The old man reached down from his armchair and picked the lifeless body by his feet off the carpet and held her to his chest. Gorges leading from the corners of his eyes began to fill with water for the first time in decades. The dam burst sending walls of salt water cascading through the gorges, meandering around the cheeks to plunge off the jawbone and pool in the suprasternal notch in his neck.
For the last sixteen years, she had been his best companion since his wife had died. Even though he knew this day was coming soon and he prepared for it, the stark realization that the time has arrived to still very painful to bear.
As he walked toward his work bench in the garage, he cradled Pearl in his arms like a fine china doll, and remembered when he first saw her. He has just arrived home from the funeral of his wife, Peggy wondering how he would be able to go on alone. She was the rock that kept him grounded. When they found out her cancer was terminal, she insisted he learn everything that she did, so he could remain self sufficient. She trained him well. As the disease whittled away at her once vibrant body, he now took care of her and the house. Near the end, he would kneel and pray that God would take her away from the pain that wracked her small fragile frame. God listened.
Unlocking the front door after the funeral service, he was not looking forward to entering the quiet house for the first time in solitude. He heard a soft yip from the corner of the porch and turned his head to see a small creamy fluff ball, like a walking dandelion in seed, slowly walking toward him quivering.
“Where did you come from?” He asked the puppy as he bent down and picked it up carrying it into the house. “You must be cold.” The puppy tentatively licked the man on the chin and settled into his warm arms. So began their devoted relationship.
The man decided to keep the puppy when the search for an owner became futile. He thought that Pearl was the perfect name for his new puppy. Not only was it the color of her coat, but his wife’s favorite jewel. He bought Pearl a purple collar, his wife’s favorite color which Pearl wore regally.
Now, he unclipped the collar from Pearl’s neck and placed it in his front pants pocket. He wrapped her in her favorite blanket and lowered her into the wooden box he had made last week. He carried the box into the backyard to the hole he had dug under Pearl’s favorite tree, the same apple tree that Peggy used to enjoy picking the fruit and creating all kinds of apple dishes.
The old man smoothed the dirt and used the shovel to brace his weight to help him off the ground. Now that the work was complete, he had time to think of his loss and the tears began to flow again. “Dear God,” he thought. “What do I do now?”
He walked slowly toward the back porch taking his handkerchief from his back pocket to wipe his eyes. As he reached for the door knob, he heard a whimper coming from behind him. He turned around and followed the sound to the bushes at the corner of the porch. He parted the bushes to reveal a copper colored dog lying in the brush. He slowly lowered his hand toward the dog allowing the dog to sniff him. The dog licked his hand and the old man reached down and picked up the dog and carried it into the house. He could feel the dog’s ribs through its ratty coat and could see the neglect the dog had suffered.
“Let’s get you something to eat.” The dog tentatively licked his chin.
While the dog devoured the food placed in front of it, the man thought about keeping the dog. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the purple collar. He looked at the heart shaped name tag and smiled. The name on the tag no longer read Pearl. It read Penny!
“Penny,” the man said loudly. The dog looked up at him, barked and wagged her tail. He placed the purple collar around her neck and snapped it shut. “A perfect fit,” the older man said to the small dog.
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