Puppy Love 7


A houseful of puppies offers a strong lure! I visited often, to play music for the pups, to watch their training, to take part in this busy furry family.


Otter taught both pups the tricks of Pounce and Retreat. Caleb proved to be an apt pupil.


When I could, I played the violin for them. The music always drew Bartholomew from wherever he’d been roaming. Usually, he would sing along, sometimes joined by Otter, while Mochi listened appreciatively.


One might think that Bach never intended his partitas for solo violin to be accompanied by howls and meowls, but I know differently! The Great Composer has often said that his music was written for all.


My heart was most warmed by seeing the love that both Mochi and Bartholomew had for their pups.


We were so lucky in Mochi! Of course, she was beautiful. But she was also smart, loyal, and devoted.


Crackers, with his little loop of a tail, was growing into a sweet, smart pup.


Mochi was proud of both pups. I had the feeling that she thought of Caleb as her mini-me, while Crackers favored Bartholomew.


Crackers seemed to be a Bartholomew-in-training, choosing most often to be with his sire and doing whatever it was his sire was doing.


As for Lucus, I couldn’t be prouder. He kept everyone happy and well cared-for.


Sometimes, when I listened carefully, tuned into the correct frequency, I could hear what the pups were saying.

“Pounce, Crackie!” Caleb joked. “Pounce me!”


Crackers feigned disinterest.

“Whatcha matter? Got business? Pounce!”


“I’ll pounce you!” shouted Crackers, swinging back for the surprise attack.


When Lucus walked in on their games, they turned to serenade him.

“Lucas! Lukie! We love yoooo—owl! Oooowl! Yooooou!”


Lucas never forgot us who’ve crossed over. He, Bartholomew, and Otter often visited our tombstones.

We heard him speak to us.

“We’ve got a full house?” he said. “Very nearly? It’s hard work. Am I doing OK? But I’m doing my best?”

“Of course you are!” Tanvi and I always said back. “You’re doing great! We’re so proud!” But I’m not sure he heard us.


When Babe and Nibbler came in the midnight moon to visit, Lucas shared love with them.


Tanvi always tells me that it is love that keeps us real. Without love, we would fade away. But love, it binds our spirits whole, so that even when the material of form fades, our substance of love remains.


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Shift 40: Diner


At the end of summer, when Deon came to pick me up to drive me back to YOTO, I asked him if we could stop and eat at the diner on our way home.

“You know, like a tradition,” I said.

“Sure,” he replied. “You and me, we’re getting a lot of traditions.”

When we sat down, he looked at me hard.

“You sure you’re OK?” he asked.

“Fine!” I replied. “Never better!” Of course I didn’t fool him.


I told him I’d been sick over the summer, but that Ted took care of me, and I’ve been resting up, so I’ll be ready for cross country season in a few weeks.

“You’re thin,” he said. “Athletes need to be strong. Don’t train so hard that you just waste away to nothing.”


I told him I was fine. I’d learned my lesson. I’m actually not sure if I’ll be able to compete this fall. And I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to run in the spring, either. I’ve heard sometimes of athletes who get run down and never really recover.

But the weird thing is I’m not upset about it. I might not run track. I might never break another record. I might lose my athletic scholarship, not be able to get an academic scholarship, and wind up not going to college.

I’m honestly OK with that. I’m alive.

I didn’t tell all that to Deon. I just sat there and listened to him going on about nutrition and rest and life-balance, and I just enjoyed the sound of his voice and they way he gets this intense look when he’s really going on about something.

“Are you happy with your life, Deon?” I asked him.


He thought for a minute.

“I accept my life,” he said. “I’ve come to learn that now and then, a happy moment comes. And when it does, I let it in. And then it goes, and another moment comes. That’s it. That’s how I live.”


I wondered if I agreed with him. Since my illness, I’ve been so focused on the simple joy of being alive that nothing seems to matter. If the sun shines on me, I’m happy. If my heart beats, I’m happy. If I breathe, I’m happy.

“Don’t spend all your life chasing rainbows,” Deon said.


“I’m not,” I told him. “I’m letting them chase me.”

We started reminiscing.

“Remember when I first met you and you told me you were a college student doing research?” he asked. “You were like fourteen! I’d never seen such a kid before!”


“I felt so old, back then!” I said. “I thought for sure I had everyone fooled!”

“You really tried to be tough,” said Deon.

“I was so tough!” I laughed. “I was so tough on the outside, but underneath, I was too scared to even let myself be terrified!”


“I know,” Deon said. “I was there, right?”

We laughed about all the good times we had. I remember mornings when Deon would stop by my camp and we’d dance while the sun rose.

“Why were you so nice to me?” I asked. “And even now! Why are you still so nice?”

“You know when you asked if I’m happy with my life?” Deon said. “Like I’ve said, I’ve got moments. And seeing you, how everything’s working out for you, and you’ve got a place to stay and you’re getting things lined up for a future, that brings me real happiness.”


“I can’t ever repay you!” I said.

“You don’t have to! This is me, repaying my debt!”


He went on to tell me more about his younger years. I knew he’d been a homeless kid, like me. And I knew that Ted and other guys had helped him out along the way.

But I didn’t know that for a few years, an old woman took him in. He was like the groundskeeper, and she was like his landlord, only more. This was during the time when he was getting his GED.

“If it hadn’t been for Betty,” he said, “I never could have done it. Everyone I ever met helped me a lot. But there was this big gap between me and society, and I couldn’t figure out how to bridge it. Ted helped–but he couldn’t show me how to bridge it. He’d already dropped out by then. Everybody I met who was homeless like me couldn’t help. They didn’t know how to bridge it themselves. But Betty took me in. She needed someone to take care of her garden and her home. I could do that. And she was a retired teacher. She showed me how fill in all the blanks I couldn’t figure out.”


“She sounds really nice,” I said.

“She was,” he said. “I loved her. I loved her more than a mom. She was beautiful. She was old, but she had this glow about her. True beauty. I mean, I was a kid, and she was an older woman. But man. Sometimes. If I’d been born in a different time.”


I realized that I loved Deon as he said that. He and Ted and Aadhya, they were almost everything to me. They were family. We weren’t related by blood, but we were bound by something stronger. Maybe it was karma.

“Do you know what I mean?” Deon asked.

I felt like I was full of something golden: butter and sugar and sunlight, all spun together.

“Yeah,” I said. “I know exactly what you mean.”


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Whisper 1.20


I’ve started writing. I love it! I can’t even describe the feeling. I tune into his channel within me, where all these stories stream, and I watch the words appear, form sentences, flow into paragraphs, and before I know it, I have a chapter, then two, then a novel! I don’t even know where these stories come from, but somehow, they all seem to relate to me and what I know of one person’s conflicted attempts at discovering meaning when surrounded by confusion, mystery, and magic.

Now that I think of myself as a writer, it helps me accept the other weird aspects of my life.

For example, though I know in my heart that I love Dante, my body can’t forget he’s a ghost, so every time I see him, I shudder.


I wonder what it might be like to love someone who didn’t make my stomach turn at first sight. So when Frank calls me for a date, I say yes.

I start feeling excited as I ride my bike to the park where we’re going to meet. I remember back to our first and, until now, only date, right after Dante became a ghost. I was still heartbroken then. Frank was so sweet to understand and not to pressure me and to wait until I was ready. That was so long ago. And he kept waiting. And, who knows? Maybe I’m finally ready!


Oh, when I see Frank reading while he’s waiting for me, it hits me how old he’s become. His hair is gray and his back is stooped.

Time speeds too quickly, scooping up the living in its net. I heard that Rainflower Ivy passed. Last I saw him was that weird morning at the beach, when he was dressed like a clown while he was searching emptiness for meaning. I hope he found what he was looking for before he left this plane. Thinking of Rain makes me wonder about Frank. How much longer does he have? I make myself a promise to make the most of every moment.


We have a great time. The park is gorgeous, snuggled in a muffler of fog, and Frank and I both feel a little high from being outside where it’s so beautiful.

I tell Frank about this neat comic book I’ve been reading about a cat with super powers. I don’t think he’s listening.


“What were you saying?” he asks.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say. “I was just feeling plugged into the world-building of this comic book I was reading.”


“I’ve been reading about monarch butterflies,” he says. “Have you been keeping up?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “I ordered a whole bunch of milkweed seeds for the kind that’s native here, and I’ve been planting them everywhere I go.”

“You, too?” he asks. “I thought I was the only one planting milkweed here!”


We get hungry, so I suggest we head back to my place and I’ll whip up some spaghetti.

Driving back in his car, he’s smiling and humming to himself. I fall silent. I think how if we’d gotten together years ago, this would be our normal, driving through the valley, planting milkweed seeds together, having long conversations where we float in and out of paying attention. Companionable silence.

But it doesn’t feel right. Not now, not in my daydream. Something’s missing for me.


When we get home, Frank points at the Snowman gnome.

“Look! Snow’s got a friend! It’s winter and summer, like you and me!”


He rocks in the chair while I prepare our supper. I’m glad my gnome has a new friend. I’m glad I’ve got Frank for a friend, too. I don’t really need more from him.


He asks me over to the gym the next day. I feel happy to see him.

“We’ve got so much in common,” I tell him, after he tells me about an old oak he discovered out by the gypsy wagon. “You’re a great friend.”


Annie Nix invites me over that night. I haven’t seen her for a while, and I’m surprised at first by her gray hair. But a few moments of talking, and it’s just like it’s always been between us: kindred spirits who read each other like open books.

“I hear you and Frank are dating,” she says.

“Oh, we’ve gone out a few times,” I say. “But they’re more buddy dates.”

“Buddy dates?” she laughs. “Well, that’s what I was pretty much figuring. Your heart’s still taken?”

I confess to her that it is. She’s not surprised.

“You’re like me, Cath. You’ve got a one-love heart. Once your heart’s given–or stolen, doesn’t matter which–that’s it. Nobody else stands a chance. That’s how I felt the first time Mike and I kissed. And I could tell, looking at you whenever you and Dante were together, that’s how you felt, too. He’s still got you, huh?”


I think about what Annie said while I ride my bike home. It’s the truth. It’s not like Dante was the first guy I ever spent time with. Chauncey and I sort of dated. I dated a few guys in college. And I’ve had a lot of guy friends. Seems like I usually make friends with a guy first, and then, once we’re best friends, I’m just not interested in romance. I want the friendship without the complications.

But Dante. I fell in love with him before we became friends. Then, after we got close, we were just in love, so any friendship that developed was wrapped in love’s mantle. I never really even found him attractive, even before he was a ghost. I’ve just loved him.

I still love him, and it doesn’t feel like it’s ever fading, and there’s no way I can love another in that way while I still love him. My body may shudder, but my heart beats for him.

“Do you got a cell phone with you in that place you go when you’re not here?” I ask him, next time he comes by.

“No,” he says. “I don’t think it works that way. Why?”

“I thought maybe you could call me, maybe.”

He chuckles with his laugh that echoes.


I’ve started complimenting him on his ghastliness. He loves it because it’s so silly, and it helps me acknowledge the shivery way he makes my body feel when I first catch sight of him.

He’s started scaring me. It’s not a mean scare, though. It’s funny. It’s playful and flirtatious, and I find it utterly charming.

One night, he tells me, “Let me take you for a ride. Meet me out at the bench.”

I grab my salad and head out. When I get there, bench is rising up into the air and shaking and spinning, and Dante’s nowhere to be seen.

“Dante?” I call. “Where are you?”

He laughs with a wooden sound. “In here!” he says, muffled. “Get on!”

The bench lowers for a moment, and I sit on it. Then, while Dante laughs in splinters, it floats.


He gives me a wild ride. Sometimes, the bench spins. Sometimes, it shakes. Sometimes, he floats it so sweet. All the time, he’s laughing like lumber.


“That was fun!” I say when he finally sets the bench down and slides out.

“I’m bushed!” he says.

I follow him into the bedroom, and he falls fast asleep. Lying next to him, I’m happy and satisfied. So, it’s not a normal romance, but we’ve made it our own. We’re figuring it out, and I think I can live with it.


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Whisper 1.18


I consider returning to college for a second degree. I figure that my career as a gardener might benefit from a B.S. in botany. I’d forgotten how hard the aptitude test is! But I do well–I qualify for a full scholarship and advanced credits in science. So, this option is available.

Just because a door opens doesn’t mean you need to walk through it–check with your heart and do what you love.

When Dante comes by that evening, I talk with him about returning to college.

“Are you hungry for it?” he asks. “If so, do it! If not, then what are you hungry for?”


I’m hungry for painting.

Before I start the painting for Mara, I’ve got this other idea that I have to express. I’m not sure where it comes from or what it means. It just says something to me that I feel needs to be said. It feels like it hooks up with my life somehow, but I’m not sure how.


Before I know it, my birthday rolls around. I invite Chauncey and the whole gang.


It’s a funny party. We take turns rocking in the rocking chair. We hold father-daughter video game competitions. (Mara wins.) We eat spaghetti.


My alien friend does his thing in the corner of the room. I have no idea what he’s doing, but it makes this neat buzzing sound and I like the way the air around him feels like it’s charged with knowledge.


“My! These games are quite original!” Beatrice says. “Did you really just knock off that zombie’s head, Frank?”

Frank just chuckles.


And then it’s time for my cake.

“Remember the power of birthday wishes,”says Beatrice.


Mara asks if it’s true if a birthday wish doesn’t come true if you say it aloud.

“Any wish loses power when spoken to others,” Beatrice said, “unlike an intention, which gains power when shared.”


Before making my wish, I turn and look at the room filled with my friends–each one cheering for me, each one wishing me well, each one celebrating another year of life!

I realize that my unspoken wish has already been granted.


Frank is the last one to leave. We sit together on the love seat. He reads, and I enjoy the warm feelings of friendship.

Frank and I haven’t done much with our band. We haven’t done anything with the budding romance which we both thought might be happening between us.

But we’ve done a lot with our friendship: we’ve let it blossom.

“Thanks for being here,” I tell him.

“Sure thing, Cat,” he says.


Dante comes that night and we have our own private party.

I play a song I wrote for him.


We asked the Love Machine
all about us.

It foretold doom–but not for us.
It foretold the end–but not of us.

It said what lasts
Was what we had.

You didn’t last.
But we did.

You faded out
But not our love.


I celebrate my first day after my birthday by going for a long run at dawn. This eerie world is so beautiful.


With the mist settling over the mountains and the autumn trees bare against the gray sky, some might call this view sombre or even Gothic.

I might have said that when I first moved here. But today, I love it. I’m drawn by the mystery, the shadows, the hidden.


At the fire pit by the beach, I spot an odd figure, dressed like a carnival clown.


It’s Rainflower Ivy.

“What are you doing here, Rain?” I ask him. Rainflower and I have a bit of a history. He’s Chauncey’s best friend, and back when Chauncey was my roommate, Rainflower asked me out a few times. I went out with him once, but as soon as I learned he was married, I cut the date short. But we’ve stayed wary friends.

“I wanted a little time alone,” he says.

“Are you all right? Why’re you dressed like this?”

“I’m feeling rather tragic,” he replies. “I thought it might help me feel happier, better about my life, if I dressed cheerfully. But it just makes me feel worse.”

“Well, take care of yourself, OK? You want me to call your wife or Chauncey?”

“Naw,” he replies. “I’ll just sit here for a bit. Contemplate emptiness.”

“Nothing’s empty, Rain,” I say.

“That’s what you think,” he replies.


Back home, I feel the inspiration that I needed for Mara’s painting.

When we were looking through the inspiration books, she kept pointing to paintings in folk style, with bright colors, simple shapes, classical composition, and symbolic content.

I think about Mara, a young woman with a strong mom, a member of this strange and vibrant community, a person drawn by meaning and magic. I hope she likes what I paint.


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Whisper 1.17


I spend a lot of time with friends. I have this idea that it will help me move through grief more easily if I have people around me.

Grief has its own rhythms and pacing. Give it time, and don’t look for the silver bullet.

Mara Nix is growing up, and she comes over often.

She asks me if I’d paint something for her.

“I just want a painting to hang in my room,” she says. “I think it’s classy. And you’re a good artist, plus you’re my friend, so I thought I’d ask you.”

I agree and tell her I’ll have it done in a week or two.

Before I get a chance to work on Mara’s painting, Beatrice Crumplebottom invites me over.

“I’ve been writing a book of spells,” she tells me. “You might be interested!”

“But I’m not a witch,” I reply. “I don’ really have much use for things like spells.”

“Nonsense!” she says. “Everyone can use spells! Besides, this is Moonlight Falls. You’re living among magic, dear. It’s high time you start embracing the magic of your own self.”


Later, when Mara and I meet up at the library to look through some art books for inspiration and ideas for her painting, I tell her about my conversation with Beatrice.

Mara gives me a strange look.

“You know, my parents always thought they could ignore magic,” she says.

“And can they?” I ask.

“They deny it. You know how Mom is. When I’m with them, I keep my focus on the boring stuff. But I’ve got to tell you, Cathy, I’ve seen things, things I can’t deny.”


When we finish looking through the art books, we head outside and play some frisbee.

“Does it bother you,” I ask, “being one of the few regular non-magic people here?”

“Who says I’m not magic?” she replies. “I think old Miss Crumplebottom is right, and there is magic in all of us, and living here gives us a chance to discover that!”


That evening, Doreen Caliente stops by.

“I feel a little like I’m living in a postcard,” I tell her. “Like nothing is quite real.”

“Oh, give it a break,” she replies. I wait for her to say more, but she’s playing video games, and our conversation stalls out while she battles the zombie hordes.


After she leaves, I settle into bed. I’m still not completely used to sleeping alone in the house. Dante and I never shared a bed long enough for me to register that as normal, so I can’t blame my insomnia on missing him beside me. But I still miss him. And even though I’m grateful that Chauncey and Jin have moved out, I miss having other people in the home, especially late at night when the moon casts strange shadows.


Not being able to sleep, I get up and clean the kitchen. My thoughts keep returning to Dante. It feels almost like he’s near me, like I can hear him breathing and smell his spicy aftershave.


I wonder if, wherever his spirit is, if he ever thinks of me. I don’t know if it works that way. Where do we store our memories of another person, in our brains? In our consciousness? In the cells of our body? Or somewhere else, in that part of us that continues after our bodies fade away?


As the grey light of dawn arrived, I feel Dante so strongly.

When we feel someone’s presence, it means a connection. Go ahead. Reach out.

“Dante?” I ask.

The air is filled with the sound of a beating heart and an inferno’s roar.


Before me, red vapors coalesce into a form. It’s Dante.

“Are you real?” I ask.

“Was I ever?” replies his voice, as if it’s coming through a tunnel, echoing from someplace dark and far away.

“Can I talk to you?” I ask.

“We’re talking now,” he says. “I missed you. You’re my OTP.”


We talk into the morning. I feel shivers when I look at him–I can’t help it. Deep inside me, fear stirs and I feel repulsion. But once the chills pass, I see that it’s still Dante, still the one with whom I shared a love that was prophesied to outlast even the earth itself.

“It sounds like some kind of music is coming from you,” I tell him.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “I don’t know what that is. I hear it all the time. I think it’s perhaps the music of the spheres, or something.”

“But why do you hear it? Why does it come from you?”


“Who knows?” he replies. “There’s so much I don’t understand. I get that now. Anyway, how’s your garden? You still selling a lot of produce?”

I fill him in on the crops. I’m making good money growing coffee. It feels odd to be talking with him about such ordinary things, and yet I feel really happy, too.

“Did you mean it when you said we were an OTP?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says. “Don’t you think so?”


He has to leave when the sun streams in through the window.

“Will you be back?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. “I think it’s true, what that Love Machine said. What we’ve got outlasts it all. I’ll see you soon.”

After he’s gone, I sit in the sunlight pouring through the window and draw sketches for Mara’s painting. For the first time since Grim came for Dante, I feel peaceful, and for the first time since moving to this strange town, I feel at home.


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