SHARING

SHARING

From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

Sharing

Just home from work, Daddy stopped in the kitchen where Mother was cooking supper and I was setting the table. From the look on his face, we knew something was bothering him.

“Charles Roth’s father is worse,” he said. “The doctor says it’s only a matter of time now. The old man doesn’t complain much about his pain, only about the long hours he has to spend alone. His eyes are so bad he can’t read, and he doesn’t get much company. He keeps begging for a big dog to be his companion, one he can reach out and touch as he sits in his wheelchair in the sun.”

“Why don’t they buy him a dog?” I asked.

“Honey, with Mr. Roth in the hospital so much of the time, there are a lot of expenses. There isn’t enough money.”

“They could go to the animal shelter and get one,” I suggested.

“Yes,” Daddy said. “I suppose they could. But it has to be a special dog, one they can trust to be gentle. Not all big dogs are.”

After supper, I went out back where my big German shepherd, Dan, was dozing under a tree. He sprang up and ran to meet me as he always did when I came into sight. There were no other twelve-year-old girls in our neighborhood, so I depended on Dan for companionship. When I rode my bicycle, he ran behind me; when I roller-skated on the sidewalk, he trotted behind. It had been that way since Daddy brought him home, a fat brown puppy, four years before.

Now, I couldn’t forget Daddy’s words in the kitchen. I threw my arms around Dan’s neck and buried my face in his stiff hair. He sensed my unhappiness and started whining.

“I love you,” I whispered to him. “I’d be lost without you, but . . . oh, Dan, I know what I should do, but I don’t want to do it.”

I thought about Mr. Roth. He was old, sick and almost blind. It seemed to me that he was just about out of blessings. I got up quickly. I knew what I had to do, and if I didn’t do it right now, I’d talk myself out of it.

I found Daddy sitting in his big chair, looking at his newspaper. Although we weren’t supposed to interrupt him when he was reading, I blurted out, “Dan can go.”

He looked over the top of the paper at me. “What did you say?” he asked.

“Mr. Roth can borrow Dan.” Tears started downmy face.

Daddy pitched his newspaper over the arm of the chair to the floor. “Come here,” he said, reaching out for me. I crawled, long legs and all, into his lap and his arms encircled me.

“I don’t really want him to go,” I whimpered. “I’ll miss him terribly. But Daddy, it’s what I ought to do, isn’t it?”

“It’s what I’d be very proud to see you do,” he said.

“They’ll be good to him, won’t they?” I asked.

“They will take good care of Dan,” he assured me softly.

“The yard has a high fence, and Charles’s father will be out there in his wheelchair with him most of the time. I’ll ask Charles to chain Dan when he’s in the yard alone so he can’t jump the fence and get lost.”

I didn’t like to think of Dan fenced in or chained. He and I ran free together. He’d hate being restricted. And he’d hate being away from me. How were we going to manage without each other?

As though he read my thoughts, Daddy said, “It won’t be for too long, honey. Remember what the doctor said about Mr. Roth?”

I got up quickly. I couldn’t talk about it anymore.

“Please call him,” I said tightly. “Tell him to come and get Dan tonight.” My voice wavered and I added, “Before I change my mind.”

I was drying supper dishes when Charles Roth and his wife arrived. They promised me they would take good care ofDan and toldme Iwasmaking a sick oldman very happy.

When I tried to go to sleep that night, all I could think of was my Dan, on the other side of the city, across the river, at least ten or twelve miles away.

The next afternoon, I floundered about unhappily. My older sister, Leila, had a girlfriend over, and they didn’t want a kid sister hanging around. Riding my bike or skating alone was no fun. Feeling sorry for myself, I got a book and sat under the tree to read. That’s all there was to do!

The rest of the week dragged by somehow, and the next one followed. On Saturday, when I finished my chore of dusting the dining room chairs—even the bottom rungs that Mother always inspected—I volunteered to dust the living room for Leila, just to have something to do.

After lunch, it was my turn to take the scraps out to the garbage can. As I swung the screen door open and stepped out on the back porch, a big brown dog ran up the steps, his long tongue hanging out. He jumped against me, his paws on my shoulders, his eyes on my face.

“Dad, Mother!” I cried. “Leila, come here quick. Look! Dan’s home!”

From inside the kitchen,Mother called, “The front doorbell is ringing. I’ll answer it.” And then Mother called for Daddy. I heard her say, “Charles Roth is here.”

I bent down to gather my dog in my arms. He licked my arms and rubbed his head hard against my chin. I filled his bowl with water from the yard faucet and knelt beside him, stroking his back while he lapped hungrily at the water. Once or twice, he paused long enough to lick my arm, but he returned quickly to his drinking. He must have been very thirsty.

Daddy and Charles Roth came out onto the back porch.

“Well, I see him,” Mr. Roth exclaimed, “but I still can’t believe it!”

Early that morning, Charles Roth had rolled his father’s wheelchair into the backyard and unfastened the chain from Dan’s collar so that the old man could pet him and play fetch with him. Later, old Mr. Roth was wheeled back into the house while Charles and his wife went grocery shopping.

“I was in a rush and didn’t remember to chain the dog. And I suppose he was smart enough to realize he was alone and free to jump the fence and come home.”

While he talked, I looked at my dog. It was amazing that he found his way back. He had been taken by car at night to the Roths’ home, a place he’d never seen before. There was no way he could have seen the streets and figured out a return route. How had he done it?

Mr. Roth answered my question with his next words. “It was pure love that directed that dog’s path back to you,” he told me. “And as hard as it will be for me to tell my father he won’t be back, I can’t ask you to let me take him from you again.”

I looked at Daddy and his face told me he wouldn’t ask it either. I looked at Dan, stretched full length on the backyard grass. He was completely relaxed, totally happy to be home. And I was so happy to have him back!

But then I remembered the old man in his wheelchair. He was going to be sad, his happy days with a dog over. He would be lonely again, the way I was lonely when Dan was gone.

The way I was lonely. . . . Only it wouldn’t be like that because I was not sick or old, and I didn’t have to sit in a wheelchair all the time. I could do lots of things. I could ride my bike and skate, even without Dan there. And I could read; old Mr. Roth couldn’t do that.

“Mr. Roth,” I said on impulse, “I want you to take Dan back with you.”

Both he and Daddy looked at me in surprise, but I grinned at them, saying, “On one condition. You have to promise to let me come and visit him. Maybe Dan won’t try to come home if he knows he’ll see me soon.”

I looked at Daddy. “Maybe once a week you or Mother would take me over in the car and let me spend the afternoon. I could see Dan. And I could read to Mr. Roth if he wanted me to.”

That’s how I began spending every Thursday afternoon with old Mr. Roth. He remembered some wonderful books from his childhood—books I might never have discovered on my own—and we enjoyed them together. Between our visits, he thought up riddles to ask me, and I baked cookies to take for our backyard picnics. We grew to love each other dearly, and Charles Roth said Dan and I made the old man’s last days happy.

Dan was always glad to see me, and he whined a little some days when I left. But he never tried to come home again, until three months later . . . after old Mr. Roth died, when we brought him in our car to be with me for the rest of his life.

I loved Dan more than any dog I’ve ever had. He was smart and loyal and he loved me so completely. But more than that, he helped me learn that the love you share is the love you keep.

Drue Duke

More stories from our partners