He diligently watches the front and back doors, especially if I'm in the shower or sleeping during the day after a long trek home. He does it when we're at a friend's house.
The first time the UPS guy showed up at this address, the bark was deep and ferocious, to the point the UPS guy STOPPED in his tracks on the walkway, hesitating. I cracked open the window and said "black lab!"
He smiled and came on up. I slid open the door and said "do you want to meet him?" And he said, "sure" at which point Barkley came out in full "I can't handle my licker" mode and got lots of pets. I figured after that; they'd be fast friends, but the next time the big brown truck showed up with a box of reloading supplies, Barkley sounded off as if he wished to personally eat the bearer of all things Amazon.
So he sits, and he watches like some great dark stone angel.
I think of the stone angels that stand above the broken flowers that are laid upon the ground at the cemetery. On any particular day, there will be a dark river of vehicles, washed and polished fluid flowing onto the grounds, circling and stopping around that depression in the earth that neither time nor sufficient airspeed will prevent our passage into. The vehicles move, almost as one, giving a sense of speed when speed itself is absent, even as those that held fast the wheels, unite in that implacable knowledge that the speed is no longer necessary.
We don't always plan on assuming the role of a guardian. Defenders and protectors are often appointed (or what we refer to at work as Voluntold). Some are chosen by talent and bravery, some, simply because they are the only one available.
As a small child, I was asked by my best friend to take care of her "pet" frog while she was away for the weekend with her parents. I didn't want to do it, but felt like I had to. It wasn't a real frog, being made of some stretchy, green iridescent rubber, but she loved playing with it, dubbing it an "enchanted frog" able to lift any evil spell her brother could place on her princess dolls.
Unfortunately, Mr. Frog Prince was involved in an industrial accident involving an Erector Set and the laws of physics pertaining to stretchy rubber. He lost a couple of legs as an outcome.
I was heartsick for what I'd done, especially as it was never the intent, just another childhood experiment with tools and toys. I placed the remains gently in a piece of Kleenex and put them in a box and cried my eyes out. My Mom was less than pleased and visions of Lutheran hell (which likely involved Lutefisk and 1970's gym class wear) danced in my head as she made me write my apology. I delivered it with the ruined toy and a new, better toy to replace it, paid for with my allowance for the next month.
My friend forgave me, but I did not forgive me. Not for a while.
Years later, frogs fared no better in my care, but eventually I was entrusted with not just power tools, but hearts and lives. It is why I do what I do. On my head is a ball cap with the letters of my duty. In my pocket is a piece of brass on which rests a number that will retire with me. It is shown only with respect to access those places where the sanctity and story of what remains are inviolate. In my truck is a blue lunch box that looks like the Tardis. All are parts of me, the one who will be forever the child amazed by the unknown, and the other, the one who was entrusted with something precious, determined this time, not to break it.
In another place, far away, comes a river of vehicles, mostly trucks, still flowing in towards desecrated ground. It is a landscape of scarred ground, in which the rumble of thunder and the banshee scream of the wind still echoes. Those traveling within are unprepared for what they see, a hundred streets now a single vista, with missing corners and trees whose roots now seek their moisture directly from heaven, all broken by intervals of splintered lives and stolen plans.
Through the area, there is movement, those still looking for survivors or simply what was home, here in that interchangeable section of streets without form, without remembered names. The vehicles silently pass by, in as much shock as respect. Though the vehicles bear souls inside, they also bear much more behind - water, food, diapers, wet naps, pet food, small things, even the smallest of which will fall as coins from the sky for those that have nothing.
There are times that even the bravest can not protect, when the stoutest of hearts and the firmest of faiths can not defend from the wrath of mother nature or the evil intents of man. But this is a land where they still trust in God even as He watches as the sky smites the earth. It is a place where they still trust in mankind's goodness, even as they know, how man can smite innocence as well as any natural disaster. This is a place where they know that people will band together with hands and hearts and sweat and prayer, to help. Some might term those that arrive to help as angels. But they are not. They are simply flawed human beings who remember what it is like to hurt, from the pain they've received, for pain they've unwittingly caused.
The vehicles continue on to their destination, drivers pressing the foot to the gas even as they are mindful of the dangers. For on this day, speed is of the essence as there are so many waiting, and needing. The vehicles try to stay together in some sense of orderly uproar, even as dust causes the eyes to weep, the remnants of bitten branches waving in a brightening sky as they pass.
They are not here specifically to protect or defend, or even, perhaps, to keep. Perhaps like Barkley, they are here, humbly and quietly, to leave some healing water for broken flowers, before heading back to home
- excerpt from The Book of Barkley by LB Johnson (Outskirts Press 2014)