A woman feels lost when her family leaves, but another chance...
The sunlight filtered through the leaves creating a design on the lawn. The flowers raised their faces upward to soak up the sun’s rays. Henry Cobb paused his weeding to enjoy a few minutes of the bright spring day. Glancing toward his wife, Marie, he noticed that she stood staring into nothingness, as she so often did lately.
”Marie?” he called. “Would you like some iced tea?”
His wife ignored him, as she usually did while in her staring state. Henry shook his head as he pried his body to a standing position. Whew! I’m not as young as I need to be, he mused silently as he made his way to the house. Shoot, if I were, if we were, maybe we could start another family. Maybe that would bring Marie back to me.
Entering the kitchen, the white-haired man fixed two glasses of tea, sweetening one just the way Marie liked. Carrying a tray with the glasses, napkins, and a plate of muffins, he returned to the garden area. He placed the tray on a wrought-iron table under a spreading oak. Then moving to his wife, he wrapped his arms around her waist.
”Marie? Marie?” he whispered in her ear. “Come have a rest. I brought out some tea and muffins.”
With a start, the petite woman turned in his arms to face him. “Oh, I’m sorry, Honey. I guess I spaced-out again.” She shook her head, causing a lock of dark hair to brush against her cheek.
”I understand, Sweetheart. Now, let’s have some tea. We’ve been working for nearly three hours.” He guided her to a chair by the table, as if she were feeble or blind.
”Henry, please, I can walk.”
”I know, but I like to touch you, to hold you. If I help you from one spot to another, I get the chance.” His quirky grin turned his face younger and full of mischief.
”Likely story,” Marie quipped. “You’d think we were newlyweds instead of about to celebrate our thirty-fifth anniversary, the way you act.”
”You saying you don’t like it?” Henry raised one eyebrow.
”No, I’m not saying any such thing. Don’t you go putting words in my mouth.” Watching his face closely, she added, “I know I don’t act like it sometimes, but I still love you so very much.”
”Glad to hear that.” After sipping his tea, he broached the question burning in his mind. “Marie, what can I do to help? I know having the kids move so far away hurts. I miss them and the grandkids terribly myself.”
”I don’t know, Henry.” Marie’s eyes gleamed with unshed tears. “I know I’m acting crazy. I never thought I’d take Jake's and Karen's moving away so hard.” With a sigh, she gave a wan smile. “It’s not as if we won’t see them again, but... Oh, how I miss having Jason and Kimberly over several times a week and the house full of their laughter, and having our whole family for Sunday dinner.”
With his grin growing larger, Henry teased, “I don’t ever remember having them for dinner. Did they taste like chicken?”
Marie slapped his hand. “Don’t be silly. You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I know what you mean. I miss our grandchildren, too, and of course their parents, but, Honey, we’ll still see them from time to time. London is just an airplane ride away.”
”I know. I know in here,” she pointed to her head, “but in here,” she pointed to her chest, “I just feel lost.”
Weeks passed, and Henry watched Marie battle her sense of loss and sadness. She outwardly appeared her old self, but he still noticed times when she stared into nothingness. One Saturday morning, she told him she needed to go grocery shopping. Henry worked in the garden for a while, then fixed himself some fresh coffee. As he finished his second cup, Marie rushed in the back door.
“Henry, thank goodness I found you,” she gasped as she tugged on his arm. “Hurry, she needs help!”
Rising to his feet and half running, Henry followed Marie to the back porch, where she knelt beside a scrawny dog with matted hair and a protruding belly. “What the...” he muttered as he squatted beside his wife.
“Henry, she looks like she’ll have puppies any minute, and she’s starving. We have to help her.” Marie’s green eyes held the same pleading the dog’s dark brown ones did.
When Henry reached out to touch the dog’s head, a pale pink tongue lapped his hand, followed by a soft whine. “She looks German Shepherd,” he thought aloud. “She sure has had a rough time, though.” Glimpsing the spark of interest in Marie’s eyes, he added, “I don’t think we should move her, but a vet needs to examine her. I’ll call Phil if you’ll fill a bowl with water for our guest.” He stood and pulled his wife to her feet. When she started to speak, he placed his fingertips on her lips. “We’ll do everything we can to help her. Now, scoot.”
Two hours later, after Dr. Phil Watson transported and treated the dog, he faced Henry and Marie in the waiting room of his animal clinic. “The dog will be all right. I checked her carefully, and she’s just dehydrated and hungry, as well as filthy. We bathed her, re-hydrated her with an IV. She’s going to be fine.” He searched Marie’s eyes. “You don’t want me to try to find her a home, do you?”
“No!” she answered, then turned to Henry. “We can keep her, can’t we?”
“She’ll take some care, Sweetheart.”
“I don’t mind. Please.”
Henry looked at his friend and neighbor. “I guess we now have a dog and will soon have more.”
”Then, I’ll bring her to your house in my van on my way home. I’d like to keep her under observation a bit longer.”
“That would be fine,” Henry agreed. “Guess, we’ll go on home, then.”
“Uh, before you go, could I discuss something with you?” The doctor shifted as if uncomfortable.
“Sure, Phil, what’s wrong?” Henry asked.
“Let’s have a seat, okay?” Phil motioned toward the sofa and chairs.
After Henry and Marie sat on the sofa and Phil in one of the chairs, Henry suggested, “Okay, Phil, you can tell us.”
“You know that our church is bringing over some of the children from Iraq who were left homeless by the war, don’t you?” When both Henry and Marie nodded, Phil continued, “Well, we’re trying to find homes for them in the Muslim communities here, but we have one special case.”
“Special, how?” Henry asked, dreading what he feared his friend would ask.
“Well, uh, well, one little girl isn’t Muslim, isn't even really Iraqi. In fact she’s part American, probably an American citizen.”
Marie scooted to the edge of the sofa. “How could that happen? How old is she? How do you know she isn’t Muslim?” Her questions fired at Phil.
“We don’t know how it happened, exactly. What we’ve been able to discover, she used to live in the United States with her mother and father.” Phil shrugged. “Then they went to visit her grandparents in Iraq, her mother’s parents, and never left. We don’t know how long ago for sure or anything. The child’s about four, and, though she won’t talk much, she told us she goes to Sunday School.” The vet shrugged. “We’re trying to find a birth certificate for her since she was born in the United States.”
“Seems to me you found out quite a bit from a four-year-old,” Henry commented as he watched his wife from the corner of his eyes.
“Oh, the poor little thing. Did she tell you her name?” The woman’s voice oozed concern.
“Her name’s Sarah, Sarah Mitchell.” The veterinarian hid his growing smile behind a cough. “She says she lived here, and we found where her family rented a house. But, we can’t find any other family members.”
“Where is she now?” Marie asked.
“She’s staying in a group shelter until we can find her some foster parents.”
“Then she has a place to stay.” As if a switch had been thrown, Marie’s interest faded. “Well, we’d better go, Henry. We need to fix a bed for our new dog.”
“Marie, wait,” Phil begged. “You can find a spot in your home for a stray dog, but not a little girl? I don’t understand. I thought you of all people...”
“Phil, that’s enough,” Henry interrupted, watching his wife again stare blindly into space. “I’ll, uh, I’ll talk to you later.” He slipped an arm around his wife. “Come on, Sweetheart, let’s go home.”
“What?” Marie blinked as if awakening. “Oh, sorry. What did you say?”
“Let’s go home.”
“Yes, yes... I want to go home.” She started for the door, leaving a puzzled friend behind.
That evening, Dr. Watson delivered a cleaner German Shepherd to the Cobb’s house. Marie guided the dog to a bed in the utility room. Although still a bit wobbly, the dog managed to walk from the porch, where the doctor set her, into her new home.
As he stood with Henry on the steps, Phil shook his head in confusion. “I’m still in shock, Henry. I thought for sure Marie would immediately offer to take little Sarah. What’s happened to her?”
The other man kept his eyes on the door where his wife and the dog had entered the house. “She’s taken Jake’s change of jobs and his moving his family to London worse than you can imagine. This dog is the first thing she’s shown any interest in since they left.” Henry faced his friend and neighbor. “I always thought Marie was stronger than I am, but she... she left me for awhile.”
“Left you?” Phil’s voice rose in surprise. “When did she leave you?”
“No, not like that, not physically. She just seemed to disappear somewhere inside.” Blowing pent up air through pursed lips, Henry added, “I can’t explain. I just knew she was gone. She would stare at... at nothing, into nothing. Showed no interest in anything.”
“Then how did she latch onto that dog?”
“When she came back from the grocery store, she found the dog on the back porch, and that was that.”
“Hmmmm, what if she saw Sarah?”
Henry frowned. “Wait a minute, Phil. I don’t want Marie forced into something that would be too much.”
“No forcing. But, if I came by to check on the dog and Sarah was with me?”
“I don’t know.” Henry lowered his head as he thought. “I guess it wouldn’t hurt, but you promise you won’t pressure her in any way?”
Monday afternoon, Marie answered a knock on the front door to find Phil and a small girl. Although the child’s dark curls shone brightly, her green eyes appeared dull and withdrawn as she stood quietly, too quietly, beside the doctor.
“Phil, I didn’t expect you.” A small frown puckered Marie's forehead.
“I had to come by my house to pick up something I forgot and thought, since I was here, I’d stop by and check on the dog.” He hesitated before adding, “That’s okay, isn’t it?”
“Of course, where are my manners?” Marie opened the door. “Please come in. Uh, who’s your friend?”
“Oh, this is Sarah. She goes with me sometimes when I need to run errands.” He smiled at the little girl. “This is Marie, uh, Mrs. Cobb, Sarah.”
Marie gave a strained smile to the child, who just stared back without any change of expression. She did enter the house with Phil, but stood close to his side. Her wide eyes searched from side to side as the woman led them to the utility room, where the large dog scrambled to her feet when they entered. Suddenly, she bounded to Sarah, nearly knocking her down with multiple doggy kisses.
“Princess!” Sarah exclaimed, wrapping her small arms around the dog’s neck. “Princess, I found you.” Tears streamed down the pale cheeks.
Phil and Marie glanced at each other before returning their sight to the girl and dog. Sarah now sat on the floor with Princess beside her, the dog’s head in her lap. The little girl’s tears dried, and a smile lit her face as her hands kept petting and touching the dog. Phil motioned for Marie to join him in the kitchen, where they could still observe the two rejoined friends through the open door.
“I... I guess they belong together,” Marie stammered.
“Apparently.” Phil patted the woman, whom he had known for many years, on the shoulder. “I discovered the parents had planned on being gone about two weeks, but then the Iraq police picked up the father. No one ever saw him again, and that was over three months ago. Guess the dog tried to find them or was abandoned by whoever was caring for her.”
“I see.” She tried to swallow the lump forming in her throat. “Uh, um, what happened to Sarah’s mother, her grandparents?”
“The grandparents were killed, but we don’t know what happened to her mother.” Shrugging, he continued, “Guess she’s all alone, well, except for Princess there.”
Marie studied the two huddled on the floor of her utility room for a few minutes. “No, she’s not all alone, not if you’ll help us have her.”
“Marie, are you sure? Maybe you should talk this over with Henry when he gets home from work.”
“Oh, I’ll talk it over with him, but you know he’ll welcome Sarah faster than he did Princess.” Moving into the utility room, Marie sat down beside the girl and dog.
Phil smiled as he watched Sarah lean against the grandmotherly woman. “Uh, would you mind looking after Sarah for a while?” he asked. “I need to finish my errands.”
Without looking away from the child beside her, Marie answered, “Sure, you run along. We’ll be just fine.”
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