Freida sobbed because her dog Britches had died and now she was all alone. And she wept because she was old and nobody was considerate enough to take her to the shelter so she could replace Britches and no longer be so alone.
She said she’d been hoping and praying I or her elderly neighbor Elsa might take her to the shelter some day, and she complained how we never have and probably never would.
So I reminded Freida how, a few years ago, her neighbor Elsa had taken Britches for walks when Freida was convalescing from her surgery. And I reminded Freida how, a few moths after that, when her neighbor was convalescing from her own surgery, how Freida neglected to ever help walk Elsa’s dog.
I still recall the day I spoke to Freida and she told me about her neighbor and their histories of ailments and how Elsa was going to need somebody to walk her dog, just like Freida had needed during her own recovery.
“Somebody?” I had asked Freida.
“Yes,” she said. “I wonder who she’ll find to be so kind.”
“You,” I said. “Obviously, it should be you, since she did the same goddamned thing for you.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Freida said. “I hadn’t really thought about that.”
“I’m definitely right. And the fact that I’m having to explain this is really queer. How could you have not thought about this?”
“Well, whenever I think about our ailments and our dogs, I always recall how she came across the street to walk Britches when I was recovering. It was such a nice thing for a neighbor to do. She is such a blessing to have as a neighbor.”
“And your thoughts about it end there?”
“Yes. What else is there to consider? It was such a nice thing to do,” Freida said. “My reaction ends at giving her all the credit in the world for being such a nice neighbor. I do recognize and appreciate how profoundly kind and selfless she was and is.”
“But there’s more to it,” I suggested.
“Yes. Think about it. Really think.”
Britches began to bark.
“You need to put her away while you’ve got company,” I said.
“I can’t,” Freida said. “She gets afraid if I put her alone in a room.”
“Well, go ahead and try to think. Think about Elsa. Really try.”
Freida paused to think as the dog continued its disturbance.
“Well, I suppose I should go over and offer to walk her dog,” Freida finally realized. “I suppose it might be my turn.”
“No,” I said. “There’s no supposing. There’s no might. You should definitely go over and do it.”
A couple of weeks later I spoke to Freida again. I asked her about Elsa and her dog.
She said Elsa’s sister was walking the dog every day.
I asked, “Elsa didn’t want you to do it for her?”
Freida said, “She never came over here and asked me to. Besides, I see she’s got her sister over there so she obviously doesn’t need me.”
I said, “You should have wanted to walk Elsa’s dog without her having to ask. Any normal person would understand that.”
“Maybe you’re right,” Freida said. “But I’ve always said what a lovely, kind and thoughtful neighbor she’s been. I’ve thought all my praise might be enough.”
“It’s not enough,” I said. “Not even close.”
“But if somebody lauded me like I do Elsa, I’d be overwhelmed with joy.”
“I can’t believe I’ve had to explain this to you,” I said. “Not to mention, now, more than once.”
“I just don’t know,” Freida said.
“You can still go over there and offer,” I said. “And it won’t be any trouble for you since you walk your dog every day now that you’re better. And it’ll relieve her sister of the responsibility.”
“Okay,” Freida said. “I’ll plan on going over there tomorrow.”
I spoke with Freida again, a week later, to find out about Elsa and her dog.
She said, “Elsa’s sister comes every day to walk it.”
“I know,” I said. “I thought you were going over to offer to walk it, since she did the same for you when you were down.”
“I meant to,” Freida had said. “But I get so caught up playing with Britches that I always forget.”
That conversation happened last year. Between then and now, Britches died.
Today Freida sat before me crying. Crying because she was so lonely without Britches. And she cried because there was nobody that cared for her enough to take her to the shelter to replace Britches. She cried because there was nobody who cared for her enough to wish to relieve the agony of all her loneliness without Britches.
Between the tears, Freida explained, “Every time I see Elsa, I tell her about needing to go the shelter. I know she or her sister could take me, but they never do. Just like you, they never take me. I don’t know what’s happened. Elsa used to be so nice. Now she goes around outside with that damned dog of hers, rubbing it in my face that I have nothing now that Britches is gone. “
Freida broke down in tears again.
So I looked at the sobbing Freida and explained, “I’m sorry. But you know how it is. Sometimes it’s hard not to forget about the needs of others.”