Smack dab near the center of a small town in middle America was a blue house. Not too big, or too small. The sort of house in which middle class couples raise their families. Well-kept, unpretentious. It's pretty front door usually decorated with a pretty wreath, it's color and foliage based upon the season. Helen Carter opened her particular front door, on this particular day, to exchange her particular wreath from autumn's crimson, gold and rust leaves, pumpkins and gourds; to one of white, silver, and blue in recognition of the impending Christmas Season.
As Helen stepped out the door, her foot just missed crushing a small package that lay on the welcome mat. “Darn those delivery men,” she thought “never even rang the bell.” for a few seconds she searched her mind trying to recall what she had ordered. Nothing came to mind. “Christmas is getting close”, she said to herself. “One of the kids, or grandkids probably sent something. I'll open it later, I'm busy right now” she reached up for the Fall wreath, removed it and replaced it with the Christmas wreath.
Finished with her chore, Helen picked up the box when as she went back inside, placed it on a table in her entry and forgot about it. She would open the box when she had time to sit and appreciate her gift. Whatever it was, she would examine it and find all manner of compliments to give the receiver. Sincere compliments, not empty platitudes. But, right now she had to get ready for her book club. Her friends, mostly widows like herself would gather shortly after lunch to talk about their latest literary find while at the same time raving about Helen's skill as a baker. The bars are delicious, the cookies most scrumptious. And the coffee. Well, no one had the touch quite like Helen.
Helen Carter needed that. More now, than ever.
After the women left, loneliness surrounded her like the still silent cold of winter after a blizzard. It penetrated Helen and her home to their deepest level. The tick tock of the grandfather clock's pendulum and the intermittent hum of the refrigerator went unnoticed. The hypnosis induced by their regularity numbed her consciousness even to the big clock's chime every quarter hour. She turned on the television for companionship and just as she sat down, recalled the package. She wondered vaguely as she retrieved it from the entry table if she had strength, energy and longevity enough to raise and train another dog. Helen often thought about that.
Several years ago Helen had acquired a dog. A darling little Shih Tzu. White with apricot markings. Like many senior women, she was surprised and comforted upon discovering how the mere presence of this little ball of hair with the pushed in face filled the empty places of her heart left when her two children and grandchildren moved to opposite coasts. Both families had asked her to move with them, but she didn't want to interfere. Besides, she had her friends, she had told them. She didn't want to leave them. That's what she told them.
She dearly missed her family. Of course, no family is complete without pets, and Helen daily, hourly recalled when this house rocked with noise and activity. Much of that noise and activity was provided by family dogs.
So, Helen decided she would have a dog. She named her Bao Wao. (Pronounced Bow Wow). Helen thought the name a great combination of English and Asian. Maybe it was, or maybe it wasn't. It didn't matter. Bao Wao and Helen were inseparable.
Helen kept Bao Wao's white tresses immaculate and long. She loved grooming her. Bao Wao, loved to be brushed. If, God forbid, she ever picked up a flea, she would wriggle her fanny over to her mistress for immediate attention and removal. Helen always pulled the long hair that hung over BaoWao's eyes into a top knot and tied it with a bow. Bao Wao loved being beautiful and would sit on the hassock simply being gorgeous.
Let's not be mistaken in thinking that Bao Wao was lazy diva who did nothing but sit around and eat dog biscuits all day. Hardly. Most days she and Helen took morning and evening walks. They went to the center of the village, jaunted around their pretty neighborhood and often, on longer walks went to BaoWao's absolutely and ultimately favorite place. Murphy Park.
Murphy Park had been designed especially for dogs and their families. Bao Wao made dog friends there, like Fritz the Mini Schnauzer and Dolly a Collie-Shepherd mix. She was allowed to run without her leash. In summer, she could swim in the dog pond at the park's center. In winter, she scampered and slid on its frozen surface. Oh, how BaoWao adored Murphy Park! Helen and BaoWao even flew on jets several times to visit Helen's children and grandchildren. Helen found BaoWao to be a most satisfactory friend and companion.
BaoWao was rarely left at home when Helen went out. Seeing her mistress pick up her purse BaoWao knew adventure was afoot . She would skitter into the kitchen, grab her leash in her mouth and drop it at Helen's feet. Helen would snap on the lease and off they would trot, or ride, if the need arose. Except for one day late last spring.
Helen had a doctor's appointment and the afternoon temperature rose into the eighties. “Sorry, Sweetheart, you can't come today.” Helen admonished the excited little dog. “I hate to leave you” she apologized, “ but the car might get too hot and I can't take you inside.” Helen left for the doctor. BaoWao was determined to go. Unfortunately, Helen had neglected to close her doggie door.
As soon as Helen left the driveway, an agitated Bao Wao burst through the opening and scurried through a hole in the backyard fence of which the pup was aware,but her mistress was ignorant. She flew down the road in direction of Helen's car, her long locks flying. Helen saw her in the rear view mirror, but was unable to pull over, stop and retrieve her before another vehicle came up behind her and hit Bao Wao.
Helen rushed her severely injured animal to the town vet, Dr. Higgins, but his efforts were of no avail. Bao Wao was gone. Helen's heart was torn to shreds. The pain of her loss was so deep and devastating she thought she might collapse. Over time the hurt had changed to from inner screams of searing pain to quiet sighs of dull resignation. She took great comfort in her book club friends. No one pushed her to get another dog. They knew she would, if she could. She might not. Why would any sane person choose to risk such pain a second time?
This particular evening Helen Carter sat in her empty living room gazing at the little white package left on her front porch with no return address. The only marking her own name Helen Carter written in what looked like calligraphy in a lovely, glittery Christmas blue. Helen gingerly opened one of the neatly taped end flaps held it up in front of her face. She peered for a moment at what appeared to be a small gold cardboard gift box inside. Sliding the box out of it's packaging revealed it to be tied with a golden cord. “Monochromatic” she thought. “simple, tasteful.” However, what she found inside, she considered neither simple. nor tasteful. Untying the cord and removing the cover she found a tiny red bow, the kind she often used to tie up BaoWao's top knot, resting on a small red envelope. Both items were cradled on a bed of fluffy white cotton. Helen was shaken. Who would take the time to pull such a cruel prank?” Choking back tears, she wondered who she could have hurt so deeply, they felt the need to strike back at an old woman. The gift certainly appeared to have been wrapped with great care. The sender either had an intense dislike of Helen and wished to wound her emotionally, or she considered, “it may be a misunderstanding.” Helen's longevity had taught her to not accept everything at face value. There was an envelope. Logic dictated there may be a message in the envelope. Helen opened it. Inside was small white card written in an exquisite hand in the same glittery Christmas blue. It read: Meet us at Murphy Park Sunday at 5:00p.m. Look for the light. There was no signature. Just a seal, a tiny gold seal in the shape of a star.
Not knowing if she should be mortified, terrified, or horrified, Helen decided against allowing any of the above to reign. Her curiosity got the better of her and she resolved to be at Murphy Park as instructed. “Okay, I must be nuts. I have to know what is behind this.” she mused. It occurred to her to call George Caiaphas, a friend and local police officer and ask him to walk with her. She would think about that. But when Sunday arrived, Helen elected to walk alone. The park was rarely devoid of residents with their dogs. By five p m the short mid-December day would have turned dark, but she would be safe.
That particular Sunday, snow had begun falling gently as the gray dusk rolled in. Helen wisely had worn her MukLuks. The little gold box and its contents were in the purse she had slung over her shoulder. By the time she reached the park heavy wet flakes clung to her knit hat and eyelashes.
“It's sticking!! A passing child yelled at no one in particular. His face beaming with delight at the idea of tomorrow morning waking to a magical glistening white world of “no school” and winter play.
The park wasn't huge, but big enough to make it difficult to see the opposite end from where one stood. Helen looked around for a light. “Am I supposed to be looking for a street light, a flashlight or Christmas lights.” She felt annoyed. Impatient. “Is this person wearing a light, or lights?” She shivered the fear she might possibly be being taken advantage of by total strangers, or worse, people she thought were her friends crossed her mind briefly. Under the circumstances, not an irrational fear. Unexpectedly, a small dog swooshed past her and in about two seconds flat traversed the distance between herself and the dog pond just over the next hill. Helen's eyes followed the dog's movements. A bright light rose from the pond's direction. Walking to the hilltop she saw the pond below was frozen. Snow covered the ice, but the little dog jumped and slid around in a joyous frenzy. Neither the dog, nor the pond held Helen's attention long because the dog was not alone. “What in the world?” She exclaimed, practically falling down the hill in shock.“Look for the light? Is this the light I'm supposed to be looking for?“
“Yes,” a voice chimed. “I'm it.” The dog's playmate, which if one attempted to describe this robed in light being one could only arrive at the word angel, climbed up the hill to Helen.
”No disrespect intended, but you are light, all right.” she stammered, nervously. “ Are you here to tell me I am going to die soon? If you are, you have a strange way of announcing it.”
“No.” The being of light replied. “Not at all.” Shimmering electric blue and white beams emanated him, or her. Helen had no idea, “I am called Jariel.” He said and beckoned toward a wooden bench overlooking the pond. “Would you care to sit, Helen?”
“Well, are you an angel, or aren't you?” Helen said impatiently. “And if you are, what is wrong? Your presence indicates dire circumstances.” she sniffed. “Am I terminally ill,? If I am, I can handle hearing it from my doctor.” She took the gold box out of her purse and thrust it in his direction. “There was no need for this cruel gift”
Jariel laughed heartily. “ Let's see. Yes, I am referred to as an an angel. No, you are not dying, Third, I wished to turn to your attention toward BaoWao, I surmised, not incorrectly that her memory might motivate you to keep our appointment. I am truly sorry you found it cruel. Communication is sometimes a problem for me” he said gently.
Helen concluded he was the correct pronoun for Jariel. As the angel stood before her, she felt a warm energy emanating from him. It felt like love. “You're not sick, Helen. In fact, you.re robustly healthy. And, you are wrong in your assumption that people only interact with us during the worst times. We are always available.”
There was a strong possibility she was dreaming. Dreaming or not, she had lost all sense of any danger from this entity. Her trust grew and she relaxed as he spoke.
“How do you think you would have responded if I had knocked on your front door?” he laughed, “or appeared in your bedroom in the middle of the night? Would it have been less surprising? Easier to believe? “I thought this would be most comfortable. The proximity of others might allay any misgivings you had. Ironically,” he said, “most of them are unaware of my presence.” Waving in the pond's direction, he asked, “Did you not recognize my little friend?”
“ All I saw was a little dog pass me like a shot, I didn't get a close look.” Is that your friend?”
Jariel lowered his voice. “It's BaoWao,” Helen. “She was so excited to be here again she ran right past you, You know she loves this place almost more than anything. We didn't prepare her very well for this transition. So she's a little disorientated.”
” Hope for the impossible to become possible was rising in Helen's breast. “Is that BaoWao's spirit? Can I visit with my BaoWao?”
“It more than her spirit, Helen. We are returning BaoWao exactly as she was before the accident.” Jariel whistled causing the dog to leave her sport on the pond and dash up the hill to join him.”
“Oh, good Lord”. Helen whispered, her breath caught in her throat. “It is BaoWao. How could I not see that?” BaoWao sudden awareness of Helen and threw her into a frenzy of joy. She jumped into Helen's open arms, put her paws on her mistress's shoulders, licked her wrinkled face and wagged her tail faster than a Tibetan prayer flag in a windstorm. Helen hugged closely burying her face in her long fur.
” Jariel took in the joyful reunion with satisfaction. “Spirit lives forever.” he said. “The hardest part was getting permission to appropriate an identical body for her. It also accounts for the puppy breath you're enjoying. Her body is brand new.”But you can see, she is not a puppy. She is exactly as you remember her.”
“She is, exactly”, Helen crowed loudly. “But why? What did I do to deserve this glorious gift.”
“The gift is not for you, the angel stressed “although you and BaoWao receive the benefit and happiness it gives.” Jariel replied. “The gift is for me.”
” You mean you are giving me a gift.” she persisted.
“No, you are helping to give me a gift.” Jariel said. “Christmas is celebrated across the universe. Just as human children have Santa, Celestial beings have traditions as well. Each of us requests a miracle from our source as our own Christmas gift.”
“Like healing the sick.” Helen asked.
“Healing is simply part of who we are.” Jariel gazed at Helen in earnest. “This kind of gift has to be dispensed from the highest level. You will see it when someone who has been thought to be killed in war, miraculously is found alive. They had died, but one of the celestials, whatever their reason, may have requested their return as a Christmas gift.
Helen's thought briefly that she'd never seen a sight as beautiful as the light of Jariel shining in the falling snow.
He went on. “ BaoWao was so unhappy when she returned to us. She missed her life with you and Murphy Park, She was good, she was obedient, but her strongest desire was to be here. She was simply not ready to leave. Look Helen, heaven is supposed to be a happy place. A moping Shih Tzu upsets the ambience. Our goal is to increase love and joy in the universe, not misery, I found it within my power to ask heal her pain and yours.” I reasoned, “We live in eternity. Before long Helen and BaoWao will return to the celestial plane . Why not give them joy while on earth? So my gift is for BaoWao to return to you until you leave the planet.”
Tears of joy ran down Helen's face.
“Be careful, or your face might freeze like that.” Jariel laughed.
“My mother used to say that.” she sniffled.
“Everybody's mother did. They got it from me” He teased.
“How can I ever thank you, Jariel? Helen begged
Jariel pulled a gold leash and collar from inside his robe and handed them to Helen. “Fix that hole in the fence,” he laughed.
-inspired by a Reedsy prompt-