This is the final installment on Act I of a little novella, A Walk with Rose, that I’m working on. Act II is started but on hold until I get done with my novel - which should be done by the Fourth of July. Once I finish that, I’ll be finishing this novella and put it up on Amazon as a Kindle book.
I will be donating 25 percent of the proceeds from publication to the local Humane Society.
Please feel free to share with your friends…if you want to cut and paste it into an email, I simply ask that you include a link back here. Many thanks!
A Walk with Rose
Everybody makes mistakes. On January 13th, Laura Fitzpatrick made two. The first, made at 2:47 PM, was forgetting her purse. She remembered before she left the driveway and rushed back into the house, leaving the driveway one minute late. She made second mistake after picking up her daughter from elementary school. At the only stoplight on the street, she braked to a hard stop in the left hand turn lane when the light turned yellow, a light that she could have made it safely. Eighteen seconds later, at 3:18 PM, an elderly man driving north blacked out, swerved and, his car accelerating under his convulsing foot, smashed into the front passenger side of her car. Laura was uninjured.
Her daughter was not; her right foot was mangled by the crushing steel of the oncoming vehicle. Paramedics arrived swiftly, gasped, and started feverishly working to save the girl’s right foot. She was loaded into the ambulance and rushed to the hospital. Left at the scene of the accident was one small pink shoe, blood-soaked.
On January 13th, Mrs. Joy Williams passed. Roy, husband of 52 years sat on one side, holding her hand, not crying because she had asked him not too. On the other side, resting her head on the bed sheets was Joy’s dog, Rose, friend and helper as she met this last stage of life.
Her son, James and daughters, Anne and Marie, waited in the living room, sitting on the dated couch and love seat, eyeing the knickknacks that lined shelves, recognizing gifts given in childhood, the wall of pictures, faded blacks and whites in old-fashioned frames, color pictures of the kids as they grew, marriage photos, and grandchildren’s school pictures. Joy always brought visitors to the wall.
A gentle squeeze on Roy’s hand, a single finger lifting on the other hand to give Rose one last scratch under the chin, she passed, quietly.
“That’s an awfully brave girl you have.” said Shelly above the racket from the kennels. The dogs, seeing people and wanting out, barked and whined. Somewhere in the back, a hound howled, the deep “Ahhhhwoooooo” echoing through the building. They watched as Emily, brown hair pulled back in pigtails, leaned on her crutch as she made her way down the aisle between the dog kennels.
“Yes, she is.” replied Laura.
Her voice was soft and Shelly had to strain to hear her. Months ago, Shelly’s statement would have led to tears but Laura had no more. Eleven year olds should not have to be brave. Four surgeries in six months had exhausted her and Galen as they watched their little girl, tiny in the hospital bed, go through each procedure. The doctors had explained, choosing their words with care, that they, the doctors, could do no more for Emily. They asked if the family prayed.
“She doesn’t cry anymore.”
Shelly looked at her sympathetically while watching Emily. The young girl stopped at each kennel, peering through the chain links of the gate.
“You took the survey?” she asked Laura.
“The one they gave us up front?” replied Laura. “I let Emily fill it out. It’s going to be her dog.”
“Is Emily going to be the one taking care of the dog?” probed Shelly. Too often, the shelter had gotten dogs returned because the parents discovered that the kids didn’t follow through with the work of caring for a pet and the parents were already overwhelmed with careers and children.
“She says she will. If not, I’ll help.” Laura smiled at Shelly. “But thank you for the warning.”
Shelly nodded. Emily might be different, she thought, but it never hurts to bring it up.
Emily reached the end of the kennels and started back to her mother in a rocking hobble across the concrete, swinging her right leg but unable to support any weight on it.
She looked up when she reached the adults.
“So which one do you want?” asked her mother.
Emily paused, brown eyes looking up to Laura. She shook her head.
“My dog isn’t here yet.” And she turned to leave.
The day they lost Rose, Roy suffered his first stroke, a minor one. The stroke scared his daughter, the eldest. It was her week to be his caretaker. Since Joy had passed, one of them occupied the house every day and most nights with him, trying to replace memories with bustling activity.
The weather was hot and very dry that September. Roy was puttering in the flowerbeds. He was a large man, a block of weathered gray granite, more broad than thick, and tall. He and Joy had separate gardens, with separate rules. Hers was filled with a profusion of color, oranges nasturtiums, white peonies, pink pincushion flowers, Mount St. Helen’s coral bells bursting into reds above the bed. Joy’s garden welcomed their friends, escorting them blossom by blossom along the walk, up the steps to the front door.
Roy’s was orderly, squashes and peppers and peas, the little cherry tomatoes that delighted Joy, cucumbers – picklers and slicers - all set in the back yard, little popsicle sticks with tags marking each row. Roy tilled the soil by hand each year, blending in the new compost and laying out each row and rotation. Joy would watch as he would turn the soil with his bare hands as he planted a seedling, gently setting into a hole, tamping the rich earth. Each harvest, from early summer to late fall, filled little baskets shared with the neighbors, fresh vegetables topped with fresh flowers from Joy.
Rose was lolling under the shade of the dogwood tree. Its shade was her retreat when Joy and Roy, her people, were out front, a place she where she would watch them, tail wagging a greeting to the little children flitting past and the old ladies out for a walk. They all knew Rose and called by name, the same as they did with Roy and Joy.
It was almost noon and Roy was too long in the sun, bent mulching and weeding the flowers, fertilizing the last of the late season irises. He tried to stand, and discovered he couldn’t, his right leg unresponsive, then his right arm. Rose saw him take a short fumbling fall to hands and knees. She stood and went to his side, snuffling in his face, sensing, with that intuitive knack that every good dog has, that her master was in trouble. She wouldn’t leave him so she faced the house and barked. No response. She barked longer and louder but not letting Roy out of sight.
Roy heard the screen door finally squeak open – he had meant to oil that hinge – as his eldest daughter, Anne, came to the front porch, intent on shushing the noisy animal. She paused, framed between the pillars and, in her matronly silhouette, Roy saw his little girl again.
He heard her say, “Dad.” He could see, could turn his head as she came tumbling down the walkway. He heard everything. He looked at her, but his efforts to say, “I’m fine” came out as gibberish. He saw the fear blossom in her eyes and sadness. It’s alright, little one, he thought as he continued to struggle to his feet.
What Roy remembered most of the ambulance was the embarrassment. The paramedics were professionally considerate while his daughter flitted from one side to the other before fleeing to call the other two children. Gently, they made him lay down, to stop trying to upright himself. It vexed him, that he was crushing Joy’s flowers and that the paramedics were walking on them. The crushed flowers released a sweet perfume and memories of Joy.
They loosened his pants and removed his shoes, exposing the hole in one sock. They stripped open his shirt, attaching filaments with tape to the gray hairs and skin, peeled his eyelids back to blind him with bright lights that hurt, quieted him when he tried to talk.
Friends and neighbors came to their porches, watching everything and recording the details for gossipy dinner-time conversations. Passersby on the road slowed, rubbernecking to see the source of the commotion before they sped away.
They loaded him into the ambulance and his daughter rode with him to the hospital.
From under the tree where she retreated when Anne came down the steps, Rose watched the ambulance arrive. She carefully watched the very precise actions of the paramedics took to saved Roy. She saw the neighbors on the porches. Some, the closer friends, gathered in small pockets to worry together. She watched the doors of the ambulance close and Roy driven away. The neighbors faded back into their homes.
Roy tried to remind them to take care of Rose as they loaded him into the ambulance but the paramedic, very professionally and sympathetically, quieted him again.
It was a full day before the children remembered Rose; by then, she had moved on.
“Back again?” Shelly asked Emily. Laura and Emily had come to the shelter once a week since August. Shelly had tried to guide Emily to dogs, good dogs, some trained, all sweet-natured and gentle. Emily would lean into her crutch, inspect the dog Shelly suggested before trekking over the concrete, kennel to kennel to look at each of the other dogs, the unruly, the unmannered, the loud, the shy, the happy-go-lucky goofballs, each dog getting a chance. Each week, she walked out alone with her mother.
“Well, I’m fresh out of suggestions for you, young lady.” Shelly told her over the racket of anxious dogs. Laura gave her a sidelong glance; Shelly had called earlier to make sure they were coming. Emily nodded and labored off, stopping at the first kennel for a moment, making polite sounds to the dog inside before moving to the second.
“So why the mystery?” probed Laura. “You wouldn’t have called if you weren’t excited about one of the dogs.”
“True enough, but your Emily has a mind of her own. She’s turned down all my recommendations so far. I didn’t want her to turn this one down just because it came from me.”
They watched her travel down the aisle, stopping at each one with a dog, passing by the empty stalls.
“How many dogs do you have this week?”
“Eight. Three of them Emily’s already seen. We have a family interested in the black lab you saw last week so hopefully he finds his forever home today. They’re supposed to be in around four.”
Emily approached the fifth kennel. Shelly’s body stiffened as her eyes followed Emily.
“The dog is in that one?”
“Um-hunh.” Shelly flashed a look at Laura. “I think this is the one. She’s a sweetheart, just has a good soul. She doesn’t belong in here.”
“None of them do.”
Emily stepped in front of the gate and looked inside. Sitting quietly, waiting for her turn, was a golden retriever. Her coat was matted in spots and she wore a dirty green collar with a heart-shaped tag but her eyes were bright and warm and patient. The dog cocked her head to the side as if inspecting Emily, seeing the slim form, the crutch, the foot. The dog seemed to make a decision and leaned forward to put her nose at the chain-link of the gate. The girl, balancing on the crutch on her right side, stuck a delicate hand through the opening and began to scratch the dog on the side of the neck. Rose licked the inside of the girl’s arm.
“Hey you.” she said. “Are you ready to go home?”