‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring…
That wasn’t exactly true. Emma searched out Tulip where the small black and tan Cavalier King Charles spaniel cuddled with Mister the cat on the couch. There used to be four sweet little dogs clamoring for her attention, but then there were three…then two…life sucks.
Emma’s eyes misted, and she blinked impatiently as she left off warming herself in front of the wood stove and stepped to the window. The neighbor’s Christmas lights were on, but she could barely make them out tonight. Huge snowflakes swirled on the wind, illuminated by the muted glow of her porch light. A blizzard, the weatherman had said, and it looked like he was right for a change. It would be easy to get lost on a night like this.
Her gaze settled on the old Toyota sitting cold and still in the driveway. Nearly a quarter of a million miles later, it still started without fail. It had a few more rattles and eccentricities, but then so did she at sixty-nine, and the truth was the car wouldn’t have to last much longer.
Four years ago, Emma retired, and with retirement came cancer. Turned out she had more of her mother’s genes than her father’s, who lived to the ripe old age of eighty-six. She wouldn’t complain though. She was already a year older than her mother when she died.
Emma fought the cancer with everything she had until she ran out of energy…and money. Affordable health care? What a joke. But that didn’t matter anymore either.
She shook away the cobweb of memories, walked to the kitchen and bent to ladle dog food into Tulip’s bowl, filling it to the brim. She did the same for the kitty who took his meals up on the washing machine so the dog couldn’t partake. Lastly, she made sure all the water bowls were freshened and full, enough to last until someone came.
It was quiet in the house, but she’d grown used to the solitude. Her children had lives and families of their own and wounds too egregious to be forgiven. It took far too much effort to hold onto bitterness for so long. For her part, Emma had forgiven all who left pieces of her life shattered in their wake. In the big picture, her small trials were insignificant.
Once upon a time she’d been saved—born again as they say—and heaven-bound…until the divorce all those years ago. Hard as she tried, she couldn’t find God after that. It hurt to be abandoned, made irredeemable by her sins, but she came to terms with it eventually.
Emma kicked off her slippers and sighed deeply before she slid her feet into her snow boots. She shrugged into her wool coat, wrapped a scarf around her head and threaded gloves onto her aching old fingers.
Anyway, who wanted to sit for all eternity at the feet of a savior who had the power to stop the abuse, the disasters, the massacres, and chose not to? She was prepared to accept the consequences for her blasphemy. How much worse could hell be ?
Emma grabbed the broom and her car keys. The snow was a good eight inches deep, but she didn’t bother to sweep off the porch. Let it pile up. She descended the rickety steps carefully and stomped through the drifts to the car. The key turned in the ignition and the engine fired right up. She adjusted the heater and defroster then pushed herself back out into the blinding storm. As fast as she swept the snow off, the white flakes covered the car again so she finally gave up.
From the back of a chair near the window, Tulip watched through the window curiously. The poor old dog didn’t like being away from her. She was sixteen, or a hundred and twelve in people years, and her muzzle was more gray than tan. It took her longer to get up, and she slept twenty-three hours a day, but she was a good dog and Emma loved her.
A tear rolled over her cheek as she started for the house. She’d just grab her purse, so there’d be some ID in the car, and lock up the house.
Tulip’s tail wiggled at double-time as Emma reached out a hand to ruffle the dog’s fur. She received a big, sloppy lick for her trouble. Tulip jumped from her perch on the back of the chair and danced around her.
Purse in hand, Emma hesitated. Tulip wanted to go like she always did. The little dog didn’t understand this trip would be different. It wasn’t right to take her. Was it any less wrong to leave her?
Emma stepped out into the cold and pulled the door closed behind her. Tulip’s small body slammed into the closed door, and the anxious dog scratched and clawed against the frame. Her distress filled the night with frantic, high-pitched shrieks as though she grieved already.
Don’t be silly. She’s just a dog. Emma froze, hoping Tulip would calm down and return to her couch but, if anything, her tantrum grew louder and more frenzied.
She’ll be okay. One of the kids will give her a home. Won’t they?
As though to voice her doubt, Tulip sent a mournful howl skyward, and then another.
Emma shook her head as she went down the steps to the car and opened the door. A glance back at the house confirmed Tulip still railed against the door. A half smile grew in spite of herself. Reaching inside the car, she killed the engine and plucked out the keys. A deep breath steadied her. The sudden lightheartedness surprised her.
Her steps back to the house held more vitality. Tulip was quiet now as Emma unlocked the door and pushed inside. Without warning, the little dog launched herself from the back of the chair to land with a thump against Emma’s chest. She laughed and closed her arms around the wiggling ball of fur.
“You’re right, Tulip. This isn’t a good night for a drive. Tell you what—you stop howling, and I’ll make us some popcorn. We’ll sit on the couch and watch a sappy Christmas movie. What do you say?”
Tulip licked her face until Emma set her gently on the floor and led the way to the kitchen and the popcorn she’d promised.
There’d be other nights, other blizzards. Tonight she had someone who needed her…someone who cared if she came home or not. Did it matter that it was only fifteen pounds of Cavalier King Charles spaniel?
Not in the least.