Taking Care of Us: Part Three
In my dream I was my former self: a blue-grey Lupe, just as large but perhaps not as bulky as I am today. Climbing Terror Mountain with ease and in stride, I crept into the Icy Caves towards the lair of the mighty Snowager. Emsohl was there, brewing coffee, or maybe it was hot chocolate. She drank cocoa and the Snowager sipped coffee. It all came from the same stained pot. But it didn’t matter. It was a dream. You don’t catch those sorts of things in your dreams.
I tipped the top hat that mystically appeared atop my head and made my way through the Snowager’s lengthy cave. There I passed Quoxwood conversing with the Negg Faerie. Both of them were very blue, all over, perhaps from the cold, or perhaps from the reflecting ice. They appeared to be arguing, but my ears couldn’t quite pick up any words. I didn’t pause to ask questions. I didn’t really seem to care either way. Instead, with a quick wave of a paw, I pressed on to the back of the chilled cavern. White light danced on the walls and the floor--which all quickly turned to marble, and suddenly I found myself in the council room in Altador, before the King himself. ‘Your Majesty,’ I said with a deep bow from far away, so deep that my red-earth nose almost touched the decorative floor tiles.
‘Ubuuroi.’ Altador steadily rose from his throne and drew his stupendous sword in a single motion. But I was not afraid. The King’s eyes were fierce and sharp like the arrows in his quiver, but the smile on his maw couldn’t have been warmer. ‘Ubuuroi of the Haunted Woods, come forth, old boy.’ In no time at all, I stood at the foot of the stairs on which Altador’s throne rested. My heavy brow lifted, relieving the shadow from my yellow eyes. ...My eyes, though... my eyes were not yellow when I was alive... and in my dream my face screwed up at the thought: ‘My eyes aren’t yellow; they’re brown, brown like Emsohl’s, brown like King Altador’s.’
But at one simple look of my outlandish face, Altador’s cheeks rouged. ‘You dare mock me?’ the King roared as though the simple thought of having the same eye color greatly offended him.
I knew I had done no wrong to the King but couldn’t stop myself from barking in a raging fury, out of absolutely nowhere: ‘You little terror!’
With that we collided: Altador’s bare hands on my massive paws. The royal council room grew dark and heavy as the marble walls and floor rolled over to reveal black, dusted stone. We were in a cell, I thought, but there were no barred windows or doorways... just a lone staircase leading up, lit by a solitary light bulb. No, we weren’t in a cell. We were in the cellar. That very, empty cellar in our own basement, in our own house. And I didn’t stop to take notice. I knew full well where we were, and perhaps even why we were down there.
‘It’s your fault!’ Altador shouted in an unusually high and whiney voice. He then slammed into my immense bulk. I truly had no idea what he was talking about but my dream self apparently did.
I replied, ‘You wouldn’t leave me alone!’ Growling, I reared in retaliation, leaping at the King’s unprotected throat. Momentarily blocking the only light source in the cellar, the naked bulb, I moved just in time to see the yellow light reveal the brown, bruised and battered face of Emsohl on Altador’s massive shoulders.
‘Ubu,’ she whispered through a puffy lip, squinting at me with blackened eyes.
I barreled right into her. The light bulb shattered with a pathetic pop. All went dark.
“Mmm?” The cords in my throat stirred lightly as I groaned. My sleep dimmed, ebbing from the peripherals of my mind’s eye.
“Hmm, what?” I grumbled and clenched my eyes shut tight. I wrinkled my nose, sick with the exhaustion that crept to the backs of my eyeballs.
“Ubu, wake up.”
The coarse, stern voice of Quoxwood finally rang a bell. I could tell she was already looming over me with some stuck-up or concerned ‘adult’ face plastered on. “What, why?” I growled malcontent and opened my eyes to glare at her for disturbing my most bizarre slumber.
“Ubu, the Weewoo is dead.”
I stared dizzily at the space hanging over her shoulder. Weewoo? What was she... “...Ohh...” I slowly rose to a sitting position. I inspected my surroundings. The couch? I was on the couch? Why wasn’t I watching the Weewoo?!
From above our heads, a pair of petite feet scurried and stomped up the hallway towards the stairwell. Both our heads swiveled to stare at each other. It was like staring over a recently filled grave at the person directly across the ditch at a funeral. And although you hadn’t noticed them there before, you recognized them from childhood memories, but had no name to put to their face. And in the instant you locked eyes, you both thought the exact same thing: Why him?
Emsohl thundered down the stairs like a rogue Tonu, an enormous smile spread over her sleep-ashen face. And before Quoxwood or I had even the slightest ounce of courage to utter a single word, she rounded into the kitchen. “Weewoo?” I heard from a quiet and soothing voice, and for a fraction of a moment I’d hoped the little bird was calling for its mother.
I fooled myself completely. No more sounds or noises stuttered from inside the kitchen. A deadly silence wafted from the doorway and filled the rest of the house like choking smog. Quoxwood was the first to move, barely. She took a single step but could go no further. That was the problem with Quoxwood. She was so quiet and so bookish she hadn’t practiced socializing, and often froze up in emotional situations. Quoxwood didn’t have a single comforting bone in her little furry body. Then again, none of us did. Emsohl was just awkward and I, well, my best friend was apathy.
And for reasons beyond my comprehension, my dream suddenly came to mind. I couldn’t make out the first half, but the clearest picture I could imagine was Emsohl’s beaten face on a strong pair of shoulders calling out to me in vain.
Without a grunt or a sigh, I nimbly lifted myself from the couch in time to see Emsohl swiftly drag herself out of the kitchen and up the stairs, empty-handed and empty-hearted. Her sullen shoulders sagged as she disappeared on the landing. I stopped at the foot of the stairs to peer over my shoulder at Quoxwood. She was looking away, in shame. Her eyes glazed over in sorrow like a little kid’s might in the Chocolate Shop when the shop-keep emotionlessly informed her they were sold out of everything. Silently I turned back and carefully crept up the stairs as not to make a sound. I didn’t think to prepare any sort of speech on the cycle of life or why these things just happen. The thought never crossed my mind—until I stopped at Emsohl’s open doorway.
The entire room wept, filled the huffing and sniffling of the tiny creature from within. But her bed was empty.
Thankfully there was enough light in the room to spot the light brown tip of a tail poking out from the closet door. A strange place to hide, I thought... Emsohl, for one, was not normally a Lupe to lock herself away, and two, she was deathly afraid of the dark.
With a sad creak I pushed the closet door open; just enough to poke my head in and hang it in shame. “Emsohl, I--”
“I didn’t take care of it,” she nasally admitted, almost defensively. Her eyes were swollen with tears and her throat tied in knots. “I didn’t mean for it to die; I should have taken care of it better.” The tiny brown Lupe, just the sight of her, bore a bottomless pit into my gross heart. “You were right,” she snorted mucus into her sinuses disgustingly, “I can’t even take care of myself...” Like a defeated mercenary, she buried her entire face in her paws, waiting for someone to pull the ‘I Told You So’ trigger. I held my tongue until another shameful weep escaped through the cracks in her hands.
“Emsohl, I don’t know a single soul, dead or alive, who takes care of her family as well as you.”
And I wasn’t weaving excusing lies. The memories of constant batches of fresh, folded laundry, speedy first-aid, and excellent kitchen services reeled through my memory like a dream. It was Emsohl who ran the household: she washed the windows, she looked after our health, she put food on our plate before her own. “Emsohl, it’s not that you can’t take care of yourself. That’s not at all true.” I sincerely consolidated her self-respect. I pulled the closet door open, and just as Emsohl was getting up to slink out of her hiding spot, I squished past her, promptly sat down beside her and shut the door. My ghostly aura illuminated her face with a pale blue-green glow. “Em, you’re so busy taking care of Quoxwood and me, you forget about yourself. That’s real responsibility.” I suddenly felt very ashamed. “...That’s real responsibility that I don’t have. Emsohl, you care enough about the two of us that nothing else matters to you: you don’t have time to clean up your room or wash your own fur because your heart is set on keeping the rest of us happy.” Emsohl kept silent. The fur under her cheeks was dark with tearstains.
“And... this may surprise you, but I know how much you love Weewoos.”
Her ears perked up a little bit. “You do?”
I nodded. “Remember when you were little and you wanted to stay up every night past your bedtime to hear the Weewoos sing at night in the spring? And your White Weewoo plushie you keep tucked in your pillow. Don’t deny it, Em, I know it’s in there. But that little Weewoo in the kitchen—you did your very best to take care of it, just like you took care of me.”
“...But it died.” Her voice crackled as it trickled through the knots in her throat.
“And it wasn’t your fault. Nothing you did last night put it in any worse of a condition than it was already in. For all we know, it could have had Weewooping Cough and wouldn’t have made it regardless. But you brought it in from the rain. You gave it a warm bed, food, and water. You gave it a beautiful and loving final rest. It passed, but it passed knowing that there are other creatures in the world that cared about its safety. And maybe that’s all it needed: a little reassurance and peace of mind in order to let go.”
Now I was on the verge of tears.
“Emsohl, I don’t want you to think that you ever did anything wrong in your life that caused suffering to another being. I love you very much, no matter what I say, I’ll always love you.” With a warm smile and a fresh flow of tears, Emsohl buried her face in my fur and sobbed. But it was a happy sob. Her breath warmed my shoulder and her occasional laughs of relief tickled my fur. I smiled. Emsohl calmed a bit and she wrapped her stubby little arms around my extra-large middle and squeezed me tight. I picked her up and hugged her, leaning against the back wall of the ransacked closet. There we stayed, holding each other in an embrace only the best of friends can truly have without awkwardness or deception. There we stayed in the dark, the thunder purring outside the window, until we both finally fell fast asleep in each other’s warmth.