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Dog walker

Richard had been dead three days before his wife even noticed his dog was missing. It was an expected death, to be sure. He was 92, after all. They had made most of the arrangements years ago when they left that church, the one they had always gone to, once it started having modern music instead of the good old-fashioned hymns they had grown up with. If they changed something as big as that, no telling what they’d change next. They might say it was okay for men to start wearing dresses. You never knew.

But since they’d always planned on being buried in the churchyard they had to make other plans now. They considered burial in the backyard but thought twice when they remembered trying to put in the garden years ago. Too many rocks! Emma would have a hard time digging it, and they might not be able to count on the children to help. They were always busy – too busy it seemed to notice when their family needed help.

Jack was Richard’s dog through and through. Sure, he’d answer when Emma called him to dinner, but Richard was the one who pampered him, who slipped him treats underneath the table at dinner. Jack was a Jack Russell, feisty and friendly, and loyal as the day was long. Richard thought it was a clever thing to name him after his breed. It didn’t matter what he was named, it turned out. Jack would’ve followed Richard no matter what he had named him.

They had buried Richard in the grand old Catholic cemetery on the hill overlooking downtown Nashville. That location had been the outskirts of the city when it had been consecrated, but that was a century ago. Sure, he wasn’t Catholic, but it turned out some of his family was buried there and since they were Catholic, that was good enough for the keepers of the cemetery. Emma had found this information out when she was doing genealogy research as a favor to the kids. It was a simple matter of asking at the cemetery (and a donation of course) and space was reserved in the family plot for the two of them.

The house had finally cleared out from all of the visitors and Emma finally had time to breathe. She noticed little Jack wasn’t around. She called, but he didn’t come. He didn’t even bark. Oh well, he’ll have to fend for himself. She can’t be tending to everyone she thought. Who was going to look after her, she thought mournfully? She was so tired after all the hullabaloo of the funeral, and putting up the family that had come to pay respects. They were underfoot for a week! She meant to put Jack out of her mind. But then again he was her last connection to Richard. Where was that dog?

Jack had followed Richard. It was as simple as that. Not his body, of course. That wasn’t who Richard really was. That was just a shell after all. Jack had followed the real part of Richard, the only part that mattered. Jack, like all dogs, could see souls. Dogs knew the soul of the person, could see how it was, and more importantly in this case, where it was.

The moment Richard left his body, he walked silently through the walls of his bedroom right to the corner of the barn where Jack was. The family had gathered by that time, awaiting the inevitable. But they, those somewhat interlopers, had banished poor Jack to his summertime lair in the barn, where he liked to keep an eye on the chickens. He would have rather been by Richard’s side in that time of transition.  Jack was the one who had been by him every other day, unlike his children and grandchildren. Who were they to send him off? He was more family than they were. Family has little to do with blood and a lot to do with behavior.

Richard hadn’t been in a state to argue at the time, but now he could do something about it. He’d taken three days to die, to slide out of his body like one would slip out of work clothes. It wasn’t easy at such an age. He’d gotten used to wearing it, and taking his leave of it was harder than he had expected. Being in a body was a habit he’d had all his life and now he had to give it up, like smoking or drinking. It was for the same reason, of course to be free, to be unencumbered, but just the same it was hard to make the change.

But now he was free of the weight of his body, free to go wherever he wanted, however he wanted, and what he wanted most right now was to go on a wander with his best pal, Jack.  He found him in the barn, and it took some effort to get Jack to notice Richard.  He couldn’t whistle or call to his friend like he wanted – one of the disadvantages of an otherwise perfectly pleasant experience, to his mind.  He wondered what all the fuss was about being dead that he’d heard all his life.  Of course, the people who were complaining about it hadn’t ever experienced it.  It was like complaining about going to visit France before you’d even gotten on the plane.  You had no business having an opinion about a place until you’d gone there. But death, unlike France, was a one-way ticket, and all the residents of that unknown land weren’t the ones saying disparaging things about it.  No, that was the living doing that, and what did they know?

Richard had to learn to use new ways of interacting with his old friend now, but fortunately Jack had been waiting for him.  He was surprised to hear Richard call to him, speaking heart to heart, but not see him.  And then he understood that the change had happened, that it was time.  Jack wiggled and shivered over all his body, not just wagging his tail but his whole self. He was overjoyed to be with his master once again, glad to know that he was free of his failing body. They walked out of the barn together, and towards the setting sun.  They had many mountains to climb together.

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