I felt the pull home and arrived to find Otter mid-leap.
Who would the Gaunt Man come for this time?
Tanvi. My heart leapt–to think we’d be together again! And my heart sank, to think of those she was leaving behind. To think of her own farewell to earthly pleasures.
She must have been filling the supper bowl when the chime rang. I knelt beside her, whispering, I have so much to show you! Don’t be afraid. It’s wondrous!
The door creaked open and the shepherd walked in. Bartholomew and Otter weren’t afraid. They knew his tall shape well.
“Give it a rest!” I said to him when he tried his come-on again. “It’s business, not pleasure.”
He grumbled and pulled out his tablet. “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news? This is my last scheduled visit here for quite some time. No more pick-ups in the near future. That’s the bad news, too. Won’t you miss me?”
“I won’t,” I said.
He swung, and his scythe stuck in the rafters.
“You really need to work on your technique,” I said. “That keeps impaling things.”
But it made no difference, of course. It’s a metaphorical tool, not physical, and metaphors are easy to unstick.
Otter arched and hissed. The shadow one may be familiar, but that doesn’t excuse what he does when he comes.
Lucas napped in the bedroom, and we let him sleep. Grief can wait.
Mochi, well-acquainted with ceremony, led the procession to the line of tombstones.
Lucas had reported that Bartholomew got a clean bill of health at his last visit to the vet. “Little dogs can live quite a while,” the vet said, “and there’s no reason for Bartholomew not to be around for years and years.”
I wasn’t sure, at first, if Bartholomew wanted to remain for years and years, while his brother and sister, his sire and dam, Tanvi and I all roamed through bright fields.
But when they finished mourning, Mochi led Bartholomew on a romp, and I could see every reason that he would want to stay.
I noticed then that Mochi’s teats were full and her belly sagged. Was she expecting? Would we have pups?
Inside, Otter kept a close watch on the tall one, sitting vigilantly near his feat.
“Weren’t you leaving?” I asked.
“After this show,” he said. “It’s The Flavors of Provence! My favorite cooking show!”
Mochi made her way back to the house, walking slowly toward Lucas’s room.
He knew, when he woke, what had happened. Tanvi was gone.
It’s all right, I whispered. She’s with me. She’s with our pups and Majora! And she’ll return to visit.
But I know my words don’t bring solace.
I came back–it must have been a few days or a week later–feeling a pull once again. But this time, it was a happy pull.
Mochi had puppies, Caleb, a beautiful smoky pup, and Crackers, chocolate with a curled tail like his sire and grandsire.
Such lovely dogs! Such intelligent pups! And what a good mom!
Grief doesn’t stand a chance against puppy snuggles!
Caleb leaned into Lucas’s hand as he stroked the taut puppy belly.
When Lucas headed inside, Caleb sat back and howled in a strong alto, just like Bartholomew used to do when he was pup.
Crackers liked Lucas’s touch, too. I wanted to wrap my finger inside the curl of the tail, like I used to do with Bobie. But for that, one needs a corporeal finger–light-fingers slide right through.
When the puppy-high wore off, Lucas slammed into grief. Bartholomew followed him out to the graves.
Speak, boy! Bark!
That was all Lucas needed. Bartholomew was grieving, too, he realized. And they could comfort each other.
When I built up the energy to light up my form, I visited again.
“How are you, Mochi, dear?” I asked. “You’re looking noble!”
Mochi barked once, and the puppies crawled out from under the couch.
“Astrid!” Lucas said when he saw me. “Look! We have puppies! This is Caleb!”
“He is lovely!” I said. “He and Crackers are the most lovely puppies that ever were!”
“They really are!” said Lucas. “We all think so?”
I cheered. A houseful of puppies is the most lovely thing!