The man and his wife of many years sat at the kitchen table, coffee mugs in hand, the morning paper spread open before them. "Any for sale?" she asked. Every morning, it was like this now.
"I don't know," he said, adjusting his glasses as she reached for a jar, scraped it clean and spread honey on buttered toast. No need to break off a piece and toss it to an eager friend now; honey wasn't on the shopping list any more.
As he searched, the man remembered the bundle of fluff they had brought home that night so long ago. How she snuggled close to him, against the autumn chill, shivering ... how his wife's eyes had lit up. "For me?" she asked.
"For us," he said. "To keep us company." It was a gesture of love between two people who had quietly accepted their childless life. Anything to break the growing silence of their home would be welcome.
"Are there any for sale?" the woman asked again.
Taking a pen from his shirt pocket, he carefully circled a classified ad. "I think we're in luck," he smiled.
"We won't be able to replace her," he reminded his wife in the car that night, as dogs announced their arrival at the small, well-kept farm.
"I know," she said sadly. "I wouldn't want to. Not really." But, her heart spoke louder than her words.
"You can't fool me," he said, resting his hand on hers. "Let's just see what he has, OK? We don't have to make up our minds right away."
They were greeted by a friendly man in boots and an old coat. "Are you here to see the puppies?"
"Yes," they said, following him into the warm barn.
"It's a little nippy tonight, so I moved their box in here," he said, inviting them into a roomy horse stall to see seven puppies glowing under a heat lamp.
"Oh, look!" the woman sighed. At the sound of her voice, puppies began waking from their sleep. Who was that?
"Do you have their mother?" the man asked.
"She's around here somewhere," the breeder said. "Since they've been weaned, I don't let her in with them any more, but she's never far away. I'll get her," he said, leaving them to guard his treasures.
"What do you think?" the man asked his wife when they were alone.
"I don't know," she said, suddenly. "I feel like we're betraying her. Disrespecting her memory."
Safe among her littermates, a puppy was twitching her eyelids and moving her legs in sleep. She was smaller than the others; different in a way and not quite as interested in normal puppy things. Something was missing in her life, but not in the dream; the same dream as always. Why are they crying? Why don't they see me?
Did all puppies dream the same thing?
That's when she heard the voices. At first, she wasn't sure if it was the dream taking a new turn, tricking her into believing what she hoped for had finally come to be. "I don't know," she heard a woman saying.
What! Lifting her head, seeing her littermates with their paws lined up along one side of the whelping box, the puppy gathered her legs and jumped toward the gentle hands caressing her brothers and sisters. Was this possible? WAIT!
She jumped so fast, her heart seemed to burst - why don't these feet move quicker! They used to run across the field behind the house! They used to carry me on hikes in the woods! Hurry, feet - hurry!
But, her feet were clumsy now, tripping on themselves as puppies often do.
Wait for me! She pleaded, hoped. LOOK at me!
And then she felt it . . . strong hands. Familiar hands flowing with life force and compassion, surrounding her, lifting her!
The ride home that night wasn't quite as chilly as she remembered. Would they know what she sensed - what filled her with excitement - or would it forever be her secret? There would be plenty of time to discover that, she decided. Many years, if they were lucky. Then she felt it. The touch of the woman reaching for her and hugging her close.
"Hello, Honey," the soft voice whispered ... "We've missed you.".