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Pea Soup for the Cynic's Soul

The Faithful Friend

Katie Burns' husband Donald had passed away at 84 years old. They had both known it was coming. Katie hoped that she would not be long to follow. What use a world without Donald had for her, she could not conceive.

The funeral was almost too much to bear. The gathering was small, for they had had no children nor other family, and, irrationally perhaps, it irritated her that the others there were not as heartbroken as she was.

The next day, around midmorning, about the time Katie had given up trying to figure out how she could make it through the rest of her life, a man knocked on the door. She opened it, and the man informed her that her late husband had made arrangements for her to receive a young golden retriever puppy to keep her company.

Because it was from her beloved husband, she accepted the dog, but it brought her no joy. A dog could not be the companion dear Donald could.

In the days to come, she did little more than lie around the house and wait for night, when she could sleep again. She barely took care of herself, and she certainly didn't take care of the dog, still unnamed, who missed a number of meals but still thought it best to lie next to her, wherever she was at any given time. Once in a while, he nudged her arm or leg, in an attempt to initiate a mutual exchange of affection, or at least make sure that she was all right, but Katie invariably shooed the dog away and continued to ignore him.

Finally Katie tired of mourning and moping. Life hadn't gotten any better since those first days after Donald passed away, and it didn't seem like it ever would. Frustrated and weary, she lumbered into the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of sleeping pills. She held it in her hand, rolling it over and over in her palm. Then she opened it. It was time to die. She should have died with her husband.

But the dog, who had never before showed any sign of aggression, bared its teeth and growled from the door way. Shocked, Katie turned and looked at it. The dog ceased its growling but did not relax its tense posture. Suddenly, the dog leapt upon her, snatched the bottle of pills in its jaws, and, before Katie could react, dropped it into the toilet.

At that moment, Katie found a reason to live. She suddenly realized how much the dog loved her, not just by the act of saving her life, but by the relentless loyalty he had paid her from the beginning. She hadn't treated him well, but he never once stopped being her friend.

She named the dog Buddy, for he was, and for the remainder of the day, Katie and Buddy walked together, played together, and ate together. Katie wore a smile for the first time since her husband's death, and Buddy was happy and energetic, not to mention relieved.

Katie was a little too anxious to face the next day, however, for, walking down the stairs from her bedroom, she tripped and fell on the last stair. The fall was painful, and every time she tried to get up, it hurt more. So she lay on her back, helpless, wondering if she could cry out loudly enough for anyone to hear.

Buddy's face came into view above her. The dog whined softly and licked her face. Then he walked away, into the kitchen. Katie turned her head so she could see him, just visible through the doorway.

With some effort, he shoved at the kitchen stool, working it out from the corner and across to the counter. Little by little, the stool slid over, the dog working patiently and persistently. At last, the stool reached the counter, and Buddy jumped on it and used it as a step to the counter. Once on the counter, he carefully gripped the wall-mounted cordless phone in his mouth and stepped back down.

Bless your heart, Katie said to herself, marvelling at the dog's intelligence and compassion. Buddy headed back toward her with the phone in his mouth.

He was half way across the room when he heard a cat's meow in the backyard. Triggered to action, Buddy barked as much and as loudly as he could, dropping the phone to the floor and darting to the back door like a bolt of lightning. He clawed at it noisily, finally pried it open, and galloped outside to chase the cat all across town.