Chapter 27: Animal Spirit Guide
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Occasionally, other people at the retirement home would wander by to admire the flower garden. They saw me and my mom sitting on the bench and waved but never walked over to engage us in conversation, something I'm sure we were both thankful for.
The sun was starting to touch the treetops on the horizon. "I have to be going, Mom."
She squinted into the sunlight. "How will you do it?"
"I have a friend."
My mom nodded then reached down the neck of her blouse and pulled out a chain. It was the same one she was wearing in the picture with Sarah. She unclasped it from around her neck and held it in her hand. She held it out to me. "Could you? My hands don't work so well any more."
I held up my two splinted fingers and gestured to my arm in the sling. "Mine not so much either. Tell you what. You hold it and I'll try and push it out."
She grabbed the black plastic pendant between her two hands while I pushed with my good fingers. There was a pop and the plastic button fell out if its bracing. My mother took the button, muttered something under her breath, licked it and placed it on the teddy bear where the missing eye should have been. Tiny tendrils of fabric snaked through the button holes until it was firmly attached. It was a perfect match.
My mom held the teddy bear up to her nose and breathed in. Then she sat back with the doll in her arms, watching the sun fall below the trees. "I should give Sarah a call."
"I think she'd like that." After a moment, I stood up and grabbed my cane. "I have to go now."
She nodded and handed the teddy bear to me, wiping her eyes with the palm of her hand. I stuffed it into my sling and started walking. I stopped. "You want to walk me out?"
"No," she said. "I think I'll just stay here and watch the sunset."
"Okay." I turned to leave.
She looked at me and said, "Don't ever come back."
I walked over, put my hand to her cheek and kissed the top of her head, taking in the sweet smell of jasmine. She held her hand against mine. "Goodbye, Mom."
I walked away from her without looking back.
The nurse inside called me a cab but I decided to wait for it outside. The sun had disappeared behind the trees but it was still light enough to see by. As I stood there waiting for the cab to show, a car pulled up. The driver's side door opened and someone got out. When I saw who it was I nearly fainted. Darby.
She was wearing loose fitting sweats and her hair was matted and disheveled. Her skin was as pale as my mother's. "Hello, Dingo."
"Darby. I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's actually good to see you." She walked up to me, moving as if any sudden movement would cause the glue holding her body together to come undone. "Have to say I'm surprised, you know, seeing you alive and all."
She coughed and winced. "You know me, Dingo. Nothing can keep me down. Now give it to me."
I reached in my sling and pulled out the teddy bear. "You mean this? No, I'm afraid I can't do that."
Darby's expression didn't change. I could tell that it was all she could do just to stand upright. "Dingo, you know I'm going to get it from you sooner or later so you might as well hand it over."
"Sorry, Darby. But it doesn't belong to you."
She took a step closer. "Oh no? Then who does it belong to? You?"
I smiled at her and for the first time in a long while it didn't hurt my face. "No. Not me." I gestured with my cane. "Him."
Cerberus was there, sitting on his haunches only ten feet away. Darby shuffled back, grimacing with every step. I tossed the teddy bear through the air toward the dog. "There you go. It's all there now." Cerberus' jaws opened wide and then snapped shut with a sound like thunder. The teddy bear hung from his teeth by a leg for a moment then the dog flipped it up into his mouth and swallowed it whole.
He came up to me and let me scratch him under his chin. "God, animal. Your breath is foul! How about eating a mint every once in a while." The dog gave me a lick then offered his head for support.
"God damn you, Dingo."
"Hey, if you want it, you've got to deal with him now. I'm not going to stop you." Cerberus growled until I rubbed him between the ears.
Darby swayed for a moment, staring daggers at me before shuffling back to her car. "Dingo," she said, "just because Carson cut you some slack so he could keep me out of trouble doesn't mean you're off the hook. I will get my dowry back, one way or another. So I think you better bone up on your survival skills." She gingerly made her way back inside her car and pushed her head out the window. "Because Dingo, Aunt Medusa ain't got nothing on me." Darby started the car and drove away.
As we watched her drive down the road, I said, "I really need to find a normal girl. What do you think about Heather?" Cerberus barked and almost knocked me over. "I'll take that as a resounding 'thumbs up.'"
The sunlight was quickly fading and there were stars coming out overhead. I scratched Cerberus behind the ears, enjoying the feel of his wiry hair and massive head. I knew that the dog wasn't going to be able to stay now that it had what it came for. It was sad but understandable. He didn't belong here.
"Well, any time you want to chase airplanes, you just come on back. But next time we won't piss around with those baby Cessnas. No, next time we'll go to LAX where you can have some real fun." He nuzzled his head against my chest and licked my hand.
Out on the road there were headlights approaching in the distance. I carefully sat down on a little patch of grass and put my arm around Cerberus. He lay down next to me and rested his head in my lap.
Together, we waited until the cab arrived.