Today, I’m sharing a short story with you. It will be free on this website for one week, after which you can buy it on Amazon and other venues – there’s a link below. Enjoy!
THE GHOST WALK – Kate Pavelle, (c) 2015
Has it been a week yet? She thought back, then forward.
Today’s Sunday, and Caramel died on Monday.
Five day, then. Five days without her dog. Five days of mall-walking and going to the crowded gym where she programmed her treadmill for an interval routine. Eyes glued to the numbers ticking by. Speed. Time. Change. Twenty-three more seconds of jogging before you can walk again.
Five days of not grabbing the leash, not clipping it to the dog collar, and not opening the front door. Five days of remembered feeding times with no big brown dog to feed.
Today there had been no gym and her cellphone pedometer showed a paltry number of steps. The freeze loosened its hold on Pittsburgh and she felt the soft moisture of melting snow even after sundown.
Tonight is perfect for a walk.
The words leapt into her mind unbidden. They stood there, solid white in the murky grey of her mind, and they would not be moved.
She shied away from them.
She knew what they meant – “going for a walk” meant grabbing the leash and calling the dog. The dog who’d run over, her nails clacking on the wooden floors. She’d wiggle with excitement, her big brown tail beating from side to side, yellow-toothed maw gaping open and wheezing just a little. Then she’d ask the dog to sit and as she bent over, she’d smell the dog’s breath. As she stroked the dog’s head and smoothed her fingers over her luxurious, soft ears, she’d smell that all-pervasive dog-smell rise off her coat.
The leash was now thrown out. The dog’s carcass was somewhere in the cremation queue, and the smell of a water-resistant dog coat that used to make her sigh with contentment now cropped up in the unlikeliest of places. Back of the car. Carpet under the desk. Sofa pillows.
The last was a surprise, because she had been quite certain that Caramel was a well-behaved girl who’d never even think of going up on the sofa. Not even when she was left home alone.
She glanced at her watch. Nine-thirty. She could walk the short loop and the straight street. Or the long loop, where some houses still had Christmas lights on. Dog or no dog, she would walk, even if just to add some numbers to her pedometer. She’d walk even if she had to go alone.
She pulled her leather jacket on. Zipped it up. Carefully, slowly, she turned away from the banister where the dog leash used to hang. She reached for the doorknob.
And just as she was about to congratulate herself for stepping out the door without thinking of the darn dog, she caught herself patting her jacket pocket to make sure she had the usual two plastic bags needed to clean up Caramel’s waste.
Had required, she corrected herself.
It was a perfect night for a walk. Down the hill of the short loop, then up the hill of the other side. A small hill, yet she gasped for breath as though she’d been leaning into it, running up its slope. Her throat was tight. The wind picked up, stinging her eyes. Two small dogs, black and white against the vanishing snow cover of the neighbor’s lawn, yelped at her passing.
Maybe I should turn back.
She didn’t feel too good. Sort of tight-chested. She’d reached an age when she’d started to pay attention to those things while exercising. After dark, with a phone charge running low, it wouldn’t do to get caught out alone. Suppose her tight breath was one of those silent heart attack affairs. Then what? The phone, or a neighbor’s door? Some houses still had lights on inside, but she didn’t want to be silly and cause a false alarm either.
Without the dog.
She was walking without the dog and she’d never felt more alone on the dark streets of her safe, suburban neighborhood. Up the hill toward the school-bus stop – and past the turn-off toward her house. She’d give it a try and crest the hill up top, then maybe go back.
She thought of the burger and beer she had with her husband while out, and she thought of her pedometer app. Every step, every hill. She pushed into the mild breeze, picked up the scent of someone’s laundry getting dry.
Like with the dog.
The flat street was 0.8 miles round trip. Not far, but that night it stretched as though into forever, a tunnel of darkness flanked by sleepy houses, to where the last Christmas lights winked through the trees.
And she still couldn’t breathe.
Her chest refused to expand and she huffed and puffed, scuffing her running shoes on pavement white with salt, almost as white as the receding snow on the lawn right next to it.
A childhood song came to her and she tried to sing it. Singing and marching was hard. Gasping the words in stubborn determination, she focused on half-forgotten lyrics until her body screamed for more air and she felt her diaphragm loosen and her throat widen into a yawn.
Yes, yes, that’s it! Yawning opened up the passages and brought oxygen to where it was needed. Two yawns, and she could breathe.
Even gait. Even rhythm. Even breath.
She had it. She had it, she could walk – as long as she didn’t think too much. The end of the street was in her sight, and so was the second-to-last house where a man always sat in a lawn chair just inside his garage, lights on and the garage door open, smoking. The man was there now, talking on the phone, gesticulating with his cigarette hand. His two dogs ran out and barked as they always did.
Air became rare. Her eyes itched as the wind picked up, and her fingertips grew so cold she wished she’d brought gloves after all. She slowed down.
The little yap dog and the big shaggy dog, both yellow. They knew her. They had known Caramel and had always hailed their passage. The big shaggy dog gave a perfunctory bark, lumbering halfway up the driveway and she felt an irrational urge to say hello to it. She wanted to drop on one knee and feel the grit of gravel through her jeans. She wanted to bury her face into the mane of his long winter fur. He’d be warm, and he’d smell like dogs do, and he’d stand there patiently and tolerate her intrusion.
She blinked the tears out of her eyes. The urge to hug the dog shocked her, powerful, intense, almost irresistible. The owner was there, talking, not seeing her. Had he not been talking on the phone, she’d have said hello and asked permission to say hi to his dogs.
It was an emergency. She needed it.
Yet it was also a special kind of crazy, walking up to a stranger with tears in your eyes and interrupting his phone conversation just so you could ask a permission to molest his dogs. She turned her back on the yellow dogs and made her turnaround.
The other side of the street was no more hospitable. Thin hail began to hiss against the bare branches of trees, against the sleek hoods of parked cars. Scent of fresh snow was in the air.
Caramel loved snow.
The houses and trees around her smudged again, almost like when the windshield of her car got streaked with rain. She sniffled and pressed on, feet pounding the asphalt street and avoiding familiar potholes.
And then, right after she wiped her eyes with the backs of her hands, she felt a presence to her left. A ghost outline of a dog, that familiar big dog with a whip of a tail and a mischievous grin. Her imagination was surely providing what she’d been craving, but the feeling, the image, they were both unmistakable.
“Hey, Caramel,” she whispered. Caramel tossed her head to look at her the way she always did.
It was the weirdest thing. She didn’t believe in ghosts, not really. She believed in spirits, but not in their manifestations. Suppose it was just her mind, playing tricks on her and providing her with a dog because she wanted one so badly. Why not show her that dark brown shape, inky with nighttime blackness? Why not give the slanted eye a glint of reflected light?
She looked to her left. She was few minutes from home going the shorter way.
The dog was still there.
The ghost dog, like an afterimage, outlined in soft greys and moving the way she had all these years, day after day, walk after walk.
“I’ll be okay,” she whispered to the ghost dog. “But you can keep me company anytime.”
The ghost dog wagged her tail and stuck around till they passed two more houses.
“Go play with your friends,” she said. “Zabu is there, Zabu, and your other friends. Go play. I’ll be fine.”
The dog disappeared. She realized her breath had been loose and deep, like after a slow run. Like it should’ve been.
I can walk without her. The revelation was a relief. She crossed at the intersection and kept to the left, taking the longer way home.
Thank you for reading! After today you can purchase “The Ghost Walk” using this link. The proceeds go to a new puppy. http://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Walk-Kate-Pavelle-ebook/dp/B00S78OCCO/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1421327931&sr=8-7&keywords=kate+pavelle