A clear Sunday morning as January prepared to turn itself into February lured Franny to the window. She opened it a crack and smelled spring in the air. Although it was cold, hovering around freezing, the sun shone brightly in a pale blue sky, melting snow where its beams landed. The sky seemed taken over by birds, big hawks circling high, small songbirds darting from shrub to tree eating whatever the melting snow revealed.
She was pulling on her boots to protect her feet before heading out for a walk in the slush when her phone buzzed.
“Hello, Franny dear.” It was Marilyn. “I wonder if I could ask you a very large favor.”
“Hi, Marilyn – what do you need?” Franny tried to keep her slight irritation at the interruption out of her voice, and was glad of making the effort when Marilyn explained.
“Well, I seem to have got myself into the hospital for a bit. Nothing serious, dear, before you worry. Just a touch of dizziness that made me faint, and Penelope brought me here to be on the safe side. They want to watch me overnight tonight, so I need someone to walk my dog.”
Franny’s irritation eased immediately. Precious was a sweet old dog. Well, perhaps not sweet. Perhaps Precious was a little crotchety, but as an old girl, she’d earned her chance to be a diva. And Franny had fallen in love with her when she met the dog at Marilyn’s house, after they’d walked around looking at her giant squid paintings. Precious was about knee-high, a Heinz-57 mutt as Marilyn described her, with coarse grey short fur turning white around her muzzle, and an incongruously graceful tail with a white tassel of fur at the end.
“Of course. Shall I swing by the hospital and get the key?” Franny asked.
“No, I’ll tell you where my hide-a-key is, and you can let yourself in.” Marilyn told Franny where the key was hidden, a place Franny thought any would-be burglar would find in about five minutes. Marilyn went on to explain where the dog food was, and how much to feed Precious, and Franny wrote herself a note to be sure she’d remember. Franny took dog-sitting very seriously, knowing how, well, precious dogs were to their owners. Family members. Franny had felt the same about her own dogs over the years. Someday, perhaps, she’d be ready to invest her heart in another dog. Not yet.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right? Is there anything else you need?” Franny asked.
“Oh, I’m fine. You know how these doctors are. Like little old women. I’ll be in touch in the morning to let you know when I’m coming home.” Franny thought Marilyn’s voice sounded suddenly tired, so she wished her well and rung off.
She put a bit of cheese in her pocket in case Precious needed a treat to ease Franny’s passage into her house. But she needn’t have worried about her reception; Precious met her at the door, tail plume wagging. Franny gave the old dog the cheese anyway, just to cement her place in Precious’s heart.
They walked the trail near the professor’s house for nearly an hour, not covering a lot of ground, but covering the ground they traced very thoroughly. Precious sniffed every shrub, rock, and stick that poked out of the slush, picking her way around the deeper piles with delicate precision, occasionally sticking her entire graying snout into a pile of snow left by a plow or shovel. Franny didn’t get the vigorous exercise she’d planned, but found she achieved something much nicer: the peace that, in her experience, only came from seeing the world through the eyes of a dog.
And the smell of spring lingered in her nostrils after she took Precious home and tucked her inside with a blanket and fresh bowl of water.