A Special Guest Post by Kevin Gerard
Topic: Blog Tours
Today I have the honor of sharing with you a story writen by Kevin Gerard-please enjoy!
Without raising my eyelids, I reached over the rumpled bedcovers. In the early hours of another solitary morning, I searched for the warmth of her companionship. Finding nothing but cold bedding and a lingering wisp of her scent, I elevated my senses beyond their ability to resume sleep.
I listened for a familiar sound. The slightest whimpering tickled my eardrums. I waited a moment longer before opening my eyes. I wondered how long tonight's grief had lasted. Had she been scrunched up in the bay window only minutes, or had she been sobbing for hours? I couldn't possibly know, having awakened only a moment ago.
Part of me wanted to give her the time to plow through her anguish alone. After all, most doctors recommended that course of action. So many months had passed, they said, with no real recovery, no ability to resurrect herself from the terrible pain of her loss, that the time had come for her to face her sorrow head on. Some of the therapists feared she may never return from the deep, spiritual canyon that swallowed her on that dreadful day.
I felt utterly lost. I had no idea how to nurture her soul back to the world of the living. For months I followed the doctor's recommendations. After convincing her to try everything; medication, group and individual therapy, and even psychiatric treatment, I withdrew into myself, into my own misery. Every night the same scenario occurred. We would go to bed, hold each other closely, stare into each other's eyes and eventually drift off to sleep. Later, between two and three in the morning, I would wake to find myself alone.
Swinging my feet onto the floor, I checked the pillows on the dresser by the window. Jesse and Toby, our young Abyssinian males, lay curled up together, comforting each other with shared warmth. Toby lifted his face an inch above his cushion, blinking his eyes drearily.
"Don't worry, son," I whispered. "I'll only be a minute."
The golden beauty lowered his head, placing it in the exact position it previously occupied. I pulled the curtain across the front of the dresser, giving them partial shade from my bed lamp. Donning my sweatpants, moccasins and robe, I walked through the extensive master suite. Kicking cat toys out of the way with both feet, I found the top of the stairway and descended into the family room. I stopped momentarily, listening before continuing my nightly vigil. Sure of my wife's whereabouts, I proceeded through the kitchen and into the solarium. She sat in the bay window, as she did every night, dark hair tumbling down in chaotic bouquets, some strands tucked into her plump, terrycloth robe, and others finding their own path above and beyond the collar.
She stared quietly through the large, spotless pane directly in front of her nose. Her body resembled a figurine, unmoving and focused. Only her intermittent sobbing proved her identity as a living being.
I watched the lapels of her robe move slowly in and out. Then I stared at her eyes, alive and animated, darting around the spacious grass yard.
"I can see him," she said sullenly, without moving.
"What's he doing?" I inquired, grateful for the communication.
"Every time I come down here he comes back to play. He runs around and around the yard, happy as the first day we brought him here."
"Have you called to him," I asked softly.
"Maybe he'll come up on the deck. Maybe he'll even come to the door."
"No, he won't."
"Have you tried?"
Her body stiffened. Her head fell forward as her hands reached up, briskly massaging her neck.
"He might run away. I can't risk that, I can't lose him again."
The torrent began anew, as it did every morning. My wife, the woman I love more than life itself, began torturing herself again. I moved quickly to her side.
"He's dead," she wailed. "Chipper's dead and it's my fault, oh God why did I do that, why, why?"
"Shhh," I whispered softly while wrapping my arms around her waist. She let her head fall to my chest, weeping like a mother who'd lost her only child. I held her as I did every night, trying desperately to soothe the pain and provide her a moment of peace.
As I held her cheek tightly against my chest, I looked out into the yard, seeking a glimpse of our boy, Chipper, racing across the grass with his tongue slapping against his cheek. As many times as I tried, however, I never once saw him since that awful day. It was enough that he appeared for Sharyn every night. Though a horrible memory for her, at least she could spend a little time watching him in the darkness of the early morning.
* * * * *
We found Chipper at the humane society in Eureka, California. We often visited the animals, just to give them a moment's comfort and nurture ourselves in the process.
We lived modestly in Fieldbrook, a densely forested area east of McKinleyville. Our combined income afforded us a small home, perfect for cats but not fit for any canine companions. As a part-time professor and writer, I did my best to keep up with my wife's salary as a nurse in the local outpatient center. Although we wouldn't subject a dog to such small living quarters, we often went to the pound to cheer up the residents a bit.
One day fortune smiled upon me. Out of the blue a publishing house in New York picked up one of my series. Our lives changed overnight; the advance and the pledge toward the first printing convinced me we could shop for a larger home.
I received the call while working in my office at the University. Immediately thereafter I called my wife, telling her the incredible news. She sounded excited but guarded. I asked if she could talk. She answered by telling me she was at the shelter crouching in front of the most adorable Australian Shepherd she had ever seen. A male and only ten months old. He had a great name - Chipper. She asked when I could meet her at the shelter.
Twenty minutes later I passed through the front door of the Humane Society office in Eureka. After answering the greeting from the shelter volunteer, I walked quickly toward the dog enclosures. I called out for Sharyn. In return I heard an adorable little yip. Following the direction of Chipper's call, I turned a corner and found my wife sitting on a patch of soiled, wet floor in front of a canine cage. A smallish, multicolored ball of fur leaned against the opposite side of the bars, pressing his little body against my wife's thigh.
"We're getting this dog," said Sharyn.
"You bet we are," I said, rushing over to the cage. I fell to my knees and reached through the bars. Chipper didn't shy away at all. We struggled to see who could comfort the other first, with Chipper trying to lick my hand and I trying desperately to scratch his ear. I immediately felt a deep connection with him. I knew all the years of waiting for a special companion had led us to this moment. We'd adopt Chipper and save him from the shelter, but I felt sure he would rescue us in return.
Life became a whirlwind of activity over the next few months. I took a leave of absence from the university; we bought the home of our dreams, moved our meager possessions from the rented house in Fieldbrook, and had the time of our lives relocating. We celebrated every night in our new home; my wife, Toby, Jesse, Chipper the wonder dog, and me.
The home was custom contemporary on ten acres of stunning Trinidad beachfront property. It was the house I'd always imagined, a two story, four thousand square foot hideaway with six bedrooms and endless views up and down the northern California coast. It was the last property on a long, meandering, unmarked road. There wasn't another home within a quarter mile of the driveway.
As you walked from room to room, every aspect of the house swallowed you in absolute comfort. The kitchen, dining room and living room were expansive and tranquil, the master suite equally so. Sharyn insisted on decorating the bedroom and bathroom first. I remember days when I'd emerge from my writing study for a cup of tea and find her sprawled out on the living room floor with stacks of home improvement magazines. Logical as always, she systematically sifted her way through the advice of dozens of experts, finally settling on what she believed we would both enjoy.
We spent a great deal of time lounging in our bedroom. Toby, Jesse and Chipper approved of her renovations. I spent countless hours staring at the three of them, curled up in the folds of the down comforter in the wintertime.
A vast yard split the ocean view acreage between the house and the bluff. Sweeping around the deck by the large viewing windows, the emerald lawn provided Chipper with endless hours of lively fun. Left to his own devices, he would race back and forth across the thick grass until exhausted. At that moment he would plop down on the grass, forepaws stretched out in front of his body. He would enjoy a proper respite before starting his routine again. If one of us came out into the yard, however, no amount of fatigue could keep him from demanding a game of fetch.
Chipper grew into a handsome Aussie. That little puff of downy fur mushroomed into a fine looking coat, a mixture of black, brown, and white that reflected his luminous eyes. He had one mesmerizing white eye; the other was the soothing golden brown of a Labrador retriever.
With ears hitched on top of his head, and a mouth always open and grinning, Chipper made you feel better just by walking into a room. He loved attention, but sometimes feigned a snooty attitude, forcing Sharyn or me to work for his affection. Of course this posture always led me to scoop poor Chipper up in my arms, invert him, and hold him like a baby. I would kiss his nose again and again, telling him what a handsome boy he was, thoroughly embarrassing him. During these exchanges Chipper would fix me with a perplexed look, finally dropping his head to the side while searching for his mother to save him.
More than anything else, Chipper loved playing fetch. He would chase tennis balls until the crimson sun sank into the sea and then wonder why the game had ceased. He would walk around the house for another hour, holding a ball in his mouth, hoping we would get the hint that he hadn't finished playing.
As a herding animal, he possessed uncanny speed and agility. If a ball wasn't thrown with great velocity, he usually caught it within two bounces, loping back with a bored look on his face.
We established a rule early on. When playing catch with Chipper, Sharyn or I would stand toward the cliff's edge and throw the ball toward the house. Even though we installed a wooden fence along the property line, it served as a mental barrier more than a true impediment. As intelligent as Chipper seemed to us, we wouldn't hazard the chance that he might make a mistake some day.
And so it went. I worked hard on my writing projects, Sharyn worked half time at the surgical center, and we spent as much time as we could with our three boys. We'd waited a lifetime to get to this point and couldn't have been happier.
One day, late in the summer when the northern California coast becomes a true paradise, I sat in my study suffering a severe case of writer's block. Sharyn knelt in her vegetable garden, nurturing her tomatoes and cauliflower. Chipper came outside, full of energy and in a particularly mischievous mood. He jogged to the lawn, picked up his tennis ball and trotted over to Sharyn. He knew better than to walk into her garden, so he crouched at its edge, whimpering for her to play with him.
"Not now, Chipper," she replied. "I want to work here a while longer."
Chipper would not be dissuaded. He inched toward the edge of the vegetable patch, nosing the ball an inch or two closer.
"I promise I'll play with you later, okay?"
Chipper noted an optimistic tone in her response. He picked up the ball, advancing past the carrots into precious territory.
"Chipper!" my wife said, angry and frustrated. "Look what you've done. Here, give me that ball!"
Chipper offered it to her gladly. She flung it away without thinking, forgetting where she was in her fit of anger. Chipper raced away toward the ball, eager to make his mother proud.
Sharyn had just begun to feel ashamed of her outburst when she sensed something amiss. Chipper would have returned with the ball by now, anxious for another throw. Subtle apprehension quickly morphed into severe anxiety. When she heard Chipper's terrified yip, she knew without thinking what had transpired.
"Kevin!" she yelled while running toward the bluff. Chipper called out again, clearly frightened. "Kevin!" she shouted. "Come out here! Now! Hurry!"
I glanced out the window upon hearing her calls. For a moment I didn't move, but when I saw Sharyn heading toward the bluff wearing a look of utter panic, I flew downstairs toward the kitchen. Pushing through the French doors, I heard for the first time our son's horrible cries. Ignoring the creaks in my middle aged body, I vaulted over the wooden bench, hitting the lawn in full stride. I reached Sharyn just as she swung her leg over the simple fence by the bluff. I met her at the edge of the grass; together we fell to our knees and peered over the side.
Chipper gripped the loose rock of the cliff edge with petrified determination. Holding the ball in his mouth, he lurched forward when he saw us. The move proved fruitless, however, for he slid another three feet down after his attempt to climb up to us. He began crying as he slid; he seemed to know he wouldn't make it back home.
"Hold my legs," I said to my wife as I got down on my stomach. I stretched as far as I could, but I still couldn't reach Chipper. I called to him, asking him to climb a couple of feet toward my hands. He tried valiantly, crying the entire time. Unfortunately, every time he moved he slid back to his former position.
Suddenly, I felt my body moving toward Chipper. Frightened at first, I turned to see Sharyn lying on her stomach as well. Holding onto my ankles fiercely, she gave me another three feet of distance.
"Don't let him fall," she pleaded. "Oh, please, Kevin, bring him back to me."
I nodded once before turning back to Chipper. I didn't have the heart to tell her he had slipped to the very edge of the cliff. One step past that point and he would fall a hundred and fifty feet to the rocky coastline below.
Pressing forward one last time, I reached out toward our frightened child, elated as I touched his fur. Bolstered by this occurrence, I lunged forward and grabbed as much of him as I could.
Still holding his ball, Chipper tried one last time to move closer to his father. His right rear leg failed to connect with land, however, and the momentum of his kick propelled him over the edge.
"No, no, NOOOO!" I screamed as I felt the warm fur slipping through my fingers. I was losing him, there wasn't a thing I could do. I heard him whimper one last time before he tumbled over the edge of the bluff. I screamed his name, calling to him, telling him how much I loved him.
Sharyn watched in horror as the son she loved so deeply disappeared over the crest of the bluff. She nearly let go of my legs before realizing she had to pull me up or lose me too. When we finally collapsed onto the grass by the fence, she screamed hysterically.
"It's my fault!" she shrieked, holding her hands to her cheeks. "I killed him! I killed Chipper!"
She began to wail and keen in a way I'd never thought possible. Her soul boiled with grief and shame. She blamed herself for losing him; as I looked into her eyes I wondered if I might lose her as well.
"Sharyn," I said, gently but firmly. "Honey, listen to me. I've got to go down to the beach. I have to see if he survived the fall. Stay here for me; I'll be back as soon as I can."
She looked at me and nodded, her bloodshot, tear soaked eyes understanding what I had to do.
I ran toward the edge of the yard, to a small deck we'd built a few months prior. A stairway with over a hundred steps led to the ocean below. I took them three at a time, gauging my speed and balance as I prayed to the heavens for high tide. If the sea had swelled over the rocks, I thought, there was a small chance Chipper would have hit water. Weighing less than fifty pounds would decrease the impact, and maybe, just maybe...
I hit the sand running, calling for Chipper every few seconds while I raced to the spot where I thought he might be. Breathing heavily, I found the area of the beach beneath our yard.
"Chipper," I yelled. "Come on, boy, come to father!"
I heard nothing, saw nothing. The ocean looked to be at the midpoint between low and high tide. The water surged forward and receded, following its time worn pattern perfectly. I looked along the rocks, out into the water, and up and down the coastline for a hundred feet in both directions, but I didn't see him anywhere. I held my breath, wondering if it could be a sign of hope. Maybe he had miraculously survived the fall, and was now loping along the sand looking for his parents.
I searched for another fifteen minutes, and then ran out onto the beach. I called for him, yelling as loudly as I could. After waiting as long as I dared, I returned to the stairway and the long climb back to my wife.
I found her lying on the day bed in the solarium, staring up at the ceiling. She heard me come through the door but didn't stir. She had put her life on hold until I returned with news about Chipper.
"I looked, Sharyn, but I couldn't find him anywhere."
Her eyes closed, shutting the pain away from the world.
"I thought maybe he might have survived and ran down the beach, but I looked everywhere. Maybe the tide took him away, I don't know. I'm sorry."
She sucked in a deep breath, disguising a woeful sob. "No," she said, "I'm sorry. It's my fault, Kevin. In a fit of anger I threw the ball away without looking. He went after it, and now he's dead. I killed him."
"No," I said, moving to the side of the bed. "You didn't kill him. It was a horrible mistake, but you didn't kill him, Sharyn." I wrapped my arms around her shoulders, drawing her close. The flaccid state of her body frightened me; it seemed as if she had gone over the cliff with him.
* * * * *
From that day until this moment, I came to the solarium every night to find her, wrapped in a terrycloth robe, staring out the window at an image she could not banish from her mind. After all the therapy, medicine, and feline nurturing from Toby and Jesse, I realized what she needed more than anything else. She needed to spend time with Chipper in her own way; she needed to see him frolicking in the yard. She wanted desperately to watch him running as fast as he could, tongue swinging wildly on one side of his face, utterly happy with his life.
"Ready to go back to bed?" I asked quietly.
"No," she said, recoiling into the bay window. "He'll come back, I know he will."
"I know two little boys who miss their mother. They're upstairs by the bed waiting for me to bring you back to them."
She pulled the lapels of her robe together, believing she could hide from any unpleasantness in the soft thickness of the terrycloth. Sighing, she leaned forward, using her body's momentum to stand. She leaned into me, placing her cheek against my chest.
"Don't worry, Hon," I whispered. "He'll be back."
She sagged upon hearing this. The tears came, along with the admonitions. I feared some day her guilt might consume her completely.
"What was that?" she asked.
"What, what do you mean?"
"That noise, it sounded like an animal."
I was just about to say I hadn't heard anything, when the faint cry of a very young kitten floated across our yard.
"There," she said. "Did you hear it?"
"It's a cat," I said, "and young, too, by the sound of it."
"Where?" asked Sharyn, suddenly alert.
"Outside, in the yard I think."
She opened the solarium door. Another cry sailed above the grass. It was a kitten, only weeks old by the sound of its mewling. We couldn't pinpoint its location, but there was no doubt it was out there.
Sharyn ran across the deck, calling in the high pitched voice she used when speaking to our sons. Immediately the kitten's cries amplified; it knew that someone had heard it. It called out frantically, pleading with her to save it.
"It's on the bluff!" she cried. I ran to her side, grabbing her hand as we listened to the terrified animal. Sharyn hadn't been farther than the deck since the day we lost Chipper. Her vegetable garden had long since died. The grass lay as a perfect expanse, untouched by human or canine feet since that day.
"We have to save it!" she cried, peering out into the morning darkness. I could see the horrible uncertainty pounding away in her mind.
"I'll go out to the bluff," I said. "You stay here and wait for me."
"No," she said. I looked into her eyes, gazing at a part of my wife I hadn't seen in months. "I'm going too."
She clutched my hand like a lifeline. Together we walked onto the grass, following the sound of the frightened cat. When we reached the fence I thought her fear would keep her from advancing, but the cries of the tiny kitten drove her forward. Soon we were both lying on the edge of the cliff, looking over the side at a two week old calico kitten. A rush of horror passed through me as I saw the poor animal sitting in almost the same place Chipper had been the day we lost him.
The cat surged forward when it saw us. It couldn't make any real progress because of its age, though, so when it climbed a few inches it would invariably stumble back toward the edge.
"Oh, God," said Sharyn as she threw herself forward. I nearly missed her ankles as she scrambled by me. Holding her securely, I inched toward the edge slowly.
"I can't reach it," she said, frustrated. She cooed to the little cat. "Come on, come up here, you can do it."
I gave her as much slack as I could without putting both of us in danger. I heard her anxious cries as she tried to coax the cat up into her arms. Suddenly, she became excited, asking the cat to come up a little more, a little farther, just a little closer.
"I've got it!" she said.
I told her to hold on while I dragged her up the cliff. When we reached the fence she rolled over. A white, black, and brown Calico kitten sat securely in her arms. Sharyn cradled the tiny cat, listening to it purr contentedly. It looked up into her eyes, blinked once, and then buried its head into her robe.
I helped her up, brushed her off as best I could, and walked her back into the house. She sat on the day bed, cooing to her newest child.
"It's a girl," she said. "Calicos usually are girls."
"That was very brave, Sharyn," I said. "You could have been killed."
"I know, and I'm sorry. At that moment I really didn't care. I just had to save this cat."
"Looks like we have a new daughter," I said, smiling.
* * * * *
It wasn't until weeks later, when we took our youngest for her second round of shots, that Sharyn told me the truth about the night we found her.
"I thought I wasn't going to be able to reach her," she said. "I had this horrible feeling that she would end up like Chipper."
"But she didn't," I said.
"You don't understand, Kevin. I kept calling to her, asking her to come to me. She wanted to, but she couldn't. She was too frightened."
"Then how did..." I stopped in mid question, knowing what she would say next.
"It was Chipper," she said. "All of a sudden he was there, beneath her, prodding her little body forward with his nose. He saved her by pushing her into my hands."
"Have you seen him since that night?" I asked.
"No," she answered. "Not once."
We drove in silence for a while. Sharyn held our purring daughter close to her breast. She kissed her small head, cooing to her in that squeaky voice cats seem to love so much.
My wife grew stronger as the weeks passed. She toiled in her garden again, found joy in her work and began playfully interacting with Toby and Jesse. She slept through the night regularly, with a beautiful brown, black and white cat tucked into her breast. After so many months of uncertainty, I believed she would finally come through her terrible ordeal.
"I think," I said while placing my hand on hers, "Chipper gave you your life back that night."
She nodded quietly, stroking the cat's furry tail.
Posted by joyceanthony
at 10:33 AM EST