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And There Is Pope

Chapter II - A Fading Past


THE CHILLY FINGERS of winter are now grasping the outside world. Here in the warmth and security of their island home, the stuffies become less active; quiet, at times. Looking out at the grayness, the sight of a winter bird is a welcome sight of movement. Night comes early now, the master arriving after the lights are glowing warmly within the houses about the neighborhood. Even he spends but a short time with them before he prepares dinner, watches the news, and retires to the warmth of his bed. But this leaves an opportunity which seems to bond the stuffies closer together. Even Putty, the white leopard, is more approachable, where before, only he and Pope conversed while the little ones played and explored. Here too, the master is more attentive at the end of his work week for the exchange of soft words, inner feelings, quiet times, and plans, Oh yes, plans and dreams, of what is to come. This time is given as Mother Nature dons her blanket of rest.

Pope knows the seasons well, born into him. He knows that but brief rest is needed by all living things to store up energy for the coming of spring, the rebirth of the land. He knows the exact moment of these things, long before they emerge. Few things escape Pope's foretelling, but when they do, they are never forgotten. Some are never spoken of unless he is approached by the master. Pope feels many changes coming, some have appeared, others to emerge. Many, he knows of their coming through past experiences, like the holidays, as the master calls them. He has seen the delight in their celebration. He knows a great change is upon them, some are here, some are gone. Great and good things are now working in the master's daily existence, parts of a great secret even he cannot foretell, because if the master so wishes, he can block Pope's power to perceive, if the secrets are profound enough. He knows when these things happen, but not fully why. It is perhaps because this season, as ones past, are difficult for the master. Full of joy when with his friends; somber, silent when he is alone.

October has come and gone, but roses still bloom. The days are mild. No rain yet, no dramatic change, such as was known to his ancestors before him: deep snows, swirling biting winds, the serenity of the land covered in a cold white blanket. Here, hummingbirds still flit from flower to flower. Pope sees signs even now that a dark cold wet winter will descend soon. The camellia bush outside the window is starting its bud. Unlike any previous recent years, the buds are already hard, but swelling, indicating extra outer covering to protect their large brilliant blooms to come, probably in late February or March. Unlike those previous years, when they would bloom in late December: small, falling quickly to the ground. Still, the irksome gardener comes each week, shattering the quiet for a time. Pope wonders, when they cut the green grass, why contain Mother Nature's wonderful work? Humans' conformity to one another perplexes Pope at times: this competition in their abodes, striving for individual appearance, yet maintaining a resemblance to all others. Pope truly feels comfortable in his home: small but open, windows to see out, yet curtains and furniture to shadow inquisitive little eyes peering out onto the street.

The days go on, watching, teaching his band of charges. Incorrigible at times, they, but their play-times remind him of his youth in the store, ever so long ago now, before the masters brought him into their world. Many memories abound of his time there, together with all the toys. (Pope never considered himself a toy, such thoughts or names being beneath his royal stance). It is this inborn knowledge of oneself that shows through in his character and actions. His life now dimming except for the day when he "chose" his masters: the quiet handsome man who walked in that midsummer holiday, his soft blue eyes scanning the store and the shelves; the stopping to gently pat heads, a finger brushing a cheek, then his steady, determined walk over to the window where Pope sat; lifting him up and out; holding him up and out from him; looking, eye-to-eye, this stance being held for over two minutes as they studied each other. An energized signal passing from Pope to the handsome man, a slight smile, a nod, yes, it is done. Sadness, yet joy; another world my task now, set by the creator; two special lives to care for, protect, console, love, advise, take charge thereof: a new world.

Left behind are the hopefuls who will have their chance, but not the responsibility Pope now faces. He has traveled many miles of emotions, times and experience, from the one who gave him life, to the one to whom he is given. Love: deep, tender, unsmothering, torn asunder by sudden departure, eternal sleep now by one master. The other is now his master, to whom he must give all his power and knowledge for a thousand days and more, an eon of time. Alone now, they share their world together, a bond only true believers can see and feel.

Halloween: a human celebration of death and ghostly things, not acknowledged now by the master: little humans dressed as spiders, pumpkins, alien-looking beings from other worlds. Superheroes too; even bears. A "wookie": what kind of bear is that? Such foolishness; these upstarts, Pope muses: certainly not to be bothered with!

It is at this time that one of the secrets of the master is revealed suddenly to Pope. It is a Friday, the end of the week for the master. This of all days Pope looks forward to each time. His master comes home to truly rest, to talk, confide and receive advice from Pope, an exchange of good or bad between them. The master did not have to tell Pope in words what was now done. Pope knew, by observing and receiving signals: his coming in, a preparation of his drink, his settling down in his chair, his reaching over to pick Pope up, his usual place on his knee, his shoulders now uplifted. The tired drawn look on his face fading: yes, Pope knows. He did it; he's free: free of the "human job" that has drug him down, hurt, frustrated, locked of all joy - now gone. Pope's face beams now, like a child, his paws slapping together in applause. Acknowledging that a good thing has happened, he leans over to hug his master's stomach. Finally, an event to gladden the house! Pope declares, to all in the house, "the master is free! Rejoice, my little ones: celebrate this wonderful thing!" Squeals and laughter fill the room. Out of Pope's pocket in his sweater comes serpentine and confetti. Balloons float from the ceiling, Pope's magic turning the room into a theater of joy. Emptiness, the somber air, rushes out of the room. Pope knew now that one day soon, he shall start the beat of a new heart in his master, replacing the one shattered from loss: a new heart, a new life, a new beginning, for all.

Another human holiday appears. A celebration with a bird. "Birds, huh!": noisy, prattling, like those bothersome parrots in the store. This is strange: they celebrate, but they eat the bird! Better a bird, than a bear. All stuffies observe this strange feast with the master and his guests, quiet of course, as they are nonbelievers. One was even annoyed that Pope sits in the most comfortable chair while they chat and exchange unimportant idle chatter. Even though the nonbelievers are un-seeing in their actions, Pope knows the master disapproves of acting up when guests are present. The stuffies observe and listen, to hash over another day, to mimic these boring beings! A quiet day, "glad to see it end", says even the master.

Ah, but the best is to come, especially this year. Long has the master ignored what is known as Christmas, a celebration even Pope and the stuffies all over the world welcome with joy, wonderment and, most of all, hope. It is now, at this time called "day of adoption" by the stuffies, that many will go to their destined lives. Some go to fade shortly, and others, to long times of play, love, teaching, and soothing. Few will leave their birthplaces or stores with authority, or great powers, but each will come into the new world able to handle its task as chosen by the great creator. Pope knows of this great creator, the one who brought forth Pope's inner soul. Placing this soul in the soft shell that surrounds it, made by the hands of the creator himself, which gave the talent and ability, the shape and the mold, of his proud little body. Thus is the endless chain from birth to death: the power, the strength, and the knowledge with which Pope, a chosen one, had been blessed.

A small sparking tree has appeared in the room now: jeweled lights of many colors, green with glittering white ornaments as if fresh snow had kissed them. Another secret, now. It's been three such passing that such an event has touched their lives. All stare in wonderment, as if Father Winter, himself, had reached out and touched the room. Hundreds of reflections dance off the glass and mirrors. Another change is witnessed in the master, a willingness to reach out now to bring light back in. The darkness moves back, acceptance trickling forth. Pope knows a new pattern has come to them. Christmas Bear breaks the awed silence with his songs, and the beaming happy faces of Honey, Precious, Gambler, and even Putty break into song. Happy faces applaud the little tree, the sharing of the master, and the love between them given and received.

Pope knows also there is one other event to come now. The trip he will take, as he has before: the one he and the master share because it is Pope who must provide the strength for this journey of remembrance. The master retires early, this mid-December Friday, prepared for the early train trip in the morning. They will travel far, to a park filled with small bouquets, poinsettias, names on marble, and silence. Here, they will bring their sorrow and whispered messages. Even Pope has a hard time maintaining his regal composure when they board this train. Luckily, few are riding in the car today. As they walk past to sit by a big window, two small girls eye Pope. Here, the master holds him up so he can see out. Pope does not have to turn around to know the young girls now stand by the seat, wondering why the master has him, and whether he is a Christmas gift. "No," the master replies. "He is a gift of friendship, the gift of life." The young girls do not understand, of course. Even the master surprises Pope at times by brushing aside the stare of people. Pope rides proud with his master, knowing he is not bothered by such nonbelievers' curiosity.

The countryside slides by with Pope gazing intently out the window, observing all the glides by. Strange, he thinks, this long snake that carries us. Perhaps we are standing still, and the land is moving by us. He must observe as much as he can, so he can tell all who were left behind of the wonders that he sees.

The master pats him gently on the back, reassuring him that all is in control. Clickety-clack, goes the train, stopping and starting at times along the way to pick up the other humans. Pope is pleased: not many children in the car, only the two little girls, who stand and stare, wanting to approach, to touch, but afraid to ask, feeling the remoteness of the master and Pope.

If the master wishes, he does allow introductions; otherwise, he does not want strange hands pulling and squeezing him. His master's touch is always gentle, respectful, never imposing, a silent bond of extreme closeness.

The city looms ahead now, over the bridge to the station. Here in Old Town they depart, there to continue to their planned destination. For Pope, a new adventure now: a cab ride. He finds it like his master's car, only the master sits in back with Pope, and pays the driver with little slips of paper. This, Pope does not fully understand, but knows it is necessary exchange which the master does daily in order to maintain their lives together. Streets come and go, then large gates loom, and pass by. A park now, where Pope has been before; he knows the routine. Cold, warmth, silence ... Tears, wreath, card. Soft voices, gentle hugging, fingers to lips, fingers to marble. All this, Pope knows and guards; he turns back the stares as silent figures glide by. Now his power bursts forth, the power of all his knowledge. The master holds him gently, Pope staring at the marble face, at the name, at the elegant wreath. Pope knows his destiny now, as he always has from the moment this silent master picked him up. A land beyond, eternal, warm, loving, waiting: here they will go someday. This day now is not a day of sorrow, but of life, of great things to come.

Music fills the room that special day for all. Christmas Bear sings with glee, all dance in the room, and even Pope claps to the rhythm. The master hugs each, dancing with all. A feast of love and merriment: a new beginning for all who share. Presents are given out by the master: Candycanes to savor, a freshly cleaned throw, a new sweater for Pope, a doll for Candycane, a jeweled pin for Mrs. Macy. Oh, so many wonderful things!

The master stands and faces them, they, in turn, looking up. Some still whisper about their gifts, until Pope sweeps his paw outward, fanning the room to silence the group. The master speaks softly, a glistening rim around the eyes.

"My children, we are leaving a darkness behind now. Because of he who is gone, because of you, and because of the great power of Pope, we can go on now, together, and always. Dreams of the past shall be fulfilled. Goodness shall fill this house with love. Spring will open a new beginning for all of us. We shall celebrate with a grand party."

Pope sits back, patting Putty's head, and his own deep voice softly says, "All is well now, this truly is a new beginning. But I know this will bring new changes. How will my master share his good fortune?"

Pope feels there are at least two more secrets to be revealed. He knows of one now, and he feels uneasiness about the other. Everything is clouded, slowly revolving in an orb of mist. Good or bad, he must prepare himself for this challenge.

The pages of the calendar fall away to the end. In the dark room, the clock strikes midnight. Outside, faint sounds of horns and the pop of a gun welcome the new year. The past is swept away. Pope's eyes slowly close. The soft murmur of the little ones whisper into the room.

It is the end of the year, the end of an era.


© La Parola and anonymous, March 1995

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