It is a Saturday afternoon. A few white clouds suspend idly over the horizon.Outside it is still warm and a few bees drone in the honeysuckle that run wild over the side of the house.Peony is almost done with her sketch. She decides to take a break and walk in the nearest trail. After one mile, the path huggs a ravine, and she trotts to the edge of the embankment to look down the stream below. The water move sullenly; only the light coming through the trees and glancing off the stream’s surface indicates the direction of the current. She inhales the moist, spoiled odor of the rotten leaves. A rustle in the dry grass makes her turn her head to check the sound. A black dog stands there, wagging its long tail.The dog barks at her and its face seems so familiar. Now she remembers that she has seen this dog last week in the school playground chasing the squirrels. The playground was full of parent and children so she assumed that the dog belongs to one of them. Peony crouches down on the grass. “Come here! Come!” The dog wags its tail slowly at first, then faster as if something long held motionless inside it has gained momentum enough to break free. The swing of her tail rocks its chest. The dog leaps toward her and licks her face.
“You are friendly! Aren’t you!” She tries to keep the dog still to check its collar. But the dog doesn’t have a collar. “What happened to your collar?” she pats her. “ Are you lost? Are you?” The dog licks her again and follows her to the embankment. Suddenly the dog jumps down. She screams. “No!” It is too late. But there was no rustle in the bushes to alter the dog to a skunk or gopher, no distant bark to set her hair on the end. There was no food below emitting its siren scent. Well now she can’t leave her there. She looks down in bafflement. The dog tries hard to stand up, but could not. She looks around and there is nobody to help her.It is a quick judgement to leap to. She slides down the embankment on her backside to rescue the dog and carries it to her car, straight to a vet’s office.
While the doctor operates, she sits in the waiting room, paging through limp pet magazines, inhaling the ammonia scent mixed with disinfectant. A steady parade of sick animals and solicitous owners come in and out of the office. She knows she should coo at the pets or inquire after their maladies but she is worried about the stray dog. Two hours later, the vet appears from surgery and informs that the dog has broken her one back leg and cracked a rib but she would cover fully, and return to her ‘old dog self’ in four to six months.
“Old dog self?” she asks.
“You know,” the vet says, smiling a beat too late as though she has to remind herself to do it.
“This is not my dog.” she says, “She followed me in the trail.”
“Well, pick her up in two days and keep her until she recovers. Then we will help you in finding a new home for her.” he says, “ Or, if it is a lost dog, then we will take a picture of her and leave it on the front desk,for the people to see. If someone recognizes the dog, then we will call you immediately.” He smiles. “Does it sound alright?” He asks again.
“Sure, I will keep her until we find the owner or if someone decides to adopt her.” she says. The vet walks back inside to his office. She calls her husband at his office to tell the surprise event. “What?” her husband says, adjusting his voice.
“She followed me and suddenly jumped up the cliff,” she says.
“You mean she fell?”
“She leaped, Carter. She just leaped!” When she said the words, she felt something open up inside her. “ I followed my heart Carter. It is not fair to leave the dog in that condition.”
“I Don’t understand,” he says carefully. He is silent for a moment. “We will talk about this when I return.” He says finally.
“Of course,” she says putting the phone away in her pant pocket. She walks into a room to see the dog. She has splints on her hind leg and lays in one cage. “ Oh, I’m sorry sweetie.”
“It is normal,” the vet says, “Not to worry. Pick up the medicine from the front desk, and she will be fine in a couple of weeks.”
“She just looks so helpless,” Peony says.She feels great affection to this poor dog.
For the first two weeks after the surgery, the dog couldn’t move. Still she tries, staring at the hysterical yips of the neighbourhood dogs greeting passing trucks or the sound of mailbox squeaking open and closed, her instinct trumping the pain of her broken body. Peony has to lift her and carry her outside to do her business. Afterwork,she returns home and sits on the floor next to the dog bed and stares into her large, wet eyes, wondering what has drawn the dog to her.In the meantime she has named the dog ‘Destiny.’
Peony loves volunteering in the Senior Care home. Mrs Smith is same age as her grandmother yells at a ghost. “Get out of here right this minute!” Her accent is always thicker when she is torn from her dreams. She hurries into the bathroom to turn off the faucet. Peony walks behind her. “What happened?” she asks.
“The ghost is running up my water bill.It has to stop.”She shakes her head ruefully.
“Peony smiles. “I don’t see anyone or if the ghost comes then he may be thirsty.”
“He’s a she, and ghosts don’t drink, darling.They have no bodies. She just plays with me.” She yells, shaking her fist in the air, as if the ghost is hiding just out there. Her upper arm wavers and Peony remembers how she had played with the loose skin as a child. And her grandmother used to laugh at it. Peony walks closer toward mrs Smith.”Would you like me to sit here with you?”
Peony looks at Mrs Smith’s hands. Arthritis, that devious sculptor has taken its shape and it must be painful for her to do anything in her hands. Mrs Smith brings a two cups of green tea and sets them on the small coffee table. “ I’m tired of waking up in the middle of the night. I’m too old for it.”
“ You shouldn’t.” Peony says sipping the tea. “There is no such thing as ghost.”
“How dare you say that?” Mrs Smith screams and Peony almost spills the tea on her dress. She puts the cup back on the table. “I’m sorry, it is just my believe.” Mrs Smith changes the subject. She pushes the chair back and walks toward her closet. She brings out a small sewing machine to the table, with it a ivory silk material and a pair of scissors. “ You are coming to give me company so as a gift I will make a nice dress for you.” She shows her the material. “Do you like this one?”
Peony touches it. “O’ I love it.But you don’t have to do anything. I just come to spend time with you, that’s all.” she smiles.
Mrs Smith doesn’t say anything. She takes her measurement, cuts the material. He hands shake as she cuts. She struggles to thread a needle with fingers that are beginning to bend at odd angles like old trees.
“Want me to do it?” Peony offers.
“I can thread my own needle, thank you. Been doing it more than half my lifetime.” She is stubborn.” She is watching me again.” she mutters.
“The ghost.”She gestures at the empty room. “Honey, I’m still trying to figure out the reason people do what they do when they’re alive.” She finishes ripping out the stitches, sighs audibly and fits the material to the machine again. The stitches are uneven but she continues. Peony feels her heart rises in her face as she watches Mrs. Smith’s awkward, determined work.
“Who is this ghost who bothers you all the time?” Peony asks gently.
“ She doesn’t bother me. I don’t have patience for her.”
“Yes, she is my darling friend, used to be my neighbor. It has been a few years that she passed away.” A deep sigh. But she loves to come here everyday to bother me.” Mrs Smith lifts her eyes from the sewing machine. “ You know how friends are.” she smiles. Peony sits there nodding her head and listening to Mrs. Smith.
It is almost September when Destiny returns to normal self, bouncing and happy. Her hair has grown back in the places where she’d been shaved for the surgery. She goes for a long walk in the trail; Destiny with her gimpy legs and peony with her heart. And nobody called her to get Destiny, so now they are enjoying each other’s company.