Sunday, June 26, 2016 | By: Lisa LaMendola

The Dog in the Book

Excerpt from The Dog in the Book by Lisa LaMendola ©2016

"That's pretty lame when a dog gets to see you before I do," Dobbs said as he walked in the hospital room.  "He's better looking than you, that's why." Jack joked.  


There in the doorway stood Jack's best friend of almost 50 years, Benjamin Dobbs, and under his arm was a rolled up newspaper with two corned beef on rye with pickles on the side.  This is the lunch they had every day since Jack bought Old Man Sander's bookstore twenty years ago.  He called it an early retirement plan, but what he was looking for was an end to his teaching career without actually retiring.  


"That better not be dirty laundry under your arm Bennie" Jack said, remembering the time Dobbs had left his sandwiches on a park bench to feed the pigeons and when he got to Jack it was full of old socks instead.  Someone had switched out his sandwiches for socks.  They laughed so hard at the absurdity of anyone stealing a sandwich in this town when all they had to do was go to St. Anne's every afternoon for a full meal.  'He must have needed it more than we did.' Dobbs had said, picking up the phone to order two more to be delivered.


"It's not Jack, it's not." Dobbs replied, putting down the package and giving his friend a bear hug.  "Oh dear, I didn't hurt you there, did I Jack?" he said quickly pulling back.  Dobbs was about three inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier than Jack and could sometimes forget his own strength.  For 70 years old he looked like he was in his late 50's and could have been a linebacker for the 49ers.  "No Dobbs, I'm good, northing broke." Jack replied, smiling.


"Then what the hell are you doing in that bed?" Dobbs asked.  


"Waiting for a pacemaker." Jack replied.  "It will be here in the morning."  


He could see the relief on Dobbs face, for he also had a pacemaker going on 10 years now, so knew that Jack would be OK.  Jack pulled out a game of checkers from the nightstand drawer and began to set it up on the table under the window.  "It's not your set Dobbs, but it will have to do for today."  Dobbs smiled, happy to be able to play his daily game while eating his sandwich.  Sam curled up under their feet hoping for a sample of corned beef.


An hour later the food was eaten and the game was over.  "Ready for a lift home Mr. Dobbs?" Jack Junior said standing in the doorway of his father's hospital room.


 "Sure am," Dobbs said getting up out of his chair. "Finally beat your old man for once.  I suspect I had the upper hand this time, but I'm still going to relish in it."


"Oh go relish in it somewhere else Bennie, your glow is blinding me!" Jack said with a laugh.  "Need anything before I go dad?" Jack Junior asked his father.  "If you could get my journal from the bookstore safe and bring it to me?  I'd like to write in it tonight." He replied, his son nodding in agreement saying he or Mabel would bring it to him later, and watched them walk out the door.


Jack turned to look out the window at the afternoon sun.  For just a moment he wondered what the sun looked like from heaven.  Then he let that thought go, telling himself he would find out soon enough.  He looked down at Sam, lying in the one spot where the sun shined on the floor.  'You my good man, "Jack said looking at his faithful dog, "you I will miss the most."


After a long afternoon nap, Jack woke to find Sam lying next to him and the most beautiful woman in the world sitting beside his bed.  There was Mabel, petting Sam, reassuring him I would be fine.  Sam wasn't letting on that he knew more than she did, he just let her pet him as he wagged his tail.  "Now you're a sight for sore eyes." Jack started, "how long have you been sitting there?"  "Only a few minutes dear." Mabel replied.  "I thought I might bring you dinner.  I made your favorite."  Mabel made the best pot roast this side of the Mississippi!  He knew it was the same ingredients everyone else used, but for some reason her love changed the chemistry of it into something amazing.  Jack looked over to the table by the window, the one where he had played checkers and eaten corned beef on rye with his best friend Dobbs several hours earlier.  Now it had a red check tablecloth and two place settings. There were two plates with silver covers on them, the kind Mabel used at the Rusty Pub to keep meals warm.  Jack got up and walked over to the table smelling the aroma of the food he knew was underneath the cover.  They sat down, toasted water classes to his health, and began to eat.  Even Sam had received his own bowl of pot roast, just like he would if they were at home.  It was so good to have Sam with him today, Jack thought.  Of all days, today is the most important.


When dinner was over he and Mabel sat watching the sun set and talking about their next trip.  They loved traveling and when they went away he had always left Jack Junior in charge of the bookstore, and on those rare moments when Sam could not come with them he took care of him too.  An Alaskan Cruise was next on the list, they just hadn't decided when to go.  Jack had never been away from Sam for more than a few days, and this trip was almost two weeks.  He had put it off, but talking about it seemed to bring a twinkle to Mabel's eye.  So they talked about going the next summer, even deciding on the month.  Even though Jack knew he wouldn't be here, he wanted her to know how much he wanted to go.  


He was taking Sam's advice and saying what he needed to say, without anyone realizing what he was doing.  Before his nap he had called David, his oldest son, who always seemed in a hurry.  He said he would be here in the morning after the surgery was over, he had some big meeting early but he would come right after.  The corporate jet would have him there by 10:30am, which is when Doc Holliday said he should be out of surgery.  Too late, Jack thought, but didn't say anything.  He told him that was fine and looked forward to seeing him.  He made sure he told him he loved him, making David pause to say he loved him too.  That was hard for David, expressing real emotions, but Jack felt he was actually connected to his son for a moment before they hung up.


After Mabel left, Jack and Sam sat on bed while Jack wrote in his journal.  His last entry would be the most telling and the most important of his life.  He made sure to explain everything that had happened in his life since Sam began talking, and how he was meant to live on as Jack Junior's spiritual ally. His will had explained all the technical details, how Jack would get the bookstore and David would get the house.  He hoped that David would keep the house and come visit more often, maybe even retire back in his hometown.  In his heart though, he knew he would sell it for the money and that was fine too.  He didn't want him being somewhere he didn't want to be.


If I wake up tomorrow to find that I'm still here, I will eat my words and that of my best friend Sam's.  However, I know that through the past five years I have been given a gift beyond measure.  One that has always been accurate and always had my best interest at heart.  Sam is a gift from God and now, my son Jack Junior will be just as or even more, blessed than I have been.


Jack closed the book and placed it beside him.  Sam was now lying with his front paws across his chest giving him a few kisses.  "You're going to a fine place, Jack." Sam began.  "It's the most magical place you will ever experience, because it is your true Home.  You can see all of us from there and even send us a sign now and again, but you must go with your father so that you do not get stuck in limbo."  


"I promise." Jack replied.  "I know in my heart it's time Sam, I will just miss you so very much.  Be sure to have Jack Junior read the book, but not until he's opened the bookstore again.  He won't understand until then."  Sam agreed, knowing that there was a perfect time for everything.  


"Visiting hours are over" Doc Holiday said as he walked into the room with Jack Junior a few paces behind him.  He gave Jack a form to sign, having Jack Junior as his medical advisory in case anything happened where Jack couldn't speak for himself.  It was only a precaution, he said, reiterating that he probably wouldn't need to use it.  


"I'd like a few minutes with my boy before he goes, doc." Jack said.  "That's fine, but only a few minutes.  The nurse will be by shortly to check on you so that's your clue to leave." He said, directing his words towards Jack Junior.  They both agreed it would be a short visit and then Jack Junior and Sam would be on their way home.


Jack handed his son the journal, asking him to put it back in the safe and that if anything happened to him, he must read it right away.  Jack Junior agreed, saying he knew he would be fine, but that he promised if anything happened to him he would read it.  Dismissing the thought he hugged his dad, let Sam give him a few goodbye kisses, and they walked out the door.  They made it to the elevators when there was a loud alarm.  The elevator door opened and Sam sat down, not ready to get in.  Jack Junior looked at him and for the first time saw his soul and he knew something was wrong.  


"Code Blue Room 311.  Code Blue."  That was his dad's room and suddenly his eyes swelled up with tears, still staring deep into Sam's eyes knowing this was not good.

Jack Junior and Sam slowly walked back towards his father's room.  Doc Holiday was standing in the doorway.  'There was nothing we could we do.  He was gone before even got to the room."  'I know you did what you could Doc.  And I think Dad knew he wasn't going to make it.  I don't know how he knew, just that he did." Jack replied as the tears flowed and heartache of missing the man he was named after welled up inside of him.  He pulled out his phone and called his brother, trying to console him from a distance.  And while he was trying to console him, Jack Junior was now the new owner of the Wisdom Bookstore and the new master to Sam, the dog in the book.


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