Puppy Love 14

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How was it that the next time I returned, Lucas had grown into a man?

Broad shoulders, full beard–I hardly recognized him, until I saw his goofy eyes and elvish grin. Of course, one look at him with the dogs, and it was clear this was their favorite companion, same as he’d always been, only grown up.

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He played violin as terribly as ever.

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Mochi, Miss Molly, and Dustin cowered in the corner.

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But Bartholomew sang along in his tuneful tenor.

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I made it a point to come around more often. It’s hard to know what “more often” is. I’ve always tried to keep in touch. But I realized that it’s when I do something, anything, even sit and meditate, that I enter the timeless stream and drift out of the fabric of the every day.

I discovered a way to watch–to keep my focus keen–which kept me floating down the same time-stream as my beloveds.

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And when I watched, I saw so much. I saw moments.

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And these moments brought me a cat’s smile. Is this how you experienced time, Otter?

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Lucas hadn’t improved in painting.

Maybe he didn’t paint to improve.

Maybe he simply painted because he loved it.

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Tanvi and I had been asking each other who Lucas would choose to help him. Maybe no one, I guessed. Or maybe he would wait, like I did, until he was very old.

Tanvi said that he would likely ask the cleaning guy from the maid service. “A beard for a beard,” she joked.

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And then, without warning, I felt the pull. I would have felt this regardless, whether I was watching or whether I was drifting, for the gaunt one and I had an agreement.

I was to be present every time he called.

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The sorrow comes, mostly, in thinking of those left behind. For Bartholomew, it was only his old creaky bones, whitened muzzle, tired eyes, and coiled tail that he would leave. Those old parts were ready to be discarded.

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He would be back, like Bobie, Nibbler, Babe, and Bosko. It was way past his time.

But staying longer doesn’t make it easier for those left behind. It might make it harder.

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Mr. Bones came in through bedroom, a grand entrance, with the drama of thunder and smoke.

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And then, he laughed.

The nerve.

“Knock it off,” I said. “Just get it over with.”

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It was quick, if flashy.

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Stay?

Of course Bartholomew chose to stay!

I grabbed his spirit and held it close. “Bartholomew, I have waited for you!”

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I’m next, said Mochi, but it won’t be soon enough.

Oh, pup! Don’t rush it! You still have years left in you! And I want to watch your old white paws pounce through the meadows again. Don’t be in a hurry!

She was ready to go with her mate. But the shepherd doesn’t listen to what we wish. He has own timetable that he’s sworn to keep.

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Puppy Love 13

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Time shifted away from me again, and when I returned, an overgrown white dog guarded the garden gate.

It was Dustin, grown from an adorable pup into a handsome dog.

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He looked like a schnauzer with spaniel ears.

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He must have taken all of Bartholomew’s coaching to heart, for he’d developed a dignified manner.

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He’d kept his predilection for water and became a fan of the daily dip, looking dignified even when doing the dog paddle.

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I felt a debt of gratitude towards Lucas, rearing this pup so well, and beneath the debt sat the weight of guilt. What had we done in asking Lucas to give up his life for us, for our pups?

One night, I found Lucas sitting at the poolside eating breakfast for midnight snack. Was he lonely? Fulfilled?

He seemed happy enough. And we surely left him rich enough. But could this be enough? A young man wants a career, purpose, family, friends…

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Tanvi had told me he’d wanted to be a master artist, and that was what had attracted him to the position in the first place–a place to stay while he worked on his art. His paintings remained mediocre. Nothing special–copies of work I’d done and hung about the house. He hadn’t progressed much.

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Poor kid. He probably never had the chance to practice, with six dogs and a cat to look after. Someone would always be needing something.

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And did he even know anyone outside of the gardener and maid?

His mom had been Tanvi’s age, and she crossed over about the time Tanvi did. We passed her spirit now and then, and she asked after her son. Don’t let him have regrets! she moaned.

Still, whenever I stopped by, he seemed happy enough, cheerful, even. His eyes sparkled more than they had when he’d been a little boy, running through the fields after grasshoppers.

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And he surely loved Otter and the dogs. He was close with all of them, but he and Dustin seemed to share a special bond, likely because he was there when Dustin was born.

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One afternoon,  I heard laughter from the house. When I blew through, I found the living room full of blond Lucas clones.

His brother Wolfgang sat on the couch, and with them was a girl with funny top-knot braids, a goofy Lucas smile, and twinkling blue eyes.

Caleb seemed confused by the genetic echoes. I wondered if they carried a family scent.

“Why can’t we get a dog, Dad?” she whined. “Uncle Gunther, don’t you think it would make me more responsible if I had a dog?”

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So it was Lucas’s niece, Wolfgang’s daughter. She certainly seemed to like the dogs a lot, even if they weren’t too sure what to make of her.

“There aren’t any more dogs up for adoption,” Wolfgang said. “Lucas has them all. Every single fricking dog in the universe.”

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“He’s cornered the market,” said Gunther.

“Can I have one of your dogs, Uncle Lucas?” she asked.

“That’s a thought, Ember. I’m not sure if the dogs would go for that?” Lucas said. “They’re kind of attached to this home? And they’re very attached to each other?”

Mochi looked at Lucas as if she wished, for once, his assertions wouldn’t end in question marks.

“But look how cute they are!” she said. “I think they like me!”

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Uncle Gunther chuckled to himself as he took out the trash. “Six dogs and a cat. And my little brother is thinking up reasons to keep them all. That’s so Lucas.”

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That’s so Lucas. 

I thought hard about that. He had a chance to lighten his load. Surely, re-homing with his own family, with a cute girl who loved dogs, presented a viable solution!

But maybe there was no problem.

Maybe this lifestyle was so very Lucas that it was the life he wanted. Maybe he had no regrets with things just as they were. Happy dog. Happy person.

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Puppy Love 6

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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.

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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!

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The door creaked open and the shepherd walked in. Bartholomew and Otter weren’t afraid. They knew his tall shape well.

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“Give it a rest!” I said to him when he tried his come-on again. “It’s business, not pleasure.”

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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?”

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“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.

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Otter arched and hissed. The shadow one may be familiar, but that doesn’t excuse what he does when he comes.

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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.

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Bartholomew followed.

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.”

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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.

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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?

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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!”

Otter mewed.

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Mochi made her way back to the house, walking slowly toward Lucas’s room.

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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.

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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.

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Such lovely dogs! Such intelligent pups! And what a good mom!

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Grief doesn’t stand a chance against puppy snuggles!

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Caleb leaned into Lucas’s hand as he stroked the taut puppy belly.

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When Lucas headed inside, Caleb sat back and howled in a strong alto, just like Bartholomew used to do when he was pup.

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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.

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When the puppy-high wore off, Lucas slammed into grief. Bartholomew followed him out to the graves.

Speak, boy! Bark!

Bartholomew sang.

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That was all Lucas needed. Bartholomew was grieving, too, he realized. And they could comfort each other.

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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!”

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Mochi barked once, and the puppies crawled out from under the couch.

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“Astrid!” Lucas said when he saw me. “Look! We have puppies! This is Caleb!”

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“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!

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Puppy Love 5

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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?

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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.

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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.

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While he slept, Mochi and Otter stood sentry outside his tent.

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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.

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The garden gate squeaked, and when I looked there was the Reaper.

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“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?”

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He raised his bone finger towards Bosko, collapsed on the flagstones.

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“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.

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Nibbler came, too, and Babe left her favorite supper bowl to wait for her brother.

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She howled.

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Otter mewed, and Mochi whimpered. Nibbler looked away.

“Just get it over with,” I said to the Reaper.

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The scythe flashed in the moonlight.

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The light shone.

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Stay or go? Stay! Stay! 

And the bright ball was collected to be delivered to me.

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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.

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Mochi cocked her head as he turned back towards the house, perhaps afraid that he would take more with him that night.

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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.

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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.

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Besides, she loved everyone, and when a body–including a dog’s–is flooded with oxytocin, sadness doesn’t stand a chance.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Lying beside him while he painted, she recovered her courage.

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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.

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I called Mochi to us.

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Bartholomew hopped right up when he saw her.

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If I wasn’t mistaken, there was a lot more than a simple crush between these two.

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Shall we go home, then? I asked. And we headed up the hill together.

Majora greeted us on our return.

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Mochi nuzzled her transparent nose.

See, Mochi? You can still be friends!

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Majora sang while Lucas painted, and Mochi guarded the front gate. No Reapers would be allowed in tonight!

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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.

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Don’t stay too long, I told Majora, but she didn’t hear me. She was too busy remembering the corporeal joys.

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Puppy Love 4

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Mochi sat in the tall grasses at the edge of the field waiting. For what? For Nibbler and Babe to come romping up the hill? For Majora to flush out a mouse? Whomever she waited for never came.

She had the saddest eyes I’d ever seen.

We had to do something. So when Tanvi took Bosko for his evening walk, I rode along on the breeze.

You’ve always wanted a cat, I whispered to her. We have room now!

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When we spied a fine tuxedoed Tom following her, I whispered to Bosko, Kitty! Go make friends!

He stopped and turned towards the Tom.

“What’s this now, Boskie? You like that cat?”

Bosko woofed.

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I liked the cat, too. He had a long tale to tell of fishing boats and salmon heads, lobster traps and bait, wharf mice and cans of beer.

“Would you like to come home with us?” Tanvi asked, but he turned and trotted off, too fond of his scavenging days to trade them in for a full dinner bowl and a quilted bed.

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Head on down to the wharf, I whispered to Tanvi.

Near the fishmonger’s stall, she met a white Cornish Rex.

“You’re beautiful,” she said.

But the Rex hissed at her and arched his back at Bosko before dashing under the stacked crab pots.

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A beautiful Himalayan trotted by.

Quick! Introduce yourself! I whispered, but it was too late. She’d passed us by.

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Beside a pile of yesterday’s bait sat a white-faced Maine coon cat.

Oh, he’s lovely, I whispered to Tanvi.

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Bosko seemed to like him, but the cat gave Bosko the stink-eye.

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Look, trash! I whispered to Bosko, to distract him from the cat.

“Oh, aren’t you something!” Tanvi said. “Yes, you like me, too, don’t you!”

And the coon cat did seem to like Tanvi, unlike the Rex, who had come up behind Tanvi, growling quietly under his breath.

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But the coon cat, too, trotted off before Tanvi could suggest that he might follow them home for a proper meal and a fur-brushing.

I blew home before them to do some thinking. There’s nothing like slipping inside of an object, especially one that carries symbolic significance, like a supper bowl, to do some serious pondering.

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She would just have to try again. It was that simple.  I realized that this would take an actual conversation, not just my subtle whispers.

By the time I slid out of the bowl, Tanvi had already gone to sleep.

But Lucas was awake. He would deliver my message. I joined him for a midnight snack in the front garden.

“How is Tanvi?” I asked.

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“She’s all right?” he said. “Well, not really? The doctor says she’s got something with her heart?”

“Oh, but she seems so strong!”

“She is!” Lucas said. “I think she’s OK really? What do doctors know.”

“Did she tell you she always wanted another cat?” I said. “But we didn’t have room. We have room now.”

Lucas brightened at that.

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“I’d love another cat!” he said.

“You know,” I prompted, “she might not feel like she should get one, if she’s worried about her health. But, personally, I think a household cat would be the best medicine!”

“Of course it would!” Lucas said. “And Mochi’s lonely, too? And I miss Majora? If we got a new cat, we’d all be happy! Bosko and Bartie, too!”

“There are so many cats down at the wharf,” I said. “Maybe you should suggest to her that she take a walk down there tomorrow.”

“That’s a great idea!” Lucas said.

“And maybe,” I suggested, “this time Bosko should stay home.”

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When the sun came up, I hovered, formless and unseen, at the edge of the breakfast table.

“Mochi is lonely,” Lucas said. “She misses Majora.”

“I do, too,” said Tanvi.

“Maybe we could get another cat.”

“Really?” Tanvi perked up. “I’ve always wanted another cat.”

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So after breakfast, leaving Bosko, Bartholomew, and Mochi at home with Lucas, Tanvi walked back down to the wharf, and I followed on the breeze.

We found a beautiful spotted cat. I fell in love. But she trotted off before agreeing to come home with Tanvi.

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I suppose some cats like their freedom. They may like pets and kind words, but they also like the big sky, the sea breeze, the seagulls’ call. They like the tall scaffolding and the empty crates, the moonlight and the night prowls.

But some cats like a warm bed and a dry house.

A beautiful cat, with the face of an otter and the thick fur of a coatimundi, slowly approached Tanvi.

“Aren’t you sweet?” Tanvi said.

And the cat mewed back in echo.

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Oh, Tanvi, she loves you! I whispered.

And it did indeed seem that she did.

“Would you like to belong with us?” Tanvi asked. “That is, we would belong to you!”

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The otter-cat mewed back and pawed at Tanvi’s knee.

“You want to be picked up, do you?” Tanvi asked.

Otter snuggled into the crook of her arm and batted at her hair.

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“Then it’s a deal!” Tanvi said.

Before turning back home, I saw sorrow’s shadow behind Tanvi’s eyes. It’s a look I know well. She’d be joining me soon, and right then, she was taking it all in, believing it possible that this might be the last time she would see the wharf with her own two eyes.

We have different eyes, in the After, eyes not of the body but of the soul. And they see even more true. They see through it all to beauty. Tanvi didn’t know that yet, but she would soon.

And Otter? Otter had eyes of love, the happy eyes of a cat who has finally found a home.

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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.

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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.

puppy329

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.

puppy330

“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.

puppy331

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.

puppy334

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.

puppy335

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.

puppy336

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.

puppy337

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Septemus 53

7tupid No7e

Septeen1906

Lucas (aka Mr. Munch-Rasoya–ha!) “dropped by” today. Wouldn’t you know it, while I, in all my navel-less splendour, was playing on the slip-n-slide.

“Oh, yoo-hoo! Septemus!” He really did say that. Fortunately, I was checking my texts, so I could take a minute to breathe, i.e. stew.

Does he really think he can pop on over like this? Does he not know how I feel about his married self?

Septeen1601

I counted to tui.

“Oh, hey. Lucas, hi,” I poured on the charm.

Septeen1602

He looked a little off, actually. And, in spite of myself, I felt worried.

“You doing OK, buddy?” I asked. “You seem sort of drained. Coming down with something?”

Septeen1603

“I feel so weird,” he said. “I’ve been like this all day. Since last night. It’s the strangest thing, Sept.”

He told me an odd story. He and Raj took a day-trip to Forgotten Hollow.

“I’ve always wanted to go, ever since you told me about when you went there to meet your little sister, and Rajarooni likes old architecture, so we decided, why not? Fun little afternoon outing.”

They strolled the square, stopped by the library, and then–he can’t remember what happened next. Neither can Raj.

“It was like we just woke up, and we were still in the library, but somehow almost an hour had passed, and–it was one of those weird things.”

Septeen1604

He said his arm really hurt. You could barely see it now, but he said that yesterday, it had these weird scratches on it. The strangest thing was how quickly they healed.

“I still feel sort of… off. Like goofy, kind of!”

“Yeah, you look a little off,” I said. I lied. He looked adorable.

Septeen1605

“Oh, congratulations, by the way,” I said. And then, I couldn’t stand out there with him anymore. It hurt. He’s married. He’s cute and he’s married. He’s really cute. And really married.

I thought over what he said about his trip to Forgotten Hollow. Panda’s mum felt so concerned when I came to visit–vampire attacks. But that’s not real. That’s just the stuff of late-night movies.

Septeen1606

For some reason, Lucas invited himself inside. He followed me into the kitchen.

I wanted to say to him, “You don’t get to look at me with those eyes anymore. And maybe you should wear a hat when you’re around me. And what the yobasko are you doing in my kitchen, anyway, when you know how I feel about the idea of you in a kitchen alone with me!”

But I didn’t say any of that. I asked him if he wanted a glass of water.

Septeen1607

“Nah! I’m good!” he said.

Just for a moment, I let myself fall into the sound of his voice. I didn’t fall all the way, just into the vowels, and then I pulled myself out.

Septeen1608

I started dancing.

He started talking.

“Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t have a chance to tell you about me and Raj,” he said. “We’ve been sort of seeing each other for a while. You’d like him. He’s a good cook. I like to wash dishes…”

I tuned him out. He kept talking. All I heard was the music.

Septeen1609

Pops came in and joined us. I shut my eyes and started to singing to my pagotogo. I just didn’t want to listen to him yammering away anymore. I wanted to remember who keeps me grounded: My pops. My little brothers. My sisters. Panda. Panda?

Septeen1610

I had a strange image just then, when I thought of Panda, of red, gray, black, and something very warm and very wet. Panda? Are you OK, paPandagoto?

I got an image of her cleaning the bathroom, a little sad, a little quiet, but OK.

Chin up, little sister!
Smile bright.

Panda star,
You’re all right!

“My arm kinda hurts,” Lucas said.

Septeen1611

He stepped behind me and grabbed a pile of dishes off the kitchen counter. Lucas, why do you have to look so happy, like nothing happened, like you and I can keep on going as if you weren’t married, as if my dreams weren’t shattered, as if everything were OK?

“You’re kinda cute, do you know that?” he said to me. “For a kid. You’re gonna make somebody a fine husband someday.”

Septeen1612

OH! Yobasko! Stupid nose! Just go wash your own dishes. I’m not sure I can have you in my kitchen anymore, Mr. Munch-Rasoyo.

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Author’s note: If you’re wondering about what happened at Forgotten Hollow during the interval that Lucas and Raj cannot remember, check out this chapter of Pandora’s Box!

Septemus 51

Septeen1501

Dear son,

You were so sad at dinner that I knew my news had to wait. I had to find out what was going on with you, first.

“Wolfgang dropped by today,” you said.

That’s nearly always bad news, as far as I’m concerned. I know you’ve got your reasons for being his friend, but if it were up to me, we’d let him stand on the porch next time he came knocking.

“He came by with news,” you went on. “Big news. He asked me to guess.”

My guesses: 1) He didn’t get into college. 2) His brother Gunther didn’t get his manuscript accepted by a publisher. 3) Lucas joined the Merchant Marines.

None of these were correct. But the news did involve Lucas. You said you were so eager to hear anything about Lucas.

septteen307

Except this. Nothing could have prepared you for this.

Lucas got married. To Raj.

You said you held it together until Wolfgang left, but once he reached the sidewalk, you lost it.

septteen308

“To Raj?” I asked.

You nodded. Raj is a nice guy.

“That’s a surprise,” I said. I thought there was something between you and Lucas.

“I don’t know what it is! What’s the word for a bad surprise? A catastrophe?” you said.

Your heart was broken, I could see, and you were angry.

“I can understand that you might feel mad,” I said. “This came out of nowhere.”

“It sort of didn’t,” you said. “I could tell his feelings turned. It’s because of who I am.”

“You mean because you’re an extra-terrestrial?” I asked.

“Nah. He thinks that’s cool. It’s because I’m a bizoo.”

“That’s so lousy. What a stupid bias. How does he know you’re a bizoo?”

You said that he’d come over a while back, and the two of you had been sliding on the slip-and-slide. You were wearing your swim trunks.

“He asked why I didn’t have a belly button,” you said. “And when I told him, he went cold. Clammy. I repulse him.”

I tried to think of something to say.

Nothing sounded right in my head.

“Well, you know. I know this isn’t the time to hear this, likely, but maybe it’ll make sense later. Anybody really worth getting involved with will have an open mind. Your origin won’t be a deterrent. They’ll be able to see you, and how you came to be will simply be part of who you are, not something that puts them off.”

“I don’t think there are people like that,” you said, “besides you.”

You were ready to change the subject. You asked about my news.

“Go on, Pops!” you said. “Maybe it’ll distract me.”

Septeen1503

I took a deep breath.

“Did you know your people came for me last night?” I began.

You started to chuckle. “Don’t tell me… don’t even… it can’t be! It is!”

You were laughing. And we said it together, “A baby brother!”

Septeen1502

“When’s he due, Pops?” you asked.

I realized I have no idea. How long do these things take?

You didn’t have any idea, either.

There is so much I don’t know about this. I think I’m going to have to write Brio.

Septeen1701

At least the news makes you smile.

“I’ve got the coolest family,” you said. “What do I need anyone else for? You, me, and pagoto makes three!”

Septeen1702

I loved seeing your smile, Sept. You might have a broken heart. You might feel hurt, But we’ve got family. That’ll pull us through anything.

–Your pops

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Three Rivers 19.1

Nineteenth Sim of Thirty Sims at Three Rivers

19. All day long we found tadpoles

nineteen10

Serena’s niece Sylvia wasn’t sure how she felt about spending the summer way out in the country with her aunt.

“I was supposed to do piano lessons,” Sylvia said.

“I’ve got a piano,” said Serena. “And I’ll be happy to teach you.”

“It won’t be the same,” said Sylvia.

nineteen11

“Of course not,” said Serena.

Sylvia’s mother had been assigned an extra teaching load at the university this summer, and, as she was also wrapping up her Ph.D. thesis, she wasn’t sure what to do with Sylvia. She was too little to be left alone in the city all day, and too big to tag along at the university.

“Let her spend the summer with me,” Serena volunteered. “There’s plenty of room for her to run outside, and she can come with me to the island on the days I work at the Villareals’.”

So Sylvia arrived at Serena’s cottage out in the countryside with her suitcase full of frilly dresses.

“Oh, these won’t do,” said Serena.

“What do you mean?” asked Sylvia.

“How can you climb trees and chase frogs in a dress?”

Serena asked her friend and neighbor Mila Munch, the mother of three boys, if she had any hand-me-downs that they might borrow until they had time to go to town to buy more appropriate play clothes.

“More than enough!” said Mila, and she insisted, bringing over a box full of hats, jeans, overalls, and t-shirts that her boys had outgrown, that Serena and Sylvia keep them.

The next morning, Saturday, while Serena read with a cup of coffee, Sylvia asked if she might explore.

“Of course,” said Serena. “Come home when you’re hungry!”

nineteen12

Sylvia ran down the hill to the fork in the road at the bottom, and there she found a wide meadow.

nineteen13

Stalks of blue flowers grew taller than her, and grasshoppers jumped out of her path.

nineteen14

She played a game of jump-hop with the grasshoppers. They won, of course, and Sylvia thought she had never played a more fun game.

A thrush sang from the branches of an old oak. Sylvia thought that she had never heard better music.

nineteen16

On Sunday afternoon, too, Sylvia roamed.

“Come back by sunset,” said Serena, who sat happily playing the piano.

Sylvia crossed a stone bridge, and there, at the edge of the meadow, flowed a small waterfall.

nineteen15

She had never seen a waterfall before, unless one counted the fountains at her mother’s university as a waterfall. But this was different.

This roared.

nineteen18

She felt the spray on her face, and the cascading water shouted her name: Sylvia! Sylvia!

nineteen17

Serena had told her that there was a tall waterfall at the old mill, and Sylvia, now that she’d seen the little falls, wanted to find the tall one.

A lady with binoculars and a funny hat made of straw pointed the way to her. She had to run through a very large meadow to get there. Her whole neighborhood in the city would fit in this meadow, she thought, but she was so glad that it was full only with birches, grasshoppers, sparrows, and wrens.

nineteen19

All the songs of the meadow fell away as the tall waterfall roared. It must have said every name that ever was and ever will be, all at once, not just “Sylvia!” but an entire cacophony of a roll-call!

Maybe this was the river of life!

nineteen20

The sun began to set, and Sylvia remembered that she had to be home. She had such a long way to go! She hoped she remembered which way to turn when she came to the road.

nineteen21

As it grew dark, she found herself by a house she didn’t recognize.

“What’s a little one like you doing on the road?” asked a man who talked in a low, funny voice.

nineteen22

“My cottage disappeared,” she said.

He laughed. “Cottages tend to do that.”

They talked of waterfalls and meadows. Sylvia learned that he lived in the woods near an old orchard, not in a house at all. When at last he discovered that she was Serena’s niece he pointed her in the right direction.

“You’ll be home before the moon!” he said.

nineteen23

Before breakfast the next day, Serena packed a basket of books, paper, and paints for Sylvia.

“This should keep you busy!” she said.

“But I don’t want to be busy,” said Sylvia. “I want to be in the meadows!”

“But I won’t be here,” said Serena. “I have to go to my work at the Villareals’. You’ll like it. You can play in the woods near their house, and we’ll bring plenty of projects for you to do, while I work.”

“I want to stay here. If I can’t stay alone, let me stay with the funny man.”

“What man is that?” asked Serena.

“He lives in the woods, by the orchard. I don’t know his name, but he knows you. He calls you Se-Se!”

“You must mean Sebastian,” Serena said. “No, you can’t stay alone with Sebastian all day while I am at the Villareals’.”

So that day, Sylvia went with Serena to the island. She played on the beach and drew pictures and read books. It was fun, but it was nothing like the meadows. She missed the grasshoppers, the thrush, the sparrows and wrens, and most of all, she missed the brook and the waterfalls.

“Can’t I please stay home tomorrow?” she asked Serena, on the ferry ride back at the end of the day.

“Don’t you like the ferry?” asked Serena.

“I do. But I would like to stay home tomorrow, please?”

When they got back to the cottage, Serena called her friend and neighbor.

“Of course, she can spend the day with us!” said Mila. “Lucas will love to have a little friend to explore with!”

So all the next day, Lucas and Sylvia roved.

“I know where tadpoles are,” said Lucas.

nineteen09

Sylvia had never seen tadpoles before.

“Not even pollywogs?” Lucas asked.

Not even pollywogs.

They ran through an old garden at a forgotten estate. There in a broken fountain filled with green water swam brown tadpoles, bigger than her fist!

nineteen08

“They’ll be bullfrogs when they get their legs,” said Lucas.

nineteen07

They found a maze made of hedges.

“Race you!” cried Sylvia, and she ran down the narrow path that twisted and turned, and not once did she get lost!

nineteen06

“Which way?” called Lucas.

“Follow your nose!” said Sylvia.

nineteen05

Sylvia came out in an opening, thick with mist from a nearby waterfall.

She saw something move from out of the corner of her eye, and she turned just in time to see a huge bullfrog leap from the rock into the pond below.

“It was this big!” she told Lucas, measuring a span with her hands.

nineteen04

They couldn’t scale the rocks to get to the pond below, so they lay on their bellies and looked down into the clear water, where large brown tadpoles swam with small black pollywogs and tiny little fish.

Next it was back to the meadows where the tall flowers grew and another game of jump-hop with the grasshoppers. It was more fun with two.

nineteen03

As the sun reached low and the long shadows stretched, Sylvia and Lucas found themselves beside a quiet still pond where ducks foraged.

nineteen01

“This is a good tadpole hole,” said Lucas. They waded in the water and waited quietly while the tadpoles swam over their toes, then, they darted their hands in quickly and each caught one!

“It tickles!” said Sylvia.

“Happy summer,” whispered Lucas to the tadpole in his hand, and then he gently let it go.

They watched their tadpoles swim away and settle into the thick dark mud.

“When we come back tomorrow, they might start to be having legs,” said Lucas.

“I think we should come back every day,” said Sylvia. “Forever and always.”

nineteen02