It was a sticky summer day in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. Nicole stepped into her coupe and fired up the old engine. She pulled onto the familiar roads, turning onto a nostalgic two-lane. It cut through the woods and ran along a small river. The river drained into a variety of ponds and marshes, and one pond in particular had become a county park. Nicole went there whenever the world was bleak and empty.
No one was at the park that morning except for a runner deep in the park’s trails. Nicole stayed by the ponds that were close to the road. Benches circled the scenic body of water, though some were cracked and missing boards. She liked the bench tucked between crooked trees. It was the quietest spot.
She stood by the bench and ran her hand along the wood. The name of her high school sweetheart was carved in the wood, but it wasn’t as clear as it once was. Her car key only dug so deep then. That girl was long since gone from her life. She rode out the heartache in that spot, sneaking mini bottles of honey whiskey and Newport menthols. Her heart was broken again.
This time, she didn’t have whiskey. She had quit smoking years earlier, but the last three days wrecked her resolve. A pack of cheap reds and a disposable lighter were in her purse pocket. She sat heavily on the wood and unhappily sparked a flame. Another girl had left her life, yet this wasn’t the same situation. This girl was Daffy, a thirteen-year-old English mastiff with a white belly.
Daffy had been Nicole’s best friend since her teen years. Whenever everything and everyone else seemed to abandon Nicole, Daffy was there to slobber on her pillow. Nicole never meant to get a dog, but a neighbor wound up with six puppies. Daffy found her way into Nicole’s backyard. It was love at first sight. Now, Daffy was gone after days in the animal hospital.
Nicole’s closest friends had trouble understanding her relationship with Daffy. It’s just a dog, they would think. That was not true. Daffy was family. She was a best friend and confidant. She was comic relief and a grief counselor. Nicole didn’t know what she was going to do without her girl. No other dog would ever compare. No person could compare either.
As she sat in a cloud of smoke, she counted the lily pads in the water. She found shapes in the leaves. Nature was still. Then, she heard something moving behind her. She assumed the owner of the other car in the lot was coming back from the trails, but she didn’t see anyone. The noise persisted. She looked down instead of out.
A colorful rooster was walking on the trail. Her brow furrowed. “What are you doing here, fella? There are no farms around for miles.”
The rooster wandered to her bench. He stopped near her feet, looking up at her. They held eye contact for a moment before Nicole started to laugh. It was absurd. A rooster? How insane! What were the chances? However, the bird was really there. There was no doubt.
“You’re funny just standing there. You got a name?” she asked.
“Cockadoodledoo,” he answered with the raise of his head.
“Strange name. Can I call you Donald?”
“Great. I haven’t seen you around here before. Then again, it’s been a while since I’ve visited. Forgive the cigarettes. I don’t usually smoke. Not anymore. My nerves have been fried. I just lost my best friend. She fought hard, but she didn’t pull through in the end.”
The rooster came closer and spoke in a mournful tone. “Cocka-doo-dle-doo.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your sympathy. Her name was Daffy. She had a nice, long life. She was a big dog. A gentle giant. She wouldn’t have tried to eat you or anything. The girl was scared of her own shadow. She’s left a hole in my heart,” she sniffled. He pecked at her shoelace. She smiled at his behavior. “Are you looking for food? Well, you’re being a great listener. I might have something for you.”
Nicole dug through the wrappers and loose coins in her pursue. The only edible thing she had was a package of sugar cookies from the gas station. She knew that wasn’t exactly the best thing to give a rooster, but it seemed like he was starving for something. She tore bits of cookie off and dropped the crumbs. The rooster gladly gobbled them up.
“Sure looks like you don’t get to eat much here,” she noted.
He bobbed his head. “Cockadoo-dle-doo-doo.”
“Yeah, you probably live off what visitors give you or leave behind. Must be rough. Being all alone out here.”
“Cocka-doodle-d-oooo,” the rooster seemed to confirm.
“If it’s any consolation for you, you’ve really made my day. I haven’t smiled in what feels like years. It’s so weird to see you here. Almost like…” Nicole grinned. “Like Daffy sent you to cheer me up. She wouldn’t want me to be sad. She hated it when I was sad. I shouldn’t disappoint her, huh? I should probably think about all the good things.”
Nicole took a hard look at her cigarettes and sighed. She stood and walked the short distance to a trashcan. In a single motion, she tossed the pack and the lighter inside. When she glanced over her shoulder, the rooster had followed her. She looked at him with a smirk.
“I should go. I do have to work later. It’s been great, though. Thank you, Donald. I needed you.”
She walked towards the lot and her car. The rooster kept up with her fast clip. Whenever she looked down, there he was. He followed her down the path, onto the hot asphalt, and to her vehicle. She folded her arms with a stern expression.
“Donald, I live in the suburbs. I don’t know how the HOA would feel about a rooster.”
“Cockadoodledoo,” he replied.
“I guess there’s only one thing I need to see.”
Nicole crouched and held out her hands. There was a pause, yet the rooster eventually walked directly to her. She hesitantly lifted him into her arms. He calmly sat there as she stroked the feathers on his neck. Her shoulders slumped. It was official. He was hers.
“I never meant to get a dog, but Daffy chose me. Looks like you’ve picked me too. Let’s go, Donald. I have no idea how I’ll explain this to, well, anybody…”
Gently, she set her new friend inside her car. She had no idea how to care for a rooster, but she figured that’s what Google and YouTube were for. As long as he behaved, she hoped nobody in the neighborhood would complain. She knew there was no way she could leave him alone at the park. That was certain. He needed a safe place as much as she needed a pal.
Across the Rainbow Bridge, Daffy the mastiff looked down on Nicole and Donald. She barked happily at how those two lost souls would stick together. After all, Daffy was the one who sent them to the park that day. Nicole would be okay, Daffy knew. One day, they’d meet again. Until then, Daffy would keep an eye on her girl and that rooster.
Love and friendship know no bounds.
Dedicated to my animal children who joined the angels in August, Daisy and Zukie. This was inspired by true events.