I was sitting on the lounger on the patio, with my hands resting on the warm back of Nugget, my cat, when the phone rang. I heard Mom answer it in the kitchen. Nugget carried on purring contentedly on my lap, and I continued to stare at the garden with unseeing eyes.
"Dana!" Mom was calling me in her perky phone-voice.
The heavy lump in my chest was pulling me down so badly that I did not want to move, let alone speak.
"Dana!" the voice was more demanding, "Dana, it's Kitty's mum. She wants to talk to you."
I forced myself to answer, even though it physically hurt to speak.
"I can't," was all I could say.
"I'm sorry, Mom. I just... can't." As I spoke, I realised I'd called her "Mom" rather than "Mum". I remembered how hard I'd tried to break the habit; tired of the sniggering that broke out in the classroom each time I'd said it. Now, it no longer seemed to matter.
I heard a sound that told me Mom had put her hand over the phone - her rings clanked against it. Her voice came a bit closer to the patio doors.
"I know this is hard for you, but Kitty's mother is worried about Muffin."
"Muffin?" Despite myself, I became a bit curious. Muffin was Kitty's ugly little mutt who loved Kitty with all his heart.
"He misses Kitty so badly. And she wonders if you'd take him for a walk? So sorry to keep you, Rose," Mom clearly took her hand off the receiver, "Dana is just in the middle of something. She'll come to the phone soon. But do tell me how are you getting along now? Is there anything you need, anything at all? You do know you only have to ask?"
Mom kept on chatting in a compassionate voice, and I still sat there, unable to move. There was an aching hole in my heart.
"I'm putting you on hold for a moment, Rose."
The next words would be for me.
"Kitty's mum says if you don't want to see anyone, you don't have to. They'll put Muffin out in the garden for you. Do you think you can do it now?"
"I don't know, Mom..."
"I know this is hard for you, dear, but think about Kitty's mum and Muffin."
The memory of Muffin's joyful squirms whenever he saw Kitty finally dragged me out of my misery. I was not the only one grieving.
"OK," I gave in, "in about an hour?"
"She'll be over in about an hour," Mom announced, "and do take care of one another now, Rose, won't you? Whenever you want to talk, just give me a call. Any time. Any time at all."
It was still morning when I left, and the sun hadn't yet dried the grass. The spider webs were decorated with dewdrops and the light of the sun glistened on them, as if someone had draped diamond necklaces everywhere. Mist was moving slowly in golden swirls in the shadier parts, and little birds were announcing their presence loudly while they flew and hopped about. They were everywhere, busy finding food for their young. It was a golden day, and life was making itself known. The kind of day that I'd have revelled in, once.
I walked along the familiar back road deep in my thoughts. Fresh hoof prints told me our neighbouring farmer had already been riding here this morning. The big round hoofs had pushed deep half circles in the soft verge. His Welsh cob, Cariad, was the kindest horse you could imagine. Kitty often went to groom her and all the other cobs that belonged to Tony and Jen, who bred them. She loved horses.
Had loved horses, I corrected my thoughts, with a lump in my throat.
Muffin's ugly little goblin face greeted me at the gate of Kitty's house. He was so happy to see me he squirmed as if he was going to wriggle out of his skin, and his little stump of a tail wagged so fast it was a blur. I took his leash that they'd left hanging from the gatepost for me, bent over the low gate to attach it to his collar, receiving several wet dog kisses while doing so, and then opened the gate for him. He jumped against my legs and whined until I lifted him up, and then he concentrated on washing my face thoroughly.
I have to say his pure joy made me feel slightly better.
I put Muffin down and he scooted forward, yanking the leash with such force I almost fell. He was really strong, despite his small size. I started running too, not wanting to stay by the garden gate in case someone from Kitty's family surprised me.
Muffin seemed to know exactly where he was going, and I realised pretty quickly where it was, and why. He was going to our secret place to see if Kitty was there. Perhaps it was no bad thing that I couldn't explain to the little guy that Kitty was gone forever. He'd have to figure that out himself and maybe it would be less painful for him that way. For a moment, I sort of wished I was a dog or a cat, but then I realised that it was no easier for them, either, just different.
I heard a car approaching from behind and moved closer to the edge of the road. It took me all my willpower to force myself not to jump frantically onto the verge and I started to tremble. The driver hit the brakes and the sound of the car sliding on the road was too much for my nerves. I screamed and crouched, covering my head with my arms, waiting for the impact.
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