A Dog's Life

A fan fiction

by

Douglas Neman

Charles drove his car on through the soft autumn rain. The quiet, backwoods road eased his mind from his troubles so much. Or was it the fact that he was going to a friend's house? Yes, that was it, too.

There was something about the evening that Charles couldn't quite put his finger on. It was as if time were revisiting him tonight. As the road twisted on through the forested hills, one memory after another passed through his mind, like an older relative's photo album, seeming so unreal. Occasionally, when the trees allowed it, he saw ahead the setting sun, lowering beneath the clouds.

The rain was going to end soon.

He reached the drive he was looking for and turned. Ahead was the house his friend had built for himself. He had not contracted it out, but had lovingly crafted it with his own hands. Charles had helped, of course, marveling every moment how his friend had no hesitation or reservation about doing something he himself would never even have attempted.

He strode up to the front door and knocked, and there was a loud, "Come in!"

Charles opened the door and heard Linus in the kitchen. He hung his coat on the rack in the hallway, then went into the living room. In a moment, Linus had joined him.

"I figured you'd be coming to see me tonight," he said. He watched thoughtfully as Charles sank wearily into a chair, then handed him a glass. Charles didn't know what was in it, nor did he care. He took two quick gulps, then leaned back, sighing.

"You felt it, too?" he asked, and shook his head. "I don't know what's going on, Linus. For some reason, all day long at work today, I was asking myself, 'Have I made the right choices in life? Do I like where I'm going? Do I like where I've been?'" He grunted sardonically. "And does how I feel about it all really matter?"

He looked moodily in his drink. Whether he expected to find answers there, or was just momentarily absorbed by the swirling patterns, Linus couldn't tell.

"The only thing I can think of," Charles went on, "is that it's mid-life crisis. I've heard people talk about mid-life crisis before, but if this is it, I never thought it would be so...so...." he just shrugged.

"Melancholy?" Linus answered for him.

"Yeah," Charles answered, smiling slightly. Trust Linus, he thought. He would know.

"It can't be mid-life crisis," Linus said with a smile. "We're not that old." After a pause, he asked softly, "You really don't know why you're here tonight, do you?"

Charles just looked up and shrugged.

Linus leaned forward and said gently, "It's the anniversary of her death, Charles."

At first there was no change in Charles's expression. Then he shut his eyes, as the realization and horror hit him. He bit his lip.

"Seven years," he finally said. "I guess that's what's been bothering me. But I really didn't know. I mean," he shrugged again, embarrassed, "I really didn't know."

His voice trailed away. There was a heaviness in the room, a stuffiness, as if they were both locked in a timeless vault while the world outside went on without them. It seemed oppressive, evil almost. Linus shook it off.

"Time for a walk," he said suddenly. "Come on."

 

They stepped out the door into the misty autumn evening, putting on their coats. The rain had stopped, and the sun was showing the last bit of gold before twilight, just edging under the clouds on the far, cold horizon. Feeling the cool, crisp air on his mind almost made Charles cry, it brought back so many memories.

Linus tied a white bandanna around his head and took up his favorite walking stick, one he'd carved himself. They started down the path Linus had made several years before, connecting the house to the pond.

It was silent after the rain. The bare trees were still against the gray sky, and the carpet of wet, yellow leaves under their feet muffled all sound.

"Is that how you knew I'd be coming over?" Charles asked quietly. "Because it was the anniversary of her death?"

Linus nodded.

"You were always so intuitive." Then Charles smiled weakly. "You and Lucy both."

"I guess that's true."

"So odd," Charles went on, "to find a similarity between you and your sister. But you were both so knowledgeable about things. You quoting Bible passages and philosophy, her with her little booth, playing psychiatrist." He laughed. "And now, of course, she has a nationwide chain of hospitals. She's a pretty fierce businesswoman from what I hear."

"That's what I hear, too."

Charles looked askance at his friend. "You tried calling her recently?"

Linus shrugged. "I try, Charles. But we never have anything to say to each other."

Charles nodded.

They walked on in silence for a few more minutes. Linus could tell something was really bothering Charles. He waited.

Finally, nervously, Charles said, "I have a confession to make."

"About what?"

"About Sally." They reached the pond, and walked to the end of the short pier the two of them had built. They leaned on the rail, gazing out over the water.

"Sometimes I think about Snoopy, and his death, much more than I ever do Sally's." Charles said quietly, unable to look Linus in the eyes.

"Really?" was all Linus could think to say. "Well, it's perfectly natural to feel guilt over something like that, but..." he shrugged.

"How could I not feel guilty about it, Linus? My own sister!" He shook his head in disgust. "And I miss my dog more. What's wrong with me, Linus?"

"Charles, I've known you all my life, and I feel quite sure there's nothing wrong with you. You miss Snoopy more than Sally. Find out why, Charles. Find out why."

Charles turned around and leaned back on the rail, his face a far-off look of fallen grief. "I – I have no idea," he sighed.

Linus put a hand on his arm. "Whatever it is, it's just you and me out here. You'll never get any condemnation from me. Never. You know that."

Charles nodded quickly, his eyes closed, wrestling with something inside. Suddenly he blurted out, "If Sally were here, I'd slap her!"

"Why?"

"For dying!" he shouted. "And for the way she died!" It was as if a floodgate had been opened. He turned back around, fuming, and grasped the rail tightly. "She killed herself, just because she finally realized you were never going to love her."

"Yes," Linus said, looking out over the pond. "And I've always partially blamed myself for what happened."

"Well, you're not to blame. I don't blame you, I blame her. It was a stupid, stupid way to die! She didn't come talk to me, she didn't talk to our parents, she didn't talk to anyone. She just left a stupid, sick note and threw herself off a cliff, as if life didn't mean a damn to her!" He hit the rail so hard Linus thought it must have hurt, but Charles didn't seem to notice.

"Charles, from what I understand, it's perfectly okay to be angry with someone for dying, no matter how they died. It doesn't mean you don't love them or miss them. In fact, quite the opposite."

"I do miss her."

"I know." Linus put a hand on Charles's shoulder.

"But mostly I have contempt for her, Linus." Charles sat down on the pier, leaning back against a post. "You want to know why I miss Snoopy more?"

"Tell me." Linus sat down opposite him.

"Because Snoopy lived." Charles smiled at Linus, remembering. "Every day of his life was something new. If he wasn't writing his stories, he was fighting the red baron, or dancing for his supper, or ice skating, or decorating his dog house..."

"I do seem to remember that Snoopy was a rather unusual dog," Linus murmured.

Charles didn't hear him. "Snoopy lived life to the fullest. He somehow taught me a lesson in that. Then I think of Sally, pining away for a lost love, and all I can think of is how her life seems so wasted. And now, I think, that's all it will ever be. Her chance is gone, and she's the one who lost it."

Linus nodded again. "I agree with everything you've said, Charles. I don't think there's anything wrong with you at all. Sometimes people waste the lives they have, and it's tragic. And if it's someone we care about, it's frustrating, too."

Charles was silent for a moment, looking out over the water. He sighed. "I can't stand it," he said.

Linus smiled playfully. "You know," he said, "of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest."

They both laughed, then grew wistful again.

"You know another odd thing that just occurred to me?" Charles asked. "Snoopy's funeral is now one of the happiest memories I have."

Linus nodded. "It's the same for me."

They both remembered the day clearly, especially as it was long before Sally's death. Snoopy had gotten old and his body riddled with cancer, and they'd had to put him to sleep. But the neighborhood kids, griefstricken, had insisted on a burial instead of cremation, and the powers that be had granted them that wish.

All the children had gathered on a hillside overlooking the town, burying him in a place only they knew where, to this day, and they had had a service for him. That was the day Linus gave up his security blanket. Crying, he knelt beside the grave, folded it gently and neatly, and laid it on top of Snoopy, giving it to him. At the last moment, he unfolded a corner and tucked it into Snoopy's mouth. It seemed to signify to him all the times he'd grabbed it and run pell mell across people's yards – ears flapping, tail wagging, with a smile on his face, as if knowing somehow that the sunshine would not last forever.

"Yeah," he whispered. "I know exactly what you mean."

They looked at each other, chuckled once, and helped each other up. They started back up the path.

"You know," Linus said, "I truly believe that the best way to commemorate people's deaths is to celebrate their lives. And our own."

Charles nodded. "I know what you mean. When I go, I really don't want a lot of sadness in my wake. At most, I'd rather people just remembered me, and remembered all the good things I've done, and keep on."

"Exactly. And you know, we really haven't done that much celebrating recently."

"No. No, I guess we haven't." Charles looked thoughtful. "I don't know about anybody else, but I've mostly been brooding."

"I must confess, I've done my share of that lately, myself," Linus replied. "What say we stop brooding, invite a bunch of people up to the cabin here for a day? Maybe even for the entire weekend. It's been a while."

"Yeah, it has."

"If I remember right, the summer camp that Patty runs has shut down for the year as of this week. Marcie and her husband aren't too far away – you know, I don't even know if she's had the baby yet? Freda's in L.A. trying to make it big in movies, so she shouldn't be too hard to find. It may be difficult to get Schroeder – he's still on tour. Pigpen runs an auto repair shop-"

"What about Lucy?" Charles asked. "Do you think she'd have the time?"

"Oh, sure. In fact, she'll be the easiest of all to get here," Linus replied, quickening his step to get a head start. "All I have to do is tell her you'll be here, and you've decided you want to try to kick that football one more time." Then he bolted up the path as fast as he could, splitting the forest with his laughter.

Charlie Brown was right on his heels.

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