Wave after weary wave washed over him. Hugo was tired. He wasn’t tired after a long day of playing, sleepy and ready to crash between his dads and snore. It wasn’t an exhausted tired after chasing the ball a thousand times. He was done tired. He had no more balls to chase now, nor sticks to carry. Catching Frisbees was finished. Jumping in the pool only a flood of magical memories softly washing over him now. Now, here, lying on the sofa, he was ready to go. Though he didn’t know where he was going, he wasn’t afraid. He knew he was loved. He was happy. And he’d had a wonderful time.
Sinking deeper into the soothing serenity of letting go, he closed his eyes. He lay there, there in the living room, listening to the chatter of familiar voices around him. He remembered riding home in the old Jeep when his new family came for him. Then he was playing chase with the neighbors’ Jack Russell. Now he’s lying in the sun. Oh, and at last, at last, the Blanco River.
The voices of those who loved him grew softer and more distant with each belabored breath, those breaths that drew him further away from there. Each breath in, shallower than the one before, drew him closer to somewhere else. The voices, his people whom he loved so deeply, grew distant, ever more distant as he closed his eyes. Calmness caressed his aching body while peace erased his persistent pain. Finally, his last breath out spirited away the voices into silence.
He woke up feeling like he’d never fallen asleep. Opening his eyes, he looked around. The voices were gone. He wasn’t in the living room. He was outside somewhere, where the sun soothed. The breeze swirled exquisite aromas around him that tickled his short nose. The thick grass wrapped around him like the warmth that reached out like a comforting embrace from his dads’ fireplace.
A scent rode swiftly past on the breeze. It reminded him of a rawhide, which made him think of cocktail hour with his people, when he got his rawhide. He wondered where they were. Then he noticed it, or rather noticed the lack of it. There was no pain. None of any kind. It had been such a long time since he had felt, or hadn’t felt was more like it, this way. He closed his eyes, trying to think hard. A butterfly bounced past his ear, bringing with it images lantana and butterfly weed as he lay outside back there in the Texas sun.
He wanted to think harder about the reward of a rawhide and the bouncing butterfly. He knew there was a cocktail hour, remembered vividly the smell of lantana as it heated up under the summer Texas sun, pictured the people who loved him. Bubbles of thought popping up before floating away. As soon as he thought too hard, they were gone.
He didn’t feel like fighting to remember. He gave in to the simmering sun and breeze, which floated him away, back to slumber.
He heard it inside, that familiar sound of clinking ice in glasses. The patio door was open. As he sat up, a monarch flitted about the butterfly weed. Instinctively, he trotted inside straight for the treat cabinet. There was Kevin. And Simon. And Kaydon. Kaydon saw him head to the cabinet so he knew something good was about to happen and followed.
They both waited, he and that other dog. The drinks were about to be poured. Then there was the familiar sound of the gin stirring in with the tonic and lime. When they thought they were about to burst from anticipation, Kevin appeared around the corner. He headed to the cabinet, that magical cabinet that held all the treats. Hugo stared at the door intently while Kaydon jumped incessantly: their daily routine. Kevin opened the cabinet door, and there it was! He reached in and pulled out a sack of rawhides, giving one to each of them. Hugo always got his first. They grabbed them fast before trotting to the living room. They took opposite paths around the sofa before meeting again on the rug, facing each other as they chewed the rubbery hide. Their little ritual…
Kaydon, the rawhide, the living room, the cocktail hour. All faded again as he awoke. Sort of. He still didn’t feel like opening his eyes. Like remembering a dream he’d just had, it was so much easier to hold onto it, relive it if he kept his eyes shut a bit longer.
Lying there with eyes shut, it made sense now, the rawhide and butterfly. Other things took shape too: diving into the pool for balls; snuggling his blanket; slapping the newspaper away from Kevin when he wanted his attention. There was a then-ness about it. And that last time he closed his eyes, when he was done, the relaxation persuading him to let go. What happened after closing his eyes eluded him, like the butterfly on the lantana, the fleeting bubbles of memory. He was simply… here. Here wasn’t bad. Here was pretty good so far. But how did it happen?
As he thought on these things, a licking sound crept into his consciousness. He opened his eyes to find a dog sitting near him, slouched back and over himself at the same time so he could really lick, down there, as Kevin called it. How similar they were. Like Kaydon back there, wherever he was now, wherever there was now that he was here. The short noses, the black and white faces. Dressed in little furry tuxedoes waiting for their bowties.
“You must be him,” the other dog said, stirring Hugo out of his before-now thoughts.
“Who?” Hugo asked.
“Kevin’s dog,” he replied.
Caught by surprise, Hugo blurted out, “I am. How do you know that? And who are you?”
“I’m Zippy. I’ve been waiting for you, I think for a while,” said Zippy to Hugo. “I’m Kevin’s dog too. It’s nice to meet you at last.”
What’s he talking about? This can’t be right. Hugo didn’t know this dog. Yet there was something familiar about the name. It almost came to him, then fluttered away.
“Mind if I ask you your name?”
Hugo snapped his wandering mind back to this other dog. “I’m Hugo,” he introduced himself.
“Kevin didn’t know names like that when he met me.”
Confusion crisscrossed Hugo’s mind. “What do you mean ‘when he met me’? I’ve known him my whole life and I’ve never seen you before.”
Zippy had been thinking about this chat ever since the feeling began to grow. This little scenario wasn’t how he planned for it to go. His thoughts had sort of tumbled out, words tripping over his tongue and themselves to get out fast. He paused, thought for a bit, to remember and reorder things before continuing.
“I knew Kevin my whole life too, Hugo. A long time ago for him. He was a kid. You know an older Kevin, who I don’t. I don’t know how much older or what he looks like or how he acts now because I’ve been over here for a while by myself, at least in back-there terms. Here, Zippy took a deep breath, then carried on. “Here’s what I know, Hugo: my life, and yours – our whole lives – are only pieces of his. I… I, died, and he was still alive. At some point he got you, then you umm, died too. And he’s still back there, alive.”
Well there it was. Over here. Not tired anymore. No pain. This other dog he’d never seen before. He’d planned to ask Zippy where he was. There was no need anymore. He knew. He was not alive, at least not back there where his people still were. He’d never thought about death. Chasing balls, grabbing sticks, licking his people, having treats and sleeping in the sun took all his time. This was something new, being dead.
“I don’t feel dead. I feel great, much better than the last little while I was back there. It’s not that I don’t believe you. I just want so much to do stuff again. It’s the opposite of death.”
“That’s the mystery of this place, Hugo. The whole time you’re waiting to see your person again, there are no hips that give out. There’s no appetite that grows weaker, no sleeping longer and longer with less time to play, unless you want to sleep. You get to do whatever you did back there, at the exact time in your life when you did it best.”
“Well now, that’s something,” mused Hugo, as he imagined jumping into the Blanco River and grabbing the biggest stick he could haul back to the shore. Though he reminisced about it often, he hadn’t been able to actually do it for a long time.
Zippy interrupted the imagery. “You look tired, my new friend. The first day does that to you. It’s sort of like jet lag. I don’t know what jet lag is exactly but other dogs here have told me about it. You keep getting sleepy at weird times.”
“He’s right,” thought Hugo. “I’m so sleepy though I feel fine.” He felt like a puppy again, ready to play at a moment’s notice and falling asleep just as fast.
“Lie down and rest,” Zippy said gently to Hugo. “When you wake up I’ll be around.” Hugo snuggled deeper into the sun-soaked grass, cuddling into it like it was his beloved blanket. The dog smells swirling around him as if he were on the watery shore of White Rock Lake, where his dads took him for long walks full of adventure. For a moment, the urge to pee on something popped up but it was no match against his, what did Zippy call it? It was hard to hold on to his thoughts, and he didn’t really want to anyway, so he sent them floating on their way as he drifted off. Away to the Blanco River, soaking wet and chasing sticks into the emerald, sun-soaked water.