Debbie sat under the shade of a Norfolk pine on the marble slab of someone named Rutger “Perkins” Pardulfo. She didn’t want to intrude on the funeral; she was supposed to be at the mall. When OD got the phone call Sunday evening that a friend of his had died, he sobbed. Debbie had never seen OD cry, and she’d known him since he was a boy.
Debbie was supposed to drop the family at the church and then go on, but she watched them walk into a crowd of hundreds of people who all hugged and kissed each other and got curious about this Magyar. She walked behind the procession to a field of poppies and then wandered through the field until she came to where she was now. She could see a massive crowd. She could barely hear the eulogy, just sounds, not words. It was peaceful here, with the breeze swirling the red and pink blossoms.
A woman in her late sixties stood off to the side, watching the funeral. Debbie watched as the woman put down her basket of wildflowers and covered her face. Her shoulders shook as she wept.
Debbie looked down and away, anywhere but at the older woman, crying alone. Ashamed of her own cowardice, Debbie stood and walked over to her.
Softly, so as not to startle her, Debbie said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Bea looked up and wiped her eyes.
“Here,” Debbie handed her a kerchief. “My foster mother told me to always keep a clean hanky in my pocket. Just in case.”
The woman laughed and used the hanky to wipe her eyes. “And clean underwear, in case you get in an accident.”
“Lord, yes,” Debbie smiled. “Was she a friend of yours?”
“Magyar? Yes. I suppose she was. She was a dog, you know.”
“A dog? They’re holding a funeral for a dog?”
Bea sniffed and pocketed the hanky. “You see all those children there? About three hundred of them are my foster children. They’d be dead, or worse, if it hadn’t been for that sweet dog, and others, like your son-in-law.”
“I don’t understand.”
“The Battle of Crystal Lake. Hasn’t OD ever mentioned it to you?”
From across the field, a duet of Matt and Juan began to sing ‘Oh Jesus Bread of Life.’
Debbie looked down at the ground, uncomfortable with lying, “No.”
“Good answer. The sheriff would be proud of you. That’s the correct answer to a total stranger. But I’m an elder of the Refuge. My name’s Beatrice Horne, but most just call me Mother Bea. The Battle of Crystal Lake was when we knew for sure that the war had found us. That man, you were sitting on his monument; yes, I saw you. He died during that battle. He gave his life so those five thousand children could be saved. There were only a handful of our members that did what it took to save them. It nearly divided the church, the fact that they went against Atticus. But five thousand children were rescued that day.
“See that tall boy with his hands on the casket, crying like the world is coming to an end? His name is Jeremy Dart. He was one of the children stolen from Crystal Lake Middle. That dog braved soldiers of the foulest kind and personally rescued that boy.
“So, yes. We’re having a funeral for a dog.”
“My best friend Rosa had a dog when I was a little girl. When he died, I thought our hearts would break.”
“Dogs have souls, you know.”
Debbie looked at Bea and then as if afraid to admit it, nodded in agreement.
Dogs began to howl, singly and then en masse. The hairs along Debbie’s arms raised, and she felt tears spring to her eyes.
Monday night, after the funeral, the boys and men in his bunkhouse settled down to sleep, but Jeremy just lay there. This was the first night in five years that he had slept alone.
About two in the morning, he felt a hand touch his shoulder. He wasn’t asleep, but he’d had his eyes closed. Venutha knelt beside him and whispered, “Ohamaha is having her puppies. She wants you to come help. They’re early. She needs your help, Jeremy. Please come.”
“Are you crying?” He sat up.
“Yes,” she gasped. “Oh, Jeremy. I’m so sorry about Magyar.” She threw her arms around him and he clung to her, then pushed her away. “Let’s go help Ohamaha.”
By dawn, seven squeaky little balls of golden and black fur were attached to Ohamaha’s teats. The new mother spoke softly, “Thank you, Jeremy. You helped me through the night.”
He rubbed her ears, “You helped me through the night, too.”
To Hold Back the Dark
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.