he said, “and her sire and dam.”
But I worried it would be too much for those left behind.
Poor Mochi! To have come to the House of Death!
A bright spot trotted towards us, Bobie! Of all the nights to make his first appearance. I wanted to prepare him, but he came upon us before I had a chance to say a word.
We watched her light rise.
We saw the shadow fall.
In a blinding blaze, we turned away.
Babe’s spirit lit the universe.
And then, he pulled her into the tight ball. She chose to stay, and he handed her to me.
“She’s with us now,” I said to Bobie.
But he felt the emptiness of her form.
My grave stands in a long line. They say death is lonely. But the After isn’t lonely.
Loneliness is for those who’ve stayed behind.
The old dogs, who’ve seen this happen before, and the young pups, who witness the sweep of the scythe too soon, these are the ones who crumble beneath the weight.
Bobie sat in his old favorite place.
“So much to think about, eh, pup?” I asked him. He whimpered in reply.
I didn’t show myself that night. I knew my color would be blue, and the feelings that I carried would make the burden heavier. I remained formless, and I watched and whispered.
Tanvi found Bobie and picked him up. He shone with the green of happiness to be near her again.
Go to Mochi, I whispered. She needs you. And you need her.
Mochi sat at the end of the long line, lifting her head in a long, slow howl. It was enough to break my heart ten times over.
And in just the same way, the sight of Tanvi holding her was enough to heal all the wounds of the long, weary day.