Sunday, March 7, 2010

THE OLD LADY AND THE LITTLE BLACK DOG

A short story
The old lady shuffled across the porch to the steps that lead to the back yard and grasped the hand railing as a precaution against a fall. She had fallen back in November and only now, in March, did she feel a semblance of her old self again. The grip of winter seemed to lessen and a very warm spring day was at hand and she thought she would take a walk through the area of the yard where she maintained a flower garden throughout the summer months. Her flower garden was a huge attraction to passers by for it contained flowers of every color and she took pride in her green thumb and her ability to produce such perfect blooms. Her success, as she would explain to folks, was due to the instruction from her mother who herself was dedicated to the growing of flowers. As a matter of fact the mother taught botany at the local college in town. Furthermore, the house the old lady resided in was her mother’s house and the birth place of the now old lady. The current flower garden is the same one that her mother plied her creative endeavors in.


“My goodness; such a mess,” she said.

The garden area was covered with tall, brown, weed stalks that were dead and dried. They were tangled together after being blown by the wind and covered with the winter snow. She would get the neighbors son to turn the soil and cultivate it so that she could plant the new seasons seeds and flowers.  She lost a heart shaped silver pendant with her husband's picture contained under the hinged cover in this garden years ago and never could find it.  Even now she subconsciously searches for it as she walks about the property.  It was such a precious piece to lose.

Her house was about two miles out of town in the country. The township, only two years ago paved the road with black top. She even had a nice metal mailbox lacking an address on the box as everyone that worked at the post office knew who she was. It was 9AM and Charlie Clack, the mail man, would have delivered mail by now. As she started to turn to walk to the mail box she caught a movement in her peripheral vision to the right side of her.

“Now what do we have here?” she thought.

A little black dog trotted along side the flower garden toward her and immediately stopped when he saw the old lady. They stared at each other for about 30 seconds when the old lady called,

“Here boy, here boy.”

The dogs ears raised up, though drooping at the ends, and he cocked his head to the side as if expecting something more. He was coal black with wavy hair that resembled that on a cockier spaniel and he couldn't have been over twenty pounds. The old lady slowly stooped down, moving very slow, and extended her hand toward the dog. He cautiously walked over to her and put his nose to the palm of her upturned hand and allowed her finger tips to caress the underside of his chin. He abruptly drew back and ran behind the house. She thought, “Strange dog,” and retrieved the mail. She would sit on the porch in her rocker and read about the problems of the world. She had coped with her own problems during the course of her life and managed to retain her sanity and composure through all these years. In the 91 years of her life she lost a farm, a son to the war and a husband to some disease that the local doctor couldn't quite put his finger on. She broke her hip twice, most recently last year, and the doctors said that one more time would confine her to a wheelchair. That business about the wheelchair caused her to exercise caution in everything she did from that moment on; even walking and especially going up and down stairs. The flower garden was her joy and her most precious pastime and without it she would have nothing left to focus her attention. For now, the sun felt good upon her face. Spring was the harbinger of summer, and the enjoyment of her flowers.



She arose early next morning and dressed in her gardening clothes, her old tennis shoes were tied and off she went through the back door and onto the porch. There to her surprise was the little black dog. He sat staring at her, his eyes focused on her face.

“Hi there little fellow,” she said

“Bet you’re hungry, aren't you?”

The black dog uttered three short whimpers. The old lady went back inside to her refrigerator and pulled a large rectangular pan off a shelf with waxed paper covering it and sat it on the kitchen table. Pulling back the paper she selected a large pork bone that she was going to use in preparation for her evening meal. She quickly shuffled to the porch door and bent down toward the little black dog that now arose to his feet in preparation for flight. But, when the old lady’s hand extended toward him he caught the aroma of the pork bone and he lost all fear. Slowly he moved toward her and very gently put his mouth around the bone and slowly picked it out of her hand. He then abruptly jumped back ten feet with the bone and lay down gnawing on it, all the while watching her intently. She slowly walked past him and down the steps to the landing and continued toward her garden. She mumbled to herself the names of flowers and where she would locate them in the garden as she walked along. The garden hose lay uncoiled and she carefully bent over and picked it up and rolled it into the neatest circular coil she could manage and hung it on the wooden fence gate. Somewhere along her walk the little black dog caught up with her and decided to follow along beside her. He walked beside and just a bit behind allowing her to make the decisions on direction of travel.



At the end of the afternoon the little dog followed the old lady back to the house and took his position beside her rocking chair as she sat back with a groan. She slowly rocked back and forth until her eyes became heavy listening to the gentle creaking of the rockers. She awakened hours later and the little dog was still there on the porch where he fell asleep. She went to the kitchen and brought out a pan of water and some scraps of ham and bread with warm gravy over it. She sat the bowl down beside the black dog and watched as he ate.



Over the weeks and months the old lady and the little black dog became inseparable. She could go nowhere without her little dog shadow at her feet. She even allowed the dog inside her house. At first he would sleep on the floor at the side of her bed. After a few weeks she moved a chair next to the bed and laid an old comforter on the seat. The little black dog accepted his new sleeping arrangement by jumping up onto the chair, circling round and round twice and plopping down onto the comforter with a loud sigh. The old lady closed her eyes and fell asleep with a gentle smile on her lips.



Every time she would look down at the little black dog she would be looking directly into his eyes because he constantly was looking up at her face. His head was tilted up toward her face even as they walked here and there throughout the yard. It was amazing he wouldn’t run into things. They became a team. It seemed that one depended upon the other. It was apparent that the little black dog adored the old lady. He was now her companion; the companion she had missed since the passing of her husband years ago.



Mid summer found her garden blooming with every flower imaginable. There were perennials and annuals and even flowers that she had not planted. They somehow found their way into her space of beauty without her help. There were flowers from Holland. The bulbs were given to her by a neighbor after church one Sunday ten years ago. She was very proud of the roses that were growing vertically along the tall, wooden stakes that were inserted into the soil to lend them support. Yes; another successful crop of color filled her yard with beauty. She sat in the folding chair beside her flower garden and absorbed the tranquility of the vision before her. The colors were magnificent. A little cold nose nuzzled the palm of her hand as her arm dangled from the side of the chair. The little black dog was there. He was always there, silent and asking for nothing but her kind hand on his head. She patted her legs and he instantly leapt onto her lap and curled up, his muzzle laying between his front paws and eyes turned up staring at her. Her eyes met his gaze and she smiled adoringly.



Summer seemed a short season that year and the chilly evenings of fall arrived too soon. The old lady and the little black dog shortened their excursions into the yard as the chilly hours of evening appeared. The black dog would watch from the floor beside her chair as the old lady would unwrap the two yards of silver hair from the bun on top her head and lay it across her lap while she pulled a black comb through it. She would lay back against the bed’s back board with a pillow between her shoulders and pat the comforter on the chair, his indication to come to bed, and she would read pages from her bible. The readings lasted not even half an hour these nights for she could not keep her eyes open for long. Years ago she could consume chapters of the good book in one sitting but, no longer. Her hand would reach over toward the chair and slowly, in the darkness, search for the little furry head that would miraculously come in contact with her hand from underneath. The cold nose would brush against her finger tips and they would fall asleep as one.



One morning the old lady was awakened to the sound of screeching tires out front.   The morning sun was shining through the bedroom window and it appeared that the day would be beautiful.   She looked at the chair beside the bed and the little black dog was not there. He often went outside through the door to the porch that she would leave open a crack for his passage as he saw fit. In an instant her eyes grew wide with panic. Her breathing was difficult and an intense pain was located deep within her chest. She tried to slide out of bed and did so with great difficulty. The dial phone was on a small table ten feet away. Her legs would not hold her weight and she fell to her knees and crawled to the table and the phone. Her hand found the receiver and she pulled the whole telephone to the floor. She managed to insert her finger into the circle containing the capital letter “O” and spun the dial slowly. The business like voice of Harriet Lindsey, the town phone operator, came through the receiver. “Operator, hello, operator.” The old lady answered with a weak and feeble voice; “send help. This is Grace Childs. Send help.”

Harriet Lindsey replied, “Gracie; are you alright?”

There was no answer. The old lady looked about the room and her eyes rested on the chair beside the bed. She sought her little friend. Where was he? She needed him now more than ever. The sirens became louder and louder as the ambulance approached. Yet, to her ears the noise suddenly became distant until she could hear it no longer. As her eyes slowly closed her thoughts were of her little friend she could not find. And then peaceful sleep overtook her.



Cars arrived from down the road to investigate what the commotion was all about. The ambulance attendants walked out of the house onto the porch and carefully down the steps with a stretcher carrying the old lady. A white sheet was pulled totally over her body. The stretcher was carefully lifted into the ambulance and it drove away slowly. The onlookers quickly disintegrated, going back home and about their daily business. The last vehicle drove off and the old house and grounds stood in silence.



No one noticed or even cared but, there at the side of the road by the flower garden lay a small body. A small, black furry body lay in a pool of red as red as the old ladies crimson roses.  It was the little black dog.  And around his neck was a black, braided nylon cord with a silver heart shaped pendant attached at it's end.