The Three, Sam, Lucas, and Lilith, are the Keepers of Sleep and they are also the Sled Dogs of The Dawn. If I wake in the middle of the night, through some dream or my uneasiness, all I have to do is listen for the breath of three animals. I know who is where by the sound of their lungs. Lucas will always be close, right next to me, his shattered face leaking air yet comforting, Lilith with her slight sound of air fueling her big heart, and Sam’s old rattle, still fighting for life, in the corner, defending his dreams with past glory and hunting. The longer I keep company with dogs the more I realize they keep us sane and human.
Of course, Lilith wants not only to get of twenty minutes early but she decides she will be Cuddle Mutt in full view of her brothers and on the very edge of the bed. Lucas decides to grab her by the collar and pull her down. Sam decides to get into the middle of all this and snarl at everyone. Yes, keeping me sane and human, yes, I see that in them right now, I do.
The morning is sticky, nearly, with humidity and there’s a feel that the weather’s on the change. It’s sixty an hour before dawn yet the forecast is for it to be below forty this time tomorrow morning. The dogs feel it. Lilith uses the cooler air as fuel and she runs great circles around Lucas who gamely tries to keep up with her. It’s dark, really dark, but I can hear the footfall of my Little Girl Dog and I try to make sure she knows where I am too. She crashes into Lucas and they tussle in the darkness, sounding all the world as if there are two wild animals trying to kill one another. Every prey animal within earshot has to be on the move at the noise. Who would dare stay were the monsters play?
I actually get breakfast started without anyone underfoot or without telling anyone to get out of the kitchen. They all rush in at once, tails wagging, biting at one another’s faces, pushing, shoving, then they discover there is food in the bowls and everyone settles down to feed. There is a great crunching of kibble and the morning begins as it should.
As I eat I am surrounded. Lilith and Sam stay back away from me but Lucas watches every bite, drool beginning to stalactite from the corner of his mouth like liquid fangs. He never gets fed from the table, never will, but there is that hope, like buying a lottery ticket. Lucas lives for the day that all his numbers hit and I decide to let him eat off my plate on the table, which just is as likely as me winning the lottery. I never buy lottery tickets.
Lilith’s dalliance with the table is more subtle, at least in comparison to Lucas’. She’s wait until all the food is gone and I’m reading the morning news and she’ll jump up on my chair and put one paw on the table. She knows I might ignore her advances if she just lands on the chair, but the paw on the table must be dealt with. She also knows I will not be harsh with her. By loving on her it encourages her to paw the table but so what? This is her way of telling me she wants attention and she needs to be hugged a bit before I leave. This is the second time of the morning she’s asked me to spend some time with her. Jealous of the love fest, Lucas comes in on the other side and he gets half the attention and Lilith absorbs the other half. Sam is lying on the floor ignoring us all.
At least I thought he was.
I get out of the shower and go back into the bedroom and there is Sam, on the bed, a place no one is allowed if I’m not there. Not only is Sam on the bed, but he’s managed to get halfway under the covers. It’s a warm morning so I know he isn’t cold. Sam holds himself very still waiting to see if he’ll get scolded for trespass. I get dressed and slip into bed beside Sam, and pet his ears. He’s an old and crazy dog. His time here is no longer measured in years but maybe months, maybe weeks, maybe days or hours. I pull Sam close and shoo the others off the bed as they try to intrude. They know. They understand. Sam needs to feel loved. He needs to feed special and valued. I wrap Sam up in the blanket and hold him, petting his ears the way he loves them to be petted. After a few minutes he falls asleep and I slip out of bed to get ready for work.
I called in sick one morning because it was very cold and it was raining. All three were in the bed with me and there just was no way I was going to leave them out in that weather when I could have stayed home with them and been this warm. There are books to read when warmed by dogs. The body heat of those who love you cannot be denied as one of the greatest sources of comfort known.
When I sit down to put my boots on Lucas crashes his face into mine, in a friendly sort of way, to let me know he’s the last to get any individual attention. My Gentle Giant knows the others must be loved too, but he thinks he’s special. He knows he’s special. He knows that he’s the dog that sleeps by my side and the dog who, in the middle of the night when I awake and need a touchstone to make sure I am still sane, Lucas will be that dog.