I turned off my computer and said good evening to my coworkers. Outside, the brisk winter air chilled my face. Crossing the street and entering the parking lot I thought about what I wanted to do that evening. I got in my car and sighed.
The sky was already turning a dark gray, the sun coursing toward the horizon. I never much liked the way that worked out in the winter months. Seemed all the good, daytime hours, were sucked up in the void of work and sunlight was a rare commodity.
A week ago I looked at a litter of Golden Retriever pups. They’d been rescued and were placed in a foster home. I chose the runt, and named her Clarity. I decided I’d go home, gather up Clarity, then drive over to Duncan’s store. He’d been wanting to meet her.
As I pulled into the parking lot a pearly fog was swirling low to the ground. Through the mist the tiny white lights framing the windows and eaves of the bookstore twinkled warmly. I gathered Clarity and headed for the door.
As I neared, treasures of cloth, leather, and paper lay just beyond the long window, beckoning readers to come have a look. I opened the door and walked in. Warmth from the portable heater wrapped around me, as did the fragrance of Duncan’s subtle cologne.
Duncan was rearranging books his customers had pulled out to peruse. As he heard me enter, he turned around and a big smile lit his face. He was a tall, bear of a man and ruggedly handsome. I walked over to him and we embraced. Clarity pressed between us barked in her puppy voice.
Duncan stepped back, reached out for the pup, “Maurine! What a cutie you have here!” He held her at arm’s length and chuckled as her paws pumped rapidly in the air. “She’s adorable.”
He waved me over, and behind the counter. From a small refrigerator he pulled out a piece of deli meat and offered it to Clarity.
“How are you doing, Duncan?”
His face grew ashen, and he placed Clarity in my arms . . .
His father had passed away on New Year’s Day. Duncan had taken his father to a nursing home, against his father’s wishes, but his dad’s dementia had made it a necessity. The decision had left Duncan filled with remorse, and he was growing restless and edgy. His color looked bad and I worried about him.
More than friends, Duncan and I shared a bond filled with love, respect, and gratitude. Thankful to have a soul mate in each other, there was nothing we could not share. Our relationship never progressed to a physical joining, as lovers, but our connection was just as deep.
Duncan sat down in one of the two chairs he kept behind the counter. Clarity and I took the other. Mindlessly, he ran his fingers through his hair, shook his head. “I can’t rid myself of the guilt, Maurine. I keep seeing his face and frightened demeanor, when he begged me to never put him in a facility.”
“I know, Duncan. I know . . .”
It was something we had talked about — the fate of our parents. How we felt we couldn’t deal with it when they passed on. My parents were in their 80s and though healthy, there was always that fear of the unexpected. Duncan’s mother died from Parkinson’s in the autumn, and a part of Duncan’s spirit atrophied with her passing.
His parents had seen him through a tough patch in his life. Soon after a bitter divorce his only child had lost his life in a snow boarding accident. Likewise, my folks had pulled me through a nearinjury I suffered in a car accident. Consequently, the attachments we had to our parents went deep, and unlike many people, we had learned to value our familial relationship with them and to value them, also, as friends.
We talked until a customer entered the store. As I readied to leave, Duncan handed me a book from the countertop. “For you. The newest from your favorite author.” He gave me a quick hug. “Why don’t you come over this Friday night. We can celebrate my birthday.”
I nodded and hugged him back. “It’s a date. You take care . . .ya.” I started for my car and heard him reply, “I will, Maurine. I love you, too.”
I stood at his front door, a neatly wrapped gift with a card in hand. Duncan shunned many modern conveniences. His home was filled with 1950s memorabilia. The gift I had for him was an answering machine. I doubted he would use it, but I had hopes.
He greeted me at the door and quick on his heels was the patter of paws. I looked past Duncan and saw a pup. A black, Flat-coated Retriever, gawky and panting.
I gaped up at Duncan. Grinning like a kid he gripped me affectionately and ushered me in. “His name is Piper. A birthday gift to myself. He’s cute, don’t you think?”
“Oh, yes. When did you get him?”
“Day before yesterday. I don’t know what compelled me, but I felt led to find a furry companion. There was an ad in the paper. I went to have a look and he was irresistible.”
We talked late into the night. Sipping wine and staring into the flames of his fireplace.
Saturday afternoon I received a call from Duncan’s housekeeper. Sometime that morning Duncan had died from an aneurysm. She’d found him on his kitchen floor, unresponsive. An ambulance was called out but it was too late.
I dropped the phone, rushed out to my car and drove over to Duncan’s house. My mind refused to believe it. The front door was ajar. I entered to find the house eerily quiet and dark. Sitting on the back porch the black pup had been looking in and saw me. At once he began whimpering. I ran over to the French-door and let him in. He came over, stood up and pawed at my legs.
I bent down, scooped him up and gazed around. The house seemed like a tomb and I felt I was suffocating. I took Piper and left.
Three months later as I sat in my backyard, tears spilled unbidden to my lap. I ached for Duncan’s company. Never had I thought to not have him around. It was unbearable–this business of missing him.
The days were longer and the two pups had grown gangly. The sun was setting and the air was thick with gold motes. Glittering specks danced around Piper and Clarity as the two romped playfully in the grass.
Something in the garden had captured their attention. They circled round, listening, looking. I walked over to where they stood in the garden. Warmth radiated from the far-reaching sunbeams that wove the daylight and twilight.
The air was alive and the sky a moving painting of colors. It was a sight Duncan would have watched with wonder, and I would have been at his side, filled with awe and joy. It is part of what bound us close, our reverence for the beauty of the Creator.
I turned toward to the house, unable to summon that feeling. It was not the same as when it was shared.
“But it is shared, Maurine. I will never leave you. You were so much a part of my life, it only makes sense that you would be a part of my new life. You cannot see me, but you can sense me . . . in the warmth of the sun. In the gold motes at twilight.”
Numb at first, I turned around. Clarity and Piper sat studying me. Their tongues lolled out and they were clearly grinning. Then, together, they raised their heads and closed their eyes in pure pleasure, as dogs will do when lovingly caressed by their human companions.
There was a twinkling in the air, the last specks lit briefly by the setting sun. “Duncan?”
“Yes.” The word came with the scent of his cologne; ethereal and light. “Thank you for taking Piper.”
I nodded, unable to formulate a thought.
“You are my heart mate. When you desire me near, I shall be there for you. Our connection transcends our human, physical life on Earth. That is how it is with soul mates. So do not miss me.”
I lifted my chin and swallowed back tears.
“I have also left a part of me with Piper.” Duncan chuckled. “That is how it is with our fur kin. They have a connection in both worlds — yours and mine. And that’s why he so readily expresses his love, and mine, to you.”
“I don’t know what to say. I cannot even see you.”
“Don’t worry about what to say. And, you don’t need to see me, it is what is inside that counts — inside of you. That place where you keep me close.”
I was speechless. Soon, the dogs were begging to go inside. I followed after them, closed the door, and shut the aching, lonely past away at the same time.
I wrote this because life can be filled with magical moments and those we care about, humans and animals, are often a part of that enchantment. Such times as described in the story are what make life a special gift and I thank God for the gift.
I live in the Central Valley of California with my husband and fur family. I have four books in print, with a fifth on the way. Through my writing I hope to touch hearts receptive to hope.
Copyright © 2006 Kathy Pippig