This is a short story written by myself for a fiction writing class in college (a little over 10 years ago). I remember I enjoyed writing about this make-believe love story from the perspective of a melancholy, somewhat cynical woman whom detests animals yet falls in love with a little puppy named Rudy. It’s a sad yet hopeful love story about living life after loss and learning to fall in love with your spouse all over again. I hope you enjoy! 🙂
Life beyond Rudy: A Short Story by Alaina V. Meadors
He died on April first. I refused to take him in to be cremated. And I didn’t want some stranger burying him. It took us half the day to dig a hole big enough. We dug our way into the lives of insects I’d never seen before. The creepy-crawlers would eat away at his flesh until he was nothing but a lifeless skeleton. I hated them for it. As my husband lowered the body into the gap in the earth, I noticed some of those ugly suckers eyeing my Rudy with desire. Anticipating their delicious meal, they started thrashing with delight.
So, I started smashing the little monsters. I used my shovel as a weapon of mass destruction, slicing the buggers in two, then four, then six pieces of nothing. I hated those nasty creatures. Just when I thought I had them where I wanted them, they started to squirm their way back to sucking at my dead dog. I could have taken on those eight-legged creatures. It was those spiteful little earthworms that were being so difficult. The more I hammered at them, the more they rose to the challenge. Stupid multiplying miracles.
I think my husband thought I was joking, because he just stood there in the hole laughing at me. But when he saw how serious I was about murdering those fools, he quickly grabbed Rudy’s body and lifted him out of what was supposed to be his resting place. My husband jumped out of the pit just as I lifted my shovel high above my head, aiming it at the biggest beetle-of-a-bug I’d ever seen. Just when I was getting ready to smash the head of my shovel into the head of the insect with a Braveheart scream in my lungs, my husband grabbed me from behind. Wrapping his strong arms around my waist, he gently held me into his body.
“Whoa…. whoa! Who you trying to kill, me or the bugs?”
His voice broke my train of thought, and all of a sudden I couldn’t remember if it really was the bugs I was trying to kill.
We’ve been married for seven years. Known each other for twelve. Twelve….. Twelve years ago, much by chance or destiny or whatever you want to call it, we met at a pet store. The last place you’d see me. I was there for one thing and one thing only. I was searching for a cat to buy my lonely grandmother whose six-year-old dog just died because she was too lazy to take care of it. I figured a cat would suit her lifestyle better.
Nervously, I walked up and down the aisles of the cat supplies, trying to muster up enough courage to go to the other side of the store where the cats and dogs were on display.
I wasn’t a big supporter of “pets.”
When driving the narrow country roads of my college town, if I saw a stray cat scampering across the street, I’d usually pick up speed. I never ran over the little guys, I just wanted to frighten them off my road.
And dog-owners with their beloved “pets” were always out showing them off to all the other dog-walkers. It seemed to me they would display their version of “man’s best friend” like they were some precious annuity to their lives. I didn’t understand how a dog could make someone that happy.
As I was meandering through the aisles, I glanced cautiously over at the cages. Why do they have to smell so disgusting?
“Can I help you find anything?” A male voice jolted me from my thoughts.
I turned toward the voice, still holding my breath, my nose was scrunched. I must have had a repulsive look on my face because he laughed a little at my expression.
“Um… no, just looking into buying a cat.” I tried to make my voice sound like that of a hopeful pet owner, but the smells of the place were making it difficult for me to pull it off.
“Well, you came to the right place. Would you like any help?”
“No, that’s okay. Thanks, though.”
I turned on my heels before he had time to say anything else. I didn’t want to appear out of place, so I started making my way over to the cages.
Holding my breath as discretely as possible, I looked over the furry-felines. I saw a decently good-looking kitten, but I quickly deciphered that she was a troublemaker because she kept beating up on the other kittens in the cage. I wouldn’t even want poor Grandmother to put up with that!
I wandered toward the next cage, looking over the older cats.
Now, that one’s kind of cute. For an animal that has no use in the world but to sleep on the laps of their owners who, in return, claim that’s enough of a purpose for the species just by putting up with it!
“You’re not a cat person.” I turned to see the male employee eyeing me curiously. I couldn’t tell if it was a question or a statement.
“Nor am I a dog person,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Then what do you want a cat for?”
“I’m getting one for my grandmother. Her dog just died, so I thought she could use some cheering up.”
“Oh, does she like cats?”
“Not sure… but why not give it a try?” I smiled.
He laughed and nodded his head toward a cage full of black cats.
“Why not start her off with one of those?” He said.
I looked at the glass cage full of classic Halloween cats and laughed just thinking of my grandmother’s reaction.
“I don’t think that would go over well. She does tend to be a little superstitious.”
Just then, a young employee ran over to us. Frantically, he flapped a miniature fishnet in his hand, causing little droplets of water to fly off, squirting both of us in the process.
“Jake! I need you in aisle three. I can’t catch the fish a customer wants.”
“It’s okay, man. Go on, and I’ll be right with you, and next time, use the intercom.” Jake’s deep voice did double duty. He not only calmed down the agitated employee, he also softened my attitude toward the smelly pet store and the unlikely pet-search I found myself in.
The employee turned to leave, making his way back toward the waiting customer in aisle three, and Jake looked back at me apologetically.
“Sorry about that. New guy. By the way, my name’s Jake. I’m the manager here.” He held out his hand, and I unfolded my arms to take his hand in mine.
“Nice to meet you, Liz.” His voice matched his appearance. Strong and confident. His tall stature was complemented with broad shoulders, and his dark-brown hair was cut short with tight little ringlets just bursting for length to curl. His lips softly turned up into a smile as he gave my hand a firm shake.
Just then, the voice of the fish-frantic employee came over the intercom:
“Ah… Jake… you’re still needed in aisle three… over.”
Jake rolled his eyes, and I laughed.
“Don’t run off, okay? I want to help you find that perfect cat to give your grandmother,” Jake said.
I smiled and nodded, turning back toward the black cats.
Maybe black cats are not so unlucky.
I had a dream that I was falling into a dark ditch. Bracing myself for the hit of the bottom of the pit; it never came. I just kept falling, dropping down, down into the darkness. My hands; I couldn’t see, but I felt them reaching, grabbing for something to stop the plummet in my stomach. Empty-handed, I couldn’t prevent it. I was falling further into the darkness. I looked below my feet; nothing but darkness. All around me, nothing but the shadows of night.
Tumbling downward, I looked upward and all of a sudden, there was light. An opening. An escape from the fall. Where was I? I squinted at the light and saw a familiar form. A house, my house; dusty rose with green shutters. Trees and grass. Our backyard, only at an angle I’ve never seen before. Everything appeared oversized and distant. All of a sudden, I realized where I was.
I was in Rudy’s grave. I screamed. What was happening to me? Just then, I saw something. Someone. Up above. Jake! I yelled his name. Over and over, I yelled his name, until I saw another form… a woman. She was walking toward Jake. She wrapped her arms around Jake’s waist. He smiled at her, his arms around her back, leaning toward her, looking at her, kissing her. I screamed again. They turned toward the hole and looked down. They heard my voice. I screamed louder, and they walked toward the grave. They stopped in front of the hole; their bodies towered over me.
I recognized the woman.
It was the me I wanted to be, the woman Jake fell in love with.
It was the me of twelve years ago.
They just stood there hand in hand, staring back at me. Then they laughed. Jake pointed at me in the grave and laughed. She laughed. And I started crying; thrashing, flailing about uncontrollably, and I couldn’t stop. They didn’t help me. They only laughed harder, and the harder they laughed, the more I thrashed about in Rudy’s grave.
I started falling faster. A whirlwind all around me. I hit hard the bottom of the pit. My body; deformed underneath me. I lay there motionless. I looked around me and saw bones; the skeleton of Rudy. Up above, the laughter of giants. And, I realized what I was to them. I was an insect. A nothing. Me, lying there in Rudy’s bones. I watched as Jake took a shovel in his hand. Holding it high above his head, he aimed the head of the shovel right at me. I screamed as I watched it come crashing down toward me.
The black cats stared back at me.
The urine-pet-smell tickled at my nose, but I braved putting my hand to the glass, to see if destiny had any input to which cat I should take home to my grandmother.
One by one, they lost interest in me and my hand. Some began their playful banter and others curled up to sleep. A few licked their paws and stroked at their fur, acting way too important to show interest in a hand plastered against their cage.
As they lost interest so did I. My eyes scanned the other cages full of more uninterested creatures. My ears perked up to the sound of a sharp bark. I scanned the dog cages, looking for the match. I heard the dog’s voice again, short and crisp. It was not coming from the cages. I walked toward the bark and realized it was coming from the back room.
I peeked through the window, and saw a golden-colored puppy with a pink nose looking right back at me. If there weren’t a cage to bind him in, I think he would have leapt as high as the ceiling. I smiled and giggled. Shocked by my expression, I put my hand to my mouth. I had never seen such a puppy. His two front paws were white, and he had one white stripe running right down the middle of his head. And his nose, the pinkest pink I’d ever seen.
“Well, hello there, Rudolph!” My voice made his whole body shake with delight, his tail doing double-time, and his mouth turned up in a smile.
“Rudolph. I like that.” Jake’s voice came from behind me.
I turned and apologized for my intrusion.
“Actually, it’s too bad you’re not into animals ‘cause I’m looking for a home for that one.”
“Really? Can I have a look at him?”
“Oh, that’s right. You could get it for your grandmother.”
“Well, actually, I was thinking… maybe… for me?”
“I thought you didn’t like dogs.” Jake’s eyebrows perked up in question.
I turned to look at the furry creature with his body still quivering with excitement, and I couldn’t help but smile at his unique character.
“I like this one,” I said.
I walked out of that pet store with a black cat for my grandmother, Rudolph for me, and a date with Jake.
I wake up in a sweat, breathing hard and fast. I kick off the covers and turn to look at Jake’s sleeping body. I feel betrayed.
What’s happened to us, Jake?
What do you mean, Liz?
I mean, where’s the passion we once had?
What do you mean, passion?
The passion! The oomph in our relationship that made us yearn, that made us fight for each other! You used to call me at work every day! Remember? You would call me from your office at the Vet’s. You were on a two-minute break, you’d say, and you just wanted to hear my voice. We’d talk awhile, and then I’d tell you I had to go; I had clients waiting….
I still call you, Liz.
But not like that! Not just because….
Things change, Liz.
Why? Why do things change? Why should they?
Because people change.
Have you changed, Jake? Do you still love me?
Yes, of course, I do, Liz.
Jake… do you still love me like you used to?
And then there’s silence.
In my imagination, Jake never answers me because I don’t know what he’d say if I did ask him.
I don’t recognize the face staring back at me. I reach out my hand to touch the reflection of a thirty-three-year-old woman I do not know. My fingers meet the other woman’s fingers upon the glass.
I’m searching for something I like about myself….
My brown eyes look old; tired and run-down with dark circles underneath.
My skin looks ghostly and thin.
Who is this woman staring back at me?
I turn my head slightly to the side and raise my chin, keeping my eyes on her eyes…. I realize the lighting is too harsh, so I dim the lights around the vanity, and sit back down on the stool.
Tucking my dimpled chin in slightly toward my long neck, I make my lips form a slender smile. I allow my eyes to softly flutter. I stop.
I stare at the stranger’s attempt to make me look beautiful. My eyes are searching the unfamiliar face, hair, neck. Searching for the good, the acceptable, so I can manage another day.
I stare at her until tears start forming in the corners of my eyes. My bottom lip starts to quiver, making the dimple on my chin even deeper. I reach for my mascara wand. Twirling it on my short, stubby lashes, I wish for Rudy.
I need you.
Get up from your grave.
Come to me like you used to.
Search for me until you find me.
And when you find me, I’ll hold you close.
I will whisper softly into your ear how much I love you.
Your body will shake with delight, and your smile will make me laugh.
Jake and I…
We’ll take you on long walks again.
You and me…
I jam the wand into the mascara tube.
I look up to the ceiling, trying to blink back the tears from smearing my make-up. I reach for a tissue and let it soak the salty water of sadness dripping from my eyes.
Scrunching the tear-dampened tissue tightly in my hands, I look down at my lap.
I just sit there. My hands clench tighter and tighter around the ball of tissue until I see bone peeking through skin, the whites of my knuckles. I wince; something’s piercing my skin. I realize my fingernails are digging into flesh. Laying the back of my hand flat against my thighs, I slowly unclench my hands. Little droplets of blood line the center of my palm.
I made myself bleed.
I take the balled-up tissue and wipe the red from my hands. I methodically rub my fingers along the wounds, the pricks of pain. My eyes blur from the tears welling up inside of me. Salt water meets blood cuts, and I wince from the sting. I am sitting here, and I am crying silently, making no noise, staring at my blurred hands. I feel like I can hear each tear drop landing on my blood-stained palm.
Yearning for him. I whisper his name.
Drawing in a deep breath, I slowly lift my head. I look into the mirror.
My eye catches sight of something in the background. Someone. A familiar form. Jake stands at the doorway, staring at my reflection. I swallow hard and stare back at him. He doesn’t move. I don’t move. We just stare at each other.
The reflections of ourselves.
“Liz.” His voice is rough and deep. It echoes inside me.
He takes a step into the room. He starts to draw back, I can see it. He’s unsure of how to handle me. Scared he’ll break me. Scared I’ll break him.
But he comes. One foot in front of the other, he comes. I watch him draw close. My eyes are locked on his, tears streaming down my face.
He stands behind me, staring at the woman in the mirror.
I wait for him.
His eyes are soft and timid. Each eyebrow crinkles with concern. He lays a hand on my shoulder. Reaching my hand up to touch his, I press his warmth into my body.
“Jake.” My voice catches every inflection of my pain, and I long for him to see me, to know me. Who I am now. Not who I once was, when life uttered innocence.
He looks down at my shoulder. Taking my hand, he gently turns it over to reveal the self-inflicted wounds. I watch his reflection as he bends his body downward and kisses the palm of my hand. His hand, still holding on to mine, pulls me toward him, away from the mirror.
Jake stands in front of me now. I look up at him looking down at me. He kneels down; we’re eye level now, staring at each other. Not moving, but searching. Searching for what’s left of us. Searching for the good, the acceptable. So we can manage our life together. Life beyond our past. Life beyond Rudy.