Posted By Alice the Canine Messiah on April 3, 2013
I heard the story ninety-six times. Maybe more.
“I had a dog just like that when I was little. And once when I was walking her she slipped away and you know that dog ran…” – and she would slow down, raising her high-pitched old lady voice – “…8 city blocks!” – and the cadence resumed – “…And I chased her for…” – again – “…8 city blocks! And the only reason I caught her is because this lady was coming outside and my dog ran right into her house. When I got there she asked if I lost my dog and I said Yes ma’am, and she brought Missy out. And I said There you are Missy. Now I can stop worrying! And whenever Missy would run off I’d go to that house and I’d say There you are Missy. Now I can stop worrying!”
Alice, my red miniature pinscher, triggered the story twice a month for maybe 4 years when I played music and she played therapy dog. We’d walk into the dining room and the old lady would see Alice and turn to her friends and… “I had a dog just like that when I was little. And once when I was walking her she slipped away…”
I soon tired of it, but no one else seemed to. I’m sure they’d heard it a lot more than I. The photograph enlightened me. One Thursday she offered it to me, smiling proud. “Missy.”
Only it was magazine slick, and clipped recently by steadier hands. And Missy was a Dachshund. Alice isn’t. Missy’s ears drooped. Alice’s don’t, except the tips. Missy was black and tan. Alice isn’t. And I realized, humbled, that every dog that visited Heritage Hall triggered the story.
She beamed at her table-mates, held up the photograph, pointed to Alice. “I had a dog just like that when I was little. And once when I was walking her she slipped away…”
And she was off and running. “…8 city blocks!”
One Thursday – five songs into my performance, Alice settled into her soft crate – Emily the activities assistant appeared. “We were wondering if Alice could come see Mrs. Summerfield. She’s…” – Emily’s tear-stained voice softened – “…failing.”
“Sure,” I said. I didn’t recognize the name. I don’t know them that way. “Now, or after the show?”
“Either way.” She pointed. “Second door down.” I played on.
Shortly we found the room, indirect sunlight quiet. The A-side resident sat alone, continued reading.
I scanned the B-side. Nurse. Holding Mrs. Summerfield’s hand, softly one-way chatting. Emily. Two other folks. Nightstand. The photograph. Chair. Mrs. Summerfield’s daughter sitting bedside. She stood, smiled. “Thank you.”
I lifted Alice to the bed and the nurse whispered as she lifted Mrs. Summerfield’s hand to stroke her fur. “Alice is here.” Nothing.
I raised Alice to the pillow. Her front paws touched down, she sniffed around then started in with soft, carefully placed dog kisses on her temple. Mrs. Summerfield’s eyes flickered. A collective gasp whispered behind me. I helped Alice down and the nurse helped Mrs. Summerfield’s hand to her neck.
Her eyes opened wider, her head turned towards Alice. Faint smile. Difficult breath. Easy sigh. “There you are Missy. Now I can stop worrying.”
Her eyes closed, and within the hour Mrs. Summerfield slipped away.