When the sky turned purple, and then gradually set into a deep inky blue, Amy began to think maybe the old newspaper man had been called to something more serious than needing to take a photo of a dog. She had watched the puppy eat his meal of kibble, monitoring him intently. But when they were clearing their dishes after dinner, there came a knock at the front door. Amy’s heart sank.
Mr. Tim came in, bent more than usual, with snow dusting his jacket. The way he was puffing out his cheeks, and the bright red of his jacket, Amy thought he could be a skinny Santa Claus. Maybe if he had a beard to go along with his impeccably groomed white moustache. He spoke as if he couldn’t catch his breath. “Dreadfully sorry to you, Martha. The manager of our little theater here wanted the paper to capture their opening night of The Nutcracker so I’m afraid I had to stay later than anticipated.”
“Goodness sake, Tim, take a seat before you keel over on my front doorstep” the grandmother chided. And then, with a wistful sigh she said, “I’m sure the ballet was lovely.”
“Oh yes, lovely, lovely” he said, taking off his snow-dusted gloves. Amy couldn’t help but notice the camera bag hanging from Mr. Tim’s shoulder. “Now then, where is the little fellow?”
The grandmother turned to Amy. She smiled warmly at her granddaughter. “If he’s not asleep, why don’t you bring the puppy downstairs?”
Amy lowered her eyes. Without a word she turned and made the terrible trek up the staircase. She found the puppy chewing on a corner of his blanket. When he saw her, he yipped happily, his tail wagging in greeting. She gently picked him up and held him close as she joined the others in the front room downstairs.
“Well now, this little fellow sure is cute” Mr. Tim chimed.
“Whoever lost him must be missing him terribly” the grandmother said.
Mr. Tim took a couple photos of the puppy in Amy’s arms. She set him down on the armchair when he began to wiggle. He pawed at the buttons on the chair, his toes – like little brown and white beans – spread to clutch at the fabric. Ivan began to dangle a string toy above the puppy, which he immediately became enraptured with. Mr. Tim snapped a few photos of this scene. “This ought to do” he said, putting away his camera. At once, Amy scooped up the puppy and marched back to her room.
“He needs his sleep” she said, adopting a caregiver’s tone.
Mr. Tim silently took note of Amy’s behavior, wizened to the innocent tragedies of children ever since he had become a grandfather years ago. He bade Martha and Ivan goodbye – Amy had already disappeared upstairs – and headed back out into the cold, dark blue of the evening.
The grandmother – wizened in much the same way – found Amy in her room. She was sitting on her bed, crying softly as she watched over the puppy. The grandmother sat down next to her. She put a comforting arm around her granddaughter. “It will be okay” she said. “You’ve done such a good job of taking care of him, and he knows you care. Don’t forget, you found him. He might still be huddled in that patch of snow if it hadn’t been for you.”
“I know,” Amy said through a meek sob. “I just wish I could keep him.”
“I know you’ve bonded with him. But just think, imagine if he was yours, and you had lost him. Imagine how sad you would be not knowing where your puppy was. How awful that would be. There could be someone out there missing him terribly.”
“It’s going to be okay” her grandmother repeated.
That night, Amy held the puppy in her arms as they both fell asleep.
The next morning, the family ate breakfast in the front room. Amy and Ivan had bowls of cereal while their grandmother sipped coffee and read aloud from The Secret Garden. The puppy sat in the grandmother’s lap and looked at her intently as she spoke. Around midday they brought the puppy back to the armchair to play. Around this time, Mr. Tim had probably put the notice in the paper.
At dinner, the family sat at the little kitchen table eating a meal of grilled cheese sandwiches. To her surprise, Amy caught her grandmother sneaking the puppy a morsel of the toasted buttered bread. Ivan was first to finish eating and first to clean his dishes. He took some of the puppy’s kibble from the pantry and tried to teach him to sit. By this time, people were reading the evening paper, no doubt seeing the notice about the puppy. Despite her grandmother’s best efforts to console her, Amy could not sleep that night.
“Do you want to finish our snowball fight?” Ivan asked her the next morning. A fresh snowfall had coated the front yard and left everything a stark white. Amy glanced out her window at the wintry scene. It was the day before Christmas Eve.
“It might take your mind off things?” Ivan said.
She finally agreed. Both were bundled up in thick jackets and rubber boots. Ivan helped Amy create fresh snowballs and together they built two sentinels in the shape of a dog – one for each of their posts. They kept themselves so occupied with their play that the children didn’t notice the sky darkening; they did not even hear the telephone ring from inside the house. A few minutes later their grandmother appeared in the doorway, still holding the phone with the cord disappearing behind her. She watched her two grandchildren for a moment and spoke into the receiver before going back inside. She would wait until they were done with their play. Best not to tell them just yet.
When the children did come in, their jackets were wet with melted snow and their noses were as red as cherries in summer. Their grandmother had two mugs of hot chocolate waiting for them on the kitchen table.
“I received a phone call from Mr. Tim” the grandmother said. Amy and Ivan looked up. With a sigh she continued. “It seems our notice in the paper worked.”
“You mean, the puppy does belong to someone?” Amy asked.
“To a family in the village. They adopted him for their little boy. He’s a few years younger than you I believe. But he’s been missing him very much. I’m afraid the father did not properly latch the new doggie door while he was cleaning and the poor little thing got out.”
“What is his name?” Amy asked, looking down into her mug.
“I believe Mr. Tim said the family named him…Oliver. I told him they could come tomorrow to pick him up.”
“Oliver” Amy repeated.
Ivan patted his sister’s hand. “Then this means we have one more night with him.”
Amy did her best but she couldn’t help feeling sad. When the next morning came, it was Christmas Eve. Somehow the finely wrapped presents, decorated cookies, and the Christmas music just did not hold the same joy they once had. In the short amount of time the puppy was in their care, Amy had come to care for him a great deal. But she also realized not all wonderful things lasted forever. It was time for the puppy – Oliver – to go back home. When the knock at the door came, Amy was the first to greet the family and their young son, Will. He immediately gave Amy’s hand a grateful squeeze when he saw her.
“Thank you” he spoke, eyes wide and hopeful. Amy thought that perhaps letting go wouldn’t be so bad. Oliver would, after all, grow up in a loving home. He and the little boy would grow up together.
That Christmas Eve, she said goodbye to Oliver the puppy, giving him one last hug before handing him carefully to the arms of the little boy. Oliver nuzzled Will’s face. The family left, but not before telling Amy that they would come back for visits. The grandmother invited them for Christmas dinner. And her grandmother was right, it would be okay. She would come to open her heart to many more small creatures, but she would not forget Oliver, the puppy in the snow.