Hello again, have you enjoyed having Kendra in the driver’s seat for a couple days?
We have a visit today from Taylor Anne Vigil again – she’s a very talented up-and-coming writer, and I’m thrilled to have her sharing her work on the website!
Today’s a chapter from her book My Amazing Grace. I hope you enjoy getting to know her writing as much as I have!
My Amazing Grace
Warmth. It was something new to me. Never in my life had I felt this warm. Here, in front of the fireplace, I lay stretched out on the floor, groaning and basking in the glow. Grace would be home soon. The thought filled me a different kind of warmth, one that soaked me from my ears to my tail.
A twinge of anxiety pricked me when I remembered that her father would be coming with her. I could already feel Carolyn’s gentle tug on my collar, coaxing me out onto the cold wood of the back deck before Jeffrey had the chance to scold either of us.
“You like the fireplace don’t you, Atlas?” A female voice questioned from the kitchen. “Way better than that old dog house, huh?”
I yawned and looked towards the voice. Grace’s mother stood by the counter, frazzled and beautiful as usual, her dark hair falling from her ponytail in loose, wispy strands.
“I don’t understand why Jeff insists you stay outside,” she said, turning her attention to the pan of browning meat on the stovetop. “Especially when it’s snowing out. I’ll try to convince him to let you sleep with Grace tonight, ok?”
My tail thumped softly against the hardwood floor beneath me. Using a wooden spoon, Carolyn broke the partially cooked meat into chunks, sending an assortment of scents wafting into the air. I inhaled deeply, taking them apart piece by piece.
The first was turkey, warm and comforting, like Carolyn.
Then there was garlic, intrusive and overwhelming, like Seth.
And, the last scent, basil, was everything I loved; quiet and gentle, yet intensely bold and daring.
…Just like Grace…
When the realization hit me that Carolyn wasn’t going to place the pan on the floor for me to lick, I lay my head back down with a sigh of disappointment.
For the next several minutes, I listened to the preparation of Grace’s favourite meal until the sound of hurried footsteps coming downstairs caused my head to raise in alertness.
“Smells good, mom!” Seth called, heading towards the couch and reaching for the remote on the coffee table.
Yawning, I lowered my head onto my now crossed paws, preparing myself for one of his loud action movies that kept me from napping during the rare opportunities that I was allowed inside. Briefly, I thought about trotting to the backdoor and scratching at the glass. Being let out to curl myself into the nest of dry hey and blankets that lay in my doghouse seemed like a logical idea. It would prevent Carolyn from having to guiltily lock me out of the house before Jeffery and Grace returned home from the clinic. The more I contemplated the plan in my head, however, the more absurd it all felt. I was so warm now, warmer than I’d ever been inside the doghouse. It suddenly seemed foolish to abandon a spot that was so deliciously comfortable.
“Seth, turn that off!” Carolyn scolded, pouring a box of uncooked noodles into a pot of boiling water. “It’s almost dinner time and your father should be home with Grace any minute now.”
Seth made a loud, frustrated noise as he shut off, “The Avengers” and slumped back into the couch.
“Don’t pout!” Carolyn laughed, abandoning her pot. “It’s supposed to snow really hard tonight, so we’ll probably be stuck in this house all day tomorrow. You can watch all the tv you want then.”
She walked behind the couch, tussled Seth’s flop of dirty blonde hair, then retreated back into the kitchen, muttering,
“God, did I really just say that?”
After several seconds of pouting, Seth’s hazel eyes were fixed to where I lay just a few feet away from him.
“Why is Attey still in the house?”
I jerked up my head and glared at him. Grace was the only one who ever called me, “Attey”. Her soft voice was always splashed with pure affection whenever she said it. Hearing the name spoken by young Seth in a voice that was more manitone than affectionate, made me long for Grace’s reassuring touch.
“Because I let her in.” Carolyn replied, stirring her noodles.
Seth chuckled, not at all amused.
“Dad’s going to freak!”
“Not if your sister and I beg him to let us keep Atlas in the house when it’s cold outside.”
Carolyn turned the fire down on the stove and walked into the kitchen doorway, crossing her arms.
“I wish he could see how happy Grace is with her. It’s like the Chemo doesn’t take as much of a toll on her when Atlas is around. When I watch them together, it’s almost like she doesn’t have can-”
Her hand was to her face now.
I stood and shook myself off, taking less of an interest in my spot on the floor when I heard familiar footsteps approaching the door. A freezing gust of wind and snow, hinted with the soapy scent of a freshly washed bandana, pushed past Grace as she entered the house. Teeth flashing in her smile, she knelt in front of me immediately, wrapping her arms around my neck.
“My bloods were low again, Attey.” She whispered, voice trembling. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
She didn’t look sad, but the unsteadiness of her voice concerned me enough to lick at the scars on her neck and nibble lightly on her earlobe. She buried her face in my shoulder and, for a moment, I thought I could smell the faint saltiness of tears on my fur.
Jeffery entered the house, eyes puffy and wet with fresh tears. His pale blue eyes, so similar to Grace’s, looked at me, still held in the embrace of his daughter. As I looked up at him, I couldn’t help but catch a small hint of gratefulness in his still mournful expression.
“Atlas stays inside.” he said.
After glancing at his wife, who nodded her head, Jeffery opened the door and walked back outside to let his last remaining tears fall with the snow.
”Nice bandana!” Seth finally said, breaking Grace briefly away from her silent grief. “It looks better on you than that last one they gave you.”
Grace stood, smiled and fingered the end of the yellow bandana that sat tied around her head.
“Thank you, Seth.” She said, wiping her tears away with the sleeve of her coat.
I watched her hand move slowly back up to her bandana, her fingers sliding from the end of the fabric to the pale skin that lay underneath it. Her smile faded and Seth turned away, keeping his eyes focused on the black tv screen. He never knew what to do when this happened. Sitting down, I pushed my nose into the frigid skin of Grace’s palm, but not even the closeness of a dog could wash away the deepening sadness that burned inside of her. I stood and turned to face Carolyn, whimpering to where she stood frozen in the doorway of the kitchen.
…Grace needs you…
Then, as if reading my thoughts, Carolyn returned from whatever world she’d been in, walked past the couch and took her crying daughter into her arms.
“I know baby, I know.” She soothed, placing a hand to where Grace’s long waves of brown hair used to be. “Just a few more treatments and then you’ll start to get better, I promise.’
Grace’s sobs shook her.
“I don’t want to do this anymore, mom.”
They stood like that for a long time; a portrait of a child who was tired of fighting being embraced by a mother who was tired of lying. When they finally pulled away, Carolyn smiled.
“Come on. Let’s eat.”
“How could this happen?” Carolyn asked in a whisper.
I sat before them in the kitchen as they filled their plates with steaming piles of pasta and meat sauce. I licked my jowls and stared at them, hoping they would give me something.
“We did everything right.” Carolyn continued, completely oblivious to my needs. “We’ve given her a balanced diet, we’ve taken her to all of her treatments, we’ve gone to church every weekend. How could her bloods still be this low?”
“Sshh,” Jeffery hissed.
He turned his gaze to Grace and Seth, who sat talking and laughing at the table. Grace still hadn’t taken one bite of her food, though she was the first to be served.
“Grace is tired.” Jeffery whispered, leaning towards his wife. “She’ll probably sleep the day away tomorrow. We can talk about it then.”
Being allowed to sleep in Grace’s bedroom that night was an unexpected luxury. I’d slept in it before, years ago when Grace was still well enough to occasionally sneak me into the house without her father’s knowledge. Laying at the end of her bed had never felt more pleasant now that I was given permission to do so.
The attic, like the rest of the house, was warm and comfortable. Held together by four dark redwood walls, a floor of the same color and a high ceiling that was slanted on both sides, its rustic charm brought me back to the countless number of walks in the woods that Grace used to take me on before she got sick. Although the woods were miles away, the pines that guarded the house, made me feel as if we never left. The two skylights on either side of the ceiling, revealed a chilly sky and frozen branches.
The large bookshelf that housed worn paperbacks and hardcover books that had faded into pale versions of their brightly colored former selves, represented Grace in a way that her bubbly personality didn’t. While most of her friends and family mistook her for a social butterfly who loved being around people, I saw Grace for who she truly was; an introverted warrior who constantly had her face buried in a book.
“What book should we read tonight, Attey?” Grace asked, turning the light out in the bathroom that had been conveniently built just a few feet from her bed.
I lifted my head from the bed and barked softly, knowing she couldn’t understand me, but wanting to answer her anyway.
“A Dog’s Purpose ‘it is, then!”
She stepped in front of the shelf and pulled out a slightly torn light blue paperback book with a black dog on the cover without having to scan for it. Climbing onto the bed, she opened the book, leaving room for me to squeeze myself into the small space between her and the wall, and began to read,
“A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.”
Nothing in the world compared to cuddling up to Grace as she read to me in a whisper, with only a string of lights hung from the rafters to help guide her through the pages.
The book was about a dog who searched for his true purpose as he was reborn into various lives.
Once we read through Bailey the dog’s second life, a pretty great life for a dog I might add, Grace placed the book on her bedside table with a bookmark wedged into its middle, snuggled down into the bed’s fluffy flower pattern blankets and looked into my eyes. I groaned as her fingers moved back and forth over the side of my face. Her presence filled me with as much warmth and comfort as I had gotten from the fire downstairs.
Closing my eyes, I found myself wanting to lay in this fortress of memories and books and Grace forever.
“You’re my best girl, Attey.” She repeated, pressing her nose to mine. “You’re my best girl.”
I opened my eyes and kissed her chin.
…You’re my best girl too, Grace…