In silence he woke. Slowly stretching his old body and climbing out of his bed he padded silently into the kitchen of his tiny apartment to make a cup of tea. He looked over to the corner by the stove where Rusty used to sleep. He missed the old dog more than he ever felt possible. His eyes misted over and he felt he couldn’t breathe. It was as if all the air had gone out of the room.
‘This is what it means to have a broken heart,’ he thought.
Sighing heavily he sat at the table and looked out of the window into the back yard of the house behind his apartment building. The big gray cat that lived there was chasing the squirrel again. She never caught it but every morning she tried. He shook his head and wondered what the old cat thought she’d do with that squirrel, if she caught it.
Slowly he got up and placed his cup in the sink and padded silently into the bathroom to shower and dress. It had always been his habit to walk Rusty after getting dressed. He sat down heavily and wept. What will he do now?
Rusty had been a good friend to him all those years. He remembered taking Rusty for walks in the park, stopping to talk to other people who were walking their dogs. Enjoying the fresh air, with Rusty pulling on the leash to go faster. At home Rusty was a good friend to talk to and pet. They were a comfort to each other for all those years. Now there was only emptiness.
He’d never married. He worked all his life and saved his money. After he’d retired, he moved to this little apartment so he would have no yard to tend or home repairs to be do. He and Rusty had lived there for a long time together. They were happy years. Sitting in the evening watching the TV. or reading, Rusty would sit by his feet and keep them warm. He was good company, a warm reassuring presence always there. His constant companion who always seemed to know just how he was feeling and what he was thinking. Dogs like that are rare and wonderful.
Rusty got old and one morning he just didn’t wake up. The old man was alone. No warm body beside him, no company when he went to the mailbox, no welcoming look when he wanted to talk or just have a cuddle. Now, there was just silence.
The old man dried himself off and pulled on his clothes. Without Rusty, there was nothing that had to be done. No water dish to refill, no urgent need to go for a walk. He sighed heavily and went back to the kitchen. Rusty’s bed was no longer in the corner, but the treats Rusty always got when they came back from their walk were still in the cupboard. He didn’t know what to do with them.
There was a park not too far from his house. He decided to go for a walk. It was something to do, to get out and enjoy some time away from the silence and emptiness of the apartment.
He walked slowly around the park’s walkways, watching other people walking their dogs. It was a large, popular park. There were ball fields and a playground. The kids were noisy and energetic as kid always seem to be.
He sat for a while and watched the boats go by on the water. The tide was out, so the birds were hunting along the rocky beach. It was a cool day so he pulled his jacket closer around himself.
The thought of getting another dog was too much to bear. He never wanted to feel this way again. Slowly he walked back to his apartment and went inside. He kept thinking about the people walking their dogs in the park. He knew many of them, to say hello and pass the time but none of them were friends. Most of his friends were gone. Into the silence, like Rusty.
He thought it would be good for him to walk to the park everyday. He’d sit on a bench and watch people and their dogs or the boats or the birds. Occasionally he’d see a seal bobbing in the water offshore. It was spring and the weather was getting warmer.
He noticed there was a woman who walked her dog everyday at about the same time he was there. She was elderly like him, with long white hair. She walked slowly and talked to her dog while they walked. The dog was a beautiful black lab, like Rusty. Suddenly it occurred to him what he could do with the dog treats in his cupboard.
The next day he took a pocketful of them with him on his walk. When he’d pass by someone walking a dog he’d ask if they would mind if he gave their dog a treat.
Somehow it made him miss Rusty just a little bit less.