Short and bald, with a paunch and thick-rimmed glasses, Bill was a quiet man who welcomed solitude and enjoyed the company of books. Social activities that most people found exciting, he considered tedious. The only girlfriend Bill had ever had, accused him of fearing intimacy in his quest for solitude, and warned that if he continued behaving that way, he would die “a lonely old man.” In self-defense, Bill insisted that even with one million people surrounding his deathbed, the event of dying would nonetheless remain incomprehensibly lonely, but even that argument did not prevent the girlfriend from ending their romance.
After celebrating his fifty-ninth birthday, and after considerable thought and nail-biting, Bill decided to acquire a dog. Altruistic in intent, he opted to visit the animal shelter and save a dog from euthanasia, rather than buy one from a pet store.
Bill walked slowly down the shelter’s corridor and passed sixteen cages with dogs. Musty scents of urine and sweaty fur tingled his nostrils. Loud barks echoed loudly off the walls.
At first Bill plugged his nose, but then resigned to the smell for the sake of covering his ears. Desperation lurked in the dogs’ eyes and impending fate. Bill wished he could adopt all of them.
A puppy with light-brown fur, a wrinkly forehead, and a curly tail, caught his eye and helped push aside sad thoughts. The puppy’s innocent dark eyes convinced Bill that he had found his match. He mused that an older dog, even if loving and friendly, would inevitably carry attachments to its former owner, and thus limit the new relationship from evolving into the unconditional love he yearned for.
“I’ll take him,” Bill told the caretaker.
The tall, mild-mannered caretaker handed over the puppy, which began licking Bill’s face. Moved by the wet affection, and feeling guilty he hadn’t adopted all the dogs, Bill donated $200 to the animal foundation.
The grateful caretaker shook his hand and asked, “What will you name him?”
Bill shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“How about Kingston?” the caretaker said.
“Of course,” Bill said, no doubt in his mind that Kingston was the perfect name for the puppy.
In the coming three months, Bill cared for Kingston, talked to him, even taught him to fetch a ball, shake paws and roll over. They took walks to a nearby park, and even went on a few hikes with a group of dog owners—a social club of sorts. Kingston was playful with fellow canines, and Bill enjoyed watching his pet achieve an enlightened dog-self.
Bill befriended a dog owner named Joan—a sixty-year-old woman with frizzy gray hair and gentle blue eyes, whose dog, Millie, a Collie, was greatly fond of Kingston.
Bill grew fond of Joan, but, concerned he might be imposing, lacked the courage to encourage companionship other than with the dogs.
One day Joan suggested they explore a new trail—a three-mile hike through a nature reserve, where the dogs could wander without a leash. The trail ended by a pond, where they retired to a bench, and snacked on tuna sandwiches and a fruit salad that Joan brought in a picnic basket.
They were taking pleasure in watching children feed the ducks, when a blonde girl with pigtails came running across the grass. “Buddy, Buddy!”
Kingston’s ears perked up. He raced toward the girl and jumped on her with great joy.
Bill watched with delight, for Kingston behaved well with youngsters, when it dawned on him that his dog had responded to the name, Buddy.
Could it be Kingston carried memories of a former master? Bill wrung his hands with concern and was about to call on his pet, when a man with wavy blonde hair walked up to them and asked, “Excuse me, but where did you get this dog?”
Bill told him, and the man sighed, “We live in a tiny apartment, and my sister, without asking me, gave Naomi the puppy. After a week, the apartment smelled bad, and he kept going on the carpet, so I dropped him off at the animal shelter. I made a terrible mistake. Naomi cried all night. I went back looking for him the next day, but he was gone.”
Bill clasped his sweaty palms and crossed his legs, while the three adults watched Kingston and Naomi play. Then Bill let out a mournful sigh, “Let her have the dog.”
“I couldn’t possibly do that—” the father said, but Bill had already called for the girl. Naomi walked slowly, eyes wide with concern. Kingston ran up wagging his curly tail.
Bill smiled at the girl. “His name is Buddy? I didn’t know, so I named him Kingston. Your daddy says that Buddy can come back to live in your house. Will that make you happy?”
Naomi bounced with impatient joy. Happy tears clouded her blue eyes when she hugged Bill and whispered, “Thank you.”
Soon after, Kingston licked Bill’s face goodbye, and followed Naomi up the ridge on the trail leading to his old home. Bill sighed and stared off into space, when Joan’s hand cradled his fingers. She had never done that before. Bill’s tentative gaze was quickly soothed by the promise in Joan’s smile. ”Kingston is gone, but I’ll always be here.”
By Ilan Herman