Short story by Thomas Smith


Jon and Beauty

The harsh winter had hardened the earth, but sheer determination plunged the shovel into the soil. It hadn’t been long since Jon had returned from the vets. The need to get this over with trumped his trademark procrastination. He was expecting this to happen – but expectation and reality are two different things, as Jon was discovering.

He sunk lower into the ground as the pile of dirt next to the hole grew. Jon wanted to stop. He was tired. “This is the last thing you’ll ever do for her. Do it properly.” He thought to himself. He owed her – it was his turn to give.

What is it?” Jon spoke with a mixture of innocence and excitement that only a child can access.

Come in and find out,” Jon walked into his parents room. Jon’s dad had been ill for a while and in bed for most of that time. Jon was not sure what was wrong with him. Every so often – since Jon could remember – his dad would spend a few weeks in bed. He wasn’t worried. He was angry. His latest stint in bed had meant Jon’s mom had been collecting him from school. It wasn’t the same. It had become a ritual to race down the hill on the way home. Jon would begin smiling five minutes before home time and keep smiling until he inevitably won the race.

Jon’s eyes widened as his father – the second best runner in the house– produced a beige, anime-eyed puppy from under his quilt. “This is for you.” Jon’s jaw dropped – this was amazing. “And you get to name her.” Jon almost collapsed. Getting a puppy, and he would name her! Names raced through his young mind, at a speed that made them all incomprehensible. All but one. Looking at the face of the new family member – in between being licked – it was clear. “Beauty.” His father looked at him for an explanation. “She’s got a beauty spot.” Jon had learned what a beauty spot was the previous week and still got a thrill from proving he knew what it was.

Throwing the spade into the mound of dirt he had created Jon stroked his weary face – ignoring the usually satisfying sound of steel cutting through dirt to stand erect – he was so tired. His body knew this, but his mind was occupied – he was burying his friend. It didn’t matter that he had stayed up all last night, keeping Beauty company. It wasn’t important that he had left his own flat a week ago to sleep on his mother’s floor because Beauty preferred sleeping downstairs instead of in his old room. That was not even secondary – it was so far down the list, that it didn’t even rank.

There were seven steps leading from the garden to the kitchen. Jon paused at the first step. Not wanting to climb them. Not wanting to be in this situation at all, but he was, and nothing he could do would change that. He reached out to the God he never believed in – a giant deity that seemed absurd, until his heart was breaking – but his feelings did not change. Taking the steps – each one catapulting memories to the forefront of his mind, and each one breaking his heart a little more.

The kitchen passed him by in a blur and he reached the lounge, freezing in the doorway. Her favorite blanket embraced Beauty – seventeen years had grayed her fur somewhat, her head peaked out. Jon made sure of this, he could not bear the thought of her head being wrapped up. The same way he could not bear to let her ride in the back of the van that had the grandiose term of Pet Taxi from the vet alone – instead choosing to sit in the back of the dingy, drab, unlit van with her. Staring at her, hoping she would move.

Waking up was the worst part of the day for Jon. That split second when you wake up, eyelids still heavy, and you turn to your side to see your true love. Your first love and she is not there anymore. Familiarity turns your head and memory punches you in the gut. She’s gone. Jon blinked the sleep out of his eyes and replayed all the good times, trying to feel worse than he already did. He didn’t replay the many fights. Nor the time he was convinced – but not sure – that she cheated, but the first kiss. The first time he almost said “I love you”. The first time he did say it.

“Not now.” Beauty jumped on the bed, spun in a circle – hitting Jon in the face with her tail, as she did – before lying down nose to nose with Jon. He tried ignoring her, but Beauty’s soothingly rough tongue lapped at his drooping face. Jon told her to go – he swore – he gently shoved her. He did everything he could think of, but she was not budging.

“What! What do you want?!“ Jon snapped and then he did something he hadn’t done since his foray into singledom. “I don’t know what to do. She won’t answer my calls. I sent her a letter, but she never replied.” Jon looked into Beauty’s eyes hoping to see an answer, but saw nothing. “I’m not sure I can go on like this.” Beauty’s tongue lapped at Jon’s face again, licking the tears that had begun to fall. Trying to cleanse the sadness from his face. “But who would take care of you?” Accepting that Beauty was not leaving, Jon wrapped his arms around her and tried to go back to sleep, so that he could forget how much pain he was in for a little while longer.

Jon took off the toxic bag the vet had placed on the bottom half of his beloved pet. She didn’t deserve to be buried with that. She had been a good friend. A consistent source of strength. Gently picking her up with enough grip to hold her, but gentle enough to show respect, Jon walked – slowly – to the hole he had dug in the garden of his childhood home. A home that held so many memories – both happy and sad, but if his life depended on it, he could not pull one of those memories from his mind right now. All he could experience was what was in front of him. Even living this moment, Jon could see what a powerful, emotional memory it would become.

Jumping into the hole himself, Jon placed Beauty on the ground, tucking her tongue back into her mouth, and leaving her with a lingering glance, he scrambled out. Grabbing the spade, he considered filling the in hole and could not help but let his mind wander back to the last funeral he attended.

When a son buries his father, it’s a sad day. When he is twenty-two, it’s that much sadder. Jon was barely there. He floated through the day – only speaking when spoken to, and even then, words over one syllable were off the menu. He didn’t want to be there. Who would?

The day went by – as they often do – and Jon returned to his mom’s house, alone. He stayed as long as he could at the wake. Every minute spent there, made him angry. He couldn’t abide one more story about his dad. He couldn’t cope with hearing him being spoken about in the past tense. He had to leave. Although the irony of killing someone at a wake was appealing.

Opening the door, Beauty greeted him, without her trademark jumping up. Jon smiled – for the first time that day.

Getting comfortable, the television on, but not being watched, Jon stroked his longest-serving confidant. “Glad today’s over.” Jon wondered what Beauty would say, at this very moment, if she could talk. “I’m too young for this. I never knew him – not as a man. This is the time when I should be getting to know him- not burying him,” Jon cried, for the first time since it happened, resting his head against Beauty, he let go.

Using the underside of the spade to flatten the disturbed earth that now lay on top of Beauty, Jon’s sweat mixed with his tears. This was the end of a relationship that had seen him through so much. Never asking for anything. Never prioritizing anything or anyone above Jon, when life knocked him to his knees and he, selfishly, needed full attention. She was more than a pet. She was a part of the family. And like other family members who have passed, she can never be replaced and like all family members she has left a mark on Jon – shaping who he is forever.