By my next visit home, I found Otter sitting on our quilt as if she’d always lived here. I hadn’t thought I’d been gone long at all, half an hour, maybe, just long enough for a romp through the white fields with Bobie, Nibbler, Babe, and Majora, who finds spark-butterflies irresistible.
But time is elusive in the After.
I found a very large brown dog with a blue ball in her mouth waiting for Lucas to come out of his tent.
Had they gotten another dog while I was gone?
She was beautiful. I could see why they might choose her.
Then, while I watched Lucas bathe her, I recognized those eyes. It was Mochi! I must have been gone a year or more.
But that means a year with no visits from the Reaper, for he and I had an agreement that I would always be there, to help them find our white forests and fields.
It meant Tanvi was still alive, and Bosko and Bartholomew, too!
During that year, Mochi had fallen in love with Lucas. And it was clear that he adored her, too.
While he slept, Mochi and Otter stood sentry outside his tent.
I watched Tanvi and Bartholomew head off for a walk down the hill, and I stayed there, to wait for their return.
Babe had followed me back to the home lot and went directly to her favorite supper bowl.
The garden gate squeaked, and when I looked there was the Reaper.
“There you are,” he said. “I was gonna call.”
He flipped his imaginary hair.
“Are you coming on to me?” I said. “Give it rest! Who’d you come for, anyway?”
He raised his bone finger towards Bosko, collapsed on the flagstones.
“Ah. I suppose it’s time. Then Tanvi’s next, huh?”
“Not tonight,” he replied.
I didn’t call Tanvi and Bartholomew back from their walk. Let them skip this one. They’ve seen enough for their lifetimes.
I didn’t wake Lucas. Let him sleep through this.
But Mochi and Otter came from their posts by the tent to watch. Who knows how many times Otter had seen this, during her days on the wharf? But Mochi had already served witness to more passings than any pup should see.
Nibbler came, too, and Babe left her favorite supper bowl to wait for her brother.
Otter mewed, and Mochi whimpered. Nibbler looked away.
“Just get it over with,” I said to the Reaper.
The scythe flashed in the moonlight.
The light shone.
Stay or go? Stay! Stay!
And the bright ball was collected to be delivered to me.
It must have been Mochi’s whimpers. The shepherd led the procession out to the line of tombstones. He stood with them and bowed his head in respect towards these good dogs and cat.
Mochi cocked her head as he turned back towards the house, perhaps afraid that he would take more with him that night.
But he didn’t. Bosko was the only one.
Babe, good dog that she is, curled on Majora’s grave. I’d hoped that frolics with me through sparkling meadows would make it easier for those who’ve already joined me, but I should have known by checking in with my own heart, that a passing is a passing, even if we look forward to where we might be headed together.
I came back the next day to check on Mochi and Otter, and I found them playing in the front hall.
I guess living as wharf stray and finding herself now in a happy home gave Otter her resilience, and Mochi, she just had a giant heart, with room for happiness and sadness all at the same time.
Besides, she loved everyone, and when a body–including a dog’s–is flooded with oxytocin, sadness doesn’t stand a chance.
I’d felt relieved that Bartholomew missed witnessing his brother’s passage. I hadn’t been sure he’d be able to stand it, and I didn’t want him to succumb like Babe had.
When I watched him and Mochi play, I had another reason to be glad he’d been spared grief. It seemed like maybe their games played an amorous note.
Only three four-leggeds in the house now, but those twelve paws and three tails carried as much commotion and noise as a houseful of critters!
When night fell, though, Mochi’s superstitions awoke. I found her curled on the bathroom floor, hiding her eyes.
Go find Lucas! I told her.
Lying beside him while he painted, she recovered her courage.
I couldn’t find Bartholomew anywhere in the house. I closed my eyes and let my intention lead me to him.
He lay on the dock down at the wharf.
Are you sad, boy?
He looked at me forlornly. I should have realized that absence can’t preclude grief.
I called Mochi to us.
Bartholomew hopped right up when he saw her.
If I wasn’t mistaken, there was a lot more than a simple crush between these two.
Shall we go home, then? I asked. And we headed up the hill together.
Majora greeted us on our return.
Mochi nuzzled her transparent nose.
See, Mochi? You can still be friends!
Majora sang while Lucas painted, and Mochi guarded the front gate. No Reapers would be allowed in tonight!
I couldn’t stay much longer. Gravity, time, the weight of physicality–we formless ones can only tolerate that for so long.
Before I left, Lucas played my old violin, while the cats, living and passed, sang in accompaniment.
Don’t stay too long, I told Majora, but she didn’t hear me. She was too busy remembering the corporeal joys.