It happens, in this valley, that autumn makes a quick summer appearance. Days begin with a chill that lingers in the shade until the sun hits its peak, and returns as soon as it dips toward the mountains in the west.
The summer like no other on Pine Street receives its visit from fall one mid-August weekend. Gardeners rush to protect tomatoes that had finally started to fruit. Birds rise a touch after dawn, singing in the breeze. Precious, the scruffy old dog who lived with Leo, insists on shoving her nose under his quilt, burrowing her way down to the warm spot by his feet.
In dog years, Precious would be considered about ninety-five years old. She wears her years gracefully, allowing herself a touch of crankiness now and then, when the cataracts across her eyes annoy her, or her no-longer sharp ears miss an important sound, like the call to dinner.
Her nose has not lost one bit of its prowess. Her ability to scent a nearby skunk or raccoon, to find a bit of kibble lingering on the rug, or the anxiety Leo sweats through his pores at time, is undiminished.
As she turns under the covers, flopping over so her spine aligns with Leo’s shin, she catches a whiff of something else. Something that makes her whimper, as her old heart pounds just a bit.
Then sleep overtakes her, in the warm, dark, enclosed space. Precious dreams her doggy dreams, in which she is a puppy, boisterous and exuberant, chasing skunks and raccoons through fields of tall grass. Or, she is a stalking wolf, staring down her prey, a pile of kibble that has grown skinny legs and flees from her fierceness.
Or, she is back at Marilyn’s side, walking through the neighborhood, sniffing everything that needed to be sniffed, the hand at the other end of the leash full of vibrant love.
Each night, the dreams last a bit longer. This chilly morning, Leo wakes to feel Precious twitching in the spot by his feet. He smiles, reaches down and gently scratches behind her ears, without waking her from the dream that holds her sweetly in its arms.