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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2174401-The-Retriever
Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2174401
A street sweeper's life changes drastically from his best friend. Writer's Cramp winner
It was dark and gloomy in the early morning hours above lower Manhattan. A snow storm brewed on the horizon, the wind chilling through Anderson’s street sweeper uniform. He pulled it tighter around himself to conjure the illusion of warmth.

The street sweeper thrummed loudly as it awaited its driver. It wasn’t his favorite job in the world, but at 45 with a family to take care of, it put food on the table. Crossing the streets along the grid did little to pass the monotonous hours. He thought of many things. Missing his warm bed at home, his two little girls still asleep, unaware of his failing marriage and the crumbling financial situation it arose from. A deep sigh rumbled in his chest.

For as long as Anderson remembered, his family and friends complained about his passiveness. Said life would slip by before he knew it and he would accomplish nothing. A jolt as the street sweeper ran into the curb reminded him they were probably right.

Nearing the alleyways near the end of his route, the sun struggled to sneak past the looming snow clouds. Anderson brought the street sweeper to a crawl. A brisk clicking of his tongue drew out the alley’s primary resident. A matted golden retriever padded out, favoring his left rear leg. It seemed to be getting worse; he wondered if it was maybe infected. Despite the obvious pain the dog was in, he seemed happy to see Anderson.

Jumping down, Anderson pulled out the contents of his breakfast. A simple ham and cheese sandwich on rye with a little bit of mayonnaise. He sat down on the curb and the dog sat beside him, tail wagging. He split the sandwich in half and set it down in front of the retriever who gulped it all down in one bite. The dog looked up at him with eyes sparkling with the innocence of a small child. He didn’t deserve to be out here like this.

Anderson sighed with his whole heart as he rose. Digging through his pocket, he withdrew the dog biscuits he recently bought. As the dog chewed through the treats, Anderson ran a hand across the dirty fur on the dog’s head.

“One day, buddy,” he whispered under his breath.

The next morning, Anderson began the same routine of the past 25 years of his life. Snow fell softly, illuminated by the street lights. Coming up on the alleyways, he clicked his tongue and waited, but the dog didn’t come. He waited a moment longer, wondering if the dog’s leg was finally immobilizing him. Jumping down from the sweeper, he made his way into the alley. His heart sank at what awaited him.

The dog lay huddled in the corner, eyes closed and deathly still. Tears formed in Anderson’s eyes as he knelt by the only real friend he’d had this past year. He ran his fingers through the dog’s tangled fur. Choking back a sob, he picked up his friend in his arms and brought him back to the sweeper. The vet would be opening soon, there wasn’t anywhere he could think of to bury him, but he could at least get him cremated, something he hoped would be enough to honor his friend’s memory. He brought home the ashes to his small apartment and placed them upon the mantle, ignoring questions from his wife.

That Christmas, he decided he would finally make an active change in his life to make it better. He’d be done wallowing over the fact he was wasting away, never accomplishing anything. His girls were ecstatic when he surprised them with a golden retriever puppy that he had adopted from the pound. Running around between their legs, their laughter brought him a newfound joy. The puppy stopped and tilted his head at Anderson before padding over and tried to jump in his lap. Anderson picked him up and smiled as he saw the glistening eyes of his old friend staring back at him.
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