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Plod ... Squish...
Plod ... Squish..

Jo stared at her feet, watching the snow lift, spread up and to each side of her thick waterproof boots. There was a crunch to the snow, and parts of it were icy, crunching beneath her feet.

Ahead of her Rufus plodded too, and she spent a while focusing on the glint of the snow crystals on his fur. They lifted up and split, in a tiny cascade, occasionally sticking to each other and moving along the line of his fur.

Squish ... Plod...
Squish ... Plod ...

Lost in her thoughts, she noticed that Rufus' footsteps added a slight scrape occasionally, obviously when his claws caught a stone beneath the snow, or touched an icy patch..

Squish, Squish, Scrape, Plod ...
Squish, Squish, Scrape, Plod ...

He kept up his pace, just ahead, giving her motion onwards but not pulling, merely aiding her passage. She knew that she could trust him without a lead, but there were some very zealous neighbours who seemed to equate size of a dog with viciousness. Rufus had regained his former strength and size, and she had had several debates with these busybodies when walking him freely. He looked at her somewhat mournfully when she had to call him and put the chain on, but he tolerated it, seemed to understand that it wasn't her choice. She was grateful today of the onward pull, it helped her to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The snow reflected back the low winter sun, and she vaguely noticed patterns made by the overhanging branches, occasional splashes of colour where berries had dropped at some point, or mud had smeared from elsewhere. Rufus made prints that were beautiful in their regularity, four great paws splaying out the ice and snow in neat patterns.

She looked up briefly, knowing that soon enough there would be a decision, a need to chose whether to take a longer route or start a loop back to the house. She had several chores to do at home, and the children would be glad to see her return. She had proofs needing editing, and some ideas to note down for her next book. She ought to have something to eat herself, really. She always felt better when she had remembered to eat properly. She knew the logical answer was the shorter path home, but then she had to return to reality, to the things she balanced day after day.

She didn't feel like doing anything. It was all just too much.

A few days before she'd been on the top of the world, a whirlwind of energy, had been happily balancing everything, excited by the challenge of being a mother, author and doctor's wife. She had been sure that she had everything worked out, the last time she crashed into despair had been coped with and she had managed to get moving again. She didn't have any reason to have started feeling slow, confused, full of panic. She was one of the luckiest, happiest people she knew, and she had no reason to feel this way. No reason. She should just pull herself together, get back to the house, throw herself into her busy, frantic life again. She should take the shorter path, after all there wasn't really time that afternoon to take the long one.

She thought all this, logically worked it out as the sensible thing to do, and firmly set out towards the path home. Yet somehow, almost without her knowing what had happened, she ended up diverting, swopping to the longer, steeper route. Rufus was glad for the change, he so often only got the shorter loop at this time of year, and she saw a change in his step, and he moved more side to side, checking out new smells. She smiled and looked around her, before stopping, leaning forward and undoing the chain, giving Rufus a quick rub on the head as she did so.

He looked back at her, and then bounded ahead, moving with an energy she might have expected from a much younger dog. She realised, as he paused and looked back in confusion, that she was just standing there, hadn't followed Rufus, hadn't moved. She knew that in this type of weather it wasn't good to stand still for long, and she ought to keep moving. She'd chosen the longer route, after all. She could turn back and go home now, but if she wanted to walk further then she needed to keep moving if she was to get back before dark. Perhaps she should go back, should do the sensible thing, especially if she was finding it hard to keep moving already. Yes. She should go back.

Something in this last thought seemed to kick her into forward motion, and she began to almost run towards Rufus, only measuring her pace again as she reached the brow of the hill. She set herself into a regular rhythm, and Rufus stayed close, seeming to know that she needed comfort, that now was not the time to go and investigate the rustlings in the hedgerows, or the interesting smells brought up in contrast to the icy surfaces all around. His mistress needed him, and although he wasn't sure what he could do to help, he wasn't going to leave her side while she walked in this strange stop/start fashion.

She barely noticed the flakes start to fall, her vision was so grey, her thoughts so muddled that she somehow missed the weather, thought everything was whirling about her because of her own stress and confusion. She couldn't catch any one of the thoughts battling within her mind, couldn't make them settle, slow their whirling. It was only when she walked into a half frozen puddle, broke through into icy water that she awoke to her surroundings. She'd walked about halfway now, and the normally familiar path was becoming obscured by the snow, landmarks were blurred and indistinct. She needed to concentrate, to make sure that she didn't lose her way. She ought to speed up her pace as well, for the snow storm that was beginning was going to limit visibility as the afternoon moved on.

Something in her seemed to find the risks seemed unreal, and she felt a strangely draw to the idea of just walking, walking on with no purpose, no aim. To leave her safety up to fate, to just stop worrying about keeping going, about making sure she was safe. She felt the slight sting of the snow on her face, driven there by the increasingly erratic gusts of wind, and she blinked some flakes away, then before she knew it, she was crying, the tears adding to the sting of the cold. She brushed them away with her gloved hand and felt the scratch, irritation of the wool against her cheek. She closed her eyes and tried to blink the tears away, then just let them fall. It hurt more to rub her eyes than to keep crying, even though the icy wind made it painful and the inability to stop scared her. She focused on the physical sensations, used them as a distraction, a way to keep herself on the path, to distract from the urge just to stop, kneel down in the snow, and cover her face, just let herself stop trying to keep going, trying to be strong.

Her skin was warm near her eyes, and cold lower down, where the tracks of the tears had made a frosty path. She could see the flakes were getting larger, were settling on her as she walked, and Rufus was changing colour, lightening in tone as the ice collected from the deepening drifts he walked near, and the snow fell from the sky onto his wide back. He moved his tail back and forth, fanning the flakes away as he moved, and it was another thing to focus on, another way to keep her mind quiet. There were no scrapes of his claws now, with the deepening snow, only his and her footsteps, the noise as their feet pushed down onto the snow.

Plod... Whish... Squish ...

Plod... Whish ... Scrape ...

The sky was darker, and somehow this matched her mood as well. It was becoming more risky to be there, there was more control needed to keep herself moving on. She found herself drawn to the idea of lying down in the snow, maybe curling up in a drift, closing her eyes and just sleeping. She was just so tired, so stuck in her own mind, and nothing seemed to make sense any more. Jack was finding her hard to deal with, she knew that. She wasn't balancing the children's needs well. No one would mind too much if she just gave up and didn't come back. Enough people had accidents in weather like this, after all.

She realised that she'd been standing still for some time, and Rufus was patiently leaning against her, keeping her warm with his body, instinctually knowing that she needed comfort. She ran her finger absently through his coat, and knelt down, held her face against his, and he looked at her then leant even closer, licked her cheek with a warm tongue, making her gasp in surprise. The tears kept coming, and all she could do was hold onto his coat, and lean in against the strong, familiar body, as if she were 13 again, cuddling in to a young puppy who adored her.

Finally she started to realise her surroundings, feel the cold. She had to get moving, or she would freeze, or at least fall ill from the conditions. She had people who loved her, people who needed her, and she wasn't going to let the depression win. She began to make her way home, one step at a time, focusing just on the snow in front of her, letting Rufus lead the way. Her thoughts were numbed, quieter, possible to cope with again, although still confused. Almost as if her mind and the weather were as one, she felt the snow slow, then stop, although the sky was still dark and stormy. She could see her way again, however, and slightly corrected her course, determined to make it home as soon as she could. She concentrated again on the movement of each foot in front of the other, and the sounds around her.

Plod ... Squish...

Plod ... Squish ...

Plod...

Squish...



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