It’s that perfect window of time—right before the morning light hits the pavement. That’s when Charles and I go for our Monday morning walks. I’m excited today because it’s Monday.
Everything about Charles –I call him Charlie sometimes– says class and high breeding. Silky white hair with golden spots makes him look dignified. His big brown intelligent eyes all knowing. I think he’s a cocker spaniel.
Me, I’m Shelby—sienna colored with short hair that’s soft to the touch. I have pointy ears and brown eyes. I’m a mixed mutt so I’m strong and can fend for myself. Charles and I are medium-weight dogs. But Charles is shorter than I on account of his big feet and short legs.
There’s Charles’s house. Excuse me, but I’ve got to run.
“Say Charles, you there? Sorry I’m a little late.”
“Yes, yes, I’m here. Let’s get going before the sun rises,” Charles says.
“Beat you to the end of the block,” I dared.
I’m flying. The wind is pressing my ears against my head. Then suddenly old Charles is running right beside me and then…dog gone, Charles beats me.
“Don’t mess with the Sage, Charles declared, as he kicked up the grass with his hind legs.”
We walk in silence for the next half hour. It’s too beautiful to spoil with words.
“I’ll see you Monday,” Shelby.
“Say Charles, how about meeting me at Willow Park next Monday?”
The following Monday, I waited for Charlie but he never came.
Finally Monday came again and I ran as fast as I could to Charlie’s house.
“Charlie, hey, Charlie, Ya there?” I whimpered.
“Good morning, Shelby. Sorry, but the Lady of the house wouldn’t let me out. I was limping after our last run. Poor Charlie my lady said. What happened? So she locked the doggy door for my safety. But I’m OK. Anyway, it’s about time for the joints to break down.”
“But Charles you’re only nine”, I yelped.
“Sorry Shelby but this is about the time. Bones and joints go first, and then the rest go pretty fast”, Charles said.
Nervously pacing back and forth I blurted out,
“Hey, did you hear old Snoopy died last week? All the dogs were howling about it the other night. They say he almost blew it and started talking. Just towards the end, he couldn’t stand the pain and yelped out, ‘let me go, let me go’. His old man swore he heard him talk. Says that’s why he put him to sleep”.
“Shelby, sit, sit, and listen,” Charles demanded.
“We can’t let humans know we can talk or it’s the end of us. People will put us to work. They’ll make us do silly commercials and jump through all kinds of hoops. Maybe even dissect our brains. We must always stay focused and not get distracted from our purpose. Fortunately, my lady will never let me suffer. My lady is a widow. After her husband died, I was a gift from her children to prevent loneliness.”
“Hey Charlie, that’s in the long distant future. Let’s be NOW.
Bow Wow. Bow Now. Let’s sniff out that flowering cherry tree.
Like lightening we headed for the blossoms. They were shimmering and glowing with a strange light. So ‘round and ‘round the tree we went sniffing and sniffing ‘till we got kind of high and dizzy.
“That’s enough,” Charles barked, and he marked his spot.
As I walked home, if you can call living under cars and Willow Park, home. I was more than happy. Even though I don’t eat everyday, I like my life. I’m lucky to have met Charles. He’s the father I never got to have. You see Charles is a dog with many lives. Me, I’m a ‘new birth’. I don’t have many lives and still kind of wet behind the ears.
In one of Charlie’s past lives he was a stud. Too many bitches and too much to eat and drink kept him at a low level. Then one day he met a human who really loved him. She helped Charles to recover and re-discover his purpose. And now Charles is bringing out the purpose in me.
I asked Charles, “What is our purpose?”
Charles said, “Simple, give unconditional love to those creatures that need it. Right now it seems that human beings are the creatures in most need.”
According to Charles, that’s why our lives are so short. Because a big lesson in unconditional love is letting things go. Dying being ‘rebirthed’ and starting all over again are all part of letting go…I’m going to ask Charlie more about this ’cause I don’t understand it. In fact, it sounds like a bunch of human talk to me.
According to Charlie, another purpose of all dogs is to be the universal clown. Laughing is just as important as love. This, I totally agree with.
Rain, hail, snow didn’t stop Charlie and me from our Monday walks. But then Charlie got a cold and we missed a week or two. Shortly after Charlie’s cold, we walked up to ‘Eucalyptus Hill’, that’s where we go when we really want to run. The scent of eucalyptus trees clears the lungs and makes us run forever. And it was on Eucalyptus Hill that Charles told me he had a disease called cancer and would die soon.
“Dog gone it,” I cried. “It’s not fair why are our lives so short?”
“Nonsense, Shelby, we are lucky to have short lives. We have more opportunities for renewal and rebirth. We have more lives to live and love. Why look at human beings. It takes them ten years to develop the ability to jump a fence. Then they spend most of their lives in front of TV or computer. We dogs in six months can jump 3 feet, scale mountains, and run circles around humans. In nine months we give birth to a whole new generation of pups. Just think how lucky we are. Our time is not wasted on holding grudges, plotting revenge and sighing regrets. We forgive and forget.”
“Sounds like a duck quack to me. You learned this from Humans. Humans always have to have a purpose, reasons and excuses for everything.”
I started kicking up grass and marking my spot on all the trees and bushes around. Then I shimmied my behind and snorted.
Charlie looked real mad. He planted his big feet solidly on the ground and slowly walked towards me. Afraid he was going to attack; I put my tail beneath my legs. I was about to roll over on my back and surrender when Charles looked me straight in the eyes and said,
“No, Shelby, It comes from us. We are the ones who inhabit this earth for a less than a quarter of human life. Therefore, we have little time for complaints and pettiness. We must foster our purpose”.
Then Charlie bent his front legs down and stretched his hips and tail up into a downward dog pose.
“Come on Shelby, let’s roll in the grass.”
As we rolled together, the ground beneath us erupted with the powerful aroma of crushed eucalyptus leaves, earth and green grass. We rolled and rolled, stirring and mixing the earth as we kicked our legs, wiggled our bodies and wagged our tails. I asked Charlie if he could still chase his tail. And yup, yup, he sure could. So ’round and ‘round Charlie and I went.
After our run on Eucalyptus Hill each time I went to Charles’s house the doggy door was locked. I scratched and scratched, but no Charlie.
Then one misty Monday morning, the door to the side of the house was wide open. As I peered in I saw Charles lying on his side on a big brown paisley pillow on the kitchen floor. The Lady was kneeling down beside him. When she saw me, she stood up and walked towards me.
“Hello puppy”, the lady’s voice was gentle and kind.
“Come in, come in. Charles and I have been waiting for you.
My name is Akiko”.
Charlie was breathing rapidly, his eyes were closed and his body was quivering. When I kneeled down in front of him he opened and shut his eyes and lifted his head for a moment. Charlie knew I was there.
Suddenly two men wearing white uniforms came in. The older man was the doctor and the younger man his assistant. We all knew what had to be done. It was Charlie’s time.
Akiko calmly stroked Charlie with loving strokes from the top of his head to his tail. As the doctor injected the needle, Akiko started crying. I sat up, threw my head back and howled a cry so powerful the kitchen walls shook.
Then next-door neighbor’s dogs joined in our cries, the dogs in the street, and it seemed the whole world was crying. Suddenly it was quiet Charlie stopped breathing. The doctor checked Charlie’s heart. And Charlie was gone. The two men carried Charlie out the door. Aikiko followed them to the door and watched them drive away.
Instinctively, I went to Akiko’s side and licked her hand. She kneeled down, threw her arms around my neck and sobbed uncontrollably. So I licked her face and eyes until she stopped crying and didn’t stop licking until I saw her smile.
“I love you too”, I heard Akiko say.
The morning mist had lifted, and the sun was streaming through the kitchen windows. And it was on that mystical Monday morning that I knew I loved Akiko with all my heart, unconditionally and forever.
Writing tanka is my passion, joy, therapy and confession. My tanka appear in the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese American International Journal and many Tanka Journals. Currently I teach Yoga and Zumba at the Japanese Cultural Center in Gardena and have a website: GenieNakano.