By Aya Walksfar
Sixty-eight-year old Marybelle Brown pushed the rattling grocery cart filled with plastic bags of aluminum cans through the square next to the #Seattle Aquarium. That summer vendors had hawked sparkling necklaces and handmade toys and flamboyant scarves. Now it lay beneath the full moon, deserted except for a few pigeons huddled on a low wall near the water. Moving slowly so she wouldn’t disturb their rest, she made her way over and leaned against the cold concrete. She’d always loved Puget Sound. The gentle lap of the waves soothed her.
After a few minutes, she turned her cart and headed across the empty space. In the center stood a twelve-foot tall #Christmas tree. Red and green lights twinkled amid the plastic ornaments and glittering tinsel. Marybelle gazed up at it, at the star blazing white on the top. At last, she sighed in contentment and moved on.
Today had been a wonderful Christmas Eve. She’d found three partially eaten cheeseburgers in one of McDonald’s trashcans. They were stashed in the ragged canvas shoulder bag along with French fries from a dumpster and two, whole pieces of cod from Ivar’s trash. A smile sat lightly on her cracked and chapped lips. Tonight she would feast! She patted the side of the shoulder bag and felt the bottle of Starbucks mocha and the bottle of Arrowhead water that a kind man had given to her with a smile and a Merry Christmas. Yes, tonight she would feast.
She bent her head back and gazed upward. Stars flung across the black heavens. Some people likened the stars to diamonds on black velvet, but she knew better. The stars were all the souls who had gone ahead, smiling down on those they’d left behind. Someday when it was time for her to leave this bent and painful body, she’d fly up there and be with them. Her momma and granny would be waiting. She wondered if the critters she had nursed would be there. Of course, they would! Her granny had told her that the souls of animals always went to the Bright Place because they lived as God intended.
She shuffled along. Time to get to her spot under the viaduct. Thick blackberry bushes hid the hole she’d dug out up against where the concrete met the earth. It had taken her a long time to make a roomy depression in that hard ground with a broken shovel. Hidden at the far back of the hole were all of her most precious belongings, safe from discovery by others, safe from the rain.
She crossed the quiet street and the cart jarred over the trolley tracks. Where cars parked during the day was mostly deserted now and filled with deeper shadows. The fat round concrete pillars that held up the overhead roadway too often hid bad things. She veered away, cornering her eye so she could keep watch while she passed.
As Marybelle came abreast of one spot of darkness a darker shadow moved within it. Her heart leaped into her throat. Her chest constricted with panic and squeezed the breath from her lungs. There! Who’s there? Her feet froze as her mind shouted, “Run!”
Just as her feet started to move, a whimper floated out of that darkness. The loneliness in that small sound dragged at her heart. “Leave, Marybelle. You can’t help whoever it is.”
In spite of herself, her hands left the cart and her feet shuffled toward the darkness. Her heart galloped like a crazed horse. “ Oh, Lord, I feel like my heart’s gonna bust.”
As she drew closer, a stray beam of moonlight shone against the pillar. Crumpled at the base of that cylinder of concrete lay a black dog. It lifted forlorn eyes to her face. The very tip of its tail tapped the ground twice then stopped like that was all the energy the poor thing had.
In her mind the years fell away and she once again saw her momma open the door of their tiny apartment. “Oh, Marybelle, you can’t help every critter you see,” her momma’s gentle hands tending to Marybelle’s latest rescue belied her words. Momma and granny had always tried to save the animals she dragged home–starved and beaten and broken.
She edged closer and the dog cringed, trying to melt into the ground. She knew the feeling. Carefully, she lowered herself to her achy knees. Never looking directly at the dog, she held out a hand. “It’s alright. I know just how you feel.” The dog’s body relaxed and it stretched its black nose toward her hand. “That’s it, little one. Come on over to Marybelle.”
She slid her shoulder bag to the ground then dug around until her hand touched the wrapping of one of the half-eaten burgers. Eyes still averted, she held a small bite on the palm of her outstretched hand. The dog sniffed the air and gave an anxious whine. “I know. It’s scary, but honestly, this is for you.”
The cold seeped through the three pairs of thin pants and chilled her arthritic knees. Still, she knelt there, hand out in offering. The dog stretched its neck toward the food. It crept one step, two steps. Now Marybelle could see the ribs jutting out under the patchy hide.
“Poor thing,” she crooned.
The dog trembled as it came close enough to snatch the food. It took the rest of the burger for the poor thing to creep close enough for Marybelle to put her arms around it. The dog was big, bigger than her German Shepherd had been. She felt the resistance of its stiff body, but kept humming and stroking one hand down its thin side. At last, the tension drained from it and it nestled against her chest.
After a while, she gave its sharp nose a kiss. “Gotta git up, little girl. My knees don’t like this kneeling.” She pulled a ragged wool scarf from around her neck and made the dog a soft collar and leash.
At her hideaway, Marybelle laid out the sleeping bag that a young, white girl had given her that past fall. She never carried this precious gift for fear of it being taken from her. But every night since early fall she’d blessed that child, and wished her well as she fell asleep. The dog immediately curled up on one side, the shivers wracking its body subsiding.
She sat next to the dog and lit the stub of a candle she’d found and saved for a special occasion. This surely was a most special occasion. “We’re safe here, Dog. With all the blackberry bushes around us and being way up under here, no one wants to crawl this far back.” She draped the two blankets she had scrounged from a Goodwill donation box around her shoulders and over Dog’s back.
From her handbag, she took the food and set it on the sleeping bag in front of them. She filled her dented quart pot with the bottled water and set it in front of Dog. She raised her head and drank deeply as Marybelle opened the bottle of Starbucks Mocha Coffee drink. She tapped the bottle against the pot rim. “Here’s to our friendship, Dog.”
Carefully, she divided the hamburgers, the fries, the fish: half for her, half for dog. Dog quickly ate her half, but sat politely, not begging for Marybelle’s food. She took all but one piece of the fish and laid it in front of the gray muzzle. “Merry Christmas, Dog.”
Dog cocked her head and fixed her clouded eyes on the old woman. “Go on, Dog. An old woman like me don’t need so much food. Probably would make me sick to eat all of that. This piece of fish’ll do me just fine.”
Feast over she stuffed the trash in the paper bag and set it to one side. She lay down and Dog cuddled against her chest. With the blankets spread over the two of them and the sleeping bag zipped she draped a sleep heavy arm over the old dog’s side. “This has been a lovely Christmas Eve, Dog. Thank you.”
Singing woke Marybelle. Beautiful singing that called to her. She opened her eyes and got to her feet. Dog leaned her head against Marybelle’s leg. A bridge lay before them. Dog looked up with cataract whitened eyes and whined. She took a step toward the bridge and twisted her gray muzzle over her shoulder as if to say, “Come on.”
The bridge shone like a golden light lit it from within. Marybelle shivered. Fear rose up and wrapped chains around her legs. Dog padded back to her side. She pushed her cold black nose against the palm of Marybelle’s hand and gazed up at her. “Oh, Dog, I know you wanna go that way, but I…I can’t.”
Dog sat next to Marybelle’s leg and sighed. She rubbed the old dog’s grizzled fur and knelt in front of her. Staring into the dog’s dimmed eyes, she cradled the gray muzzle between her knarled and arthritis twisted hands. “I know you want to go that way. And…and it’s probably a good place, Dog. But, I…” she inhaled a deep breath and let it ease from her. “I know it’s a good place, Dog. I can feel it; like I know you can, too. But, I don’t deserve to go there.”
Dog flicked out a warm wet tongue and licked the tears that traced the lines of Marybelle’s weathered face. She pressed her face against Dog’s then kissed her muzzle and stood up. She took a half step away from Dog.
Courage gathered like a tattered garment, she looked into Dog’s eyes. “I can’t go there, Dog. I haven’t been a good person. There’s things…” she glanced away and swallowed the lump in her throat. When she looked back, she blinked away the tears. “There’s things I’ve done; things I’ve said that were wrong. I’ve…I’ve hurt people. Over there,” she raised a thin arm and waved toward the shining bridge. “Over there is for good people, people like you, Dog. Go on. You deserve to be there.” She turned and moved away from the dog.
She’d only gone a few steps before she felt the cold nose against her dangling hand. She squatted next to the dog. “Oh, Dog.” She buried her face in the brittle black fur. When she lifted her face, she hugged the dog and stood. “Looks like you aren’t going to go, if I don’t.” Heart pounding, she gave a slight nod as if confirming her own decision. “I’ll go with you, Dog, because you deserve to be over there.”
Dog pressed tight against her leg as they walked onto the glowing bridge. The golden light enveloped them, warmed them.
Halfway across the bridge Marybelle stopped and gazed over the railing. Below, a broad, placid river flowed. As they drew nearer to the far side, a beautiful meadow ablaze with blue and yellow and orange flowers rolled out as far as she could see. Her eyes rounded.
When they reached the end of the bridge, a melodic voice spoke. “I see you’ve helped her to Cross, Dog. I knew you could. Well done.”
Marybelle raised her eyes and gazed into the milk chocolate face and dark chocolate eyes. “Momma?”
The woman spread her arms and Marybelle ran into them.
If you enjoyed this story, ENTER YOUR EMAIL to follow this blog and never miss any of the great content.
Don’t forget to SIGN UP for the MONTHLY e-newsletter and receive special offers, announcements, short stories, inspirational quotes and much more. Just enter your email in the box for JUST FOR YOU newsletter and follow the steps.
Drop by facebook and join the conversation! http://www.facebook.com/ayawalksfar FRIEND me so we can stay in touch!
Check out what’s new and upcoming on http://www.facebook.com/AyaWalksfarAuthor Don’t forget to LIKE my page.
PHOTO CREDITS: Old dog–Anne Lowe Christmas tree–Anna Langova (all-free-download.com)