— By Kathy Pippig Harris (used with permission)
The clock in the hallway sounded 12 times; midnight, Christmas Eve. Playing softly through the speakers mounted above the nurses’ station Christmas music filtered into those rooms with open doors.
The older lady sat in her chair by the window. A thick comforter wrapped around her frail frame. Colors flashed and spun along the walls of her room from the gaily lit Christmas tree in the walkway, just outside her door.
Lora gazed past the chilled windowpane, at the snow flurries dancing on an errant breeze. But the vision that filled her eyes was that of a certain yellow Lab who had become her most treasured visitor.
His name was Mason and he had once been Lora’s life companion. When she became too ill to care for him, her neighbors, newlyweds Tyler and Kelli, had volunteered to take him in. Mason had always nurtured a fondness for the couple and quickly became a member of their family, while spending many hours with Lora. Happy hours they were, sitting in Lora’s garden as the sun warmed them both. Or in Lora’s den, a fire crackling in the hearth as both canine and human napped in its cozy glow.
Lora had been in the retirement home for nearly three years, and Mason always visited her on Christmas day. She looked past her reflection in the window glass and smiled. Not too long now until she’d get to see Mason.
Closing her eyes she snuggled into the warmth of the comforter, her mind playing back well remembered scenes. Mason loved to fetch and come every Christmas he would gingerly pull a glass ball off their tree, trot over to her and drop his treasure in her lap. Lora never knew why he was fascinated with the Christmas ball decorations, but she had come to anticipate this loving gesture from Mason.
Christmas, the year before, when Mason came with Tyler and Kelli to visit, he had proudly presented her with a shiny red ball. Moments after he had brought the decoration to Lora, a nurse padded through the doorway, a searching expression on her face. Lora held up the glass ball and the nurse had smiled and shook her head. Mason grinned and everyone laughed. Mason had plucked it from the Christmas tree in the hallway.
Comforted by her rememberings, Lora fell asleep as the snow tapped softly on her windowpane.
Their guests had left an hour ago and it was just after midnight when Kelli and Tyler had headed for the comfort of their bed. Their party had been marvelous but it had left them both tuckered out and the thought of sleep was welcome.
Mason, too, had enjoyed the party, entertaining guests. Seeking out and giving affections. Bestowing sloppy kisses on the children, and for the adults Mason proffered his paw. It was the closest he came to giving them a hug, without fear of knocking them down.
Kelli and Tyler had stopped telling their guests that Mason would fetch them a Christmas ornament from the tree. For in the two Christmases that had passed, Mason did not comply. It seemed this particular "gift" was given to one person only — Lora.
As the couple made their way up the stairway, Mason followed close behind, his long tail wagging happily. A smile on his face, he panted, tongue out to the side of his muzzle. An expression of utter joy on his furry face.
As Kelli and Tyler settled in for the night, Mason circled three times, then snugged down into his soft bed on the floor, at the foot of their bed.
Christmas morning arrived as the winter sun splintered through the blinds of the bedroom window. Tyler groggily stumbled toward the bathroom and stopped short. Something was not right… He turned ’round and his eyes fell on the sight of his wife at Mason’s bedside. Tears wet her cheeks as she sobbed, Mason’s head held gently in her hands. Mason was limp, his once animated face now lifeless.
Tyler swallowed back a lump in his throat. He walked numbly over to his wife and Mason, dropped down on his knees and wept into Mason’s soft fur.
Lora was awakened due to the persistent nudging of her hand by a cold, wet nose. Whiskers tickled her wrist and she smiled as she opened her eyes. There in her lap lay a multi-colored glass ball. And staring at her was the happiest face she could ever remember. That of Mason’s. Lora gingerly cupped the ornament in one hand as she stroked the broad yellow brow of her beloved Mason. She bent down over her friend and whispered, "Merry Christmas, Mason."
The nurse padded quietly into Lora’s room to find the woman, lifeless, still wrapped in the comforter. In her lap was a glass ball–the one she noticed missing from the Christmas tree earlier that night.
Outside the frosty windowpane, the wintry sun sparkled on new snow.
Copyight by Kathy Pippig Harris
Kathy is a published author. She finds inspiration for her novels, short stories, and poems from her family, her job, her life’s experiences — from a diagnosis of cancer, to a diagnosis of life, and from the furry loved ones who share her world. And she thanks God for them all.