An old woman lived alone, far from neighbors. Who would hear her cries for help?
- Posted on Sep 11, 2009
Sarah looked out her kitchen window and sighed. Last night’s snow lay in foot-deep marshmallow drifts. To some it was beautiful; to Sarah, snow was a hardship. Now the front steps and cement sidewalk would need attention.
Today was Christmas. Her home had once housed a tumble of children and noise, but today it was silent, a stark reminder of what was no more. She had been a widow for many years, yet not one day passed without her missing him.
She was expecting a call from her daughter later that day. It would be nice to hear her voice, and she would have a chance to thank her for the thoughtful gift, a much-needed check.
Sarah’s son was in the Navy. He had been away for months and was unable to call or send a gift. She had no idea when she would hear from him again. Perhaps he would be able to call her today, perhaps not.
She had to admit that being so alone was difficult at times. Other than the phone call, there was no reason to expect today would be any different from any other. Yet it would be.
Sarah was not as steady on her feet as she used to be, and during the winter she worried about slipping on ice and falling. She tried to be careful and always made sure to sprinkle salt on her front steps when they needed it.
Once the salt had melted through to the cement, she would make her way down and take care of the sidewalk. No longer able to manage a snow shovel, she used a sturdy broom to sweep or push the snow off of a narrow path to her mailbox.
She had done so only three days ago, yet it would have to be done again. For a moment she considered waiting a few days before she undertook the task, especially because no mail would be coming today, but decided against it. If it snowed again tonight, it would be too deep for her to deal with.
Sarah grasped the small can filled with salt and headed for the front door. She winced; arthritis pain made even this simple chore difficult. Occasionally the pain seemed more than she could tolerate, yet this morning it was the ache of loneliness that caused her the most distress.
She opened the front door slightly and tossed salt on the top step. Within seconds she heard the familiar, faint crackle that indicated the salt was beginning to change ice and snow to slush.
Gingerly she eased her way outside. She reached into the can for another handful of salt to toss and in doing so lost her balance. Down she tumbled. She hit hard, and the next thing she knew she was lying flat on her back at the bottom of her steps.
For a moment she lay stunned by the impact, the breath knocked out of her. After a moment, she attempted to get up, but her first effort caused such pain that she cried out loudly and stopped moving.
A few more attempts to move left no doubt. She wasn’t going anywhere. She was unable to get up or even crawl back into her home. Pain radiated down both her legs each time she tried to move. She began sobbing, more from alarm than pain.
In fact, if she lay absolutely still, it wasn’t that bad. But each time she attempted to move, the stabbing pain stopped her instantly.
How she wished she had worn her winter coat instead of this nightgown and heavy bathrobe. She had boots on, but bitterly regretted not following her plan to put a coat on just before she swept her walk. The bathrobe was already allowing the cold to penetrate, and she was powerless to get back inside her house.
She wondered if this was how she would die. Was she just going to freeze to death? And on this day, of all days?
She had no near neighbors and no one was supposed to come by today. Still, fear compelled her to call out. For a long time she yelled for help. She called until she was weak and her voice was too hoarse to continue. Her front door was still slightly open and she could see safety and warmth waiting, just out of reach.
She began to succumb to the cold. It was enticing her to sleep. She decided to let go, to drift off; she was so very, very tired. That was what she would do: she’d sleep for awhile and then wake up and try yelling again for help.
She just wanted to rest now. She finally closed her eyes and gave in to the deadly desire to sleep.
Sarah tried to brush an annoying bug away. She just wanted to sleep. Her efforts to stop the annoying bug didn’t seem to be working. Gradually she grew more aware and her eyes fluttered open.
She found herself staring into big brown eyes. That startled her wide awake, though it took a few moments for her mind to process what she saw. It was no bug that had annoyed her and awakened her from her deadly slumber. It was the wet tongue of a scruffy-looking dog.
When he realized she was awake, his tail started wagging vigorously. Then, with one great sigh, the dog lay down right on top of Sarah. At first, the weight of the dog made her want to shove him off, but soon she felt the warmth of his body bringing life back into her.
She had no idea where he had come from. Perhaps he had heard her calling for help. No matter how he had come to be there, she was glad for it.
Sarah noticed that he was wearing an old collar, and as she talked to the dog, she read the name tag: Barney.
A shiver ran through her. Her late husband had been named Barney. Strange–it was certainly a very strange coincidence.
By the looks of him, the dog had not been taken care of. He was thin and his coat was matted with dirt.
Another hour passed and Barney refused to abandon her. Sarah was well aware that her front door was open and the dog could have simply walked inside to a warm house. Yet he chose to stay with her. She had never known a dog could be so brave. His presence kept her awake and hopeful.
She talked to him about her life and how she would love to give him a good home. Barney would whine-bark back to her. It was as if he understood her.
She didn’t know how much longer she could last like this. She was so cold except for her chest, where Barney was draped over her. She heard the telephone begin to ring in her house. Oh, if only she could reach it, but, of course, she couldn’t. But Barney could! What if...?
“Barney–go get the phone.” She spoke quietly to the dog. It was absurd to think he would understand, much less actually follow her instructions, yet she felt her heart pound with expectation.
The dog looked at her, unsure what she meant.
“Barney,” she said, as she pointed and looked toward the door, “go get the phone.”
The dog turned toward the door and stared. The phone was ringing–Sarah knew he could hear it. He didn’t move.
She pleaded with him one last time and urgently told him to go get the phone.
He slowly got up, took two steps toward the door, and then turned around and looked at her, as if waiting to be sure he was doing the right thing. For the last time Sarah pleaded with Barney to get the phone. She knew it was foolish to believe he understood, yet something told her he did.
At last he trotted into the house and out of sight. She heard the phone ring one more time; then it fell silent.
Oh no! They had hung up. Barney reappeared and stood at the door, unsure what to do next. She called him back to her and thankfully he came. He could have stayed inside and yet he came back.
“What a wonderful puppy you are,” she said, and hugged him closer. “Poor thing, you tried, didn’t you.”
Sarah knew she didn’t have much longer to live, not in this cold. The temperature had dropped and she knew she had been here for hours. She longed to sleep, but each time she closed her eyes, Barney would lick her face and whine. He was keeping her alive.
Suddenly Barney sat bolt upright and turned his head toward the road. Then she heard it–the sound of a car. It seemed to be coming closer and she tried to yell, but could not. Then a car door slammed and she heard, then saw, the officer.
A few minutes later she was covered by a warm blanket. Things happened fast after that. Within twenty minutes she was inside an ambulance, on her way to the hospital. As she was loaded onto the gurney, she asked the officer to look after the dog; he agreed to keep Barney until she came home.
The rest of the night was a blur. By morning her daughter was at her bedside, and it was then that Sarah found out how the officer came to be at her home.
Her daughter had called to wish her a Merry Christmas. She let the phone ring a long time and then the phone was answered, but all the daughter heard was a strange breathing sound. She was frantic with worry when nothing was said and imagined that her mother lay in the house, injured and unable to speak. She hung up and immediately phoned the police to check on her mother.
It was incredible to learn that the dog had actually knocked the ringing phone off the coffee table.“Mom, I didn’t even know you had a dog! It’s amazing that he knocked that phone over! You know, he saved your life!”
Sarah nodded in agreement and explained that she had told the dog to go inside and get the phone. “Except for that, he never left my side. And, honey, there is something you should know. I never saw him before that day.”
The next day Sarah asked her daughter to explain to the officer that Barney was not her dog but that she dearly wanted him. So if his owner wasn’t found, Sarah would gladly give him a home.
One week later Sarah returned home, grateful that the disc in her spine, the reason for all the pain, had healed nicely. She was told to be careful when she lifted things. That first day back home she had only one thing on her mind. She wanted to see Barney again.
In the afternoon the police officer brought Barney back. The dog bounded up to her, dancing and wagging his tail. “The owners never claimed him, Sarah,” the officer said, “so he belongs to you. He was quite a Christmas gift, I’d say.”
Sarah thanked the officer before he left. It had been good of him to care for Barney, and it certainly showed.
Barney had been fed well and washed. His long coat that had been matted and dirty was now shiny and soft. Sarah realized that she loved Barney. He had proven himself to be the bravest, most unselfish creature she had ever known.
It still astounded her that he had not left her and gone inside a warm house.
And his name–she couldn’t help but wonder at his name. Her husband Barney had loved dogs all his life, but after he died, Sarah had not wanted to take on that responsibility. That is, until the day she fell.
She would never be lonely again. The day she came home, Barney also found a home. Some of the mysteries about him would never be solved, but that didn’t matter.
After all, you don’t ask questions about a gift. You just thank God for it.