As Les Blocker walked through his veterinary clinic's waiting room he noticed a little girl, Raven Lobkowitz, slumping in her chair in the corner. He saw tears in the girl's eyes, which were focused on something in the distance. He went over to Tracy Lobkowitz, the girl's mother, who was at the checkout counter.

"Is Raven sick?" he asked. "She's usually a bundle of energy when she comes in, asking questions and petting all the dogs and cats".

Tracy said quietly, "She misses her granddaddy. They were pretty much inseparable. When he was left behind by the Ring of Fire, it devastated her. We've taken her in for counseling, but so far it hasn't done much good. They're so overwhelmed down there that she doesn't get much individual time."

Les said, "Yep, they are covered up. I've helped them as a moderator of grief discussion groups. I got trained as a moderator several months after my daughter Emma was killed in a car wreck, back before the Ring of Fire . . ." Les paused in thought. "Jeff Adams and I had an interesting experience at the ring wall the other day. I've written a story about it that might get her attention. With your permission, I'll let her read it. Maybe it will be an icebreaker to get a conversation going with her. I had some problems myself. I was very depressed about losing a good part of my family to the Ring. I really miss my grandson Joe. I bet he and I were about as close as Raven and her granddad."

"It sure won't hurt to try," Tracy said. "Nothing else has worked so far."

Les turned toward his office. "All right then. I'll go get her the rated G version for kids."

***

Les was back with a stack of papers in a few minutes. He had a friend with him. A big reddish-gold Labrador-Golden Retriever mix. Who promptly sat down on Raven's foot. Which elicited a brief giggle from the girl as she glanced up.

Les sat down beside her on the little restored church pew in the waiting room. "Goldie wants you to read her story. Or I'll read it to you."

Raven got an indignant look on her face. "I read The Hobbit out loud to my granddaddy. All of it."

At the mention of her grandfather, Les could see despair coming back into her face. "Then read Goldie's story out loud to us. I'll warn you, Goldie doesn't like it when someone mumbles the story."

Raven began reading in a strong steady voice.

 

Holes, Bridges, and Walls

By Goldie and Les

 

Les Blocker was lost in time and place. Sitting on his screened porch, sipping iced tea, he was careful not to let others see his despair, which was deep and wide. Everything was out of place. Even the angle of the sun and the birds in the yard were wrong. Les spent his life building a veterinary practice and a welcoming home for his family. Now a large part of his family was lost to him forever, separated as surely as if they were dead. He thought, I can't drag Ruth Ann and Leslie down with my grief. They have their own burdens. My God, why have you forsaken me! I did nothing to deserve this. Yet, you sent Job's whirlwind to knock my world apart. My grandchildren are as lost to me as if they were killed and worse, I am lost to them. They can't know where I am. Oh my Father, I am lost. . . .

Les was startled out of his self-described navel-gazing by his wife, Ruth Ann, calling him. "Les, you gone deaf? Dinner is on the table. " She and his daughter Leslie were already seated at the kitchen table. They always tried to share weekend meals together.

After Les walked into the kitchen and sat down, Ruth Ann said, "Les, would you say the blessing?"

Meal blessings were rotated among family members. Les dreaded his turn. Saying public prayers always made him antsy. Since the Ring of Fire, he had to control an urge to blurt out all the things he was not thankful for. "Lord, we thank you for the food on this table and for the hands that prepared it. Bless this family and community in our time of struggle. In Christ's name, Amen."

The meal was simple fare; cornbread, boiled garden greens, tomatoes from the greenhouse, plus deer sausage and gravy. Washed down with milk from their Jersey cow.

"Pass me some of that cornbread, Leslie," Les said. "You aren't the only one who likes cornbread and sweet milk. And cornbread and pot liquor. And cornbread and pinto beans. And cornbread and black-eyed peas. Man, I'm going to miss cornbread when the cornmeal is all used up."

Les noticed that Leslie was quieter than normal. "What's on your mind?"

"It's Dr. Adams," Leslie said. "His wife and kids being left behind is bothering him more than he lets on. Plus, all the extra jobs he's doing since the Ring happened. Can you talk to him, Dad? You're the best grief guru I know. Ever since Emma was killed in the car wreck you've been so good with people that have lost family. I don't think Momma and me could have stood it without you or stood losing the rest of the family when they were left in the future."

Les got up from the table and put his dirty dishes in the dishwasher. "I'll see what I can do," he said. Tears were filling his eyes as he walked back to the porch.

****

Ruth Ann motioned a puzzled Leslie in the living room. "I'm getting really worried about your daddy," she said. "He sits on the porch and stares into the distance, sipping his tea. Sipping shine too, when he thinks I've gone to bed. He won't say boo about it, since he thinks he has to be strong for everyone else. You didn't know about it, but when your sister was killed by that drunk driver, he nearly went crazy. Drank and drank and drank. Had bad dreams again from his time in Vietnam as a USAID veterinarian. Les finally put down the bottle and the dreams mostly went away. He began helping other folks who had lost a loved one. It was his ministry. He hasn't been doing any counseling since the Ring of Fire. The dreams have started again and he calls out to the kids in his sleep."

****

Goldie had never felt so lost. Her people had left her at the grandpa's kennel before, but this time a flash of light had separated her from her people. They no longer existed? How? Before the flash, she could feel Milo and Fluffy and the pretty girl-human Emma from across the beautiful bridge into the next place. Even that thin connection was gone now. Worst of all, her friend, the boy Joe, was lost forever. Crossing the bridge would be far better than this.

Grandpa and Grandma and pretty-girl Leslie had new holes in their spirit now, so Goldie knew that they were lost. The annoying little tan, fluffy dog called Khaki in the next cage was lost too. Goldie thought that Khaki would go to the next place soon. The hole in Khaki's spirit was huge. All the people and animals that Khaki knew were gone. All his connections were gone.

Maybe Grandpa could find Joe. Joe and Grandpa had a special connection. Goldie went with Joe and Grandpa and sometimes the other pretty children when they drove around to see hurting animals that had holes in their bodies and minds. Grandpa fixed those holes sometimes. Sometimes the holes were too big so he helped the animals cross the bridge. Maybe he could fix a spirit hole too. Joe always said that Grandpa could do anything. Everyday new dogs and cats that had lost their people to the flash were brought to the strange animal place. My, what big holes they had. But none as big as Khaki's. Or Grandpa's. And Grandpa had old, healing spirit holes tearing open. Grandpa might decide to go to the next place too.

Goldie knew how to help Grandpa and Khaki the day the clear wall appeared. She could sometimes glimpse the other side and briefly see and feel Joe. Then she could feel Milo and Fluffy and Emma across the beautiful bridge in the next place again. It was a new beautiful bridge but the next place was the same. The same Love was there. The Love was here, of course, but it was somehow clearer and stronger across the bridge. Goldie knew that the only way to heal the spirit holes was to make new connections and make old connections stronger.

****

Les was tired of brooding on the porch so he walked over to the veterinary clinic, which was located across a gravel driveway from his house. Dr. Bentley Alexander, his partner since the Ring, was at the clinic treating a lame cavalry horse. The Scottish farrier, Sergeant Robert MacGregor, was helping him.

"Don't let me interrupt," said Les. "I'm just checking on some of the boarding animals."

Khaki, the miniature poodle, was curled up in the corner of his cage, looking more listless each day. The dog looked like Les felt. He expected his grandson Joe's Labrador-Golden Retriever mix, Goldie, would look the same as Khaki.

Les was surprised to hear a loud bark and see Goldie enthusiastically wagging her tail. "It's great to see you perking up. But what's got into you?" The dog answered with another loud bark and began scratching at the run door. "Okay, okay. We'll go for a walk."

When the pair got outside, Goldie headed for the creek in a run, looking back over her shoulder as if urging Les to hurry. Les, Joe, and Goldie had spent many hours fishing, hunting, and playing along the creek. A profound sense of loss once again clutched at Les's soul. "He's not there, girl," he whispered, "He's not there."

****

Goldie felt Grandpa's sadness grow. She hoped he would follow her to the end of the creek. That was where she would help him. Somehow she knew that the clear wall would be thinnest there. She picked up a stick and made him throw it.

****

Les was nearly trotting trying to keep up with the bounding dog. The scamp was running a little further along the creek each time she made him throw the stick. Finally they ran out of creek at the edge of the Ring.

****

Goldie could see the clear wall shining at the edge of the Ring. And Joe and his family were there, looking sad. She barked her happy bark to let them know she was there. She decided to point like the spotted dog Rebel did to show Grandpa where Joe and his family were. He sees, they see, they are all waving. Love answered as she knew it would. Thank Love. The giant hole in Grandpa's spirit was much smaller. Now let's go fix Khaki.

****

Les was amazed at Goldie's loud happy barks as she went on point as if there was a bird in front of her. Goldie was not a pointing breed, so Les was surprised by the dog's stance.

All he could see was a shimmering near the ring wall that he had never seen before. Is there movement behind the shimmer?

Les rubbed his eyes. Either his imagination was running away with him, or he had gone crazy with grief. That looks like Joe and everyone else, and they are smiling and waving.

Les glanced at Goldie who stared back at him with what could only be called love in her eyes. He felt God surrounding him. When he glanced back the shimmer between them and the wall was gone. It was as if the glow that he had seen was now in and around him. The empty place in his soul was still there but it was somehow diminished. No, he had not gone crazy. He had found God again through the actions of a dog.

Les was deep in thought during the walk back to the clinic.

Thank you, Lord. I still don't know what I saw at the ring wall, but I know I saw it. Thank you for Goldie. If a dog can have a servant's heart, she surely has one. I'm sorry I haven't been the servant to others that you called me to be so long ago. The losses made such a huge empty spot in me that I lost most of my connections to other people and to you.

His reconnection with life made Les want to sing, so he did. First choosing what he remembered of the Dan Schutte song that Emma loved so much. "Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart."

He was still singing when he got to the clinic, which startled the injured cavalry horse, Dr Alexander, Sergeant MacGregor, and a visitor. The visitor was just the man he wanted to see next, Dr. Jeff Adams, the physician his daughter worked for.

****

Goldie looked at people doctor Jeff. He had one of the biggest spirit holes she had ever seen. I will help Khaki and maybe Khaki can help him. She scratched at the kennel door. She was in a hurry. There were holes to fix and now she knew a way. Dogs can see holes and walls and bridges that people can't. Grandpa let her through the door. She sat quietly as she watched Grandpa hold Jeff and shrink the man's spirit hole. Grandpa's spirit hole got smaller too. Then, she went to Khaki's cage and barked. It was her "pay attention" bark. She barked and scratched until Khaki got up and looked at her with his sad eyes. She scratched and barked until Grandpa and Jeff were looking at her.

****

Les smiled and held out his hand to Jeff who was watching the horse doctoring. "I was fixing to come see you. I'm glad you came by."

Jeff returned the handshake and asked "Medical problems?"

Les motioned to the clinic as he shook his head. "Nope, personal problems. Let's get out of these gentlemen's way and I'll explain."

Goldie was barking and scratching at the kennel door. Les said, "I believe I'm summoned. We can talk inside if that suits you. "

Jeff nodded and followed Les inside the building.

Les leaned against the kennel sink. "I've been so caught up in my own grief on leaving part of my family behind that I didn't think I would be much use to you. I can't imagine how you feel, leaving all your family behind."

There were tears forming in the corner of Jeff's eyes. "Didn't want to burden anyone," he said. "Leslie said you're good to talk to. Said you would know just what to say. Today, everything became too much. It's our anniversary. . . ."

Les wrapped his arms around the sobbing man and hugged him close. "Sometimes there are no words. No words that work anyway. I'm sorry for your loss. Anything I can do for you, just ask. In fact, I promise to do things before you ask. Anytime you need to talk, I'm available." He held his friend until the tears were spent for both of them.

Goldie's insistent barking caught their attention. Jeff and Les walked over and looked in Khaki's cage.

"What's this guy's problem?" asked Jeff.

Les said, "Khaki lost all of his family too. He was boarding with us when the Ring of Fire hit. His family was out of town on vacation."

"Poor guy," said Jeff to the dog. "You are a very handsome khaki poodle. I bet you are lonely. No one can even explain it to you."

Les opened the cage door. "You can get him out. This is the perkiest I've seen him. I wonder if Goldie told him a secret in dog talk. Let's take the dogs for a walk. I have something to show you and tell you about. "

****

Goldie knew Grandpa was smart. But now she knew he was very smart. He was taking them down the creek to where the clear wall was the thinnest. Khaki was getting happier and happier as they walked. Goldie knew Khaki liked Jeff. Jeff liked Khaki. Khaki was starting to see the clear wall and what was behind it. Goldie thought that since Khaki was older that he couldn't see the wall as easy as she could see it. Goldie knew when Khaki saw his people on the other side of the clear wall. He was so happy that he raced around and around barking happily. He even climbed a few feet up a tree. Goldie was very glad for Khaki. His spirit hole was little now. When Khaki looked at laughing Jeff, the hole got smaller as a connection formed. Goldie was happy for Jeff. Jeff looked at the clear wall and waved and cried and smiled. He looked at Khaki romping and laughed. Jeff's spirit hole was smaller now and not so ragged. Goldie saw Love smiling in the dappled sunlight coming through the trees.

The End

 

Raven looked up at Les. "I want my Granddaddy."

Les hugged the sobbing girl close. "I know you do, I know you do." Goldie laid her head in the girl's lap, while Tracy joined the two crying people on the pew.

Her tears spent, Raven asked, "Does Goldie really see holes and walls and bridges?"

Les said, "I don't know what she sees, but I believe that somehow animals see and know things that people don't. I always felt that she could see the hole in my spirit. She sat at my feet as I typed the story of our experience. Her part seemed to just flow from her to my fingers. "

Raven's brow furrowed. "Can we walk down the creek to the wall? Can Goldie come? Can Mom come too? "

"Goldie and I will be glad to walk with you and your mom to the wall." He could see the tension easing on the little forehead.

Raven said, "Don't worry about Joe, Doctor Les, I bet Granddaddy is taking care of him."

Les had always been amazed at how quickly a child's thoughts could change. And how loving they were. He said, "I know he will. And I'll take care of you. Now let's go for that walk. I'll call Jeff to see if he and Khaki can join us."

At the end of the creek Les watched the dogs romp and play. Goldie pointed and fetched sticks. Khaki climbed up a tree. Sunlight shimmered as it was reflected from the cliff. Raven and Tracy laughed and waved. The Light shined through the water droplets on the leaves making tiny rainbows on the woodland floor. And in their hearts.

 

Several years later

 

Goldie felt sick, sick. Every breath came hard. She didn't want to eat or drink. Grandpa was very kind. She knew he was going help her cross the beautiful bridge as he had done for so many others, including her dog friend Khaki.

****

Les was crying as he pulled the last of his up-time euthanasia solution into the syringe. He had saved it for Goldie. Les turned to his teenaged female assistant. "It's Goldie's time. I won't let her waste away and suffer from kidney failure. This is the last good thing we can do for her."

With tears in her eyes, the girl said, " I know it is, Grandpa Les. It's just so hard. She's been my friend for so long."

Les hugged the crying girl, remembering the first time he hugged her years ago. "It never gets any easier. When you're a vet, you'll find the pain gets sharper as you remember other animal friends. But you get more certain you are doing the right thing. The last good thing."

He steeled himself and turned to Goldie who was lying quietly on the table. "Goodbye, my life-saving friend," he said. "I'll see you across the rainbow bridge."

Raven took her place and held her childhood companion's leg. "Across the rainbow bridge," she echoed. "In the sweet by and by, we will meet on that beautiful shore."

****

Goldie wasn't sick anymore. She felt like a young dog. She ran across the beautiful bridge. She could see Milo, Fluffy, Khaki, little-bitty young girl animal doctor Jo Ann, great huge young animal doctor Shemp, and pretty girl Emma rushing to greet her. Everyone was connected to everyone here. Love filled all the holes.

 

"I like that story. I'm glad you tell it to me every time I visit. I bet Goldie met Grandpa Les on the rainbow bridge," the little boy said.

Dr. Raven Wight smiled at her grandson. "I know she did, James. I know she did. Love made sure of that."

 

Author's Note:

 

The RainbowBridge

authorship as yet unclaimed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Bridge_(pets) . From http://rainbowsbridge.com/poem.htm

 

****