Telling Patches


The funeral was over. Almost all the people on High Street had attended it, and I had gone with Mom and Dad. Now I was home sitting on the back porch steps. I glanced over at Mr. Sedgwick’s house and thought it seemed strange not to see him working in his garden.

As the afternoon sun began sinking behind the trees, I stared at the ground and remembered other yellow, sunny days when Mr. Sedgwick was still alive …

“Worms are marvelous creatures, Margaret,” Mr. Sedgwick had said with a quick laugh. “Just trust me and hold out your hand.”

I trusted Mr. Sedgwick, but my nose wrinkled as he placed the squirming, crawling thing in the palm of my hand. After a second or two, I was surprised that it didn’t bother me anymore. “What are they good for?” I had asked as I gently touched it.

“They aerate the soil for one thing,” he explained. “They crawl around in the ground and dig tiny tunnels. Then the rain and air can get down in there and help things grow.”

I thought of Mr. Sedgwick’s body in the ground. Dad said it was in a cement box, and I wondered if it bothered Mr. Sedgwick to be in a box with no light. But Mr. Sedgwick isn’t in that box, I reminded myself. Only his old worn-out body is there. But his body hadn’t seemed worn-out to me. He was always doing something!

I pulled a long blade of grass from beside the steps, then stretched it between my palms and thumbs like Mr. Sedgwick had taught me. When I blew on it, it made a low, funny sound, and Patches barked down by his doghouse. Patches! I hadn’t even thought of him. He loved Mr. Sedgwick too. I knew it was up to me to tell him.

“Mom,” I said, pressing my nose against the screen door, “may I take Patches for a walk?”

Mom came to the screen and smiled at me. “It’s almost time for dinner, honey,” she replied.

“I’d like to take him to the cemetery and explain about Mr. Sedgwick.”

“Would you like your father or me to go with you?”

I shook my head.

“All right, Margaret, but don’t be gone long.”

Patches jumped up and down, pulling on his chain and barking excitedly. I snapped the leash to his collar hook and undid the chain. He was off with a jerk, so I had to make him behave and walk beside me. As we passed Mr. Sedgwick’s house, Patches started to turn in at the gate.

“Come on, Patches,” I said, tugging his leash. “I have something to tell you, but not here.”

We walked through the quiet of the cemetery where shadows rested behind every tombstone. The smell of lilacs was in the air, and the breeze carried the song of the wood thrush. We walked up the slope where I could see the mound of fresh flowers. Patches started sniffing the ground.

I sat on the warm grass, put my arm around his neck, and hugged him tightly. “I don’t know how to tell you, Patches,” I whispered. “I guess the best way is to say it straight out. Mr. Sedgwick died, Patches. He’s buried under those flowers. We won’t see him here anymore. He won’t give you any more scraps … or teach me any more about gardening.”

Tears started rolling down my cheeks. Patches seemed to understand what I said and how I felt, because he turned and kind of smiled at me. Then he started licking the tears from my face and his tail stopped wagging and his ears drooped. I put my head down on my crossed arms and really sobbed. I don’t know how long I cried, but Patches finally wiggled his nose under my arm and started whimpering.

I wiped my eyes on my sleeve and held Patches’s face between my hands. “It’s OK,” I said as I rubbed his ears. “Mr. Sedgwick was a good friend, and Mom and Dad said it’s OK to miss him.”

Patches lay down and put his head on his paws. His brown eyes looked as sad as I felt, and I wished I could cheer him up.

“But you know what?” I said, forcing a smile. “Mr. Sedgwick is with his wife again. Just think how happy they must be to see each other. We’ll see him again, too, when we die. Remember how he always came here and put flowers on her grave? Well, he didn’t have a family, so you and I will have to do that now for both of them.”

Patches sat up and put his paw on my arm. I wiped my eyes again and stood up. It’s a nice place to be buried, I thought as I looked toward the west. Mr. Sedgwick always liked the sunset.

“Come on, boy,” I said. “Let’s go home.”

We walked down the shady street, and when we passed Mr. Sedgwick’s house, Patches glanced in at the gate. I looked in, too, but both of us just kept on walking.

I chained Patches to his doghouse and gave him fresh water; then I sat and combed his hair. He stayed real still, like he was thinking. I was glad I had told him. Soon I heard the screen door open.

“Margaret?” Dad called.

“I’m here with Patches, Dad,” I replied. Dad waved, then sat down on the porch step, waiting.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Patches,” I whispered as I hugged him good night.

He seemed to sigh, then went and lapped up some water from his dish. I walked up to the house and sat on the step beside my dad. He put his arm around my shoulders and hugged me.

“Everything OK?” he asked.

“I told Patches about Mr. Sedgwick.”

Dad nodded. “How did he take it?”

“I think he feels better.”

“Yes, I’m sure he does,” Dad agreed.

“I think I’ll get ready for dinner now,” I said. I kissed Dad on the cheek.

“Mom and I are proud of you, Margaret,” he said quietly.

I smiled at him and said, “I love you, Daddy.”

“I love you, too, honey.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown