This was originally a screen play to a short film I wrote in College. But a little bit ago I decided to go back to the drawing room and turn it into a short story. I originally got the idea when I had a dog in Santa Fe named Gracie. She is the most beautiful, intelligent, and wonderful dog I know. Raising her from a puppy to lady dog taught me so much about myself and of life in general. I dedicate this story to her.
If there is no heaven for dogs,
then I want to go where they go when they die.
*********************You couldn't tell from her face, but she was beautiful. Behind the pinkish lump of scar tissue used to be a beautiful dark brown eye like her right one. What used to be a beautiful coat of short brown fur was now mottled by long slivers of flesh where hair couldn't grow. Even her movement was off-putting; an uncomfortable step-step-limp that was caused by missing tendons. But she wasn't always disfigured. She was once a prized pure-bred boxer puppy; energetic, playful, and completely loyal. All it took was a box cutter, a heartless being, and a gang dispute. An innocent soul caught between bad people. No longer the beautiful breed she was supposed to be she was given up for adoption. The shelter took care of her; her wounds healed, but left deep scars over her eye, her chest, her legs, but most of all her heart. It would take her a long time before she could trust any human again. How could one trust such a cruel animal capable of so much hurt? It took an angel by the name of Sarah to teach her to trust again- to love.
Sarah was a volunteer at an animal shelter. She helped by walking the dogs and filling their bowls with dry food and water. The first time she met Belle was during meal. As Sarah opened the chain-linked fence door Belle began to huddle into the corner, feebly growling out of the corner of her mouth. "Hey pretty. You hungry?" Sarah cooed. Belle growled louder. "It's ok, I'm leaving. See?" She dropped the bowl and closed the gate.
Sarah knew she needed to be patient. It wasn't the first time Sarah had befriended a stray. Unlike Belle he had two good eyes, two legs, and stood at five foot ten. But like Belle they both shared scars. No visible scars on his body, but his heart bore lashings from the heart-ache of infidelity. And like Belle, David lay a heavy mortar on his walls, creating a tall and thick blockade keeping all others out. They met in college. Their mail boxes were ten boxes apart, and he caught her eye. Bashfully he pretended not to notice, but her sunny charm over-powered him. A flighting smile turned into dinner. A dinner turned into a late night discussion. Late night discussion turned into a week. Weeks turned into a month. And months turned into two and a half years, which was right around the time when she decided to adopt Belle.
After months of breaking through Belle's hardened defenses she finally stopped growling at her. She even allowed herself to be pet. She was still afraid of loud noises, other dogs, any men, cars, and darkness. She often peed herself when such nightmarish things presented themselves. But she trusted Sarah. Her kindness and warmth broke down the barriers of fear, and allowed her to get close to another again.
~ • ~
She kept her eyes glued to the back seat. Sarah wasn't sure how Belle would take to the car, being her first trip (that she knew of at least). She drove slowly, smoothly, guiding the sedan sweepingly through her neighborhood streets like a large boat in a small canal. She arrived. "Finally", she thought as she let a deep sigh out. She quickly unbuckled her seatbelt and went to the back of the car to carry Belle out. She was sad she still couldn't get her to walk out on her own. Even with trust they had established she wouldn't come to her. If anything Belle had humbled her. She reminded Sarah that no matter how much trust one had in you the decision to step forward was always in the hands- or paws- of the other. She let Belle down onto the grass as she heard the front door of the house open, she looked up.
"Hey beautiful. Hey Belle." Sarah smiled and looked into David's deep blue eyes, then looked down at Belle's scarred body.
"Say hi Belle." She was glad he was there to share this with her. Belle's first time in a stable home. She saw Belle had a different opinion, as demonstrated by the raised lip and a low growl.
"It's ok Belle. That's Dave." Dave walked a few steps forward and squatted down, like Sarah recommended. Get low, down to their level. Present yourself in a non-threatening fashion.
"It's ok Belle, I won't hurt you," David said, in his softest tone possible. Sarah glowed inside. She hadn't heard Dave use that babyish tone before. He was new with animals, and she was endeared by his desire to be in this part of her life. Belle continued to growl, and began to turn towards Sarah. Sarah picked her up and carried her into the house. Belle continued to growl the entire time in, keeping her one good eye on David. Sarah felt the uneasiness from Dave as he watched, his stomach in his throat, unsure of the proper conduct in such a scenario.
"It's ok. She's just frightened, she won't actually hurt you."
"She sure sounds like it," Dave said with bone dry wit. She appreciated his efforts. She knew it was a tough task, to bring get close to an emotionally scarred animal. But time heals all wounds. It had taken her about three months before Belle let her pet her, and it too six months to have David let her in and say "I love you." Sarah let Belle down, her nails clicked against the hard wood floor. Belle walked into the house, her legs shaking like a branch in the wind. After a few steps she released a small spurt of urine onto the floor.
"Well at least she's housebroken." Sarah punched Dave on the arm. "Ow."
~ • ~
Belle never asked to be cut, but the demons of time and chance took care of that. Had her previous owner picked any one of her brothers or sisters over her perhaps she'd have depth perception instead of nightmares. But timing and chance rule all. They can be the cruelest of creatures or the savior of souls. Had Dave not walked in on his ex-girlfriend perhaps he'd still be with her, wondering why she was so distant when they made love. Had Sarah and Dave not met in the mailroom at that exact time, or had those exact mailboxes, perhaps they would have never met. And had Sarah not been born with an empathetic heart perhaps she would have never adopted Belle. But chance is not always so kind. It was an empathetic heart that brought their family together, but it was the hypertrophic cardiomyopathy of her heart that separated them. She died of a sudden heart attack one month after Christmas. Dave knew something was wrong when he came home. Belle, who was almost always quiet, was barking loud and often. He followed the noise and found her breathless body lying on the kitchen floor.
The funeral was small and quaint, Sarah would have wanted it that way. Not a mourning, but a celebration of life- regardless of how worthless Dave felt his was at the time. He continued to watch after Belle, Sarah would have wanted it that way. She would have never wanted to see her back in the cold concrete and steel fenced halls of the dog shelter. Belle still hadn't warmed up to Dave. He tried everything Sarah taught him. Show the back of his hand and let her smell him. Give her treats when she behaved well. He sculpted the tonality of his voice to convey his various emotions and moods. But nothing worked. She snapped at his fingers when he tried to pet her. Get up and leave the room when he entered. Growl at him as he placed her feed bowl in front of her. At first it broke his heart, but after a few weeks he developed a cool indifference towards the animal. It was almost like having a plant that he had to let out the back three times a day. He kept it fed and watered. It grew. It added life to the house, but little else.
~ • ~
The cool autumn air blew through the streets. The ruddy green maple leaves held limply onto the trees, trying to escape their inevitability that came with the fall. Dave liked this time of year. It was not an intuitive affection to most, but he liked the shift in seasons. He liked the way the added layers clung to him like a warm hug. He liked the way frost would make the grass sparkle in the morning light. But most of all he liked how the cold smell of winter lingered in the distance.
As part of his fall ritual he would break out his winter clothes. Pushing the polo shirts to the back, and bringing out his sweaters and coats forward. Belle lay curled in her dog bed, her chin on the floor. Even though she would never follow Dave around the house she would still go up to the bed room at night, as though she were still expecting Sarah to sleep in their bed. Dave was shuffling the clothes about inside the walk-in closet attached to the bed room. The closet had become much bigger ever since he had donated Sarah's clothes to Goodwill, but it was something he tried not to think about. Instead he let his clothes slowly take over the closet. First his slacks took over the back left-side, then his shirts joined them. They couldn't fill the space that Sarah's dresses did, so they hung a few inches apart, awkwardly filling in the large space.
Finally, Dave found his suede jacket tucked behind the his sport coat and robe. He pulled it out and slipped it on. The strong leather smell creeping its way into his nostrils. He felt the rough leather arms, then zipped it up. He stepped out of the closet and shut the door. He stood tall, and inspected himself in the mirror on the closet door-regardless of how silly a suede jacket and pajama pants looked. He hadn't worn the jacket in awhile, but he was very satisfied with the way old leather fit. Out of habit, he slipped his hands into the pockets. Something small hugged the pinky finger of his right hand, he pulled it out. It was a ring he gave Sarah for their second year anniversary. Made of small polished silver with turquoise stones; it fit her perfectly, but couldn't make it past the big knuckle of his pinky finger. He had forgotten that the people at the morgue had given it to him after after the funeral. He hadn't worn that jacket since that day. Finding the ring created a small crack in his damn, and it began to spread. At first he felt the heat in his face, then a pit in his gut. Then the same punched-in-the-gut feeling he had felt when he was standing their in the graveyard, thumbing the ring in his pocket.
Crack. He couldn't stand anymore, so he walked over and sat on the bed. It was all coming back to him, a deluge of memories that he couldn't hold back. He remembered first seeing her, the way that little strand of red hair would cover her face. The way she'd place her tongue between her teeth when she'd laugh. The way she fit in his shoulder as they slept, and the way she'd roll with him as he moved in his sleep, as though they were one. He remembered the way she'd put her arm out the window on long car trips and ride the wind with her hand. The way she'd walk around the room naked, her beautiful essence shining out from her pale white skin. He remembered how she would skip when she was drunk. And the way she would always point out the natural beauty of life to Dave, whether it was the phase of the moon, the honeysuckle blooming at spring, or the dusky sun-light against the buildings. Dave's lip trembled. He tried as hard as a man could not to cry, until he couldn't help but lay his head into his hands. His body convulsed as he gasped for air between inaudible sobs. He was thankful no one was there.
Suddenly he felt a faint brush against his leg, then a heavy warmth. Dave opened his hands and looked down. Belle had crossed the room and was leaning against him. She was looking the other way, but she was leaning against him. He reached down with his wet palm and stroked her scarred head. She didn't move, she didn't growl, she just peacefully rested against him. Dave smiled. She may have been leaning against his leg, but it was Belle who was holding him up.