Just WEalk Beside Me and Be My Friend

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Children Stories  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: August 12, 2019

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Submitted: August 12, 2019

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Word count:  approx. 3,800

 

 

 

Just Walk Beside Me and be My Friend

(Title attributed to a quotation by Albert Camus)

 

by Marilyn Dalrymple

 

 

Penny knelt, looking out the living room window.  The couch's cushion sank beneath the little girl's scrapped and scabbed knees.  Her chin rested on the worn couch's back.  Pushing the oilcloth curtains aside, she watched her father, Vincent Madison, try to navigate the one step up to the wooden porch.  A young black, brown and tan pup yapped at his heels.  The pup bounced back and forth as if he were a toy on springs.  "Stupid ol' dog", Penny's father muttered.  He kicked at the dog, but missed.

His boot heel caught on the door sill, causing him to stumble.  He fell head-long through the door, bounced against a wall and lurched forward.  His hazel eyes were glazed. Vincent worked occasionally in town repairing things.  Anything, cars, trucks, farm equipment.  He was a pretty good mechanic when sober.  That didn't happen very often, though.

 Penny heard the dog's yapping, and ran across the room, pausing to look up at her father, who ignored the questions in her hazel eyes.  She then ran outside to see if she could make friends with the pup.

 

The thin dog stood a few feet from Penny.One soft ear hung down like a towel on a clothes line, the other stood straight up."You're one of Henry's puppies aren't you?" she asked the smooth-coated pup.  He wagged his tail in agreement. 

She was sitting on the wooden porch, bare legs and feet hanging over the edge.  It was midsummer and the air held the lemony smell of the desert's sagebrush."Come here."  She reached down with her small hand and tried to entice the pup to come closer. 

The dog took a step toward Penny, tilted his head, sniffed the air, and got close enough to lick her fingers.Resting his large front paws on the porch, the dog allowed Penny to pat his head.  I'm gonna call you Ol' Dog," she said, stroking the dog's velvety ears.  Penny had made a friend.

She carried the wriggling pup into the house.  The whole time he licked her sun-tanned cheeks like she was made of ice cream.  Making sure her father wasn't close enough to hear, she said, "Mom, he needs a home."

"He does look a mite hungry, doesn't he," said her mother, Sharon.  "Isn't he one of Henry's dogs?"

"Well . . . maybe.  I'll ask Henry.  Maybe - if you say it's okay - he'll let me keep him."

Henry liked Penny.  She was the only one who played with him and didn't tease him about his red hair and freckles.  She had seen the kids from town point at him and whisper into someone's ear, following him with their eyes when he walked by.  Penny knew they weren't saying anything nice.

Henry lived across the dirt and gravel road with his grandparents.Although he was eight, the same age as Penny, he didn't go to school.Penny's mother, had told her that Henry had a troublesome time learning things and there wasn't anything that could be done about it.  He had a gift with animals.  There were always dogs, puppies, cats, kittens, chickens and various wildlife critters around his grandparent's home.  His grandfather had been a carpenter before retiring, and he built shelters where Henry could put the animals that were recovering from injuries or that just needed extra care.

"You can have him if you want,” Henry said.  "You live so close I can visit him anytime I want to."

Penny started to rush home and tell her mother, the slender pup lopping along beside her.  His legs looked much too long for the tiny pup.  Penny stopped, and turning to Henry asked, “What kind of dog is he?"Henry shrugged his shoulders. 

"It doesn't matter," she said.And it didn't.

"Henry said I could keep him," she told her mother, hugging the squirming pup who sensed her excitement.  "He can eat scraps.  I'll share my dinner with him.  Can I keep him?"

Sharon realized Penny needed companionship and figured a small pup was the least Penny should have as a friend.  "You can keep him.  I don't want you giving him your food.  Maybe we can work out something with Mr. Harris at the general store. . . . trade sewing for dog food, or something like that."

"I'll work for Mr. Harris," Penny said, not believing her luck.  "I could sweep the porch, wash windows, stack the cans of food. . .. "

"Maybe you could," Sharon said.  A soft smile crossed her lips, like the sun throwing warm colors on a wall at dawn.  She smoothed her daughter's strawberry

 

blond hair, and pushed an untamed wisp behind Penny's ear.

Sharon's face was thin.  Desert sun, wind and worry had embroidered deep lines around her eyes and mouth and made her look older than thirty eight. She earned money sewing for the people in Lancaster.  She got up in the morning, walked the two miles into town lugging a basket of mended and sewn clothes, and returned them to their rightful owners.Some days the wind howled through the desert, and the tiny specks of sand stung Sharon's arms and face.  "Feels like ants biting," she told Penny.When Sharon returned in the evening her basket would be filled with more clothes to repair or alter, or orders to make new clothes.  If not for Sharon's sewing, the family would have most likely gone hungry. 

Sometimes Penny went to town with Sharon, sometimes she went to Henry's and helped him care for his animals.Wherever she went, Ol' Dog was right beside her.  He stopped when she stopped and trotted along beside her when she walked, tail waving in the air like a flag in the wind.Once he was grown, his long legs made him tall enough so Penny could rest her hand on top of his head while she walked.  From behind, Penny's gingham dress fluttering in the breeze and Ol' Dog confidently striding beside her, you could have sworn you were looking at a Norman Rockwell painting come-to-life.

After dinner Penny and her mom would go into the sewing room.  Sharon darned socks or sewed blouses and dresses for the townspeople who were better off than they were - which was just about everyone.  Penny sat at her mother's feet wrapped in the warm glow of a small electric lamp that sat on the sewing machine table.Ol’ Dog would lay beside Penny, on a rainbow-colored, patchwork quilt she'd made for him from sewing scraps.

Ol' dog rested a front paw on her leg, and tried to keep his copper-colored eyes open, but soon the lamp's warmth and the sewing machine's hum, would lull him to sleep.  Sometimes his long legs would paddle like he was swimming.  He'd make low "woofing" sounds.  "He's dreaming," Sharon would tell Penny. 

"I wonder what he dreams about,” Penny said, as she stroked Ol' Dogs head.

Sharon would fold the item she was sewing and put it in her basket.  Closing her eyes and resting her head on the rocking chair's back, she would answer, “Maybe chasing rabbits or butterflies, or kicking at dandelions while laying in sweet new-sprouted grass under the apple tree."

It was times like those that Sharon got lost in her thoughts.  She'd look through the window, out to the back yard.Certain times of the year the bright moon beams shone on the apple tree's leaves, causing them to look like drops of liquid gold.  Penny would curl up in a corner on her own quilt - also made from scraps -  and watch her mother rock. Sharon would be awash in the blue-silver beams of moon light.  Penny would swear a tear slid down her mother's cheek every occasionally, and that made a tear trickle down her cheek. 

Ol' Dog would wake up, and notice Penny wasn't near.  He'd move to her quilt and curl up to be close to her.  He was her shadow, protector, comforter, cheering her up and watching over her in a way only an attendant spirit could.

###

One cold September night of 1952, Penny was awakened by noises coming from outside.  Her father's Ford truck slammed to a stop in the driveway.  His best friend, Tom Evans, was behind in his Studebaker coupe.  Vincent got out of his truck, ran over to talk to Tom, then hopped up on the wooden porch that creaked and groaned from his weight.  He pushed the front door open. 

Sharon was in bed.  Penny and Ol' Dog, were curled up on her bed.Vincent stomped through the door, his boot heels sounded like thunder claps on the wooden floor.  A slash of dark rusty-colored hair hung over one bloodshot eye.  He pushed through the door into the bedroom where Sharon was sleeping.  Penny heard the bureau drawers squeak and squeal.

Her father's voice was loud and angry, her mother's soft and quavering.  Ol' Dog, long,  sleek and muscular now,  jumped off the bed and watched the bedroom door.  He  made a low growling sound while backing toward Penny's bed.Moments later Vincent came out, his arm around their one cardboard suitcase - the suitcase's latches never did work - and he rushed through the rusted, squawking, screen door,  letting it slam behind him.  He never looked in Penny's direction. 

Ol' Dog ran to the screen door and barked as Vincent ran across the driveway.  Throwing his suitcase in the back seat of Tom's car, he clambered into the front seat.  The coupe's wheels spun, throwing dirt and gravel everywhere.

Sharon came out and sat on the edge of Penny's bed.  "It's just you and me now, Penny," she said, as she pulled the child close to her.

"And Ol'Dog?" Penny asked.

"And Ol' Dog."

Penny  still worked in Mr. Harris' store.  Once a week she would get a small box of bones, vegetables and stale bread for Ol' Dog.  He also gave her a couple of dollars to buy anything she wanted.  Penny always bought something - a couple of pieces of candy,

 

a few crackers, some fresh fruit, anything she could share with her mother.  She helped Sharon clean for Mrs. Hendricks, Doc Hendricks' wife, and faithfully put a few coins in a Mason jar each time she got paid. 

Penny turned sixteen in 1958, old enough to drive.  She and Henry would go to Tehachapi once a month to buy berries and apples for Mr. Harris' store.Henry  would lift Ol' Dog into the truck's bed, which was lined with blankets so he wouldn't bounce around.  Penny took care to drive slowly and miss all the road's bumps.

When at Old Town Apple Orchard, a young lanky and tanned man named Lucas Cummings always seemed to be available to help Penny and Henry.  He made a fuss over Ol' Dog, lifting him carefully from the truck bed, then placing him in a tree-shaded spot.

Lucas made them laugh and loved to tell stories about the people who came to buy apples.  One of his favorite stories was about a woman who was afraid of the chickens that wandered among the trees, pecking at the fallen apples.  "She had on this straw hat with a huge brim.".  He held his arms out to show the size of the hat's brim.  "Old Red, there . . .," he said pointing to a rooster so colorful it looked as if Picasso had splashed paint on him, ". . . took off after her. You should have heard her scream.  She clung to her bag of apples and her hat, which got caught in the tree branches.  She couldn't run without letting her hat go.  Apples flew everywhere.  Red's wings were flapping so hard his feet would leave the ground," Lucas said, flapping his arms in the air."She tried to shoo him away with her skirt.  It looked like they were doing the Mexican Hat Dance."He laughed so hard while telling the story that Penny and Henry couldn't help but double over laughing, too. 

When Henry and Penny were ready to leave, Lucas would put his arms under Ol' Dog's middle, and lift him gently, placing him on the blankets in the truck's bed.

Ol' Dog's muzzle had turned white, and he had trouble getting up and down the one porch step.  Penny turned to her friend, Henry for advice.  "Is there anything that will ease his pain?"

"I've got something you can try," said Henry.  "Come on in."  He looked at old, dusty bottles lined up in the laundry room, then picked up a brown bottle with a peeling label and handed it to Penny.  "Grandpa uses this on his knees and hands when they get to hurtin'.  Just rub it on Ol' Dog's legs.  See if it helps."

It had the strong smell of wintergreen and alcohol and felt oily, but it seemed to help for a while.  Then Ol' Dog started limping and sometimes he whined when he got up from sleeping.  Penny went to see Doc Hendricks.  She told him about Ol' Dog's problems, hoping he could suggest something.

"How old is he now?"  Doc asked.

"'Bout nine or ten, I guess."

"That's a pretty good age for a dog."  Doc put down the papers he was reading."He's just getting old, Penny.

"There's nothing you can do?  No medicine?  Nothing?"  As hard as she tried to stop it from happening, her lower lip trembled and her eyes started to tear.

"There's a veterinarian in Los Angeles.  If you want me to, I'll call him and see if he'll look at Ol' Dog."  Doc Hendricks lowered his head and looked over the top of his glasses.  His bushy white eyebrows looked like a white bird's wings. 

 

"Could you just ask him?"

"I'll call him now."

While Doc  spoke to the veterinarian, Penny wandered around the office looking at the world globe Doc used to tell Penny about all the places on this planet that she'd only heard and read about.  She tried to look like she wasn't listening , but she couldn't help but hear what Doc was saying.

"We can be down there Friday.  It'll be good seeing you.  Thank you for your help.  We'll see you the end of the week."  Doc hung up the phone and turned in his chair to face Penny.  "He'll see us on Friday."

"Can Henry come?  I think he'd like to meet a veterinarian who works in a big city like Los Angeles."

"You and Henry . . . and Ol' Dog just be here by 7:00 A.M., Friday."

The sun had worked its way over the hills and its rays, seeping through the pink and orange morning clouds, swept across the open fields.The glow painted the Death Valley Sage desert grasses  a golden hue.  The three were at Doc's house by 6:30 A.M.  Penny had brushed all the dust and dry grass out of Ol' Dog's coat and she and Henry were wearing their Sunday best.Penny was carrying a brown purse that held her Mason jar savings.

Mrs. Hendricks came to the front door when they knocked."You come on in and have some oatmeal and toast while you wait for Doc.  He's a little slow getting ready.  Penny and Henry looked at each other.  "Bring Ol' Dog in, too.  I got a biscuit he can have."

"Thanks Mrs. Hendricks," Penny and Henry said in unison.  Penny stood holding the screen for Ol' Dog.

"You three have been friends for a long time, haven't you," Mrs. Hendricks said.  She placed bowls of hot oatmeal on the table and handed Penny a biscuit and nodded toward Ol' Dog. 

Penny took it and knelt by her best friend.  "Yep, we have."  She stroked the dog's head, rested her cheek on his muzzle, putting the biscuit down for him.

Doc finally came down the stairs, kissed his wife on the cheek and grabbed a piece of toast.  "Good mornin'," he said to Henry and Penny while nodding in Ol' Dog's direction.  "You three look like you're going somewhere special today."

"We are, Doc.  It will be special if the veterinarian can help Ol' Dog."

"We'll see. We'll see.  We'd better get going."

Doc had a big blue Buick.  Henry sat in the front passenger seat, and Penny in the back seat.  Doc  lifted Ol' Dog and placed him carefully on the grey leather seat beside Penny.

While driving to Los Angeles, they listened to the radio.  Doc sang along with the Platters as they sang Twilight Time.  When Rockin' Robin came on the radio he whistled and let his fingers dance across the top of the steering wheel.

After an hour's drive Doc pulled into a parking lot.  A black and white painted wood sign read, "Valley Avenue Pet Care."

"I've known Dr. Peterson since before he was a student at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.  I met his grandfather at a medical conference in Portland, Oregon when I was just starting in medicine.  Turned out he lived in Pasadena.  Not too far from Lancaster, and we became friends."  Doc slid out of his front seat, opened the door for

 

Penney and lifted Ol' Dog out,  putting him down in the gravel parking lot.  "He's good, Penney.  He'll do whatever he can."

Henry ran up to the door, and opened it for Penny, Doc and Ol' Dog.  He went in behind everyone, then stood in the waiting room taking it all in.  He took a deep breath and turned to Doc, "It smells like a doctor's office."

Doc checked in with the receptionist.  She came around and  opened a door leading to a hallway.She walked to the doorway of a small room where she directed them to wait for Dr. Peterson.  The veterinarian filled the door as he entered.  He had tousled dark hair and wore black-rimmed glasses.  Walking  over to Doc, he shook one hand and rested his other on Doc's shoulder.  After catching up on how everyone was doing and being introduced to Penney and Henry, the veterinarian turned to Ol' Dog,  kneeling and stroking  Ol' Dog's graying coat.  "Penney, Doc said you and Henry have taken care of your friend here his entire life - almost ten years."

Penney nodded.  She told Dr. Peterson that Ol' Dog  limped a lot, and couldn't get up on the bed or into the back of the truck like he used to."Sometimes in the morning, when he wakes up, he yelps when he tries to stand.  I have to lift him onto his feet,"  she said.

Dr. Peterson took Ol' Dog to have x-rays taken, then returned to the room and gently poked and prodded  Ol' Dog from muzzle to tail.Soon, the receptionist brought in the x-rays and Dr. Peterson showed them to Penney, Henry and Doc.  "Well Penney," he said quietly, "I can give you some pain medicine, but that's about all I can do for him.  He's led a good life and had you and Henry for his best friends for a lot of years."

Penney looked at the floor, knowing what to expect.

"When the pain medicine stops working there won't be any more that we can do.  You can keep him as comfortable as you can until the pain gets to be too much . . . ."  He didn't finish.  There was nothing left to say.

"We'll take him home and do everything we can for him," said Doc.  "Won't we?"

Henry nodded.  Penney looked down at her folded hands.  She knew this day would come, but she didn't expect it to come so fast.  On her way out of the office Penny stopped at the window and opened her purse, removing the few dollars she had.  "Is this enough?" she asked handing the money to the receptionist. 

The receptionist looked at Doc, who nodded."It's just the right amount," she said after counting it.

Months passed and even with Doc and Henry's help Ol' Dog's condition worsened.  He wasn't enjoying life and all but stopped eating.  He'd still thump his tail on the floor every time Penny entered the room though, and his ears would perk up.  His eyes, hazy with cataracts, would shift in her direction.

Sharon could tell Penny was hurting.  The girl's shoulders slumped, her walk was slow and Sharon often saw Penny with red eyes and a tear stained face.She knew this was one more hard lesson Penny had to learn and there wasn't anything she could do to soften the pain.

It's was summer in the desert.  The nights were warm with gentle breezes grazing across the tips of  the Indianrice grass that covered the desert floor.  The warm winds carried with it the spicy scent of California juniper.  Penny gathered Ol' Dog's

 

quilt, worn and shabby from 10 years of use, but the dog's favorite item.  She placed it under the apple tree - the same tree Sharon looked at from her rocking chair. 

When evening came, Henry and Penny carried Ol' Dog out to the quilt and laid with him under the tree.  He barely stirred .  Henry and Penny watched the full moon rise, as it turned the reaching-to-the-sky Joshua trees and flowering yuccas to silhouettes.  Moonbeams and sunset-colored sky turned the tree's leaves a gold color.  At that moment there couldn't have been a more beautiful place on earth.  The dog's paw, worn from walking gravel and dirt roads, rested on Penny's leg, his graying head in her lap.  This was a time when no words needed to be, or should have been, spoken.  The moon's streaks of light guided the old dog to the world beyond while breezes wrapped the trio in a comforter of acceptance. 

Wisps of clouds passed before the full moon.  "Look," said Henry, as he pointed to the moon.  "It looks like the moon is winking at us."

Penny felt Ol' Dog's lungs release their last breath."Doc told me  something once,"  she whispered.  "Don't walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don't walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend."  And that's what Ol' Dog, Penny and Henry had done for many years and would continue to do.

(Quotation by Albert Camus)

 


© Copyright 2020 marilyn dalrymple. All rights reserved.

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