What Comes After
A Dog Story by Richard
Driving home from the supermarket, Ian glanced over to the seat where Dabby used to ride every day for 15 years, his heart wrenching in grief seeing it empty. These past few months had been full of tears and sadness over the loss of his companion, a beautiful and sweet mini-Schnauzer female that had filled every moment of his life with utter delight and joy. From the time he retrieved her at the airport amidst crates of barking dogs and mewling cats, his the quietest animal in the lot at only 12 weeks of age. She had essentially chosen him he suspected when the breeder had taken photos of the new litter and Dabby had been the one on the end with the goofy smile. He thought she had done that just to catch his eye. He was almost afraid that she might have been retarded so took her to give her a good home.
Dabby was one of the smartest dogs he had ever seen, and certainly not retarded. Never married, Ian had asked God for a companion for years; one who would love him and care for him unconditionally, however he hadn’t quite counted on a four-legged bearded lady. Ironically, after only a few weeks of living with this kind and gentle soul in a small dog’s body, he realized that his prayers had been answered.
The two were inseparable, always seen at the dog park together, or walking round the neighbourhood wearing identical football shirts. Ian was British and had no family in the States where he lived, so Dabby was essentially his only relative. He pampered her like the little princess she was, like the wife he never had, and only occasionally regretting not having human female companionship.
Retired now, Ian had decided to return to England since he had no real reason to remain in the States and just couldn’t continue to live in his empty house without his Dabby, the one thing that meant the world to him. She had been with him through the most difficult of times with loving kisses, playful entertainment and devotion. He used to feel so guilty going off to the office and leaving her alone for many hours every day, so made up for it by making each moment of their time together as if it were their last. They did everything together he could do with a dog, and was truly happy for all those years.
That night, he sadly carried himself off to bed, keeping his years-long habit of sleeping early because he had always been in the office at 6:00 a.m.; that way, he could leave early and have a bit of a day left to spend with his loving little monkey. She was sometimes like a cat, sometimes like a monkey, but incredibly amusing and everything they did was a game of amusement for her and made her time awake and with him count as much as it could. He always knew she would only have about 12 or 13 years, but she lived 15 years. Now his life was empty and bereft of her companionship and love.
Sometime that night he had experienced trouble breathing. He suspected for a long time he had heart trouble but decided not to be examined as he didn’t fancy some doctor telling him he had to be sliced open and modified or had only so much time to live without surgery. Tonight the shortness of breath was a bit worse than usual but had finally fallen back asleep again at 3:00 a.m.
Awakening he thought that the sunlight was incredibly bright. He didn’t recall having left the blinds in his bedroom open last night so couldn’t understand why he was nearly blinded by the light streaming in. Slowly he opened his eyes and as they adjusted to the light, he realized suddenly that the dry eye he had suffered from for years didn’t trouble him just now. It was nice for a rare change not to have to rub his eyes for several minutes just to focus. He also noticed something else too….his breathing was easy and he felt as though he had all the energy and strength in the world to run miles if he wanted.
Glancing round, he saw he was in a green field of sweet heather; a warm fragrant breeze wafting over his skin. The sun was shining, but it wasn’t hot. The temperature was just right and there were wispy clouds floating lazily by overhead. It was perfect. He didn’t quite understand how he came to be there in the middle of that field with the beautiful trees, but the thought crossed his mind that the only thing that would make this moment completely perfect would be if Dabby could share it with him. He knew that she would love this place.
Then rather unexpectedly, he felt a wet nose nudge the back of his leg. He turned round and looked down. Why, it was a little Schnauzer that looked like Dabby!! How could this be?? Could this be her, standing right next to him, almost smiling at him? Could it really be her? His heart leapt in his chest and he realized that she looked just like she did when she was young. What was the most amazing was that this little creature next to him was really his Dabby! He could never be mistaken about that little black streak in her moustaches that made her look like a bandit. He could hardly choke back the tears as he somehow knew this was truly the little soul with whom he had shared every joyful moment in his memory.
She nudged his hand as he bent over to pet her, just like she did when she wanted him to scratch her neck or rub her head in that way that only he could do. Ian could almost hear her thoughts or feelings as his wonderment turned into questions and the answers were right there on the periphery. It was as though the two of them were sharing thoughts as he felt the answer to the question of how he came to be “here” form in his mind. This is “what comes after.” After what?
He pondered this for a few seconds, then memories began flooding back, nearly causing him to gasp with emotion. He remembered that awful day when he had to say goodbye to his little furry friend. She had grown old and tired, but had hung on for the longest time. He remembered feeling her little heart in her chest slowing down and weakening, her paw in his outstretched hand, as though reassuring him that everything was alright, even though soon she would be gone and he would never see her again.
He remembered the days after that passed like a blur, his heart shredded. He had been unable to function for days after he buried her. He recalled sitting at his desk and glancing down at her empty dog bed and seeing the toys that only had life when she was tossing them round like a little terrible dervish as she played, sometimes on her back, toy in her paws above her like some silly monkey. He used to laugh so hard with delight at her antics as did everyone else who had ever seen it.
Then he remembered last night when breathing was so difficult he had wondered if this might be his last breath or if God intended to keep him here on this earth longer to suffer poorer health and pine for his lost companion.
Then it became clearly apparent where he was and why, and all the pain and grief he had experienced for those empty months of his life were filled with overwhelming happiness and joy because he somehow knew that he and his friend would never be separated again.
He could almost feel the vague thoughts Dabby was sharing, that she had come to him because he needed a companion all those years ago, and that God had chosen her for him to make his last years happy, years that would change who he was as a man. Then he thought he understood how she felt…that he had also been there for her, and the only time she was truly happy was when Daddy was home with her. It didn’t matter what they did together, but she loved him for making a game of everything, giving life to her little toys that somehow didn’t have meaning until he came home to play the tugging game with her. It satisfied her instincts and was fun, but more importantly, she saw that it made him happy when she fetched the simple knotted socks and enticed him into tugging them with her, growling and laughing the two of them, like a couple of silly things.
She loved that he always made something special for her to eat, and curled up on the bed with her at night, like a pack mate to keep her warm. She would awaken in the morning relieved that he was still there so she would groom him, sometimes his beard or ears, like she might do with a puppy. She tried so hard to keep him at home sometimes, standing on her back legs and trying to grab his arm between hers so she wouldn’t be alone all day.
She always felt so lonely when he went away but those times she would try hard to keep him home, he would always take her in his lap and brush her and she would roguishly try to bite the brush and get him to play with her a little longer. She very much enjoyed the sweet foam that he would give her from that hot brown stuff he always drank in the mornings, but wasn’t so excited about having her teeth brushed.
She thought her choppers were perfectly fine, but loved his gentleness and the taste of the toothpaste. Sometimes when she felt lazy in the mornings when it was still dark out and he would get out of bed, but he would entice her by wrestling with her, just like a pack mate would do, then hooking her collar around her neck which made her feel secure, and gently lifting her down to the floor so she didn’t have to stress her joints. He would make her chase him round the corner, sliding her back end on the wood floor just like fish tail spinning around.
And finally during her last moments when she was afraid and weak, she was grateful and happy that she had him to ease her way through to the other side where she would wait him for a short time. She was overjoyed to have him with her now in what comes after, even though she knew his journey here was more painful than hers.
There is no bond like that of human and dog, no love more unconditional, no friendship more forgiving or lasting. Dogs were given to us to make our lives easier, to give us the one what we can’t give each other or ourselves, and after all….in English, the word dog is really God spelled backward, or at least it is in what comes after.