A Reason To Live

The sound of the ball, bouncing off the brittle boards of the porch, echoed out over the yard. The dog, lying under a bush at the edge of the sidewalk, heard the noise of the ball and turned towards the house. He saw his master, an old man of eighty-five, dressed in a sweater to ward off the chill, and wool slacks, bouncing the ball, up and down. He got painfully to his feet, and tail wagging ferociously, strode towards the porch. When he reached the bottom of the steps, he barked, once, twice, before the old man heard him. "Here boy, good boy," the old man croaked, "fetch!".

The dog (his name was Malcolm), thumped his tail once on the ground. The old man (his name was Fred), wound up and threw the ball all of 50 feet towards the fence at the side of the yard. Malcolm rose painfully and loped over to the ball, waiting until it stopped before he attempted to retrieve it. He carried it back to Fred, head held high, tail wagging. They repeated this game for several minutes, and it was impossible to tell who got the most pleasure from the game. Finally, the old man tired. "Phuitt, Phuitt," he whistled, "let's call it a day, old boy." They entered the house together, and the old man locked the door behind them.

The house was quiet. "I'm going to take a nap," he told the dog, "Sit." Fred walked into his bedroom, dry and empty since the death of his wife, and sat on the edge of the bed. He pulled his slippers off and arranged them neatly on the floor, where he could put his feet into them when he rose, and laid back on top of the covers. He lay on the bed and his eyes sought out the picture, an old black and white portrait taken on the strand in Galveston. What a Weekend that was! He closed his eyes and fell into sleep, dreaming of his love and breakers on the sand.

The old dog, sleeping on the floor of the kitchen by the stove, opened his eyes. He raised his head, ears perked for the sound that woke him. It was quiet. He picked up his ball and began to wander through the familiar rooms of the house, looking for Fred, ready to play fetch. He found the old man in the bedroom, silent, his arm thrown over the edge of the bed, the gnarled old hand open, as though reaching for Malcolm's ball. Wagging his tail, the old dog mouthed the ball into Fred's hand, but it was slack and the ball dropped to the ground. Malcolm caught the ball after one bounce, and still wagging his tail, he put the ball back in Fred's hand. The ball dropped again. The next morning, when Fred's daughter stopped by to check on him, Malcolm was still at it, whimpering slightly, catching the ball and putting it into the cold hand, and catching it on the first bounce.