He heard the licking sound before his eyes were open. A dog licking down there, as Kevin called it. He opened his eyes to a dog sitting near him, slouched back and over at the same time so he could really lick himself. As Hugo watched, he noticed how similar they were. Like Kaydon back there, wherever he was now, wherever there was now that he was here.
“You must be him,” the other dog said, stirring Hugo out of his thoughts of before now.
“Who?” Hugo asked.
“Kevin’s dog,” he replied.
“I am. How do you know that? And who are you?
“I’m Zippy. I’ve been waiting for you for a while,” said Zippy to Hugo. “I’m Kevin’s dog too.”
Hugo knew this couldn’t be right. He looked sort of like him but he 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.
“Nice to meet you, Hugo. Kevin didn’t know names like that when he met me.”
This was growing more confusing to Hugo. “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 how this conversation would go ever since the feeling started growing stronger a little while back. This wasn’t how he planned it. What he had said just sort of came out. And so he thought for a bit, to remember and reorder things.
“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 he is, what he looks like, how he acts now because I’ve been over here for a while by myself. What I’ve figured out with all this time is that my life, and yours – our whole lives – are only pieces of his. I died and he was still alive. Then at some point he got you. And then you died and he’s still over there alive.”
Well there it was. Over here. Over there. Not tired anymore. Not in pain. This other dog he’d never seen before. He had intended to ask Zippy where he was. No need for that now. He knew. He was not alive anymore, at least not back there where his people still were. He’d never thought about death. Just chasing balls and grabbing sticks and licking his people and having treats and sleeping in the sun. This was something new.
“I don’t feel dead. I feel great – so much better than the last little while I was back there. But not dead. It’s not that I don’t believe you. I just feel so ready to do stuff again.”
“That’s why this place is so great, Hugo. The whole time you’re waiting to see your person again. No hips that give out, 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. He hadn’t been able to do that in a long time.
Zippy interrupted the imagery. “You look tired. The first day will do that to you. It’s sort of like jet lag. I don’t know what jet lag is 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.” It felt like he was 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 grass, its sun-warmed blades cuddling him like his old blanket. The dog smells swirling around him like they used to at the White Rock Lake. For a moment, the natural urge to pee on something popped up but it was no match against his, what did Zippy call it? He drifted off to the Blanco River, soaking wet and chasing sticks into the emerald, sun-soaked water.