by Sean Taylor
There is no grief like the grief that does not speak.
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Through the residue on the kitchen window, I can see Goldy playing outside. She rolls over in the dirt, and exposes her furry belly to the warm rays of the sun. I suppose it wouldn't be so bad if she weren't an inside dog. And Richard surely doesn't have the time to clean her off before the funeral, so it looks like it'll come down to me again. I really wish he and Candice had thought a little more before buying such a big dog as an inside pet, but I never could seem to talk much sense into Candice once she'd gotten married.
"Richard," I call up the stairs, and the words seem to ring like the clapper on the old town hall bell where I grew up, "Richard, how are you doing with Cody?" When he doesn't answer, I try again, a little louder, "Rich-"
"Just fine, Grandma Carrie, just -- stay still, Cody! -- we'll be down in a minute." I know he's having trouble getting Cody into his jumper. It always seemed so much simpler when Candice would do it: one leg, then the other, followed in turn by each tiny toddler arm. "I hate to ask," Richard yells down, but I know he will anyway, "Could you go ahead and get his travel bag ready? I don't think I'm going to have time."
I tell him that I wouldn't mind at all, then take a seat on the sofa, and begin folding Cody's extra jumpers for the weekend. Outside, Goldy is scratching at the front door.
"Just a minute Goldy," I call to her. She can't understand me, I know, but it does feel better to hear something other than the quiet. Goldy continues to scratch while I finish with Cody's bag. When it's finally packed full, I get up to go open the door. Goldy stands still, for a moment, like she is waiting for my permission to enter, then lurches through the open doorway. "Not so fast, girl," I say, catching her collar, and I manage to hold her still long enough to wipe the dirt from her feet. "There. Now that's a good girl." The living room furniture is no obstacle for her, and seconds after I let go, I can hear her claws clicking across the linoleum in the kitchen, then the familiar sound of garbled chewing coming faintly from the washroom.
Richard has finished with Cody now, and comes slowly down the stairs, carrying Cody under one arm like a package, and two stuffed teddy bears under the other. "Carrie," he asks me as he puts down his burden, "Are you sure you don't want to change your mind? I don't mind getting a sitter."
"On such short notice, Richard?"
"Well, it just doesn't seem right, you not going and all."
"Cody needs family right now," I lie, "and besides, I've had my share of funerals recently -- Carl, and his cousin from St. Augustine."
Goldy hears Cody laughing in the living room, and comes bounding in like a bear, charging past both Richard and me, stopping in time to keep from running over little Cody. The large golden retriever licks the child's face, nuzzling with her nose around his neck and face.
"Goldy! Stop that!"
"Ah, Richard, it'll be all right. That dog wouldn't do a thing in the world to hurt Cody. And believe me, children come clean easy enough."
Cody looks up at me; his eyes are big and brown, like his mother's, and they peek like beggars from underneath his thick, brown bangs. "Nana," he asks while holding on to Goldy's neck and shoulders, "Goldy come too?"
Richard answers first, "I don't think so, Cody. She'll be just fine here at home." He lifts the travel bag and stuffed bears, and begins marching toward the door.
"Goldy come too, Nana?" Cody's tugs at my dress. "Please, Nana. Goldy come too."
"I said no, Cody." Richard stops at the door, turning around to make eye contact with Cody. "The dog stays here."
"There's plenty of room at the house, Richard. Especially since I haven't used any of the land for crops since Carl died."
Richard glances toward me, and motions with his eyes, his polite way of ordering me over to him. "Carrie," he says almost in a whisper when I get close enough, "There's really no sense in getting him started. He's going to be plenty enough for you this weekend without that dog around too."
"I don't want to sound like a disagreeable old mother- in-law, but I think it might not be such a bad idea to bring Goldy along. You know how much Cody loves her, and she really won't be too much trouble, not with all that land to explore."
Richard's sigh is the signal that I've won. "Fine. I'll just finish loading the car," he looks at me and smiles, a weak but sincere smile, "but it'll be your responsibility to keep the dog still in the car."
The sounds of car doors opening and closing, banging from the driveway, serenade us as I carry Cody out. Out of habit, I turn around to call for Candice -- she was always the last one out. But I catch myself.
* * * * *
All packed into the family Volvo, we have a quick drive out from the suburbs to the farm just a few miles outside the city limits. When we arrive, Richard politely offers to carry the bags and toys if I can get Cody up. Car rides, even the short one between the house and the farm, seem to work on him better than lullabies. I nudge at him, coaxing him to wake up, but he doesn't even stir until Goldy barks beside him in the back seat. He yawns and stretches, half- awake, and allows me to help him out of the carseat.
Richard returns from the house, and gives me a leash and chain. "For the dog, just in case you need it," he says as he hands them to me.
"Thanks. . ."
"You know, Candice was right. It really is pretty out here. Really pretty, if you look at it right. Like a postcard or something."
He kisses my cheek, then kneels down to Cody, "Be a good boy, ok?"
Cody nods and mumbles.
Later, after playing all afternoon, after the bath and the story and the glass of water, I hear Goldy sleeping beneath Cody's window as I tuck him in. Back when she was a puppy, she was hit by a car. She came through all right, but she's breathed really heavy ever since.
"Don't forget to say your prayers, Cody." He sits up, cups his hands, and looks at me, eyes wide open. "You're supposed to close your eyes when you pray," I tell him.
"Want to see you pray."
"Nana's too tired to pray now. You go ahead."
"You pray." His mother's eyes look up at me. She'd never say her prayers either unless I did mine too. Right in front of her. So I give in.
When I finish my short prayer, Cody tells me that it's turn, and quickly prays, "God bless Mommy and Daddy and Nana and Goldy Amen."
Before I turn out the light, I kiss his forehead, and straighten the covers a little where he's all ready managed to separate them from the bed. Outside, Goldy wakes up for a moment, barks softly once, as if to say goodnight, and resumes her sleep.
* * * * *
Early, when the sun first shines through the curtains above my bed, I decide to go ahead and get up. After all, Cody isn't known for his late sleeping, and I haven't slept much myself anyway. While the house is still quiet, I begin breakfast, before finally letting Cody know that I'm awake. He asks me to help him brush his teeth and wash his hands, and I do. When we're done, I get two phone books for him to sit on.
"Nana," Cody says after grace, with a mouthful of scrambled eggs, "Goldy come in?"
"Not during breakfast. Maybe later, after your nap." The response satisfies him, for now, and he finishes his breakfast. Afterwards, he helps me get the dishes together, and even tries to wash a few, before managing to get water all over the counter.
Goldy follows at the windows, barking and propping against the side of the house to peek in when she gets a chance, as I lead Cody into the living room. I get him situated on the sofa, and tell him to stay put while I get the pictures out of the dresser. Every thing Cody comes to spend some time with me, he always makes me pull out the old photo albums, the ones of Candice when she was little. Baby Mommy, he calls her when he sees them. This time, I've got a surprise for him -- last month, I finally got all the pictures of him put into a new album.
"Cody," I say as I re-enter the living room, "I've got some new pictures for you to look at. Pictures of you."
He smiles, a big grin, and his eyes get large with that impatient look he gets when I bake cookies. "Me see. Me see."
I sit down beside him, open the photo album. The first page is his birth announcement clipped from the paper. His first baby picture is printed above the write-up. "Cody?" he looks up and asks me.
"Yes, it is you, Cody. Not too long after you were born. My word, I thought the doctors were never going to get you cleaned up and bring you in to see us. Your mother was about to have a fit pressing that nurse's button every ten or fifteen seconds." I turn the page. Candice is holding Cody, and I am standing beside her. Richard had the hardest time getting me to smile toward the camera to take that picture. In fact, my face is angled just a bit toward Candice and the baby, but I have to look closely to notice it. "This is the first time your mother got to hold you. Your daddy took this one. That's why he's not in the picture." It's funny, Candice had insisted on fixing her hair before letting Richard take the picture. She must have brushed through those brownish blonde curls half a dozen times before I finally got the brush away from her. Even under the hospital's florescent lights, her hair sort of has a gold sparkle in the picture.
We finish looking through the photo album, and I promise to make some oatmeal cookies if Cody will go outside and play with Goldy. Before I can even get a kiss, he is gone. The screen door slams with a small thunderclap behind him, and I watch as he and Goldy run up the hill to the edge of the fence. Through the window, I see Goldy gently knock him down each time he gets to the fence, to keep him from getting to far out of sight. As much as I disagreed with Candice about getting a dog, Goldy's been a good baby-sitter. She must have been trained for child-care by her first owner, if they have that kind of training in obedience schools.
While they play, I finish the cookies, and get down the Chutes and Ladders game out of the closet. I'll play a few games with him before I send him off to get his nap. The cookies seem to go down easier when we play games.
* * * * *
The late afternoon is my best time for knitting and thinking. Cody's nap gives me the opportunity to get a little quiet without the constant assault of a two-year-old's curiosity. The house is calm enough now that I can hear the tick-ticking of the clock over the stove all the way in here. When the wind blows in, soft, like a newborn breeze, it makes the curtains dance for a few seconds, then they settle back against the windowsill. Candice used to sit and watch me knit for hours, long as her friends weren't over spending the night.
But today's knitting is short-lived. A knock at the front door, hard, but not heavy and annoying, interrupts the afternoon session.
When I open the door, Daryl Jenkins, Marcy and Ed's son, is standing outside, staring down at my welcome mat. His t-shirt is hanging half-out, and streaks of blood are wiped across the front of jeans.
"Daryl. . ." He continues to look away, refuses to make eye contact with me. "Is something the matter, Daryl? What's wrong? Has something happened to Ed?" Finally, he looks up at me, and I see that his eyes are red and swollen. "Are you okay?" I ask.
"It was an accident, Mrs. Martin," he blurts out to me, "I was on my way to town, and it just-"
"Calm down, Daryl. Slow down and breathe. . ."
He sniffs, rubs his eyes with his hands, takes a few deep breaths, and continues. "I didn't mean to do it. Honest. I even tried to swerve and all, but I couldn't help it."
I feel my fingers tense, and my skin seems to get tighter when I realize that it's not Ed he's talking about. I think of Candice, twisted in the wrecked Accord, not moving or twitching or anything. And the bright lights of the patrol cars advertising the accident. "Show me," I say.
Daryl wipes the wet from his hand, and motions for me to follow. I can barely keep up with the pace he sets, but the fence posts appear to go by in slow motion, delaying what I know I'll find at the end. Beneath me, I can see the footprints Daryl made walking up to the house. They are deep and well-defined, the kind of slow, heavy step I use to make when I knew that my parents had found out that I'd stayed out too late the night before, with that boy I wasn't supposed to see.
When we reach the end of the fence, Daryl turns toward the road, and points down toward the new ditch made by the county workers. Goldy lies beside it, not whining or whimpering, not moving at all. Her chest is perfectly still; the golden fur doesn't rise or fall with the familiar sound of her heavy breathing. But she's not really that bloody -- just a little spot is still moist along the back side of her hind leg -- and it appears to have been broken by the impact. Peaceful, beautiful. Even her eyes are closed, not staring out like a deer or squirrel freshly slaughtered by some hunter who wants a trophy. I tell myself that it's trite, but I think it anyway, she looks like she's sleeping.
I kneel down and stroke the fur behind her ears. It's amazing how close the color is to Candice's. "She saved Cody's life once, just before his first birthday." Daryl doesn't say anything, but he does lift his head a little, and take a good look at Goldy. "Killed a snake, a rattler. I still don't know how it got in the house, but I'm sure it was on account of those county workers who were clearing all the lumber off of the hill."
Daryl moves closer, almost stands over me as I kneel and pet Goldy. "A big rattler?" he asks, interested.
"A smaller one, not full-grown yet. But they do say that it's the little ones you got to look out for. They're supposed to be deadlier than the bigger ones."
"Mrs. Martin," he says as he helps me up, "I'm really sorry. I can get the boy a new dog, if he wants it. Maggie just had a pretty big litter. One's even got sort of the same coloring."
I shake my head. "Do you have something we can wrap her up in?"
He digs through the back of his truck, and brings me a faded purple bedsheet. "It's kinda dirty, but it ought to work."
I watch as he carefully moves Goldy onto the sheet, and rolls it around her, tucking in the extra to make a tight fit. Together we head back to the house, with me setting the pace this time, and Daryl walking behind me, cradling Goldy with both of his arms.
When we reach the house, I send Daryl on around the back, and tell him where the shovel is. After he's gone around the house, I let the door close behind me as I go in to wake up Cody. Maybe it would be better to just go ahead and bury her, and try to explain it to Cody when he wakes up, but he needs to see this -- I need to see this.
Shaking him only stirs him a little, and he groggily opens his eyes, only to close them again momentarily. "Cody, you need to get up, honey. It's important." I turn him over on his back again, manage to get him to sit up just a few inches. "Listen Cody, I'll let you sleep again later. You need to wake up, now. Goldy's been hit by a truck."
Somehow, he opens his eyes again, and with a sleepy voice, asks me, "Goldy okay, Nana?"
I consider lying, telling him that Goldy's fine, and to go back to sleep. "No, honey. Goldy's dead."
Yes. Like Mommy.
When he's a little more awake, I put his jumper back on, help him with the velcro straps of his tennis shoes. Then he takes my hand and we both head out to the hole that Daryl has been digging, stopping only to get my Bible from the dresser in the bedroom. The dirt is piled up fairly high all ready to one side, and the hole is deep for only a few minutes worth of work.
"Do you think that'll be deep enough, Mrs. Martin?" Daryl asks. I nod, and he puts the shovel away, standing it straight up in the soft dirt. He steps over to Goldy, all wrapped up like a mummy in the old purple bedsheet, and kneels down gently, like a pall-bearer. With both arms supporting the weight, he lifts Goldy off of the ground. He then steps into the hole, and lays her down again, positioning her in the center of the grave. Stepping out of the hole, he goes over to get the shovel.
We say a prayer, both of us -- I go first, then Cody. While Daryl refills the grave, I open my Bible to the twenty- third psalm, and begin to read: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. . ."
Goldy is almost completely covered by the dirt now. I ask Daryl to stop for a minute, and I lead Cody over to the edge. I kneel down beside him, close to his ear. "It's okay to cry," I tell him.
Daryl finishes filling up the hole after we back away from the grave and head back to the house. I hear him cursing a little at the dirt behind us, and know that in a few minutes, he'll gently knock on the door to tell me he's finished, and that he's going to head back home. And I'll say thank you, and close the door.
* * * * *
Tomorrow Richard will return to pick up Cody. I tell him that while I tuck him in, careful not to pull the covers up too close to his chin. He hates that, and pushes them back down to about mid-chest every time I do it.
"Daddy get me?"
"Yes, sweetie. You get to go back home tomorrow, back with your daddy."
From somewhere within my chest, a sigh, deep like the Grand Canyon looked from the airplane on the trip to Arizona, rushes up and pushes out through my lips. As if he was one of Candice's antique porcelain dolls, I reach out and take a careful hold of Cody's shoulders. "No, sweety. Mommy's not going to be with your daddy."
He looks up at me, his head sort of half-cocked to one side, and scrunches his eyes like he is thinking hard.
"Mommy's dead. She's in Heaven now," I say.
This time I think he understands. Maybe Goldy did teach us both one last lesson. "Yes. Like Goldy. While we were playing yesterday, your mommy's friends were saying goodbye to her, just like we said goodbye to Goldy today."
He makes that funny thinking look with his eyes again, and then his face relaxes. "Dig a hole for Mommy?"
"That's right, Cody. They dug a hole for Mommy. I could take you to visit it next time you come see me, if you want to."
The brown of his eyes starts to shine a little, and he nods sleepily at me.
"Ok, it's a date. Now you get to sleep."
And underneath the bedroom window the shadows seem to raise up and peak in to make sure everything is fine, then sink back down beneath the edge of the windowsill.
©1993 Sean Taylor