(This is the final part of Lost and Found, a short story posted in five parts over five days. You can find Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 by clicking on the Short Stories and Poems tab in the menu bar.)
The next morning, Eleanor attached the dog’s leash to his collar and grabbed her tote bag, mask, some tape, and the flyers she had made the night before. Originally, she planned to drive over to the housing tract but decided at the last minute to walk. “The exercise and fresh air will do us good, huh, boy?” Judging from his delighted yelps and dance around her legs, he agreed.
Eleanor knew there were just two ways in and out of the neighborhood. She planned to enter on the road nearest to her, follow the streets as they looped around through the neighborhood, and finish at the other end. She would post the flyers wherever she could and ask anyone she ran into if they knew who owned the dog.
After about a half hour of walking the neighborhood, Eleanor was almost done. She had managed to post most of her flyers and talk to several of the residents, none of whom recognized the dog. Approaching the final block, she saw a group of boys walking her way (all wearing masks, she was relieved to see). Before she could ask them if they knew the dog, they enthusiastically gathered around him and showered him with nuzzles and hugs, which he just as enthusiastically returned. Eleanor was sure this was it; they knew the dog and his owner and Eleanor would have to give him up. “Do you know the dog?” she asked quietly, already feeling an almost unbearable sense of loss.
“No, ma’am,” said one of the boys. “We see your dog sometimes when we play in the field, but we didn’t know who he belongs to. I’m glad to know that he has an owner and a home.”
Eleanor felt giddy with relief. She assured the boys that he had a good home and was well-loved. As she walked away, one of the boys called out to her, “I like how it looks like he’s wearing a mask like the rest of us. What is his name?”
“Ranger; like the Lone Ranger,” she replied over her shoulder. Then, she looked down at the little dog happily walking beside her and said, “Except you aren’t so lone, are you? You have me, and I have you.”
A week later, just before the scheduled Zoom meeting with her son, Eleanor prepared herself and Ranger for the call. They had taken walks in the woods just about every day and, yesterday, she gathered more flowers. The vases competed with her books for table space. Her hair was loose and fluffed up like she had been wearing it lately, and Ranger was newly brushed after having had a bath that morning. She wanted everything to be perfect. “You are going to meet my son today,” she murmured as she held Ranger’s face between her palms and nuzzled her nose against his. “I’m sure he’ll love you as much as I do.”
Douglas Jr. had also been looking forward to the call. He had some news that he was anxious to share with his mother.
“Hi, Mom!” As upbeat as he tried to sound, Douglas Jr. couldn’t help feeling worried as he took in what he saw on his screen. Her living room still looked unorganized, her hair and clothes were much too casual, and her general demeanor was, well, a little erratic. “I have some good news for you!”
“Me too!” she exclaimed. “But why don’t you go first.”
Douglas Jr. took a deep breath. “My company is letting me work from home. Now that Max isn’t in school and Wendy is home full-time, we have all agreed that you should come to stay with us.” Not getting the reaction he expected, Douglas Jr. continued a bit more cautiously, “You must be getting pretty lonely in the big house all by yourself. It’s probably hard to keep up with the housework and cooking for just yourself must be boring. You won’t need to shop for your groceries and Wendy could also help you with your clothes and hair. She’s good at that type of thing.”
Rather than the enthusiastic response he hoped his announcement would receive, Douglas Jr. saw that his mother’s earlier smile had faded. “Before you tell me what you think, why don’t you share your news?”
Eleanor hesitated, taking a breath deep into her lungs and blowing it out slowly. She knew what she was going to say would surprise and, probably, disappoint her son, but she had to say it.
“I want you to meet someone special,” she began. “His name is Ranger. I was lost, and he helped to find me.”
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