GloPoWriMo – Day 16

Over the Top

You’re
in the middle
of a pandemic.

Be Kind to Yourself.
Order ice cream in your next grocery delivery. Chocolate. Get honey, too. Chocolate sauce. Mix it all together. Eat it. Empty the box of your favorite puzzle, the one of the Norman Rockwell painting, not the barbershop one. The fishing one. Pour all the pieces on your kitchen table. Spend five days putting it together. Don’t start with the edges. Stay up all night playing video games. Live in Tamriel. Forget this planet, just for one night. Then eat more ice cream.

in the middle
of a pandemic

Practice Extreme Self Care.
Breathe. Breathe while you do yoga. Stand in the garden. Breathe. Gaze at the mountains. Breathe. Breathe in the shower. Breathe when you take a bath so long that the rough skin on your heels softens and the bath becomes salty with tears. Breathe. Breathe when you stand in your kitchen, olive oil in one hand, cinnamon in the other, wondering what you are doing with each. Where are you? Breathe. Breathe while you pick the dried flakes of skin on your heels, white scales piling up on the corner of the coffee table, trying not to pick until your feet bleed, breathing because for the first time in three weeks your brain feels normal even if your feet hurt when you walk the next morning.

in the middle

Grieve.

Daily Prompt:  “write a poem of over-the-top compliments,” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

Author’s note: Well, I didn’t even try to complete today’s prompt–my mind latched onto “over-the-top,” which this poem is. I considered writing a found-poem composed of Trump’s over-the-top praise for himself (I’d title it “Perfect”), but I don’t really want to feel angry this morning. The poem I wrote is inspired by this article I read last night by Marnie Hunter, published in CNN, “That uncomfortable coronavirus feeling: It could be grief.

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GloPoWriMo – Song 5

Photo of Cat Littlebird and a Bosmer in the crafting area of the Hollow City.

Lament of the Hollow City

I travelled a city
where everyone has lost
someone. The more the pity
the more the cost.

I sought my sister,
the blacksmith his brother.
She’d been there. I’d missed her.
Hollow eyes seek each other.

I faced the blacksmith,
he turned to his anvil.
“Have you anyone to be with?”
“Stay here, if you will.”

In shared defeat, I find a friend.
We can’t cure grief, but our hearts we can mend.

Daily Prompt: “write your own sad poem, but one that… achieves sadness through simplicity,” from Na/GloPoWriMo.

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NaPoWriMo 2019

Puppy Love 26

healing01

Do you ever find yourself acting on an idea whose genesis you can’t trace? Where’d that idea come from?

Maybe you were sitting on your couch, feeling a little sad, missing someone, perhaps, or feeling forlorn. Then, next you know, you feel an impulse blow through you.

“I need to get out!” You say. “I need some fresh air!”

Sometimes, we are the ones who whisper these ideas to you, we spirits in the After who never really leave, who always watch and wait for you to listen.

In this way, Lucas found himself following a notion to take Emery for a run along the boardwalk. Oh, yes! I explicitly whispered, “Emery! Emery wants a run! And it will do you good, too.”

healing02

By the time Lucas stopped running, he found himself wondering. What was he doing there? I rode the breeze around him. Emery barked softly.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, pup?” he said.

Do you know that you can see us in reflected light? I shimmered over the waves, singing Lucas’s name, but only Emery listened.

healing03

“You’re not alone here, Emery,” I sang. “You’re not alone!”

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Lucas let him off the leash, and Emery raced down to the dock, passing another dog, a stray.

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Nougat is a boxer with a tail that’s never been bobbed and ears that have never been clipped. She’s lived on the beach for a few months in a loose pack of strays.

Lucas called over an Irish setter, who’d been following Nougat. But it wasn’t the setter that I’d brought Lucas here to see.

“Out on the dock,” I whispered. “Keep on!”

healing06

While Lucas befriended Nougat, the dog I’d led them there to meet appeared: Prissy,  a beautiful, intelligent, friendly border collie with the right spirit to bring healing to a home submerged in grief.

healing07

Prissy raised her head and sang, long and low, stirring in me all the memories of life and living in a house full of pups.

Sweet days
with sticks and balls and bones

Sweet nights
with a rug on the floor in a home

What a dog,
every dog,
what a dog

wants: a home,
a stick, a bone.

Her song got inside of us.

“You look so lonely,” Lucas said to Nougat. “Do you like living here on the beach, scrounging for food? Wouldn’t you rather come home with us?”

healing08

Of course she wanted that. It was fine with Emery, too, but it wasn’t what he had in mind.

What a dog
with a tail and ears and brown eyes

What a dog
with cute feet and just the right size

I like a dog
with long fur

Long ears
and a song

What a dog…

healing09

Nougat and I liked his song, but Nougat knew he wasn’t singing about her.

healing10

“You’ve caught another dog’s scent, then?” she asked.

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He looked up the dock, where Prissy sat.

“She can sing,” he replied.

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He trotted up beside her.

“Come meet Lucas,” he said.

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And the moment she met him, the moment Lucas met her, we knew, this border collie had found her new home.

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But what about Nougat? We can’t leave her behind!

She ran and pounced on Lucas.

“Oh!” he said. “You know the great game of Pounce? Then you belong with us!”

Of course I had my reasons in sending Lucas to the beach with Emery. I hoped he’d find a beautiful dog to bring home.

He surprised me by bringing home two.

healing15

The house was full again–six big dogs! And Lucas spent all his time filling supper dishes, bathing dirty dogs, and mopping muddy paw prints.

But through all his efforts, he smiled. He sang.

“So many dogs
So little time!

“So many paws!
Each one divine!”

There are as many ways to heal from grief as there are to grieve. But every healing happens through love.

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Puppy Love 24

nospace01

Bobie wanted to be there for the next crossing. It’s strange. Memory fades in the After perhaps more quickly than it does in the Today.

We forget how we got here, who, precisely, we were before, and only these visits, occasional or frequent, keep us connected, on our side, to those we’ve left behind.

When the Shepherd of Bones texted that it was Caleb’s time, I called Bobie to me, and we traveled back together.

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Caleb had already collapsed when we arrived.

Bobie watched from the ashen hems.

nospace03

Mochi came, too, to help her pup cross over.

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Oh, Caleb! Weren’t you just a pup? You’ll age no more, once you’re with us.

nospace05

Each time, Grim becomes more and more greedy. I fear one day, he’ll pocket the spirit-ball of light.

“Hand it,” I commanded.

We have an agreement, and if there’s anything that compels Death, it’s a contract.

I took Caleb’s warm spirit. “Soon,” I whispered, “we’ll roam free! We will show you clouds and sunlight and flocks of light-birds to chase!”

nospace06

I rushed back with Bobie, Mochi, and Caleb’s spirit, releasing it in the moonlight. The old sire, the old dame, and the old pup romped and pounced through the nimbus, and I returned to see if the grieving needed help.

Mr. Bones was watching ice-skating on TV.

“Still here?”

“Can’t get enough,” he said.

nospace07

Out back, Crackers was the first of the mourners.

“Good dog, Crackers,” I said. “You’ll be joining your litter-brother soon. Don’t worry. It will be a quick crossing, and we’ll all be there to greet you. See those sparks of clouds? That’s them, chasing light-birds!”

But that’s not how to cheer a grieving dog.

nospace08

Emery joined us.

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He sat with Crackers, leaning into him, and spoke in the soft way he has, telling him about time and seasons and space and room.

Together, they walked slowly back to Lucas, surrounded now with all the members of the household.

“I know it seems too soon,” he said to Dustin. “But it’s not really, is it? Didn’t your pa have a great life?”

nospace10

“My brother’s getting older, too,” he said to Crackers. “And my oldest brother, he’s already passed over. It happens to all of us, and everyone we know.”

nospace11

It didn’t seem to cheer them up.

But then, Miss Molly barked, “I’m hungry!”

Dustin barked, “Swim! Swim? Swim!”

And Emery lowered his head and softly whispered again about time and space and moonlight and crickets.

nospace12

“Crickets?” asked Lucas. They listened. The crickets sang. “It’s a nice sound, eh, pups?”

Dustin nosed Lucas’s pocket, where he kept the brush, and Lucas bent down to brush the wiry coat of the white dog.

Chloe remembered her tail, which seemed irresistible at that moment. Miss Molly wondered if Crackers were up for chase.

And Emery, he sighed and smiled. “Life. Space. All one.”

nospace13

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Puppy Love 22

griefanddishes01

I’ve observed a few things to help with the grief felt by those left behind. Doing the dishes is one of them.

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Does keening help? Lucas seems to think so. But I fear it’s more the animal response to searing pain and not always even palliative. It’s the body’s way of marking the passing.

griefanddishes03

Tears help, though. That’s what Tanvi tells me.  They cleanse and heal.

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Grieving together helps.

griefanddishes05

When it doesn’t break a family apart, which it can as often as not, it brings a family together.

griefanddishes06

Pa! You OK, Pa? You play pounce? Emery asked Dustin.

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I think not, pup. The pounce has left me.

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We each bear our pain in our own ways, and sometimes, those ways find mirrors in the ones we love the most.

griefanddishes09

If I have sharp knife poke me, then so do Ma and Pa.

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And if this poke now, maybe it not poke later.

griefanddishes11

Ma, you still know how to smile?

griefanddishes12

Of course, Moon Dog. And I still know how to snuggle, too.

griefanddishes13

Do you think we continue to learn once we’ve left this realm? We do. We learn from you every day. It why we look back, so we can see what lasts, after we’ve left.

griefanddishes14

It’s love that lasts, and love that draws us back, and love, too, that lets us go again, when we feel the need to roam.

griefanddishes15

When the sun set on the sad day, Lucas pulled out his violin. He remembered how Mochi always cowered when he played. He didn’t play that badly, did he? He always thought she was teasing him, and he’d play for her again. He knew, wherever she was, she’d hear.

griefanddishes17

Twister came racing. Was Lucas OK? It sounded like cats were being strangled!

griefanddishes16

Ah! It was just the terrible music, as bad as ever, too much for this music-lover to stand, even if he was the performer! How was he ever to get any better if he played worse than he could listen to, himself?

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I let him practice, while I chipped in with the chores. Always so much to be done in a houseful of dogs!

griefanddishes20

But now that Otter and Mochi were with me, there was a bit more room in the house. And that hooded grump said he’d be back soon for Crackers and Caleb. What could we do with all this space that would soon open up?

I hopped on the computer and bookmarked a few pages. “Adoption Success Stories”–and no, this wasn’t the Cat and Dog Adoption Center. Let’s not call it a suggestion. Let’s just say that if a certain someone is thinking along certain lines, he should be able to find the information he needs quickly and easily. And if he isn’t thinking about certain lines, maybe this page will get him to do so.

griefanddishes19

While I put my scheme into place, Emery checked in with the rest of the family.

Granddam? Twister wondered, as he burst out from under the couch. You got pounce?

She did! Her pounce had returned, and she leapt straight up! All four feet off the floor!

We fly!

griefanddishes21

You are the flyingest, Moon Dog, said Chloe.

griefanddishes22

Yes, some things help. Doing the dishes and puppies are two of them. And maybe, just possibly, my wild-hair of a scheme might help, too, one of these days!

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Puppy Love 21

mochibye01

We’d been expecting it. And I was sure to be there. But it didn’t make it easier. The visits of the hooded one were always hard to bear.

She’d been the best mom to Crackers.

mochibye02

And to Caleb, too.

mochibye03

She’d taught Dustin well, and she welcomed Chloe into the family.

mochibye04

Mochi’s acquaintance with the hooded one went way back, to her first day here, when he came for Majora, Nibbler, and Babe, all three taken on the same day. And now, he was here for her.

mochibye05

With a start like that, it’s no wonder she had great depth of feeling.

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She was no bigger than Lucas’s hand when she first arrived!

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She knew Tanvi, though–and how happy they would be to be reunited in the After!

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After Tanvi let, she consoled Lucas, becoming his next best friend.

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She was always there, watching over her pups, encouraging Otter.

puppy803

She and Otter were such good friends.

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Well, they’ll be together now, too, so they can play on the breeze, like we all do.

mochibye06

“Looks like I’ll be here pretty frequently, then,” the Shepherd said, consulting his log.

“You don’t have to stick to the schedule,” I told him.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Some things can’t be fudged.”

Emery was at his hem, trying to grasp his cloak, growling like the fearless Twister he is.

mochibye07

“I’m not exactly corporeal, you know,” the Gray Bones mumbled.

mochibye08

It was too much for the pup.

mochibye09

It was too much for all of us.

Bones prolonged the show.

mochibye10

And then, the flash of light! The quickening of my own spark!

mochibye11

Stay! Stay! I will deliver you to Tanvi!

mochibye12

With reluctance, the hooded one handed over her spark.

mochibye13

“I always leave empty-handed,” he grumbled. “Hardly seems fair!”

mochibye14

“A bargain is a bargain!” I reminded him.

“If ever there’s a time when you’re not here!” He warned.

But there won’t be. I will be here each and every time, and the spark will be delivered to me for the short journey home.

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Captain’s Christmas: Chapter Six

cc85

Gran’s laughter echoed across the straight, calling to Sarah. She flew over the dark water, looking for her.

“I’m here, Sarah Two-Pockets! I always will be!”

cc83

They flew up to the sky, twirling, laughing, until Gran said, “It’s time for you to go now. I will always be…”

cc82

Sarah opened her eyes. She felt warm and happy. What was it that Gran would always be?

Never mind, Sarah thought. The dream must be a good sign.

In the kitchen, she discovered that it really was Christmas–Jacob had hung wreaths and lights, and a stack of brightly wrapped presents waited beside the breakfast table.

She felt too jolly to notice Jacob’s somber mood as he gazed into his tea.

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He dished up special Christmas breakfast French toast. It smelled sweet like vanilla and nutmeg.

“Can I have extra butter?” she asked.

He added an extra pat.

“Your mom is coming in a week,” he said, when they sat at the table. “She’ll be here for New Year’s.”

“Is Gran well, then?” Sarah asked.

cc120

“No,” he said. “She passed on early this morning.”

“But she was in my dream,” Sarah said.

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Jacob listened as she told about the laughter, the soaring over the water, the feeling that Gran was there, with her, though she couldn’t see her.

“She said she would always be,” said Sarah, “but I don’t know what. Why would I dream of her, Great Uncle Jacob? And what will she always be?”

He sat quietly for a good few moments.

“It happens, sometimes,” he said at last, “that when someone passes, their spirit pays a visit to all those they love the best. Your grandmother loved you dearly, Sarah, and I have a feeling that what she will always be will be beside you, with you. She will always be.”

cc119

Sarah wondered if that meant that she was not really gone. If she closed her eyes, she could feel her grandmother’s hand in hers. When she opened her eyes, she heard Gran’s voice.

“Gran loves Christmas,” Sarah said.

cc117

She wasn’t sure how to feel. Mostly, she felt that this was a different day, a special day, somehow. It had a texture to it, like someone held a blanket over the sun, and all the busy noise of life quieted down somehow.

cc116

After she washed the dishes, she heard tiny mewing. Two kittens crawled out from behind the pile of pillows on the floor.

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“Look, Jacob!” she said. “It’s kittens! Where’d they come from?”

“Those are Pippa’s kittens,” Jacob said. “Walley’s the father.”

“Were they just born?”

“No,” he said. “They were born before you came.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She thought it would have been more fun to play with kittens all those days leading up to Christmas.

“Twasn’t my secret to tell!” he replied. “It’s up to the mama cat to decide when she will share her babies with us.”

“Maybe that’s why Pippa was so grumpy with me!” Sarah said.

“Could be,” said Jacob. “A mama will do anything to protect her young.”

“But they’re old enough now, aren’t they, Pippa?” Sarah pet the panther on the head, and she didn’t even growl. She purred, and her ears stayed up, and her tail hardly twitched.

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“They haven’t names yet,” said Jacob. “What would you like to call them?”

“Sweetie and Cubby,” said Sarah, “because they are sweet panther cubs!”

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She followed Cubby into the parlor.

“Do you think I could have one, Uncle Jacob?” she asked. It was Christmas, after all, and she had just lost her Gran.

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“The kittens belong here,” he said, “where they have a big conservatory to roam and lots of skylights to let in the sunshine.”

She grew very quiet.

“But I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “you choose one to belong to, and then every time you come to visit, we will all know that you are that cat’s girl.”

cc124

She chose Cubby. Cubby seemed to trust her already.

“I do have good news for you, though,” said Jacob. “Your mom says you can take Senator Jones with you.”

The senator howled when he heard his name.

“Hear that, Big Dog?” Sarah asked. “We belong to each other now!”

cc114

“Presents now, or presents later?” Jacob asked.

Later. The morning still had that hushed feeling to it, and Sarah didn’t think she would find excitement in unwrapping the shiny red paper. Maybe when night pressed against the windows, and the lights and candles shone, she would feel the joy Christmas usually brings.

“Let me give you this one, now,” said Jacob, handing her an unwrapped volume of Little Men.

While she read, he played carols, sometimes singing along in his gruff baritone.

cc112

It was a different kind of Christmas, without Mom and Gran, with so many cats and kittens and Senator Jones, with Great Uncle Jacob who talked to her as if she were capable of understanding everything and as if she didn’t have a timid heart that might break at the slightest sorrow.

cc113

She supposed that captains had to be strong, for out on the straight, sometimes the wind kicked up, and the frightened hearts jumped under deck. But captains steered onward, even when they were the only ones left, and the waves crashed over the bow.

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Jacob made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, and he played more of that concert-style music while she ate.

“What’s that music called?” she shouted in to the parlor.

“Beethoven!” he shouted back.

It sounded like captain’s music, brave and bold and sometimes saucy and sometimes sorrowful and often stormy and then calm. It sounded like she felt in her heart right then, over-packed with everything: happiness, sleepiness, gratitude, even a creeping touch of excitement, sadness, homesickness, loneliness, and even joy.

How could so many feelings fit inside her heart?

She didn’t know–but the music knew, and it said to her that everything was all right, for this was life.

cc121

In the slanting rays of the late afternoon sun, Senator Jones raced the captain through the meadows behind the conservatory.

She ran after him, hearing again her grandmother’s laughter.

“I’m coming, Big Dog!” she shouted. “I’ll be with you always! I’ll always be!”

We all have one Christmas we always remember. For Sarah, this was it. Throughout her life, whether she sat near the tree, surrounded by her children, or her children’s children, or whether she sat alone with a cup of tea, she remembered this morning, her grandmother’s laughter, her great uncle’s piano, and the boundless friendship of a good dog. With this magic, even a little girl could be brave, and bravery like this can last us through life.

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Puppy Love 3

puppy439

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.

puppy438

She was no bigger than Lucas’s hand.

puppy435

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.

puppy436

But Mochi must have like the way he smelled, for she let him pick her up for hugs.

puppy434

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.

Majora collapsed.

puppy433

Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe watched with moist eyes and drooping heads. This was their third tour through this tired routine.

puppy432

I thought we might catch a break when the Reaper’s scythe stuck in the pergola. Give it up, Shepherd! I called.

puppy431

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.

puppy430

“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.

puppy429

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.

puppy428

The grief proved to much for Nibbler. At nightfall, she lay down and let her light escape.

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Mochi looked away in terror.

puppy426

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.

puppy425

Poor Tanvi recoiled when the Shepherd returned. She seemed to be more afraid each time she saw him.

puppy424

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.

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Her light was so bright.

Come on, girl! Good dog!

puppy422

Begrudgingly, he handed her to me.

puppy421

I watched behind the growing line of tombstones. Soon the procession would come.

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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.

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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.”

puppy417

But I worried it would be too much for those left behind.

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Poor Mochi! To have come to the House of Death!

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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.

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We watched her light rise.

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We saw the shadow fall.

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In a blinding blaze, we turned away.

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Babe’s spirit lit the universe.

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And then, he pulled her into the tight ball. She chose to stay, and he handed her to me.

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“She’s with us now,” I said to Bobie.

But he felt the emptiness of her form.

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My grave stands in a long line. They say death is lonely. But the After isn’t lonely.

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Loneliness is for those who’ve stayed behind.

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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.

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Bobie sat in his old favorite place.

“So much to think about, eh, pup?” I asked him. He whimpered in reply.

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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.

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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.

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And in just the same way, the sight of Tanvi holding her was enough to heal all the wounds of the long, weary day.

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Puppy Love 2

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The After differs from expectation in every way conceivable–not surprising, considering that the immensity of it can, in no way, be conceived of.

Not a dark void, the After fills with light, with feeling, with memory, with possibility, with imagination, with energy, with all that is and all that can be and all that might be and all that was. It is crowded with consciousness and overflowing with time. There is so much time that time ceases to have any meaning whatsoever as the entirety of the eternal squeezes into a single instant. This is what Forever means.

I fully intended to visit my family every day, but a day is a concept that does not exist where I was. I have no idea how much time passed, for where I was the concept of “passed” did not exist.

I could feel Tanvi’s grief, an anchor that kept me connected to this place.

puppy301

Then, the anchor line was cut. I drifted. Freedom felt exquisite.

Nonetheless, I felt a pull. While no time at all had “passed” for me, surely time had progressed at my earthly home when I felt the pull.

Joy welled on the sight of form again.

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But when I saw Majora, head down, ears back, slinking through the front gate, dread descended.

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Bobie lay collapsed on the threshold, the light of him already ascending.

I remembered my promise to be there to help with the transition.

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Our gardener stopped his chores. Majora circled back around, having found her courage, and followed Babe in the solemn procession.

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Someone else, a young man who looked familiar, stood witness as the Reaper rounded the corner of the house.

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My Tanvi stood in shock.

The gardener called Bobie’s name. I tried to tell him to stop, to let him pass, but I could not remember how to form words, or how to speak.

No one saw me. You cannot see light when it is light.

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With all my being, I spoke to Bosko: Don’t fear. It’s not the end. 

But it is an end, and every cell in Bosko’s body knew what it was the end of, with a finality that carries physical fear in those for whom the physical still holds meaning.

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At last, Nibbler slowly strode out to be present for this parting with her mate.

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Dear Tanvi! She stood behind the Reaper in weary anger, grasping a fork in her hand. Go on, dear! Stab him!

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But it was too late, and the dark shepherd raised his scythe.

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The dogs knew where to look, not at the empty form, but at the light. Remember, dear ones, we will be together again!

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“Come, Bobie!” I called. “Good dog! Do you want to stay, or do you want to go?”

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To stay! To stay! The shepherd collected him in his grasp and handed him over to me.

Oh, Bobie! You are by my side again!

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“Sad day, dude?” The maid said when he arrived. And the familiar-looking youth replied. “The worst.”

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For them, it was the worst. For me and for Bobie, it was a day of joyful reunion. My grave was not so lonely now, and beside me, in the After, I would cavort with my spirit friend.

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But before we were released to play, we had the task of comforting those we left behind.

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Dear Babe, her eyes revealed her understanding. If you know you will join us soon, dear, how can you be so sad?  Because it is an ending, though it’s not the end.

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Bosko raised his head in honor of his sire.

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Dear Babe, dearest Bosko, weep no more. We’re still here. We will always be.

But not with warm forms and hearts that beat. Not with hands that stroke. Not with a wet nose and soft fur.

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“Fuck it all!” said Tanvi, and I loved her more than ever.

Soon enough, she will understand, too, but until that day, let her rage. It’s love that stirs this anger, too.

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When the young familiar-looking man followed Bosko, Bartholomew, and Nibbler back to the house, and Tanvi turned to join them, Babe curled up and slept on our graves, as she had the night through after my passing.

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I left her there and found Tanvi curled on a stone bench in the garden. Poor dear. Grief is exhausting.

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She and the youth dug deep into those reserves that we find when there are others to think of: Babe and Bosko needed walking.

I called Bobie to me, and we walked with them.

“Do you feel a breeze?” Tanvi asked.

“It’s just the sunset,” Lucas said. “Evening air off the bay.”

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I couldn’t leave them. That night, I sat in the garden. The young man screamed when he saw me. When it is dark, I discovered, light can be seen.

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“Don’t be afraid,” I said. I found my voice. “I’m Astrid. I used to live her.”

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“I know you, Astrid,” he said. “You’re my mom’s friend. We were in the garden club together when I was a kid. I’m Lucas Munch.”

Lucas! I loved that little boy, so inquisitive! So polite! Now, all grown up.

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“And what are you doing here, Lucas?” I asked.

“I live here now!” he said, and he explained that he wanted to be an artist and needed a place to live, and Tanvi wanted someone to help with the dogs, the garden, and the chores. He pitched his tent beside the house, free board in exchange for helping out.

“And all the art supplies I need!” he said. Those were my oils, canvases, and brushes. I felt grateful they could be put to good use by him.

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I wondered if Tanvi had shared with him the details of our wills: that everything we had would be passed on to the person we chose to care for the dogs and Majora. The property was for them, along with all our assets, held in trust by the caregiver.

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He was a good choice. I approved.

I discovered that night that I could help out in the physical world. I could wash dishes, clean the sink, take out the trash. I could be of use, and this brought me unexpected joy.

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“Thanks for cleaning?” Lucas said. “I, uh, never had a ghost help out around the house before?”

I laughed. He’d kept his endearing childish quality of turning statements into questions.

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After he headed out to the tent, I heard the quilts rustle from the bedroom. I hoped that Tanvi would see me. With all my intention, I remembered the shape of my form.

“It’s you,” she said.

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We clowned around all evening. I had missed laughing with her more than I could have imagined. I hadn’t thought then, but, oddly, laughter doesn’t exist in the After. Humor does, and irony prevails, but laughter, laughter seems to belong to this earthly realm. It felt good to laugh again.

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We discovered new games. I can put my energy into objects: Chairs, tables, my fiddle, even a squeaky toy.

So while I went inside Pinky SqueakChick, Tanvi picked up her rubber duckie. We played nice, and we played naughty, finding new ways that we could still be together.

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When the sun rose, I was still there. I knew I couldn’t stay forever, that I would need, periodically to return to formlessness, but I wanted to contribute during the time I was able to stay.

I found a canvas that Lucas had set up, and I managed to open the box of paints.

I tried to express the fullness of the after: The sparks of light that we are, the shifting patterns, the way of seeing that exists beyond physicality.

Plus, if they don’t get what I’m expressing, they can sell the painting to buy more puppy chow.

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Soon, the light would be brighter than my intention: This transparency would fade.

But I would be back, I knew that then, many, many times. And sometimes, Bobie would come, too. It is an ending. But it’s not the end.

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Puppy Love 1

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It happened just like in the movies: The chime of a bass chord. The sensation of a distant someone calling. The collapse of the body. The separation of the light. The shadow of the scythe.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. That’s not the beginning of the story.

The story began at my retirement.

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All my acquaintances said I was a fool to adopt a puppy at this life-stage. I had no friends, so I didn’t have to listen to them gripe that I was too old. I had no family, so I didn’t have guilt-trips. All I had was former colleagues, past clients, and distant neighbors, and who cared what they thought? Yes, I was old. I knew that. Yes, I’d likely pass before the dog did. But so what? I’d leave everything to him in my will and hire an executor to ensure he was cared for.

I got the puppy, Bobie the pomeranian.

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Then we got a cat, Majora the calico stray, found wandering down by the wharf.

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Then we adopted another dog, Nibbler the beagle.

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Then we had puppies, Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe, my little dingoes.

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I was still alive. We had a full house. I could barely keep up, but I was happier than I’d ever been. I was in love six times over.

I still remember puppy breath and Bobie’s soprano howls when he was tea-cup sized.

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For a while, we tried training. Bobie learned to sit and fetch, though he was too lazy to show off either very often.

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The puppies learned a smattering of obedience skills: Bosko learned to sit; Bartholomew to heel; all three learned not to drink from or play in puddles, not to wake us, and not to fight, something their mother never learned.

One day, the doctor told me I wouldn’t be long for the world: an aneurysm lay waiting to strike. I would have no notice, the doctor said. Maybe a blinding headache for an instant, but that would be too late.

Who would care for Bobie, Nibbler, Majora, Bosko, Bartholomew, and Babe when that coiled snake bit?

I’d hired a gardener when my plants began to suffer due to the time I gave the puppies. When she finished the garden chores, Tanvi would stop in to play with the pups, and we struck up an acquaintanceship

I explained my predicament.

“You want me?” she asked. “I’d live here and help out? And could I continue with the garden, if you wanted?”

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Of course, but we hired another gardener, just the same.

We became friends.

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I hadn’t had a close friend since high school. I’d forgotten what it was like to share secrets, to lay schemes, even to dream!

Imagine me, in my elder years, with the prospect of death waiting at the break of every day, hiding behind each sunset, sowing dreams like I was sixteen!

I felt very young. I felt eternal.

The puppies, clearly, were not eternally youthful. One day they were little.

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And the next we knew, they’d grown! Now Bobie had competition for his chew toys and Nibbler had to feast quickly before one of her children would steal the beef.

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Such good dogs, even when they were rascals!

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Bosko and Bartholomew look nearly identical, with their coiled tails and beagle snouts.

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Babe looks like her mom, only dark gray.

Every day was like the next: Fill the food bowls, walk the dogs, sit and chat, paint, garden, sip tea, play music. Life cruised along a happy route, with a squeak-toy soundtrack.

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I kept living.

I had more friends now than ever in my life, and it didn’t bother me that six of them had four legs a piece.

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Bobie and Nibbler were very much in love. That’s what I blame it on. Tanvi said that I should be giving them credit, not blame. But I laughed and said they were to blame nonetheless!

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I never asked for romance. It asked for me.

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Tanvi assured me I wasn’t too old.

“You’ve beaten the odds,” she said. “The doctor was wrong. Besides, who of us has any guarantees? The only guarantee I can give is that I think you’re pretty sweet.”

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Neither of us were cut out for romance, really. I valued my solitude too much. She feared commitment. Yet somehow, while I felt crowded in, and she felt smothered, we still remained sweet on each other.

I dreamed of us getting engaged, but even still, the first time she asked me, I turned her down.

“I’ve told you that I’m leaving you everything,” I told her, “and we don’t need to get married to make it legal. You’re already in my will.”

But half a year later, I was still alive. This time I asked her. She turned me down.

“I won’t be purchased out of guilt!” she said. “You’re just feeling bad you rejected me before. This doesn’t make up for it.”

Years and years passed. We stayed as happy room-mates, best friends, lovers.

Bobie and Nibbler grew white hairs on their snouts, and their joints were stiff when they crawled out of their puppy beds.

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I was still alive. I began to contemplate that I might outlast at least some of my four-legged companions. I hadn’t counted on this.

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I saw a selfish angle to my desire, in my old age, to have a house full of dogs and a cat and a younger friend who loved me.

I’d been trying to cheat grief, hadn’t I?

Until I was old, I’d arranged my life so I would never have to care, so that no one would ever leave me. Had the deaths of my parents really upset me so much that I could bear living through no more goodbyes?

Then, when I was the next in line, and only then, did I open my home, my heart to let others in–so that I could leave first.

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The night I had that realization, Tanvi asked me again if we might get married.

“Not for anything practical,” she said. “Not for any reason. Just because. Because my heart hurts when I see you walking and think you might someday leave without being my wife.”

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We got married. We didn’t worry that she was decades younger. We didn’t worry that she felt afraid of long-term commitments and I hated for my freedom to be clipped. We simply married. For no reason. Simply for love.

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We congratulated each other on our brave hearts.

“Don’t worry, love,” I joked. “You won’t have to be married for long!”

“I’d better be!” she replied. “I want you warming my soup when I’m old and gray.”

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It would never happen, I thought, but it did.

Years and years passed, and I stayed alive while Tanvi, my sweet young wife, grew old beside me.

The years mellowed us, with so much to be thankful for.

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Bobie and Majora lived on, too.

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We fiddled through the day.

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I practiced stretching my heart in case someone would depart before me.

Some days, Tanvi complained of ocular migraines. “My hormone’s are whacked,” she said. “I’m not cut out for old age.”

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But we kept on, and most days were full of blessings.

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And then it happened, like in the movies: The chime of the bass chord. The shadow of the scythe.

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I did not know that I would have witnesses.

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I did not reckon on their grief.

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I looked down from great heights on Tanvi keening.

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Death’s hands gathered my life-spark, pulling me together into a tight ball.

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“Do you wish to remain,” he asked, “or to dissipate?”

“To remain,” cried every spark that was me. “To remain!”

“So it is,” he said, pocketing my spirit to carry to my resting place, and then, he took time out of his duties to pet the cat.

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Tethers bound me to the tombstone, perhaps so I might witness my mourning.

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I had never stopped to think that I might be missed.

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Bartholomew’s eyes broke my heart.

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And Babe, the biggest rascal of the all, ran to the meadow at nightfall.

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She slept curled beside my grave.

Next >>

Author’s note: What’s this? It’s chapter one of my ten-gen dogacy! Follow along as we trace the generations of Bobie’s pups. (I’ll post the challenge rules soon!)