By David Leonard
Thankfully the privacy curtain blocked his daughter’s view of her hospital room’s doorway. Dave knew his wife had called her Priest; she was very active in the church and knew him well. Their daughter was not expected to live through the afternoon. In a fog of excruciating grief, he reluctantly arose from beside his only child’s bedside. He prevented the Priest from entering her hospital room. He knew the Priest was just doing his job offering prayers of salvation in their time of sorrow, but Dave didn’t share their faith, and he’d be damned if the Priest would administer Last Rites while she still breathed. No one was going to rob him of one minute of her life, which still remained. Just as the Priest was about to speak, Dave put his hand, open-palmed, directly in his concerned face.
“Don’t say a single word, please. If you attempt to enter her room while she still breathes, I will throw you out and lock the door. It matters not to me that you are a Catholic Priest, for I do not believe you possess the only path to Heaven.”
Both stared at each other for several agonizingly, long seconds before the Priest crossed himself, opened his Bible and softly prayed for them all.
Dave’s head was spinning from lack of sleep; why in the name of God was this happening to his beautiful teenage daughter, whom a mere three days ago was so full of life and energy she radiated happiness, lifting the spirits of everyone she came in contact with? This isn’t God’s will. God has nothing to do with life or death anymore. If he did, God would never allow children to be taken. Colleen called, snapping him back to the sorrow at hand. Heartbroken, he hurried back to his daughter, sliding his chair as close to her hospital bed as space allowed grasping her right hand in both of his. Her skin was cold, very cold, and though he briskly rubbed her hand and arm, it failed to warm in the least bit, as if life had already receded from her outer extremities.
“Daddy, I’m scared,” his daughter cried, her eyes searching for help and hope in his.
“Hey Dot,” he replied softly. It was the nickname he’d given her at birth from a big red spot pressed onto her forehead, the result of her trying to enter this world sideways in the birth canal. After 24 hours of labour, their doctor finally delivered her by “C” section. The operating room nurse quickly cleaned, then wrapped a small blanket around their daughter, showed her to Colleen, then handed him their tiny bundle of joy while the doctor finished with her mother. Dave gazed into his newly born daughter’s beautiful blue eyes as the nurse cut and tied her umbilical cord; without a whimper from the newborn child. Her little eyes locked on his for minute upon minute, as if in recognition. To Dave, she looked more like a miniature adult than a baby; her eyes conveyed intelligence and understanding. By then, the red spot on her head had faded, but the nickname stuck. “Dot, do you remember when we got Banjo, or more like when you picked Banjo out?” Banjo was the Golden Retriever puppy they took her to buy for her fifth birthday. “There were three puppies in a small pen. Two were jumping all-around your legs saying, pick me, pick me, and the third cowered in the corner of the pen, obviously scared and tormented by the other two. Of course, you picked him and didn’t let go until we got home. You two were inseparable from day one.”
She smiled at the thought; it was good to see his daughter smile again. “ I remember, Banjo was waiting for me. He needed me, Dad; Banjo was the best dog ever.” Dot said this with moist eyes; just the thought of her golden retriever filled their hearts with love. Her tears were drops of joyful memories.
“You know Dot, I’ll never forget the day your training wheels came off your bike,” Dave continued. “I watched as you rode down the driveway. I was also throwing the tennis ball to Banjo; big mistake. I threw the ball high so it would bounce high. You know how much he loved to jump up to catch the ball in the air. You came wobbling up the drive just as the ball came down right in front of your bike, when here comes Banjo flying through the air going straight for the tennis ball. BAMMM, you hit him as he flew by, throwing you over the handlebars into his side, and you both tumbled across the asphalt together. It was a miracle that neither one of you was seriously injured,” Dave said, smiling and shaking his head. Even though they had told and re-told this same story many times, they never tired of telling it or hearing it again.
“I sure remember hitting Banjo and falling. I didn’t know it was you that set the collision in motion, Daaaad!” she replied. They both laughed. Only a story and memory of that loveable dog could make a dying child laugh, but it ended quickly.
“Why did Banjo have to die? Why Dad?” A tumour near his heart had killed Banjo last year, after eight wonderful years.
“Why do I have to die, Dad? Why me? I don’t want to die. I’m scared, Dad,” Dot asked with the fear of fate returning to her eyes.
“Dot,” Dave asked his daughter. “What is ‘dog’ spelled backwards?”
It took her a few seconds, but she answered, “God, dog spelled backwards is God.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Banjo is waiting for us right now. And what’s our favourite thing to do together, you, me, and Banjo?”
This she answered without hesitation. “Hike through Fatman’s Squeeze on our way up the bluff at Devil’s Lake State Park and eat lunch.”
“Well, we’re going there this afternoon. You just wait and see,” Dave said. “When the time comes, I’ll be there for you. We’re doing this together, Dot.” She laid there with her hair spread across the pillow, appearing angelic, in perfect peace. As they gazed into each other’s eyes, the room and everything in it seemed to disappear, their love radiating from each to the other. The sad thing was his daughter seemed to be growing more distant as if passing at this moment. “Mr. Lennon, can I have a word with you?” the Doctor interrupted as if time meant nothing.
He hadn’t even heard the useless bastard enter, but at this moment, he never felt like hitting someone more, Dave disliked the Priest, but he hated the Doctor. It was only three days ago that they’d rushed their daughter into the hospital’s emergency room. She’d been running a very high fever that came out of nowhere, suddenly, in less than a day after returning from a free admission day at the Dell’s Best Waterpark. An immigrant from Liberia working in the Wisconsin Dells on a J-1 Visa, who was also an unwitting carrier of Meningitis, just happened to cough in his daughter’s face infecting her. But he blamed the doctor, who did almost nothing for the first, most critical 24 hours.
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“Mr. Lennon, you shouldn’t be filling her head with promises you can’t keep or fulfill,” he spoke softly as Dave walked up to him.
Colleen came over as well; she had barely said a word to their daughter all day. For a mother, she didn’t handle pressure well. When their daughter needed her most, she couldn’t comfort her; there would be no tomorrow.
“Listen, Doctor, I’m only going to tell you once, shut up and leave us alone, I mean it. When you have to watch your child die because some incompetent idiot did nothing but give her an IV of saline solution as a treatment for a serious contagious disease, you might have a far different opinion. If you so much as cough while standing here, I’m going to hit you so hard you’ll be opening the door to Heaven for my daughter, got it? After she passes, you and the other useless guy in the hallway can do what you wish; I’ll be puking in the bathroom.”
Colleen grabbed his upper arm tightly to get his full attention. “Dave, control yourself, please, not here, not now, think of our daughter. They came to help,” she said, trying to diffuse the situation.
Dave was upset with them all, the Priest, the doctor, and his wife. He felt betrayed by all three. He jabbed his finger at the inept Doctor and said, “He’s no help. When we needed him to be on his toes and play his best game, he failed miserably, doing as little as possible. No review of her symptoms, no testing, or even conferring with his colleagues. And the Priest is here to administer Last Rights. If he was truly here to help, he would be praying for a miracle cure.” Pointing at his wife, he said, “And if you DON’T agree with me, DON’T take sides, especially theirs.”
With that said, he hurried back to his daughter’s side. What gives them the right to interfere negatively in someone else’s final moment? The useless doctor can replace a person’s heart but isn’t smart enough to know how not to injure one. The useless priest who can pray for and save your soul but can’t pray himself out of his own moral vacuum. The key to Heaven is this: The door’s not locked; it’s within reach of every one of us. You just need to know which way to turn. Of course, the entrance to Hell is also; they both use the same door; for one, you go in, the other out.
Colleen needs more comfort than their daughter Dave thought. She can’t handle their daughter dying so instead of giving her all the love she could, sharing their last minutes together, Colleen turned to the living for comfort, pathetic.
Dave spoke softly to his daughter. He could see she was fading, her eyes were open wide, but she couldn’t see, her vision was looking in, Dot was moving on, glimpsing the afterlife. “Look for Banjo Dot. He’ll be there, darling, and wait for me.”
Colleen cried in the doctor’s arms, not her family’s, but what did it matter. The smell of death permeated the room as Dot’s bladder released and tears trickled down both of her cheeks.
“Daddy, where are you?” Dot cried softly as she slowly expelled her last breath.
Dave hugged her body one last time, long and hard, as only a father could. He had to be strong now, stronger than he’d ever been before.
“Hold on, Dot, wait for me and look for Banjo; he’ll be there,” Dave said, standing, his own tears streaked down his face as he looked at his wife for the last time. She stood there crying with her face cupped in her trembling hands. The Doctor closed Dot’s eyelids and shut her mouth; he also straightened her arms and legs so it would be easier to conduct an autopsy without having to break bones. The clueless moron could have at least waited until they were out of the room. The Priest had come into the room and stood on the opposite side of the bed from the doctor to give their daughter Last Rights. “I’m going to be sick,” Dave mumbled as he walked into the bathroom and gently shut the door behind him.
KERRR BAMMM!!!!! The gunshot sounded more like an explosion in the confines of the small, tiled bathroom as it echoed down the hospital’s hallways. Colleen screamed as the Doctor yanked open the bathroom door, and they both rushed in with the Priest close behind. Dave sat on the tiled, ceramic floor of the walk-in shower, his back rested against a plastic seat patients would use to sit on while washing. Behind his head, he had put towels to limit the gore and mess, then leaned his head back, put the gun in his mouth and blew the back of his skull and most of his brains against the shower wall. His blood and life slowly circled the drain between his legs on its final, dark descent.
“Why Dave, why?” Colleen cried, “We still had each other!” She was wracked in heaving, uncontrollable sobs and let the doctor lead her out of the bathroom.
“Maybe we should move into the hall while I call for some orderlies,” the Doctor said softly, barely audible over the pious prayers of the Priest. Who spoke as if he had to say them quickly before Dave’s soul was dragged down the drain, beyond earshot, on his final descent to Hell.
“Woof, woof, woof,” the excited bark of an extremely happy dog along with the click, click, click of nails on prancing paws could be heard coming down the hospital corridor towards Dot’s room.
“What the Hell?” the Doctor said, looking about. “Dogs aren’t allowed in Intensive Care.”
“Banjo,” Colleen sobbed in surprise. “That was Banjo, our daughter’s dog that passed away last year.”
“OH MY GOD!” she cried out as she stared wide-eyed at her daughter, “Doctor, look!”
The doctor stared in disbelief as he slowly approached Dot’s bed, shaking his head back and forth. “This can’t be! I shut her eyes and mouth myself. She was dead; she is dead.” But there Dot lay, eyes wide open, crinkled at the corners with a large, full tooth grin upon her face.
“Woof, woof, woof,” the dog barked again from inside their hospital room. The Priest hurried out of the bathroom where he had been giving Dave his Last Rights.
“You shouldn’t have a dog in here; what’s going on?” he asked as he glanced around the room, not seeing one. His eyes then focussed on Dot laying in bed, and he crossed himself again. “Lord, why do you test my faith? Is not the door to Heaven opened by one’s belief in your only son Jesus Christ, not by the barking of some animal?” he questioned out loud.
“No,” Colleen replied. “Just look at our daughter. It’s a miracle, oh my God, it’s a miracle!” There was genuine happiness in her voice, “Something wonderful is happening here, Father. “She stepped back into the bathroom to check out her husband’s expression and started to laugh through her tears. Dave’s eyes were wide open, and he was smiling broadly. If the back half of his head wasn’t missing, he could pass as someone who’d just won the lottery. Colleen couldn’t believe what was happening, something extraordinary. No, it really was a miracle if the priest believed it or not. She came back to her daughter’s bed wiping happy tears of love and fond memories from her cheek where the doctor was trying unsuccessfully to close their daughter’s eyes again. Colleen reached up and lightly touched his upper arm. “Please let her be Doctor. My daughter is most definitely in a better place. If you don’t think so, go look at her father in the bathroom, he couldn’t be happier.”
“Hey,” Colleen cried, “Banjo just licked my hand. I knew he was here; that’s why Dot is smiling so broadly.”
The Priest just couldn’t let that go. “That’s not possible; dogs don’t go to Heaven or return as Angels. The door to Heaven is opened through belief and faith in Jesus Christ. Your husband wouldn’t even let me pray for your daughter. Colleen looked closely at her Priest and saw a different man than the one she thought she knew. It was he who was having a question of faith.
“Father,” Colleen said, “My husband DID NOT prevent you from praying for our daughter. He stopped you from giving her Last Rights while she still lived. He felt you should be praying for a miracle cure. You know Jesus can’t be the only key to Heaven’s door. What about the six billion non-Christians? Where do they go? And no animals in Heaven, I don’t believe it. God sent the only Angel a little girl would trust, her beloved dog. I think everybody deserving` go to their own Heaven; there are many doors, and love is the key, the Kingdom of God is within us all,” she scolded.
The Priest was muttering a silent prayer, but he answered Colleen quick enough. “Mrs. Lennon, they’re dead. They can’t go to Heaven on their terms; that’s out of the question,” he said.
Today was tragic enough, but Colleen was convinced they were witnesses to a miracle. “Father, you can’t possibly mean that. Their smiling faces should tell you they are together with her dog Banjo. Who came today to accompany them to their Heaven. A Heaven they’ll share and be together in to do all their favourite activities. What’s happening here is special, something very special, and it’s happening before your very eyes,” she replied.
The Priest seemed to think about what Colleen had just said, but he was just shaking his head slowly back and forth when he looked down at his hands. “What in the world?” he questioned, somewhat taken aback. “A dog just licked my palm; it’s actually wet.”
“What did you just say?” the Doctor asked; his hand had been licked a moment before.
“Woof, woof, woof,” the dog barked again from just outside the hospital room door in the hall. The three of them just stared as the elevator button was pushed and its doors opened.
“Woof, woof, woof,” as they closed, a dog barked one last time from inside the empty elevator.
The priest mumbled: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, as I am today. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted, as they just were.”
David Leonard is a new, recently published author in Literary Yard with his story: Watchmen Of Perdition. He has written other short stories and a soon-to-be-completed novel.