суббота, 24 ноября 2012 г.

Into Her Arms

By Alandra Blume

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.
~Ben Williams

"Hey, Bonnie! Your leg any better?" I asked my Aussie/chocolate Lab mix when we came in the door. Her bobbed tail wiggled and her long brown body squirmed closer. She looked at me with her one green eye. The other was blind and a nasty purple.
"Oh, you're still limping. I don't know how you manage to get yourself so banged up — first your eye all those years ago, and now your leg."

"Would you all come into the kitchen?" Dad asked. His voice was choked.

"I've just gotten word," he said. "Your Uncle Alan passed away a few hours ago."

The words hung in the air like daggers. They could only hurt me if I believed them — but the truth slowly sunk its cruel blade into my heart.

The next few days were endless in their tears, heartache, and worry. Always in my thoughts was Paige, my sixteen-year-old cousin whose father was now dead.

When I saw her, she said nothing. When I visited her home, she said nothing. Her face was pale, her blue eyes expressionless, and her blond hair pulled back. Saying nothing.

On my way out their door, I froze when I saw a picture of Alan's dog, Annie, hung on the wall. The beautiful chocolate Lab had died four years before, but suddenly memories flooded my vision.

My bearded Uncle Alan, middle-aged, slim, average height... his calm voice growing excited as he rewarded Annie.

"Sit, Annie. Stay." He placed a treat on her velvety muzzle.

"Catch! Good girl, Annie! Shake... good. Roll over...."

They nuzzled each other, Alan caressing her soft brown fur, her long tail wagging. I imagined I saw them together again — together, happy. I knew Alan was in heaven. I knew that he and Annie were reunited.

"You know, I never liked that dog," Paige said. I turned, wiping the tears from my eyes.

"Dad sure did love her," she went on. "It was awful when she died, after he rescued her, trained her, and kept her all those years."

"Yeah, I know," I managed.

"You remember how he buried her on the hill? He'd always told Mom to bury him on that hill. So we're going to, right alongside Annie."

The day of the funeral dragged painfully by. Paige's friends surrounded her the whole time. She spoke to them, and they received her hugs and tears. I gave her one hug and drew away, realizing I wasn't needed and longing to do anything for her. If I could ease her pain, then somehow my own would shrink.

But she got through fine without me.

Days afterward, I paced, cursed myself, racked my brain for a way to cheer up my cousin, to say I was there. Not that she needed me — she had her other friends.

But things came to a head when Bonnie's blind eye got worse.

"Come here, Bonnie. Come here!" I chirped.

She came eagerly, still limping. I rubbed the white hourglass on her chest and scratched her brown ears, silky as rabbit fur. Her eye was oozing. I reached for the phone.

"Bonnie, you're going to hate this, but we've got to get this taken care of, even if you're going to fight the vet like a demon."

We dragged her to the vet, snapping and growling, but finally the sedatives kicked in and the vet removed Bonnie's blind eye.

"It was ruptured," the vet told us. "And causing a lot of irritability and pain. We've sewn the socket up, but it's swollen."

The medicines knocked Bonnie out and made her act drunk. She stumbled and fell, couldn't eat, couldn't drink. She couldn't bear for us to leave her. She looked scared, her heart rate was high, and her legs shook uncontrollably.

Thanksgiving came amidst all the confusion.

"It's important for us to be together — especially now," Mom said. "So we invited the family over. We'll move Bonnie to the bathroom and let her sleep."

"When do you think she'll come out of it?" I asked.

Mom sighed. "It won't be for a while yet."

Thanksgiving filled our home with vines of orange and yellow leaves twisting around the banisters, maroon cloths draped over tables, wood and glass polished, stone hearth swept, burgundy curtains drawn back to let in the light of the November sun. The smells of pumpkin, potatoes, turkey, and apple pie perfumed the air.

Everything was ready, including Bonnie, who we carried away to the bathroom. She was so weak she couldn't stand, and it was painful to watch her — barely able to open her eye halfway.

I dreaded seeing Paige. Much as I longed to, it would be so awkward not knowing what to say.

All the family tromped in. They piled their muddy boots and designer clogs in a corner and got in line for food.

The entire time, something was missing. Alan was gone. I missed the heated political discussions where we all agreed with each other, but pretended we didn't. I missed him competing with Dad in Guesstures, pulling Paige's hair, hugging my aunt, laughing at Grandpa's jokes.

We sat in the living room, the adults on the plush couches, wicker chairs in an uneven circle. Paige sat with her back against the hearth, her knees drawn up to her chest, blocking out those around her, her face mournful. Why was there nothing I could do? If only I could help...

I couldn't stand it any longer and went to check on Bonnie.

"Hey, you're awake!" I laughed. She was alert and standing at the door, triangular ears perked up, looking as well as ever.

"You must've smelled that food! Let's get some exercise."

Instead of going to the kitchen like I expected her to, she bounded into the living room, straight to Paige, to whom she'd never shown personal preference before.

Bonnie's stump of a tail bobbed furiously, her nose cuddled into Paige's neck. Paige looked surprised as her hands went up to Bonnie's sides.

"Go lie down, Bonnie," Mom commanded.

"No, no! She's fine, really," Paige said.

And something happened that warmed me all over.

Paige smiled. Really smiled. That sweet, happy grin that Alan said he loved to see. For the first time since his death, I saw joy in my cousin's face, and quick tears came to my eyes when Bonnie plopped into her lap like it was the most natural thing to do.

Thank you God, I prayed. Even though I couldn't help her, Bonnie could. She knew Paige was hurting. I guess wise words and glorious deeds aren't needed — just being there is all that matters.

Bonnie wouldn't be lured away from Paige for food or toys, and that in itself was a miracle. The sight of an old, torn-up, bob-tailed, one-eyed, limping dog comforting a mourning girl who didn't even like the animal reached into my very core — that was the miracle.

For a moment in the history of this hurting world, two creatures came together and offered each other comfort, the solace of a kind touch and having someone to hold. Those few moments made a world of difference in the lives of all who witnessed it.

As the hum of afternoon voices drifted around us, Paige sat there with one arm encircling Bonnie's chest. Maybe she was thinking of the love her father had shown his own dog. I don't know. All I know is that the smile never left her face the rest of the day.

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