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The first thing Jedidiah Silk saw when he opened his eyes was a bright light at the end of a long tunnel. Just like the books said it would be, he thought. Greeting him at the end of the tunnel was Freckles, his first dog, just as cute and waggly as he remembered. How he loved that dog. He bent down to pick up the little bundle of love. Freckles whined and jumped, licked his face and peed on his shoes from sheer joy. Jed too was delighted to see Freckles again. It had been fifty years since his parents had to put Freckles down although they told him they were sending Freckles to a farm in the country where he could live out his last days sleeping in the sun. Jed didn’t totally buy it even then, but what could he do, he was only ten years old.
Freckles had grown old and smelly by then and a decision was made not to bring the old dog along when the family moved to Cleveland. Jed grieved long and hard until the parents agreed to get another dog once they were settled in the new house. A year later the Silk household acquired, Fluffy, a bad tempered Pomeranian that Jed tolerated and his sister loved. Fluffy stayed around through Jed’s tumultuous teenage years until it’s untimely demise under the wheels of the family car.
After Fluffy there was a succession of dogs which Jed barely remembered as he was involved in his own affairs. After his own kids were born, there was always a dog in the house. Some he liked more than others but none ever replaced Freckles in his heart. Now he was an old man, a grandfather six times over with a long list of ailments one of which finally killed him.
“So this is heaven,” he said to Freckles.
“Not quite,” Freckles replied, “first you have to convince the panel you’re worthy.”
Jed was surprised to hear Freckles speak and said as much. Freckles explained that since both he and Jed were dead, the old rules no longer applied. “In fact,” said the dog, “We dogs can do considerably more than talk. It’s us who will finally sit in judgment on you.”
“This panel you mentioned,” Jed asked, “what’s it all about?”
“The panel determines if you’re worthy to enter heaven,” said Freckles matter of factly. “It turns out that the way you treat your dogs says an awful lot about the kind of person you are.” Jed thought about this, He considered himself a dog lover. Hadn’t there always been a dog in his life? “Put me down and follow me. The panel is waiting and it won’t help your case any if you’re late.”
Freckles led Jed down a white marble street to a building fronted with tall columns. There was an impressive statue of a German Shepherd with the scales of justice in its mouth. Jed followed Freckles into the building then into a wood paneled courtroom filled with dogs some of which he recognized. The room also held a smattering of humans and a small number of stocky beings with British style wigs and robes that did nothing to hide their enormous feathered wings. “Take a seat,” whispered Freckles, “the proceedings are about to begin.”
A few seconds later one of the winged creatures entered from a side door and all the dogs and angels sprang to their feet. Jedidiah did as well. The judge looked like Danny DeVito playing an angel playing a judge in an English courtroom. The judge signaled everyone to be seated, picked up a paper from a pile on his desk and announced, “The panel reviewing the life of Jedidiah Silk is now in session. Are the dogs ready?”
“We are your honor,” a portly black Lab in a wig responded.
“Is the defense ready?”
Freckles leaped to his feet, his tiny wig made him look silly, “we are your honor.”
“Call the first witness.”
Freckles bounded up to the stand, raised his paw and promised to tell the whole truth. The big black lab cleared his throat and began the interrogation. “How old were you when you first met Mr. Silk?”
“I was four weeks old,” said Freckles.
“And was he a good master?”
“Oh yes, he was very loving.”
“Explain what you mean by loving.”
“Romps in the park, lots of throwing the ball, bowls of food, and tummy rubs. Lots and lots of tummy rubs.” A soft collective sigh of contentment could be heard in the room. The judge banged his gavel and the dogs snapped out of their revelry.
“I’ll have none of that in my courtroom,” he snapped.
Jed felt good. Freckles was acting like a true friend. The jury was bound to be impressed. He looked over at the jury. Their tongues were out and their tails were wagging. Things were going his way. The black Lab continued.
“Tell us about your life in the Silk household. Was it pleasant?”
“Oh most pleasant. Regular meals, walks in the mornings and evenings, everything a dog could want.”
“Only when I pooped on the rug or they found me on the sofa but never at Jed’s hands.”
The black Lab paced up and down before the jury, turned suddenly and pointed an accusatory paw at Freckles. “Tell us how you died,” he demanded.
Freckles’ ears drooped and his shoulders sagged. “They were going to move to a new city. I was old and smelly by then. They didn’t want me with them anymore. Mr. Silk took me to the vet and he k-k-killed me.” A sad hush fell over the courtroom.
“Did Jed do anything to intervene?” asked the Lab.
“What could he do, he was just a child?”
“Yes or no,” insisted the Lab, “did Jed Silk do anything to stop your being killed?”
“No,” said Freckles with a heavy heart.
“No further questions,” said the Lab. Freckles slinked back to his seat, his tail between his legs. Jed looked over at the jury. Two or three jury members stared at him and curled their lips. Jed thought he heard a low growl.
“Call the next witness,” barked the judge and Fluffy, the nasty Pomeranian, jumped into the chair.
“And how long were you the Silk family dog?” asked the Lab.
“For nine years,” answered Fluffy.
“And how would you describe your relationship to Jed Silk.
“Cool,” said Fluffy.
“He didn’t love you?”
“Not that I could tell.”
“No walks in the park? No games of fetch? No treats? And no tummy rubs?”
asked the Lab.
“No. No. No. And no” said Fluffy. “There were none of those things from Jed.”
“And how did that make you feel?”
“Bad,” said Fluffy
Several more members of the jury were now snarling at Jed. He looked over at Freckles and whispered, “Do something. Tell them I might not have liked her but I wasn’t cruel.” But Freckles was busy licking his privates and wasn’t paying attention.
“So you felt bad for nine years,” the Lab went on, “then tell us what happened on April 11th 1990.”
“I was sleeping under the car and it ran me over killing me instantly.”
“And who was driving the car that day?”
Fluffy pointed a quavering paw at Jed.
Jed leaped to his feet. “It was an accident,” he cried. “How was I to know she was under there?”
The jury was openly hostile now. Several jury members were barking fiercely. Teeth were bared. The judge did all he could to try and restore order.
“One more outburst like that and I’ll clear the room and declare a mistrial,” he roared. “I warn you Mr. Silk not to interrupt these proceedings again.”
Freckles, who was startled awake by the commotion curled up again in his seat and closed his eyes. Jed was alarmed. This was not going well. He needed more positive testimony but in truth he could never really feel the same love and affection for a dog after Freckles and he didn’t feel any affection from Fluffy either.
After Fluffy came Bosco, a dog he had forgotten about entirely. Now he remembered. Bosco turned out to be over-protective and after biting the postman and the pizza delivery boy had to be turned over to animal control. Jed was away at college by then and he hadn’t much interaction with the dog. Bosco testified that he was only doing his job and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It was difficult to blame Jed for Bosco’s aggressive behavior but the Lab did his best to implicate him in the dog’s eventual demise.
Then came Rufus, the first dog he and Marge bought as a child substitute soon after their marriage. Rufus was a big goofy Irish Setter that was so rambunctious as to be completely untrainable. Rufus dragged his humans around when leashed and ran off for days on end when free. One day he just disappeared completely. After a perfunctory search they assumed he was either adopted or hit by a car. Either way they weren’t too sorry to see him go. Rufus testified to his short lived association. It turned out he was picked up by animal control and subsequently adopted by a family that raised alpacas. He became a show dog and a champion breeder and lived to a ripe old age. The contrast with his earlier life with Jed and Marge wasn’t lost on the jury.
“If only they been a little more patient, I’d have calmed down,” Rufus said.
After Rufus there was a dizzying parade of dogs of one breed or another. None had lived with the family long enough to bond with them. All testified to having little or no memory of the Silk family. “My daughter was allergic,” protested Jed but the judge told the jury to disregard his outburst.
After the poodle, the collie, the Shi Tzu and the West Highland White, the family tried one of those hypo-allergenic, trendy, designer, mixed breed hybrids called a Schnitzel—a Shi Tzu-poodle mix— bred more for its cutesy name than anything else. In spite of his puppy-mill heritage, the family really took to Rollo. Little Allison wasn’t too allergic and the puppy was loved and cared for as well as could be expected. After a year and a half Rollo contracted heart worm and died. For some reason she never got the pill that would have prevented the disease. The Silk kids buried her in the backyard. It was another case of negligence attributed to Jed. Twelve dogs looked at Jed with ears pinned back and canines bared.
Jed poked Freckles awake. “You got to do something,” he whispered. “We’re losing them. They hate me.”
Freckles got to his feet, stretched and yawned loudly. Then he began to cross examine Rollo. “So tell us Rollo, weren’t you treated well at the Silk home?”
“I was,” said Rollo.
“Lots of play time, lots of treats?”
“Yes, plenty of both.”
“And didn’t they take you to the vet?”
“And the vet gave you a distemper shot and a heart worm pill?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Tell us what happened to the pill.”
“It tasted terrible. They tried to make me swallow it but I spat it out as soon as I could.”
“So whose fault would you say it was that you died of heart worm?”
“It was my own fault,” admitted Rollo.
“No further questions your honor,” Freckles walked back to his seat and gave Jed a big wink. There was a general lightening of the mood in the room. Jed noticed the jury was panting again. He scanned the row of pink tongues looking for signs of hostility and saw none. He felt relieved. Dogs were always so forgiving.
Freckles recalled Rufus and got him to admit he ran away not to seek a better life but out of sheer stupidity. He had chased a rabbit so far from home that he’d gotten lost. He admitted he was, “damn lucky” to have ended up on a farm in the country.
Fluffy owned up to the fact that she wasn’t very affectionate to Jed. “Something about the way he smelled caused her to bark at him constantly.” She admitted that it wasn’t his fault. Everyone in the jury could identify with funny smelling humans. God knows they all smelled pretty weird. As for sleeping under the car, well, accidents happened all of the time and what dog was so stupid and lazy to not hear the car start and run away? Fluffy looked guilty and the jury looked down their snouts at the poor wretch.
Freckles then took the stand in his own behalf and told such a glowing story of a boy and his dog that their wasn’t a dry eye in the house. He conjured up pictures of happy dogs running free through fields of wild flowers chasing rabbits and catching Frisbees that several members of the jury rolled over to have their tummies rubbed right then and there. After that the jury was all wagging tails and displays of exuberant dog happiness. A positive verdict seemed assured.
The judge dismissed the jury for deliberations. It didn’t take long for the tail wagging foreman to announce the verdict. Jedidiah Silk was pronounced a good soul and a true dog lover and free to pass on to his higher reward. The judge banged his gavel one last time and court was dismissed. There was a rush for the exits and a crowd of sniffing dogs made a bee line for the lawn and marked every pole, shrub and hydrant in sight.
Freckles accompanied Jed to the waiting tram car he assumed would take him to heaven. He was relieved to see that the cables trended upwards into the cloudy sky. “Well, this is goodbye then,” said Freckles jumping up on Jed for one last pet.
“How can I ever thank you?” asked Jed reaching down to scratch Freckles under his chin and stroke his ears.
“You were good to me. That’s thanks enough.”
“Are there no dog’s in heaven then?” Jed asked.
“We had our heaven and our hell. You better get aboard.”
“How did you know we’d win?” Jed asked climbing into the gondola and shutting the door.
“We’re a forgiving race. Show us a little kindness and we’ll stay with you to the end.”
The car jerked and began to ascend. “Goodbye Freckles,” Jed called but Freckles was already trotting away in the company of a poodle bitch twice his size.
I hope my dogs will be forgiving when I get there.
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