Jason Love was sitting on a bench reading the Sporting News when the dog spoke to him.
“Reading anything interesting?” the dog asks softly. “Mind if I sit with you?”
Jason doesn’t look up.
“Didn’t you get the memo?” he says with a bit of annoyance in his voice. “We’re supposed to be social distancing. Go home. Watch the news, get a clue.” He turns a page and checks the latest speculation about the Mudcats and the rest of baseball plans to save the season. His wife Michelle loved baseball like Jason. She loved hearing him reading the results of games they never went to together.
“I know,” answers the dog. “But it’s just you and me and I won’t tell anyone.”
“Leave me alone,” says Jason.
“I wish I could but I can’t, “ the dog replies.
* * *
Jason and his wife Michelle had moved east from Los Angeles just a few months before the pandemic hit the country and ruined his life - well, if his professional life could be any more on the life support, that is.
Jason’s career couldn’t have been any worse so he didn’t voice an objection when Michelle said she found a job in North Carolina and wanted to move.
Jason rationalized that he could be a writer anywhere, maybe change his name so people would judge him on his work and not on...well...on him. He had a well-earned reputation for being difficult. His career was littered with what best could be described as questionable judgments. There was that incident with Disney, where Jason and his writing partner were in an exec’s office and his co-writer snapped, got foul-mouthed and flipped over a desk. Jason thought it was hysterical and couldn’t stop laughing even after security escorted them both from the lot. So ended his relationship with the big mouse and he couldn’t get work for five years. Then, one morning outside of Starbucks he mouthed off at a big Hollywood star and didn’t work again for another three years. The final straw came when a producer friend hired him for a one-off TV cartoon and he got into a fistfight with the head writer over a joke Jason didn’t think was the least bit funny. That was almost two years previous to his and Michelle’s move to North Carolina.
Jason and Michelle put their house on the market, packed up their belongings and shipped their furniture east to be stored until they found a new home. They said goodbye to their friends and made the trip along the southern route, stopping to see the sights and people long missing from their lives.
At the time Jason and Michelle didn’t know it would be their last trip together, if they had known they would have slowed it down to enjoy even more time together.
Despite arguing that any hope he had of resurrecting his career was gone, their life in North Carolina was good. Michelle excelled at her new job and Jason’s alienation from the few people who still respected his talent drove him to become a better and more prolific writer. Christmas came and went, as did the beginning of the New Year. They made plans for a getaway for Valentine’s Day but Michelle had a work emergency and that delayed their weekend escape until early March.
It never happened.
Michelle barely had any signs of the Covid-19. There was no dry cough and barely a fever but almost overnight she quickly got worse. She became one of North Carolina’s earliest victims.
Jason would never admit that he loved Michelle more than life itself but it was true. Everything he was and wanted to be was because of Michelle’s love. He would have followed her anywhere.
* * *
“How about we have a catch?” the dog asked.
Jason keeps reading the Sporting News.
“Leave me alone,” he says angrily. “I just want to sit here and be with my wife.”
Suddenly the dog grabbed the Sporting News from Jason’s hands. The dog gave a couple of “woofs” and stood on Michelle’s grave shaking the paper until Jason stood up.
As Jason moved toward the dog, the dog ran a few a yards, stopped, turned back toward Jason, barked, and ran a few more yards. “Okay, dog. You want to play, we’ll play.” Jason chased the dog. Passing Michelle’s gravestone, he whispered, “Don’t worry. I’ll be right back.”
The chasing continued through the cemetery until the dog entered a wooded area by an opening in the fencing surrounding the memorial park. The dog waited until Jason made it through the opening, then took off through a path in the forest with Jason fast on the dog’s tail.
Jason caught up to the dog in a parking lot leading to an older brick building. It was the hospital where Michelle spent her last hours of life. Jason wasn’t allowed to be with her and was forced to spend those hours outside looking up at her as her life slipped away.
The dog barked and Jason came back to reality for a second and noticed he no longer was alone in his grief. There were others standing around looking up at the windows where their loved ones waited to see who would survive the cruelness that is Covid-19.
* * *
Inside the hospital, a nurse and a doctor hover over yet another dead body. The doctor lifted his head and the nurse nodded.
“Yes,” the nurse interrupts. “It’s the husband of the first victim you and I handled.”
Hanging his head, the doctor pulls a sheet over Jason’s head and calls for the next patient.
* * *
In the parking lot, Jason turns away and the dog joins him at his side. As they walk toward the cemetery the dog slowly morphs into Michelle and she slips her hand into Jason’s as they glide to their inevitable final resting place.
Jake was a writer living in California. He doesn’t live there anymore.