Hugo saw Kaydon often. He popped by with Driver or alone. They reminisced. They played tug with the frisbee as they’d done back there. Kaydon spoke largely of Simon, and Hugo of Kevin.
And their packs grew. Driver was a natural pack leader, and often wondered aloud to anyone passing by why it took so long for his to get going. One by one, Kaydon helped the newcomers settle in as Driver showed them around. And Hugo and Zippy did the same thing. He and Kaydon met those puppies, the ones they sensed back there, eventually.
Donnie’s pack grew so big that Trudy gave up remembering all the names, delegating that task to one of the more junior pack members.
Others arrived too. Pets who came after those puppies. Pets of family and friends who they knew back there. Some remembered closing their eyes and waking up here. Others didn’t remember how they made it here. When they spoke, they were either exactly as Hugo had expected, or took him entirely by surprise. Rusty, who was now with Susi waiting for Kevin’s sister, sounded so distinguished. Such a deep, calm voice. While he had a wonderful time like all the others, the dogs knew he missed Sherry with an intensity that was different to theirs. Rusty’s current of melancholia drifted just below the surface of his good-natured ways, making the others think a bit more about their person for a while.
Then there was Bucky, waiting with Chester for Kevin’s mother to arrive. Hugo wouldn’t say his voice was annoying. It was more that he was a little arrogant. He was quite old back there when he closed his eyes, so he made sure his pack and the packs near him knew that his age made him wise beyond his small stature.
Bucky had quite a lot to say to Hugo. He hadn’t been at all pleased with the way Hugo, when they visited Kevin’s parents, took out all his toys and tore them up. Hugo chuckled to himself, remembering that basket in the corner of the living room where Bucky liked all his toys tucked tidily away. Minutes after arriving, Hugo would pull all of them out before singling out the one he was going to tear up on that visit.
Rusty loved catching up with Hugo. Though he remembered Kaydon and they got along well, Hugo was his buddy when they were both young back there. Their people – Kevin, his sister Sherry, Simon and Sherry’s husband Tommy – always had such fun when they were together. That magic of a moment, that memory of a place, those shared emotions of love and togetherness, filled up Hugo and Rusty back there when they had all the energy in the world to chase each other and fight over sticks. When Hugo was alone, before Kaydon.
Then, more and more, it was pets they didn’t recognize. Someone further down the pack line might see a familiar face from back there but for Hugo and Kaydon, as each new pack member joined, they recognized less and less the names, and certainly not the emotions that those puppies right after them triggered.
There’s something about the first pack member to arrive, the one that makes a pack out of what was just a dog waiting around. The two forge a bond stronger than any that come after them. The first one hopes for a second to arrive, and the second is happy that someone waiting for them. As more arrive, more are waiting, so it’s not quite the same as the first two. And so it was with Zippy and Hugo. They had fun with the growing pack – not as large as Donnie’s but respectable nonetheless – and enjoyed getting to know the others who arrived at a fairly steady pace. Even so, they preferred hanging out with each other most of all, despite the years back there that separated them. It was the same with Kaydon and Driver, and all the other packs whose person hadn’t yet arrived.
Meanwhile, people arrived. Hugo and the others looked forward to the ritual of lining up to watch the joyful reunion of pack and person. The mystery of the person’s arrival. The sense that the pack knew something was going to happen yet not knowing exactly when. The instinctive gathering of all the pets to send their pack-friends off, seeing them for the last time here until it was their time to walk up the path with the tall wavy green grass with their person, towards the glowing light up ahead near the top of the hill in the distance. Bowing their heads in reverence and respect as the pack ran by, racing towards their person.
And as old packs left with their person, new packs formed. A comfortable routine set in.
One afternoon, as Hugo sunned himself in that old window in the first house, he felt especially good. He got up and chased sticks in the Blanco. He found Kaydon and they played tug with the frisbee. He thought hard about the pool back there and jumped in it to chase his ball, emerging with those little points of wet fur on his face, looking like a gremlin.
And he thought about how opposite of good he felt just before closing his eyes back there. While he knew that here, he did whatever he did back there, at the exact time in his life when he did it best, he hadn’t given much thought to why. He decided he’d ask Zippy.
“Ahhh, aging, my old friend,” mused Zippy. “I guess we haven’t got around to that yet.”
Hugo thought about this word. He knew it but hadn’t applied it to himself or others here. They were all in their prime.
“Think of your earliest memories back there, Hugo. You ate poo, and pecan shells, and cigarette butts if you could grab them quick enough before Kevin or Simon took them away. Remember telling me about that? And how after a while, the poo didn’t really taste that good anymore, the pecan shells were always tasteless, and cigarette butts… well, that one I never got anyway. But never mind. What I’m getting to is that things changed back there as you changed. Your tastes, what you wanted to do, how frequently you wanted to do it. That last time you were in the Blanco, you said you wanted to stand there and watch the water but didn’t feel like chasing a stick. Remember?”
Well, yeah, he remembered. He simply didn’t feel like chasing a stick. Although, now that Zippy mentioned it, why didn’t he? He always chased sticks. That was his thing, that was his fun, his schtick. Hugo was pleased with his little play on words – his vocabulary had grown quite robust.
As he reflected more, it occurred to him that there were other things he did less as time back there ticked on. He liked lying in the sun more, and at longer stretches. He napped more. He didn’t feel like eating. He didn’t quite hear Kevin sometimes, or didn’t hear him very well.
“So that’s aging. Not feeling like doing the things you used to do. Or I suppose wanting to do them but knowing you can’t, so you tell yourself you don’t want to anymore. And being tired more, and not hearing as well?”
“Well, yes, I guess that’s about right, Hugo. The particulars vary – I could hear fine but couldn’t see very much near the end – but yes, with aging, we don’t do all the things we did when we were younger, and some of the things we did when we were younger, like sleeping, we loved doing more when we grew older back there, right?”
Hugo pondered this and yes, that was right. He felt good here. With all these dogs arriving steadily, he hadn’t thought about time back there. It had to be passing because that’s what it does back there. It has to for these dogs to keep coming here. It took a bit of energy to remember way back when he didn’t feel so good, so he knew a lot of time must have passed back there. Maybe. No one knew for sure.
Then a thought occurred to him. The Kevin that Zippy talks about is not the exact same Kevin he knows. They’re the same person but different. Kevin is… Kevin is… older! He knew a Kevin who had continued to grow up long after Zippy closed his eyes for the last time back there. And those puppies, they saw a Kevin who continued getting older long after it was Hugo’s time to wake up here. He felt Kevin’s thoughts and emotions occasionally though that wasn’t the same as knowing what he looked like or how he felt. Did he still do all the things he used to do? Did he sleep more and more?
They had seen countless packs reunite with their person, sure. What will it be like when it’s our turn, wondered Hugo. What will Kevin be like when we see him again. How is he changing? What’s happening to him back there?
As he grew sleepy thinking of Kevin, he lay down in the warm, whispering wavy green grass. Tall, inviting, soothing, easing him to sleep, to dream about Kevin.