We all come home to different environments. For some, it's the sound of little kids squealing with delight that Mommy or Daddy are home. It's the the clatter of footsteps like the thunder of small ponies down a trail, that is no trail, but is simply a hallway rug, worn by that repeated motion of sheer joy.
For some it's a simple "Hello Sweetie" a hug and a kiss.
And sometimes it's the blissful sound of silence after a really long day, when all you want to do is eat a hot meal and have a mug of hot tea while you lay out the thoughts of the day in your favorite spot to write or perhaps watch one of your favorite old adventure movies.
The night in question was the later kind but it was going to be one of those very nights where the tea was a glass of Malbec.
Barkley usually greeted me at the back door to the garage, alerted by the door going up, with that terrifying bark that to outsiders sounds ferocious. He sounded scary, but he would let me take a bone right out of his mouth with my bare fingers. I was his protector and his protected and if I wanted it, it's mine. But he would defend to the death, that bone, from any creature of a lower, parallel plane, those that were neither protected or protector that would take what he loves. So even with that quiet temperament that was his nature, I know he'd defend to the death, as well, my safety.
But he knew the sound of my truck and the bark would take on a different tone. I normally heard him before the door was even up, the sound, wild and faint, and incomprehensible but for it's meaning. Bark! Bark! "Mom's Home!"
It was later than normal and that night long agowhen I came in - silence. He was comfy on the couch, Brinks Barkley, sleeping on the job.
So I poured the wine, put on some barley soup on to heat for supper, and sat down to call Partner from the couch.
We had just said hello when:
"Oh, Crap! Barkley threw up in the corner earlier! I have to go".
Unfortunately, it wasn't barf. Other end. Poor thing,
I'm sure he tried to hold it, but couldn't. He'd never done that in the house since his first couple of weeks home as a puppy. Of course, this time, he carefully MOVED THE TOWEL OUT OF THE WAY FIRST before he tagged my floor with the latest of black lab gang signs (in poop!) But I could see the doggy thought process - "Mom gets upset if I grab her clean towels off the counter so I will protect her clean towel even in my indisposition - I'm a good dog!"
He just looked at me from a distance, as if he expected a scolding, as I cleaned it up (pointing out the large area of tile in the entraceway he could have selected instead of the carpeting, though he didn't appear to be taking notes). There is nothing quite like the look of a dog that's expecting harsh words, no different than a human that somehow knows you are angry, even if they aren't quite sure what exactly they did wrong; a sort of shocked and unbelieving sorrow.
You look at them, your heart beating strongly with the heat of the moment. They look at you, their heart beating a hollow echo as though already retreating, as they wait for your reaction. You look at them again, weighing a hundred expedients, knowing what you need to do, and not necessarily what fatigue and emotion might prod you to do.
"(sigh) It wasn't barf".
"Oh, so the "Oh Crap" was literal then?" We laughed and proceeded to chat while Barkley laid down next to me for an ear scratch, feeling fine physically, but needing the reassurance that all was well.
When people get married they take a vow of "in sickness and in health". In a way, we also do that with our pets. Owning a pet is not cheap, even for youthful preventive care. Then, there are always the things you don't expect, especially as they age, things that result in someone wearing the cone of shame or the expenditure of hundreds of dollars.
Then, on those nights when you come home really, really late from work, your soul weary, the house dark, they will quietly come up to you, leaning into you, drawn from their slumber to your side like steel and magnet. At that moment, there as both your hearts beat in the silence, you realize that every measure of sickness and health was worth it.