Contemporary Fiction

It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling and it was almost dark.

Sally sat in her kitchen, wrapped in several layers of guilt.

She covered her ears as the loud howls from outside slowly quieted, petering off into almost silent whimpering.

Her ordeal had begun several years earlier.

Her children, aided and abetted by her husband had coerced her with their constant, pleas for a dog.

Against her better judgment, Sally finally gave in to the pressure from her family.

The reality was that with a working husband, five children under the age of 15 and a huge house to take care of, she hardly had time for a dog.

She knew that her children’s promises to do all the work, were empty at best.

Sally tried to reason with them, but eventually just gave in and agreed to get a dog.

So, off they all went to the local rescue centre. It didn’t take long for them to find what appeared to be the perfect fit for their family.

Charlotte was a lovely three year old, female crossbreed who had been spayed and had all of her shots.

She was supposed to be housebroken and well trained.

Her demeanour did seem to hint at some underlying issue, Sally’s first warning of what was to come. 

As Charlotte cowered, bowing herself to as low a position as possible, her body shook slightly.

Sally’s reservations deepened. Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be swayed by her children’s immediate attraction to this dog.

Charlotte licked each child’s hand with slavish devotion, wagging her tail and moaning with pleasure.

When it came for Sally’s turn to make a more personal introduction, Charlotte made a visible shift in attitude. She calmly settled down and simply gazed up at Sally with imploring eyes that begged for mercy.

Sally caved, turned to the rescue worker and said, “where do I go to fill out the papers?”

It was only a short time later that they all left to go home and now they were a family of eight.

As they pulled into the driveway of their home, Sally’s husband, Dick pulled in behind them. He was coming home from work and Sally could tell from the look on his face that it had been a long day for him. 

Dick’s briefcase was full and brimming over with work. In his other hand, he carried two large bags of contracts and other papers.

Sally sighed. She understood intuitively that her husband was going to be of little assistance in orienting their new family member to the home.

 Dick was a good man, an excellent husband and a wonderful father. He did his best to enthusiastically greet Charlotte and welcome her to their family.

Charlotte took an immediate shine to the man and subserviently bowed at his feet.

Dick smiled, put down his briefcase to scratch the dog behind her ears. The bond between them was immediately formed, and that attachment held great promise.

He cast a rather guilty look at Sally and muttered something about having several hours of work to do before he met with clients in the morning

In the meantime, Sally began the mental exercise of planning out the rest of the day.

She herded the youngest children out of the car and instructed the two oldest to grab the large bag of dog food and other necessities to accommodate Charlotte.

The younger children, of course, were exuberantly happy. They were dancing, and yelling and singing.

Sally was exhausted.

Somehow they all managed to get into the house with Charlotte ecstatically racing around, nosing into every corner, sniffing all of the boundaries of her new space, jumping on chairs, knocking over boxes of paper and a couple of ornaments, and eventually settling herself into what was to become her spot on a comfy old chair. She then delicately rested her chin upon her crossed front paws, looked around the room at all the people, and all of the things that made a home. She had been so young when she lost hers and yet she still dreamed of that magical place she had been born.

In the meantime, Sally mentally began a list of all that needed to be done before she would get to sit down on her comfy chair, and allow the activities of the day to melt away.

The days moved on, and it seemed as though Charlotte’s arrival marked the beginning of a happy new era.

However, as each day marched forward, the children’s enthusiasm, and their promise to look after the dog wore thin. 

It seemed they always had an excuse when it came time to feed her or to brush the grass and burrs from her hair.

Their best and most solid excuses came whenever Charlotte had an “accident” in the house. When this event occurred, the child in charge seem to magically disappear..

And of course, it was Sally, who was left to put down whatever she was doing and clean up the mess.

Eventually, Sally gave up. As much as she chastised herself, she could no longer look at Charlotte without thinking thoughts that were very far from her true nature.

Charlotte, sensing what lay beneath, began to fear Sally.

This fear did little to enhance the relationship between the two.

As the years wore on, they lived a life that had the bare resemblance of an armed truce.

Charlotte was afraid to scratch at the door indicating her need to go outside and relieve her self. Sally’s response to that task was unconcealed anger at being disturbed. That anger paled when it came to uthe tirade that occurred when Charlotte tried to find some hidden corner to do her business.

At that point, the truce was called off and Sally in a rage would chase Charlotte through the house. She would eventually catch the terrified dog, grab her by the scruff of her neck, open the door and throw her outside. As Charlotte made a beeline for the backyard Sally would kick her rear end.

The umbrella of peace vanished on a cold winter day. All the leaves had turned, falling from the trees, and the landscape was a barren white with a stark, dark silhouette of trees.

Charlotte sat howling on the stairs, begging to be let in. The temperature had dropped to -40c., and her paws were almost frozen.

Sally turned up the radio, sat peeling potatoes for supper and did her best to ignore a racket which was beginning to disturb many of their neighbours.

Sure enough, her phone rang. She turned down her radio went and answered it and her least favourite neighbour began yelling, “For God sakes, will you shut that dog up? I’m trying to sleep. I have to work tonight and my head is pounding from the racket that animal is making.”

Sally did her best to apologize and appease the neighbour. She hung up the phone and went to the back door, opened it up and found Charlotte anxiously waiting to get in.

Sally grabbed her by the collar, threw her down the steps, and then ran quickly ahead of the gasping dog. 

She could’ve sworn that her intention was to check and make sure the back gate was securely closed.

Charlotte cautiously watched her, cringing against the side of the house trying to find a warm spot.

Sally turned around, ignored the dog, walked into the warm kitchen, and slammed the door behind her.

What she was never sure of over the years, was any memory of leaving the gate unlatched and slightly opened. 

It mattered not whether the act had been intentional, Charlotte seized the opportunity.

She glanced cautiously back towards the house, no Sally. Charlotte then quietly edged her nose into the small gap between the fence and the gate. Miraculously it swung wide open and in the space of a heartbeat, the near frozen dog bolted through the opening, and made a run to cross the street.

In her confusion at finding freedom, she lost any ability to stop herself and check for danger.

From down the street, a car rounded the corner just as Charlotte raced to cross in front of them.

The elderly couple were both talking and laughing with one another, as they drove quite sedately down the street.

The man who was a very good driver, was actually going quite slow when Charlotte crossed the road directly in front of his car. He slammed on his brakes, came to a screeching halt, but not before Charlotte had flown into the air and landed on the sidewalk with a crunching thud.

Sally hearing the accident, quickly put on her boots, ran out the door and saw the open gate. Her heart beat wildly and she held her hand to her mouth as she spotted the old man bending over Charlotte’s unmoving body.

She slowly made her way across the street, quietly tapped the man on the shoulder and said, “this is our family dog”. He turned towards her, unable to stop the tears in his eyes. He began apologizing profusely. “ I’m so sorry ma’am. I am so sorry. I wasn’t going that fast. I thought I was looking carefully. She just ran across the road right in front of my car.”

Charlotte choked back her own sobs, and the words she wanted to say, were “No sir it was my fault I left the gate open.”

No words came out of her mouth. She patted the man on the back, tried to speak, but couldn’t. He seem to understand.

The man helped to lift Charlotte up and together they carried her lifeless body back into the yard.

Sally carefully put Charlotte at the top of the steps, went to get a blanket, came back and carefully wrapped it around her stiffening body.

She knew the children would be home soon, and that somehow or other, she would have to break the news that their beloved pet had passed away.

She quickly buried feelings that were anything but regret. Someplace deep inside was greatly relieved that she was now going to be free of what had become an unbearable burden.

The next few hours, and the following days became a blur in her memory. Somehow the children and her husband reconciled themselves to the loss.

The children once again, began to beg for another dog, but Sally was resolute in her determination to never take that risk again. The children eventually gave up. They realized that their mother was not going to budge.

The children grew. Dick retired, and Sally came to a kind of a peace about what had happened so many years before.

Whenever the feelings of guilt would rise up, she quickly dropped to her knees, begged for forgiveness and wept with sorrow. She did her best to squelch feelings that held no such thing as regret.

She could not bear this and so, simply chose to put it aside, always believing that one day she would face the reality.

And so came that last day for her.

She lay on a hospital bed slowly languishing from a terminal illness. She was well into her 90s and as she looked back over the years, could see the fruits of her life, and for the most part felt happy. Her husband had passed away years before. She missed him greatly and smiled as she thought of the reunion that was soon to come for the two of them.

She looked around at her five children, their children and their children’s children, and she knew that life had been very good to her.

Seconds before she drew her last breath, a fleeting image of a happy healthy Charlotte crossed her vision. Sally sighed, dug deep and realized that she truly regretted the dogs passing. She knew deep in her heart that had she to do it over again, it would’ve been a much different story. 

She sighed and quietly stopped living.

What happened next was something she could never have imagined. 

Some part of her, some invisible essence, rose above the bed and looked down at her now, lifeless body. All of her children and their children and their children’s children were holding hands saying prayers. They prayed for the mother they had loved their entire lives.

Sally continued to rise further and further away from the room, through the hospital and up into a sky filled with clouds that raced across the horizon.

She couldn’t imagine what the end was going to be or who, and even if anyone would be there to greet her.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and opened them again. Before her was a beautiful rainbow stairway.

She gasped as she looked towards the top of the stairs. Shrouded by shadow were two figures.

She slowly climbed, and as she got closer to the top, a magnificent beam of sunshine, outlined the form of her beloved husband, and beside him, tail wagging, bum wiggling was Charlotte.

The dog gleefully bound towards Sally, threw herself into the woman’s arms and nestled her muzzle into her neck.

Sally breathed a sigh of relief as she hugged Charlotte gently. and glanced up at her husband. They each understood, without a spoken word that the journey they were about to begin, was beyond anything they could ever have imagined.

 The trio set out on the path that lay before them and Sally knew. Without any doubt whatsoever, she knew that her repentance was deep and sincere. She felt redemption settle peacefully about her being.

She had found heaven.

March 16, 2023 01:32

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