Copy & Content Writing * Social Media Services * Educational & Training Support
Copy & Content Writing * Social Media Services * Educational & Training Support
Annalee and I met six years ago, on a bright and sunny day in May. I sat at my dining room table sipping my morning coffee - busily willing myself to wake to the day. I glanced out the window and saw her for the first time, entering the front door of the house across the lane. I wondered who she was, where she’d come from, and what her story was. There had to be one. Her arrival was so unexpected.
Had she experienced pain, I wondered? Were those she had once called her parents been the cause of her arrival? Were they suffering so grievously that Annalee found herself being gently carried into my neighbors’ home that morning?
I took in the warm steam rising just under my nose, breathed in the strong dark roasted aroma, held it in for a moment, and then exhaled a cathartic breath – sitting there at the dining table that had once been in my childhood home. “Damn,” I mused - still half asleep. “Has this table actually been in my life for thirty-five years? I wonder if I should get a new one. This one makes me sad.” I sighed softly, wondering where the time went.
Two ex- husbands and no children hadn’t been the plan, but there I was, sitting over breakfast alone, with three little beagles at my feet, pleading silently with their big, soulful eyes for a table scrap. I looked at them - all three so pathetic. You’d think they were beaten and neglected - horribly starved every day. I giggled a bit, as I took a big gulp and exhaled again. My thoughts turned back to the new baby on the lane. I turned my head and looked out the front window of the dining room, where I had the clearest view of Annalee, my newest - and youngest - neighbor.
I drank more coffee, contemplating her hasty appearance. I had to know Annalee - be her friend. I hesitated for days to make a welcoming visit. I didn’t want to intrude – to seem the nosy Gladys of the little street that was occupied by merely twenty-one homes. No, I waited, days, weeks, really, before I finally built the courage to casually saunter across the road, with my trio of Hoover vacuum cleaners in tow. Little Miss Dolly with her saucer-sized, caramel brown eyes, Bowser with his ever-alert fur on his spine, tail at attention, and Oscar, with his curious nose and gleefully wagging tail.
And so, my fur babies accompanied me to the little red house on the knoll, and we welcomed tiny Annalee to the neighborhood. She was beautiful and vulnerable in her appearance with large, crystal blue eyes staring back at me. She was curious about the dogs and offered them a toothless smile and a wee, outreached hand. I proceeded cautiously to get to know her, visiting with the beagles every few days or so. I soon came to know her story, discovering that her birth parents had let her down – drugs taking the best of them, bringing out the worst in them, and leaving Annalee, vulnerable, without all that she deserved. And yet, here was this darling baby, not just surviving their neglect but thriving, in the face of new circle of love in her foster parents’ home.
Annalee and I grew closer in the days and months that followed. Soon, the spring came, with the birds’ songs giving us light in our souls and hope in our hearts for a new beginning. The season turned to humid summer days, crisp nights of fall, and the hibernation of winter. Months turned into years, and the circle of life continued season after season, and year after year. Annalee was officially adopted, and, as she grew, so did the friendship between our households.
One day, after I pulled into my driveway after a particularly draining day, I called out a friendly greeting to Annalee and her family, playing together in the front lawn. Her mother waved me over, so I ambled across the street, feeling a little beaten by the last, several hours. Miss Annalee, now barely three years old, gazed up at me, with a bashful look, and, in the most adorable, squeaky voice, asked to join us for our evening stroll. I smiled softly and said, “Of course,” although I simply wanted to kick my feet back with a glass of wine and forget the last eight hours. And so, it was in that fleeting moment, in a simple ask, that Annalee turned my day around and became a welcomed companion on my adventures with the beagles in our little neighborhood.
I showed her how to hold the leash in order to preserve the safety of the four-leggeds. Annalee would hold fast to the loop of Dolly’s purple leash, with my left hand gripping it further down, while my right hand firmly grasped the leads of Bowser and Oscar. She showed patience for their instinctive need to put their noses to the ground, take in the scents of the day, and wag their tails in excitement over each new and curious smell. Annalee loved those crazy and wonderful little beagles, especially Dolly with her soft, floppy black ears, caramel, white and black fur with a lightning bolt shaped white stripe down her back, and the most beautiful eyes. It was Dolly’s eyes that she liked the most – they were encircled by a thin strip of black fur that looked like Cleopatra’s eye makeup.
Time sped by, it seemed, and moments together with Annalee on our dog walks became treasured moments. We would talk about countless things - her favorite color – purple, like Dolly’s lead, sharing toys, being gentle to others, her Fisher-Price playhouse in the back garden, and always - the dogs. I taught her about brushing dogs’ teeth and giving them baths, what they enjoyed eating, and the importance of healthy food, fresh water, and regular exercise. Annalee took a keen interest in all things beagle.
Two years passed, and that dreadful day came, as it inevitably does with our pets. Dolly fell ill - bladder cancer, the insidious result of having a nose that preferred sniffing along lawns, with their chemically enhanced beauty. I prepared Annalee, now five, for Dolly’s unavoidable departure. We talked about heaven and angels and all the pets that watch over us after they've passed on. My little friend was brave in those last months of walking Dolly and the posse with me. She wanted - always - to hold the purple leash of our tiny beagle with the Egyptian eyes. She couldn't have been a more astute child in walking lovingly and slowly, as we began our walk downhill, away from the red cape that she called home.
Days, weeks, and months passed. In the blink of an eye, shorts and flip flops gave way to sweaters and boots, and the humid air tuned cool and crisp. We continued our small, but important mission of taking our strolls together, Annalee with Dolly in tow. We gabbed about our life on the street, I imparted adult wisdom to a small child, and a little girl brought me back to life. But then, seemingly without warning, that grievous moment arrived - sweet Dolly was ready to pass. So, all too soon - on that cool, gray Sunday morning - I called the farm vet to make a visit to my home. I sat quietly - calmly - with my sweet beagle resting quietly on her plush, oversized bed in the middle of the living room floor. When I was ready to let go, I said goodbye to my beautiful hound, and I wondered how to tell little Annalee.
The next morning, Bowser - ever energetic and ready to hunt, and Oscar, tail wagging and ready for hugs and kisses, and I made our way across the lane. Annalee knew what had happened. No words were necessary. Dolly wasn’t with us. I bent down and gave her a hug in the driveway - her family near. She softly whispered in my ear, “Dolly’s in heaven, right?” I replied, choking back a sob, “Yeah, she’s up there right now, looking down on us, happily wagging her tail and baying away, saying she’s okay.” Then Annalee noticed. I’d put the purple leash on Bowser. She instantly smiled, and asked, “Can I walk Bowser? He has the purple leash.” We both looked up at her parents, who gave the silent nod of approval. “Sure,” I replied, fighting the tears, with a smile. “I think he’d like that.”
Since that day, Oscar, too, has gone to that great big pasture in the sky, but Annalee and I keep taking our walks with Bowser, the beagle. Getting taller, stronger, brighter, and more self-assured at nearly seven years old, my young friend confidently runs with that silly beagle, holding fast to the purple lead. I stroll behind them, smiling at the pure joy between a child and dog. I reflect on the ways they enrich my life every day. I don’t know how much longer Annalee will want to stroll with my dog and me - sixteen seems mere blinks away. “Who will Annalee become? What will she achieve?,” I wonder, as I walk. For today, I am grateful for the moments that this beautiful child and I share. I breath in the cool, crisp November air and feel gratitude and peace, as I break into a run to catch up to my little friends.
Copyright 2019, Lenore Grant
Lenore Grant is our first featured short story writer; she welcomes your feedback.