Took a posting respite after finishing the poetry project to concentrate on black belt testing. There is always a little let down following the end of a test or project – that sense of ‘Great. Now what?’ The short story below was written as a birthday gift for my chief instructor. He consistently reminds us to be happy in the present – “Breathe in the positive. Breathe out the negative.”
An Hour in the Sun
“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam” she chatters happily, sitting tall in the front seat of the grocery cart, a Gerber baby, all eyes and smiles, proud of her first and only word.
Grandmothers would stop them in the aisles saying “How sweet. How precious.”
“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” She entertains.
“Is that her father’s name?” They ask.
“No.” The young mother shakes her head, torn between embarrassment and humor.
“Sam’s the dog. “
The beloved mongrel under discussion is in his second favorite place. The lake at the camp house is his personal park. Taking his time to distinguish between new and old scents, he walks slowly around the hikers path, exploring alcoves. He is an aging dog, keeping track of raccoons, rats, cats, skunks, and possums, but chasing only when necessary. He has nothing to prove.
Mid-May, Lake Keesus bursts with life; saplings stretching for some light, birds busy planning and gathering, fish and frogs welcoming the water’s warmth, and young insects already moving at a frenetic pace with a life’s work to be accomplished in a matter of months. Sam pauses to greet Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and properly admires the line of ducklings between them. He stops to commiserate with Mother Rabbit, the bunnies slow to learn caution. He smells the newly hatched Garter before he sees him, which saves him a nip to the heels. Sam doesn’t stop to talk. Young snakes think they know everything and want to tell you. Old snakes know a lot but are always uncomfortably sizing you up as dinner.
Sam approaches a shallow inlet and spies two boys poking the waters edge with a long stick, trying to capture a recalcitrant turtle without getting their feet wet. He startles them by barking. They drop the stick and back away, uncertain of his intent. The turtle sticks his head out in relief.
“IMPECCIBLE TIMING, SAM!” The snapper shouts. Sam’s hearing is still keen but the old turtle’s a touch more deaf and tad louder every spring.
“HOW DID YOU WINTER?”
“Warmly.” Sam stretches and scratches behind his ear. “And you?”
“SLEPT LIKE A BABY.”
Sam tilts his head to the side. “The baby at the house doesn’t sleep much.”
“SOME SOULS HAVE TROUBLE WITH QUIET.”
Sam is distressed as turtles are notorious soothsayers. He paces back and forth.
“AN OBSERVATION NOT A PROPHECY. I’M NOT AWAKE ENOUGH YET FOR FORTUNES.”
Sam relaxes and suggests, “You may have to find another spot.”
“THOSE BOYS DON’T MEAN HARM. I AM QUITE THE SPECIMEN. MAY EVEN SUGGEST AN AQUARIUM IN A FEW SPRINGS. MIGHT LIKE BEING CARED FOR. “
“It’s a give and take.” Sam replies.
The old turtle laughs. “YOU’RE A WISE ONE, SAM. STOP BY TOMMOROW?”
“So long as it’s not raining.” Sam sees the sun coming towards it’s peak and retraces his steps back towards the house. It’s about that time.
Making his way along the water’s edge, he recalls past adventures; memories with almost tangible tastes, sounds and smells. It is unusual for him to reminisce. Dogs are current in their thinking, focused on the here and now. But today, those reflections sharpen his sense of the present – why he is where he is – the traveler and tramp, finally settling with a family.
He pushes through the door and climbs the back stairs leading to the nursery.
“Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam.” His name is chanted in time with a bouncing mattress.
He crosses the room to the other side of the crib, closest to the window. The late morning sun streams through the screen, warming the rug. He lays down, relishing the light. His favorite spot.
“Oh good. See, Sam is here.” The mother instructs. “Now lay down, only an hour or so – just like Sam.”
She copies her first friend, putting her head down to rest, peering at him through the bars, eventually closing her eyes to sleep.