I began hearing the dog's squeaky bark after a few days of being transferred from West Hills Hospital to the nearby Topanga Terrace complex for physical therapy. I was to undergo a healing program after a bout with pneumonia and other potentially fatal problems.
It was a faint yap that emerged out of the dim shadows down the hall at about 2 in the otherwise muted sounds of a quiet morning. The slightest noise awakens me, especially unexpected disturbances, and I sat up in bed and listened. At first all I heard were the soft footfalls of medical personnel, but as I listened it became clearer.
Was it a dog?
Our dog Sophie's bark can rattle windows, this teeny-tiny yap was hardly a 1.5 on the barking scale. But still...
I lay there wondering if the facility allowed pets into the rooms as valuable assets of care and comfort for elders. I asked a passing nurse. It did not. I said no more about it at that moment, not wanting to reveal someone's secret if they had snuck a puppy in.
The squeaking was silent for a day or so, then began anew. By God, that was a dog, I would bet the left part of my manhood on it. I struggled out of bed and reached for the walker I had just figured out how to use.
"Going somewhere?" a nurse's aide asked. "Going to find a dog," I said, following the direction of the squeak. She nodded. "Follow me," she said and we headed off down the hall. She stopped at the open door of a patient's room and gestured for me to look inside, then left.
A diagonal of outside light cast a glow barely bright enough to see the tightly-curled white hair of a very old woman snuggled partway down in her blankets. She seemed fixated on something on the table next to her bed. She reached out with a frail, veined arm, retrieved the object, held it close and appeared to squeeze it. It barked.
It was a little toy dog.
What I had been hearing was a woman I'll call Grandma Marty, after a member of our own extended family who died recently of Alzheimer's. A small dog was her companion until death, somehow helping Grandma Marty link with her soul, and with the sepia-toned memories of her fading past.
The old woman before me was probably slipping into a misty distance of her own, the toy dog trotting alongside her in a dreamy world of peaceful yesterdays.
I returned to my room and lay awake through the wee, small hours of the morning thinking of Grandma Marty and the sweetness of the journey that lay ahead.
Illustration by: Nicole Weatherall
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