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Sad

It hurts, but if I turn my head slightly, I can see little James in the garden.

Arms stretched wide, face tilted to the clouds, eyes squinting in the welcome warmth. Though I cannot hear his voice, I know that he is singing.

Martha looks up to greet my daughter, and I wonder anew if my grandchild will remember me once I'm gone.

“I’m glad you came, Lydia. There has been a change in him. I think the time is near.”

“Martha, that is not helpful. The doctor is very optimistic.”

Martha takes Lydia’s hand, speaks gently: “Lydia, I have had the privilege of caring for many in their last days. I know the signs. You are right. He is responding well, medically speaking. I can sense something…else.”

Is he old enough to remember me as I was? As I am? At all?

I hope he will remember those ordinary, perfect afternoons. The sun bright and warm, the sky as it is right now, the gentle blue of Forget-Me-Nots in bloom.

As Lydia sits down, Martha adjusts my blanket, holds a straw to my mouth. I purse my lips, annoyed that she is blocking my view. She puts the glass down and moves away. I am thirsty but would rather watch James than endure the agony of swallowing, the faff of water dribbling down my chin, having to be wiped away. No.

I wonder if he will he remember Dusty. Always at his side, my little terrier took his role as James’s protector and fellow mud enthusiast almost as seriously as his afternoon outings. James knew the code – three quick barks and they were both charging to the gate for Walkies.

I start as I realise the last time I saw the sky this perfect petal blue was the day of our last walk together.

Though it breaks my heart, I would rather James forget everything than remember the next day, the day I forgot to close the gate. The day we buried Dusty.

Or the day, not long after, that the ambulance took me away.

Though James accompanied Lydia on the odd hospital visit – quiet, unsure, not himself - she did not bring him back to the house until today.

She was afraid it would be too traumatic for him to be here, but he is singing in the sunshine the way he always did.

James looks at the terrier bounding towards him with delighted surprise. Dusty jumps up against his little body, licking his face. James falls on his bottom, laughing helplessly.

Lydia notices. “Huh. I wonder why he’s laughing like that. My child can be so odd sometimes.”

I feel the warmth of tears, overwhelmed with relief and happiness. James can see him too; I have not lost my mind.

Waking up this morning, I felt a sense of things being as they should be. A sense of rightness, of sudden readiness replacing the terror for what is to come.

The nausea was gone, the thrill of expectation taking its place. I was confused. The giddiness of optimism was but a memory to me. The past months have been a slow agony, a daily parade of pills and indignities.

As I opened my eyes, I saw him: Dusty. Sitting, as he did for the best 10 years of my life, in the sunny spot on the rug by the window. He was young again. More than that, he was whole again. The bloodied, broken body I buried after that terrible screech and that terrible scream was gone.

He was back, wag in his tail and sparkle in his eyes.

For a brief second, a rush of exhilaration, belonging, love. Then the nausea returned, and I came to my senses. This was another side effect of the pain meds: Hallucination.

Martha came in and struggled with the catheter, and Dusty jumped on the blankets. I ignored him. I was determined to end my life in a dignified way; I would not be remembered as the kook who thought he saw his dead dog.

And yet, he was still here. Just as he didn’t care that I was “not a dog person” when he found me the first time, Dusty didn’t seem to care that I was “not a ghost person” now.

Somehow, Martha could sense him. Clearly, James could see him.

Lydia notices that I am crying, takes my hand in hers. She squeezes.

“It’s okay, Dad.”

I try to smile, try to tell Lydia that Martha is right.

On the lawn, Dusty shakes his body, looks back at James as he starts trotting towards the house. James follows. I hear the tick-tick-tick of doggie nails on the wooden floor before Dusty lands on my bed with an enthusiastic thump.

Martha looks at the terrier, a puzzlement flitting across her features. James giggles and points, “Dutty! Dutty!”

Lydia looks right at him without the slightest recognition. She takes out her phone and starts reading a journal article about palliative care.

Martha politely pretends to listen as she neatens the picture frames on the windowsill.

James is getting louder, excited by the return of his old pal, “Dutty! Dutty!”

Lydia sounds faintly annoyed. “No, darling. Your dog is called Nala. She’s waiting at home. Dusty is in heaven, remember?”

To Martha: “He can really be an odd child sometimes.”

Dusty puts his paw on my chest, cocks his head and barks three quick barks.

“Walkies, Dutty! Walkies!”

This is why he is here. It is time to go.

I get up. I am strong. I am young. I am whole.

As I whisper a thank you to Martha, a quick confusion crosses her face.

“Martha, please don’t get distracted. This is important new research I’m reading to you.”

“Sorry, Lydia. Please continue.”

I walk up to James and ruffle his hair. He smiles, holds his hand out for Dusty to lick.

“Dutty! Dada! Walkies!”

“Sssh, James. Mommy is trying to read something.”

I touch Lydia’s hand, but she does not notice.

Dusty barks again, excited to go.

"Bye-bye, Dada! Bye-bye Dutty!"

As we turn towards the light, I know: He will not forget.

October 27, 2023 20:45

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4 comments

Tim Shuman
15:06 Nov 10, 2023

The story is paced well. I like the sparseness of the narrative toward the end, as he moves from life to death.

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AnneMarie Miles
21:18 Oct 31, 2023

Aw this is sweet Caro. Children are very perceptive and you captured that well as James in the only one who can see Dusty and his dad, who as just passed. Interesting, this should be a sad story with the MCs death, but it feels light. But I'm sure that's how it would feel if you got to walk to the light with her furry friend. Thanks for sharing!

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AnneMarie Miles
21:18 Oct 31, 2023

Oh and welcome to Reedsy!

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Caro Robson
21:36 Oct 31, 2023

Thank you so much!

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