Bernadette’s Best Friend
As Bernadette lays her knitting on the kitchen table and stands to add coals to her fire, she’s talking to her best friend, Sadie. “What’cha think, Sadie? Sorta cold in here, ain’t it?”
Sadie, the shaggy offspring of an undiscriminating collie mother and a long-forgotten coon dog father, cocks her head, listening intently, tail wagging in assent. After watching Bernadette a minute, she returns to the nap the woman had interrupted.
“Yeah, me too. Lord, I wish you could talk back. It’s too quiet around here.” Bernadette is a recent widow who tended her husband Harold’s deafness, then blindness, and finally his lapse into utter silence during his long journey toward the grave. Now, instead of conversing with a husband who, for years, didn’t answer her, she’s taken to talking with Sadie. Of course, in private, she conversed with Sadie long before Harold’s death, sharing her frustration, sorrows, and worries. Sadie was her confidant; Bernadette knew the old dog would never tell her secrets. While Bernadette got the same responses from Sadie as she did from Harold, with Sadie it was oddly comforting. From her, the old woman didn’t expect clever repartee.
Today, the sky is clear and Bernadette is eager to get out of the house for a spell. “Sadie, after lunch we’ll take a walk but I gotta eat first. You want some sausage?” she says as Sadie positions herself nearly under Bernadette’s feet. It’s their mealtime ritual. Sadie begins jumping in an excited frenzy when she sees the can of sausages in Bernadette’s hand. “Ok, here’s one, but that’s all you get. Too many will make you fat and we don’t want that, do we?” Sadie grabs the link then ducks her head as if ashamed of the pound or two she’s gained since Harold died and Bernadette began sharing food with her instead of with her husband.
Bundled in Harold’s old canvas jacket against the still chilly spring, Bernadette snaps on Sadie’s leash, asking her, “Okay girl, which way you wanna go today?” The woman wears the nearly threadbare fleece-lined coat because it still carries the sweet scent of Harold’s pipe tobacco.
Sadie heads down the lane, turns right at the road, and they begin the trip she loves. At the first clump of clover, she stops to make her mark. She’s got favorite spots: clumps of grass, mailboxes, power poles, and trees and she returns to them time after time. Today, when they reach the fork where Bernadette usually turns left to head back toward home, Sadie, by tugging on her leash until Bernadette is afraid she’ll choke, insists on going the other way. Relenting, they venture on a path along the creek that is unfamiliar to Bernadette, but seems to unleash some hidden memory in Sadie’s brain. She stops, sniffs, pees; stops, sniffs, and pees as if she wants to be sure the way is now clearly marked. Each time she looks up at Bernadette as if to say, “I’m only doing this so you’ll remember where to come next time.”
After an hour, the old woman’s down-at-the-heels brogans begin to hurt her feet and she’s eager to return to her fireplace and her knitting. “Okay, Sadie, Momma has had enough. Let’s head for home.”
Sadie gives her a furrowed brow but follows Bernadette’s gentle pull of the leash. However, Bernadette suddenly is unsure which way home is. She stops at the end of the creek and, confused, looks around for some familiar landmark. Sadie sits attentively beside her.
“Okay, Sadie, you got us here, but how do we get home?” Bernadette says.
Sadie stands, looks up, and says, “If you’ll follow me, Momma, I’ll get us home. I didn’t mean to get you lost. But I know the way. Come on.”
Shocked, Bernadette looks down at Sadie. “Did you just answer me? You ain’t never talked before!”
“Never needed to. You always seemed so in charge. Now I am. Come on. Let’s go home.”
Amazed, Bernadette takes up the leash and follows her best friend back down the road, onto their lane, and inside the house, hoping this is the beginning of some real conversations.