Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ghost stories

It's a typical August morning in Bermtopia, the air cool, but smokey, and hazy with dust. This summer concert of wildfires and harvest gives Comstock Park a slightly surreal air, as though Ben and I are walking in a dream.

Unlike the weekdays, our weekend walks in the park are quiet and solitary in August. People are in bed, at the lake or doing yard work before the heat of the day presses in.

Ben and I have the park to ourselves. But we're not alone.

My mind's eye skiffs along the contours of the swing sets, tennis courts and picnic benches suddenly sensing people, and dogs, I haven't seen or thought about in years. I think Ben does, too. He sits suddenly and stares intently at some far secret corner of the park, nostrils flared, panting slightly, trying to grab the elusive scent of memory.

What happened to the congenial retiree Lyle and Rex the Wonder Dog, his little rat terrier?

"Is it ok if Ben has a goody?" Lyle would always ask, while simultaneously shoveling dog treats into Ben's mouth.

Or Tah, the Vietnamese engineer who so loved his bird dogs and surreptitiously coached me through my first summer of dog ownership and puppy training with Ben.

"Your voice too soft. He good dog, but dog sometimes need BIG voice."

Where are you, Julia? I miss the older refined Englishwoman I first met as she walked with the ancient, arthritic London, her beloved golden retriever, and then Icarus, a Havanese puppy she adopted after London died.

"Oh, Icky, you rehhlly are quite impossible."

Marsha and Christine. Moms I knew casually through our kids' school and sports activities, who later become great early morning walking friends, thanks to Christine's irrepressibly social and chronically noncompliant black lab, Buster.


Educator Mike and his dog Ally, Ben's first canine "girlfriend." Like Ben, Ally also was a mixed breed with a heavy sprinkling of sheep dog. Kindred spirits from the start, the two would greet each other by touching noses, then take off running, silently, joyfully, through the park, two slender, graceful figures silhouetted in the weak winter sun.

What happen to you all? A mundane shift in daily schedule? A move from the neighborhood? Or something more profound -- a death of owner or much-loved pet? Maybe we don't really want to know in the end.

These memories are so vivid and yet so remote in the early August morning haze. Human and canine ghosts scattered across a decade (!) dog-walking. Are Ben and I ghosts as well? Who knows?

I reach down and touch Ben's head. It's warm, soft and real. Two brown eyes look up at me, eternally hopeful, eternally confident.

"Can we get this show on the road?" they say.

Yep, I say, let's get this show on the road.

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