Rosa, 99 years old, sat in her rocking chair, falling asleep. She immediately slipped into a dream of a dog. It was a Labrador, brown. Oh! She thought. That’s Chocolate! The outlines of the farm buildings where she had lived as a child began to take shape in the distance. It was a very misty, cool morning. Very early. Summertime. The ground fog curled around her ankles, which were somehow old lady’s ankles, even though she knew she was only 8 years old. She glanced at her hands. Also old. Confusing.
She heard a dog barking, high-pitched. She looked up. Oh! Lucy! Her little Pomeranian! She was scrambling up the stairs of their San Francisco Victorian. Rosa followed, folding the dog leash and tucking it into the railing as she went. She opened the door to the smell of freshly baked bread…
“Rosa? Rosa are you awake? I’ve made you some rolls.”
Rosa opened her eyes to see Agatha, her live-in aide, peering down at her.
“Rosa, these are your favorite.”
“Did you add bran to them?” Rosa demanded.
Agatha smiled. “No. They’re just cinnamon rolls.”
“You add bran to every damn thing. I wouldn’t be surprised—“
“They have raisins,” Agatha offered.
“I like raisins.”
“I know you do. Would you like one?”
“Not here! I’ll eat at the table. Crumbs everywhere…” Rosa felt her eyelids get heavy again.
Agatha patted her shoulder. “Maybe later.”
An Australian shepherd dog was bounding across a meadow. It leapt up, trying to capture the butterflies dancing just out of reach. Rosa laughed. “Lammy-kins, you know you’ll never get them!” she teased. “Here, Lammy, catch this! Catch this!” Rosa threw a bright red ball across the meadow, and Lammy raced after it. The ball disappeared in the long grass, and Lammy started the hunt.
Rosa turned to Jorge. “You were saying?”
“I do love her.”
“But I loved you first. I love you still. I’ll love you last.”
Sadly, Rosa said, “Me too.”
Jorge hugged her. Then he pulled away, and climbed into blue and yellow hot air balloon. He began pulling up the stakes.
“Wait!” Rosa shouted. “Where are you going???” Jorge didn’t reply, just pulled up the last of the stakes. The balloon lifted up and drifted away, as both Rosa and Lammy watched, mouths dropped open.
Rosa woke with a jolt. Her mouth was terribly dry. “Agatha! She croaked. “Water!”
“Ok!” Agatha replied. A moment later, Rosa heard the water running. Agatha emerged from the kitchen with a clear glass of water. Rosa reached for it, hands trembling.
“Careful,” Agatha warned.
“I’ve got it,” Rosa returned irritably. She drank deeply and shakily handed the glass back. She sighed. “Thank you. Smells good in here.”
“I made rolls.”
Rosa grunted. “Did you put bran in them?”
“You put bran in every damn thing. Wouldn’t surprise me if you put bran in ice cream!”
“You can’t eat ice cream.”
“If I could, you’d put bran in it.”
“You know it’s for…”
“I know, I know. My reluctant bowels.”
Agatha nodded. “Exactly. Would you like a roll now?”
“At the table.”
Agatha helped Rosa ease out of her chair and onto her walker. Rosa shuffled slowly to the table. “It’s clean.”
“Why would there be papers? Do you want papers?”
Rosa laughed. “No. I’ve gotten neat in my old age. Spare, even.”
Agatha placed a cinnamon roll cut into small pieces in front of her.
“It has raisins!” Rosa exclaimed.
“You like raisins.”
Rosa squeezed Agatha’s hand. “I love raisins! You are an angel.”
“Oh, you are, sweetheart. You are.” Agatha smiled down at her.
“Sit down and talk to me,” Rosa said. “What’s going on with you?”
“Well, my boyfriend and I are about ready to live together.”
“In sin??” Rosa joked, her blue eyes twinkling.
Agatha chuckled. “That’s what my mom would say. And then frown at me with her mouth pulled into a tight thin line.” Agatha demonstrated.
Rosa laughed. “Your poor mom. So. Where will you live?” Suddenly it dawned on her. “But you – you live here! You’re not going to leave me???”
Agatha covered Rosa’s hand with her own. “No, my darling. Remember, we talked about this? The three rooms on the third floor would suit us fine. We can refurbish that kitchen, and everything in the bathroom works. Rosa?”
Rosa’s eyelids were drooping again. Agatha smoothed back her thin gray hair. “Would you like to sleep on the couch?” She asked softly.
But Rosa was already asleep.
Rosa dug her toes into the sand. Her St. Bernard, Beast, shyly approached the incoming waves, then raced back when they surged in. “Beast!” Rosa chuckled. “You know you’re not living up to your name.” Beast came up to her, panting. He licked her face. She threw her arms around him. “You’re such a good boy,” she crooned. He wagged his tail, then pulled away and raced towards the receding waves, his paws making small impressions on the wet sand. When the water surged back again, he sped away, yelping as a wave lapped against his back legs. Rosa burst out laughing, a deep, hearty, full laugh. She loved that dog.
Her face was on something hard. Rosa blinked awake. The table. Her face was on the table. There were crumbs. She lifted her head slowly, painfully. “Agatha?”
“I’m here.” Agatha helped her sit up. “How about lying down on the couch?”
“Oh no, that’s all the napping I’ll do for the day!” Rosa mumbled. “I used to sleep a lot less than this. Making up for all that sleep I didn’t get all those years.” She paused. “The couch would be nice.”
Agatha helped her get up. “I guess you were a very busy woman.”
“No, I just – liked the night.” Rosa felt too tired to continue, but her mind whirred on. She thought, I liked the dark. It was always quiet. So quiet. Just my dog and me. No phones ringing. Felt like I was 13 and doing something my parents didn’t want me to do. They were so strict. But. The dark. It’s so peaceful. And I’d get going on something, and not want to stop. No one to stop me anyway, so. I like the dark.
“Do you want a blanket?” Agatha asked as she helped Rosa ease down onto the purple couch.
Rosa nodded. Agatha pulled the green throw from the back of the couch and tucked it around Rosa.
“Now, that boyfriend of yours. Is he good at fixing things?”
“Yes. Yes he is. He’s a carpenter, you know. He’s putting together his own crew. But he’ll have time to fix things up around here, too, don’t you worry about that. And it’ll be easier for us… I won’t be leaving some nights to be at his house. I can just be here. We can both be here. Would you still like that?”
Rosa settled further into the couch. “I like people around. That boyfriend of yours… what’s his name?”
“I like George. He’s smart. And good-looking.”
“Are you going to steal him from me?” Agatha teased.
“I just might! Watch out!” Rosa grinned.
“If you can stay awake long enough,” Agatha joked.
“If this couch weren’t so comfortable, I’d get up and-“
“What? What are you gonna do, Rosa?”
“Make you eat bran!” They both burst out laughing.
Rosa walked along the beach. It was a gloomy twilight. Beast plodded along behind her. Something glittered on the sand. Rosa bent to pick it up. As she reached for it, she realized she had a purple poop bag in her hand. She straightened up and tried to pull it off. It was stuck. Suddenly she heard a crowd roaring. She looked up from her hand and realized she was standing in the bleachers of a huge stadium. The noise was deafening. It never seemed so loud before.
Rosa opened her eyes. She blinked and tried to focus. What was that infernal noise? The vacuum. It was a vacuum. Agatha must be cleaning. Again.
“Agatha! Agatha!” Rosa called. She could not pitch her voice over the racket. With all her might, she shouted, “AGATHA!” into the sudden silence.
“All done,” Agatha called.
“You’re too clean.” Rosa grumbled. “A little dirt is healthy.” Then, pitching her voice louder, she said, “Where did you put all my things??”
“What things?” Agatha called back.
“My things! All my things! It’s so neat in here! Where are my things?”
“My clothes. My books.” Out of breath, Rosa continued quietly, “My music and my music stands. My guitar and my piano.”
Rosa jumped a little, startled to see Agatha looming right above her. “You scared me!” she accused.
“I’m sorry, Rosa,” Agatha sighed. “Your guitar is where we left it. In the corner on top of the piano. And your music is in the piano bench.”
“Mama, you sold it! You sold my piano!” Rosa cried.
“Oh. Oh that’s what’s – no, I’m not your mother.”
“Then who are you? Get out of my house!”
“Where’s my dog? I want my dog.” Tears welled in Rosa’s eyes.
“Which one? You’ve had a lot of them, right? Tell me all their names.”
“Well, there was Lucy and Chocolate, Lammy, Beast…”
“And Antoine, right? The poodle?”
“Poodle! I never had a poodle!”
“But you told me…”
The light came back into Rosa’s eyes. “I was joking, Agatha!” She chuckled. “I fooled you! A poodle named Antoine…”
Agatha was happy to see Rosa back. “Really? You did get me on that one! You never had a poodle?”
“No. Terrible creatures. Like plastic pink flamingoes. Over-rated! But I did have a little dog I called Pepsi Le Pew.”
“Oh right. Your last dog, right?”
“Yes. Where is she?”
“She lives with your son now, remember? Your granddaughter, Susie, loves Pepsi.”
“Terrible for her teeth.” They smiled together at the old joke.
“Alright then,” Rosa sighed. “I’ll nap now. No more cleaning, ok?”
Rosa was in a gymnasium, wearing a wedding dress. It had a long train, which seemed to grow longer as she stood there. Soon, it covered the entire gymnasium floor. Rosa tried to walk, but couldn’t move. The train was too heavy and unwieldy. She was trapped.
A man entered the gymnasium through a red door and edged around the perimeter of the gym. It started raining in the gym. “A good sign,” the man shouted from underneath the basketball hoop. “Means there will be children within a year!” he crowed. Rosa pulled and pulled, struggling to move. She could not.
Rosa opened her eyes. It was dark. Where was she? The bed? “How did I get here,” she wondered. The last thing she remembered was being on the couch.
But it was night. Oh, night. Rosa relaxed more deeply in her bed and gazed into the dark. Her sight was a little cloudy from the cataracts, but she could still see the outlines of her 4-poster bed, her dresser, the large antique settee in the corner. She could almost hear Pepsi’s quiet breathing, and see her silhouette on the settee. Rosa smiled contentedly.
Night. Dark. She breathed deeply. A window was slightly open. A soft breeze moved the sheer curtain ever so gently. Through the window, she could just make out the edge of the waning moon. Night. Dark. Peace. She closed her eyes.
A terrible racket burst out of the stadium. Was there ever a more out-of-tune marching band? And what was going on with the percussion section?? Such cacophony! No sense of rhythm. Rosa felt her heart beating hard in anxiety. Suddenly she blinked her eyes open. She lay in perfect quiet. Oh. Right. Night. A dream. A nightmare!
She took a deep and shaky breath. Water. A sip of water would be nice. She reached a trembling hand over to the table. Thank heavens Agatha had insisted on this smaller bed. Much easier to reach the night table. She picked up the glass and managed to take a sip through the straw. Ah, the straw. Another of Agatha’s ideas. That girl was worth her weight in gold.
She set the glass down and settled back into her nest of blankets and pillows. Ah. Night. Dark. Peace. Peace. Peace.
“What is that noise, Agatha?” Rosa demanded.
“Darling, it’s just the movers getting our bed up the stairs.” Agatha answered.
“Well tell them to stop all that racket!”
“The eyesight’s going, but not the hearing,” Agatha muttered, shaking her head.
“Hearing like a dog’s.”
“Which is high praise, thank you!”
Agatha grunted. “Do you have everything you need right now? I’d like to go up there and supervise.”
“Well, I sure would like to have Pepsi on the couch with me. Where is that dog?”
“At your son’s, remember?”
“Why is Pepsi at Bob’s? Bob doesn’t like Pepsi.”
Agatha hesitated for a moment. “Well… Susie loves her.”
“Well so do I. Bring Pepsi back, ok?”
Sighing, Agatha said, “We’ll see. I’m going up to help the movers now, ok?”
A ballerina leapt across an empty stage. A spotlight followed her. She spun like cotton candy in her tulle. Rosa wondered if she were the dancer, or the audience. In wondering this, she realized she had fallen into one of those special dreams, where she could direct the action. Yes!
She decided she wanted to dance modern, with Martha Graham. Martha appeared. They were best friends, of course. “Martha, let’s dance.”
“Of course. But first, let’s move very slowly and warm up.”
Why was Martha always like this? “No Martha, we are going to move fast. We are going to dance to bebop!” Martha looked alarmed.
Agatha laughed. “Come on, Martha! We’ll leave your long scarf on the bench.” And since it was Rosa’s lucid dream, Martha finally agreed. They kicked up their legs and jumped and rolled across the floor. They skipped and lifted each other up. It was exhilarating.
Rosa decided she was done with dancing. She conjured a forest full of fantastical creatures. There were animals with five legs, birds in neon colors and chimeras.
She sat down on the luxurious beach chair. It was a recliner. She breathed in the rich air. Down on the ground, next to the chair, was a small dog. He looked up at her with soulful eyes. Her heart warmed. She leaned over and scooped him up. He settled happily into her lap. She stroked his silky fur and felt contentment fill her up.
“I want bacon,” Rosa grumbled from the dining room table.
“And I want to live in a palace with Prince Harry.” Agatha retorted, stirring spinach into the egg white omelet.
“What!” George shouted. He crossed the kitchen to grab Agatha from behind. “I’ll have to tickle you for that!”
Agatha whooped and dropped the spoon into the omelet. “Stop it now!” She laughed. “Stop it or I’ll call the Prince right now!”
“Oh, you’re lucky Rosa’s here, or I’d–”
“What? What would you do?” Rosa asked.
Putting her down, George said, “Tickle torture. She loves and hates it.”
Agatha picked the spoon out of the omelet, still giggling. “Mostly hates it, you, you, you – centipede!”
“Oh and there you are with the creative insults again!” George taunted. “See what I put up with?” He asked Rosa.
“You are a saint,” Rosa pronounced.
“And yet you still hang around, like a dog nipping at my heels,” Rosa kidded George.
“Oh. Oh.” A look of confusion, then horror crossed Rosa’s face. Her lower lip trembled.
“Rosa, what’s wrong?” Agatha went to her.
“Pepsi. Pepsi’s – gone.” Tears started rolling down Rosa’s cheeks.
“You remember?” Agatha gently inquired.
“Yes, you were – you took her out for a walk, and she ran in front of a car.” Suddenly angry, Rosa demanded, “Why did you tell me she was with my son?!”
Agatha glanced at George. She sighed. To Rosa, she said, “Because you kept forgetting that she had died. Every time you asked, and I told you the truth, your heart would break all over again. And my heart would break too, seeing you so very sad. I couldn’t do that to you. Better that you thought we sent her away.”
Rosa was crying now, her shoulders shaking. “I miss my dog!”
Agatha rubbed Rosa’s back, tears in her eyes. “I know honey. I know.”
George felt his eyes beginning to fill. “Well,” he said, a bit brusquely. “Gotta go to work. See you girls later.” He leaned over and kissed Agatha’s cheek, then did the same with Rosa. “Feel better.” Then he walked across the kitchen, grabbed his toolbox, and headed out.
Rosa’s sobs were beginning to subside. “You’re a good girl, to try to save me some grief.”
“That’s what I was trying to do. I’m sorry I lied though.”
“It’s ok. Oh. I’m so tired.” Rosa’s body seemed to crumple.
“A little breakfast first?”
“No. Later.” Seeing Agatha’s expression, Rosa said, “I promise.”
“Ok. The couch?”
Rosa was in the dog park. It was a joyful noise, all those dogs running and playing. She saw Beast first, tromping around, scaring the littler dogs. Poor guy, he just wanted to play, but he was so big! Then there was Chocolate, her guard dog and companion from childhood. And Lucy, nipping at Chocolate’s heels. Rosa rolled her eyes. Lucy never did get along with other dogs. Ah, and there was Lammy, running furiously after a stick thrown for another dog. Rosa chuckled. Lammy would chase and retrieve anything.
Another dog came up to her, one she didn’t know, and started licking her hand. She wondered where its owner was. Its little pink tongue was like soft sandpaper, and it tickled. She opened her eyes.
George and Agatha were standing over her. “What?” Rosa asked. “What’s-” Then she felt the tickle of that soft and raspy pink tongue on her hand. A little dog! “Well-” Rosa gasped and tried to sit up. Agatha helped her. “What’s this? What’s this?” Rosa’s surprise was turning quickly to delight. George lifted the little dog up into her lap.
“I-” George’s voice wavered, and he cleared his throat. “I just found this little guy. Thought you might like him.”
“Oh – oh!” Rosa laughed. “Well. Well you’re a little spaniel, aren’t you?”
“A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.” George clarified. “Only 13 pounds. He’ll never get any bigger.”
Happy tears streamed down Rosa’s face. “Well this is… oh, look at you! Look at you! What should we call you?” To George, she asked, “Does he have a name?”
“Yah, his name is Roger.”
“Roger!” Rosa’s said skeptically. “He doesn’t look like a Roger! Let’s call you – Coca Cola!”
George and Agatha laughed. “Sounds good,” George agreed. “We’ll take care of him, take him out for walks and everything.”
“George needs the exercise,” Agatha ribbed.
Rosa looked up, tears in her eyes. She looked down at the dog again. “We’re going to have a lot of fun, aren’t we? Aren’t we?” Roger reached up and licked her face. She laughed. She settled back into the couch, stroking the dog’s silky fur. “Oh thank you. Thank you.”
“Are you sleepy?” Agatha queried.
“No. Not at all. I think I’ll be awake for awhile today.”
“I bet you will. I bet you’ll be awake a lot more now,” Agatha nodded.
“Yes. Yes, I think I will.”