Almost eighteen hours had passed since the old man left the gravesite of his beloved Eleanor, twelve hours since the last family member left his house, and over fifty years since the last time he’d done the morning walk by himself.

Although he had slowed over time, today he walked even slower than normal and, at one intersection, had even turned walking in the wrong direction. Finally realizing his mistake after a block, he crossed the street continuing his walk in the correct way.

From starting a successful business together, raising their five children, and always being there for the “grands,” it was his dear Eleanor who had always kept him going in the right direction.

With slumped shoulders and without paying attention to the sidewalk in front of him, his mind wandered as the world around him started to fade. Eleanor would want me to be happy. She wouldn’t want me to give up. How am I going to go through life alone? he thought. Little did he know an answer to his question was soon to be presented to him.

Brushing tears from his eyes, the old man stumbled over a raised section in the sidewalk, almost toppling over. A fall at his age would be devastating. Eleanor was always asking him to be careful. He paused. Regaining his balance and composure, tears came in streams, following the wrinkles in his face. They had over fifty years together, but it wasn’t enough. It had seemed only a moment.

With a deep breath of resignation, he decided to end his walk early. Turning the corner to head back home, the lonely man looked down, cautiously watching his steps, not wanting to stumble again, but stumble he still did.

What happened next would change the rest of his life, filling it with meaning once more, and help to lift the dark cloud of loneliness that had descended upon him since his Eleanor had left.

With its long hair matted in knots, the brown and white dog seemed to come out of nowhere, running right into the legs of the old man. Stooping down, he scooped up the dog.

“Where did you come from little girl?” he asked as he rubbed behind her ears. The kindness was rewarded with multiple licks to the face. The old man started to giggle, the first time he’d done that since the passing of his Eleanor.

“Well, aren’t you the cutest little thing?” Searching under the matted hair for a collar and finding none, he looked around. “Wonder who’s your owner.”

From a nearby restaurant, he gave the dog some water in a bowl. Eagerly she drank and drank, then she looked up with her soulful brown eyes and started barking and wagging her matted tail. The old man started to walk back towards his house, but the little dog ran after him. With a few more rubs behind the ears and after receiving a few more licks to the face, the old man set the little dog down once again.

“No, girl. You need to go back to your owner. I’m sure you’re being missed.” The more he tried to get the dog to leave, the more she wanted to stay. She followed him all the way back home.

For the next three weeks, the old man took care of the little dog. They went on morning walks together, did the grocery shopping, and in the evening, they watched television until bedtime when she curled up at his feet. She listened attentively when he told stories of his life with his beloved Eleanor. The old man and little brown and white dog quickly became inseparable. It seemed that she needed him as much as he needed her.

Still, he put up posters on nearby telephone poles and inside the local grocery stores trying to find her true owner, but to no avail. It was during their morning walk a month later that he once again turned in the wrong direction, passing where they had first met.

The little dog stopped walking – barking an alert at him about his mistake. Stooping down, he again scooped her up rubbing her behind the ears. He was once again rewarded with face licks. Turning back and walking in the correct direction once again, he thought back on their first meeting, what he had said, and smiled at his little companion. “Guess you did find your true owner after all. Let’s go home, girl, and give you a name.”

Five years later the old man and his beloved Eleanor were united once again. His family took care of the little brown and white dog until her death six years later. She was laid to rest next to the old man with a headstone engraved in accordance with his last wishes:

“Little Miss Eleanor

“The only other lady I’ve ever loved.

“Thanks for listening and keeping me company.”

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]