When I was six years old my favorite secret place was the flat top of a 20 foot boulder known as the Rim of the World. Sometimes when the sky and trees blurred to deep blue, I could spread my fingers out on both hands and gather stars.
I imagined they were tiny bits of divine sacred love.
I’d tuck them into my pocket with some saved M&Ms and for the next few days I’d hand them out one at a time.
My small friends always accepted my gift, tucked it into their own pocket and skipped away pleased with the treasure.I never had to explain.
Teenagers and adults with sad eyes and sour lips shook their heads and walked away.
Those who needed it most never believed that love is as simple as an evening star in the palm of a hand stuck to a chocolate M&M.
I still do.
This is the story of Bucket, a three-legged, huffy little dog with blue eyes, shaggy white fur and silly brown speckles. But I can’t tell the story of Bucket without telling the story of Kyle, his beloved imperfect boy.
Kyle was five when he became our official tag-a-long. Danny, my best friend, and I knew Kyle was sick with leukemia – but to us, Kyle was simply Danny’s little brother. He was small for his age, and his left leg was much shorter than his right, but his most entertaining features were the freckles on his ears that looked like connect-the-dots, and his full head of red hair, with a dollop that stuck straight up from the crown of his head.
One Monday, just toward the end of summer, Danny and Kyle’s Mother announced that Kyle could come along with us on one of our adventures. Danny beamed, as though he’d been entrusted with a precious treasure. We were only seven, but when Kyle’s face lit up and he hobbled off to get his shoes, it made everyone in the room get goofy smiles and their Mom’s eyes sparkle like glitter.
Still, in the late 1960’s the seriousness of life lasted only until the next opportunity to play and of course, because Kyle was Kyle, we treated him like any little brother long before this milestone day. We called him “runt”, “slow-poke” and “Opie” with the love and affection that only a brother and his tom-girl best friend could show. He’d laugh it off, stick like glue and never give up. Secretly we were pleased because Kyle was special and perhaps some of that special would rub off on us. Plus, we were fascinated by a kid who was smarter than all of the encyclopedias in the school library, and he did not attend school.
We hiked to our favorite adventure spot in the woods; a small meadow surrounded by pine trees and vacant cabins. We had just started to gather wood for our “fort” when Kyle dropped his handful of sticks. “Do you hear it?” he asked, “Something sounds afraid – a tiny cry that goes up at the end like a squeaky sigh. Do you hear it?”
Danny and I laughed. Kyle loved to tell stories and this day, bright blue and warm, was no different from the rest, except that Kyle was with us outside.
Kyle limped wildly toward the pile of leaves. We both heard it then – just the slightest sound – like a broken bird in the wind. Danny cocked his head and motioned for me to follow him, but by this time, Kyle was waist deep in the leaves, “Here!” he yelled, and we both ran full out toward the boy holding up a large metal bucket.
“Kyle, be careful!” Danny yelled, “It might be a squirrel or a raccoon and they bite and Mom will kill me and…give it here!” Danny was clearly more afraid of his Mother’s wrath than the mystery animal in the bucket.
Kyle held his free arm straight, palm out. Danny stopped short. “Shush! You’re going to scare it, now shush!” Kyle warned. Before we could stop him (and honestly we didn’t try), he high-stepped his way from the leaves, reached into the bucket and brought up a ball of quivering fur. “Hello,” he whispered, and even as he said it, even as he placed the tiny fur-ball on the ground and we gasped at the wobbly three-pawed stance, Kyle grinned and shouted, “Look! He’s absolutely perfect.”
Once home, we all crowded at the kitchen door while Kyle announced to his Mom that God had sent him a puppy with only three paws to keep him company for the rest of his life.
Bucket – aptly named – wiggled from Kyle’s arms then, plopped onto the linoleum and did a lopsided pitter-patter across the floor. Their perfectly coifed Mom, in her pressed and pink paisley dress, actually kneeled on the kitchen floor to greet Bucket. Something was way off. We all stared dumbfounded when she burst out laughing and wiped tears from her eyes.
From that day, Bucket was Kyle’s shadow and protector. Kyle read Huckleberry Finn to Bucket and it was downright creepy because Bucket always barked at the good parts. When they watched the “Andy Griffith Show” together, Bucket danced to the whistling tune and then he’d fetch Kyle’s small fishing pole. This always caused uproars of laughter for anyone watching.
We played “go-fish” and Bucket tapped the cards with his paw when it was his turn. On our adventures or just around the back yard, Kyle and Bucket had the same walk-and-wait gait that made us all (even Kyle) laugh until our bellies hurt.
Shortly after the school year started, Bucket began to meet us at the bus stop and as we stepped off the bus, he’d bark twice and run home. We came to learn that these were days Kyle didn’t feel well and Bucket was sent to tell us he couldn’t play.
On good days, though, Bucket would meet us and turn two circles, sit, turn two circles and run back to where Kyle stood, waving and yelling happily, “I’m good today, you guys! Real good.”
One year later, I sat alone on my rock thinking about how to pray and what the rules were for miracles. Kyle had not been on an adventure in two months and now both his parents and Danny and their Grandma were down the hill in San Bernardino at St. Mercy’s Hospital.
I rolled onto my stomach and stretched myself across the sun-drenched rock to peer over the edge, just as my best friend’s bicycle clanged to the ground twenty feet beneath me. I was surprised because Danny knew this was my private place and I had never let anyone sit on the top of the Rim of the World with me, especially a boy. He leaned his head back to look up at me, not bothering to swipe the tears that leaked from his swollen eyes.
“Kyle died,” he whispered.
My throat crowded and my eyes stung. I couldn’t talk, so instead I reached down and held my hand out. Danny climbed up easily and took my hand. He held on, we both held on, even as we scooted across the rock, even as we lay down, side by side. He murmured that we must be very close to heaven and then we cried together until the tree limbs and light sky above us blurred to dark blue, until a tiny bark drifted up to us in the night. We rolled to our stomachs and peered over the edge.
Bucket turned two circles, barked again, turned two circles, sat and stared straight up past us to the night sky.
“Kyle must be feeling real good in Heaven,” Danny said.
I began to believe in miracles at the tender age of seven.
Now you know the reason why.
There are little dreamers in our presence. Let them be, let them feel through their pains, let them dream. Be their safe place. Hold their hand.
Lynnette Bukowski © 2011