RUFUS AND RJ
By John Thomas Tuft
Rufus had seen just about everything there is to see in this world, albeit through weary eyes. He sat at the side of the road, following that edict that soldiers from all time and all places follow: take care of your feet and your feet will take care of you. Except now, instead of the M4 carbine that he had carried as he slogged around some country in some faraway place nigh on ten years ago, he cradled RJ. “RJ,” he muttered, stroking the canine’s upturned snout, “my feet ache, my belly’s empty, my brain’s got the skitters, and everything I own goes everywhere I go. What’s a body to do?” RJ the dog, gazed with rapt attention into Rufus’ eyes, appearing to hang on every word. The two were inseparable, following that edict that dogs from all times and all places follow: you don’t find good dogs, good dogs find you.
Before them stretched an encampment, not of rows of billets and bivouacs of a mighty military machine or even an enemy army encamped along the river of asphalt and concrete. But rather, a dense mix of tents and tarps, cardboard boxes and curtains of all sorts. For Rufus and RJ lived in a land that followed that edict that countries from all times and all places follow: if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. In fact, some considered these weary wounded warriors of all stripes to be human refuse, the detritus of a society built on instant gratification or bust. Fame or folly, it makes no difference. You get what you deserve in the great land they lived upon and, without irony, called home.
Thus it was that Rufus followed that edict that all good soldiers from all time and all places follow: look to your left, look to your right. That is who you are fighting for. Everything else is SNAFU, or FUBAR or…you get the idea. After all, you’re all good soldiers. “RJ,” said Rufus, “what are we gonna do?” RJ looked at his master with the kind of understanding that only dogs can communicate, gave a little yelp, and trotted down the block. Rufus hauled himself to his feet and followed. RJ weaved in and out of the wandering perishables on the sidewalks of the city and came to a stop before the great and glorious Church of All Saints. It’s right there on Main Street, across from the Chapel of the Great Question.
The rector of All Saints refused to let Rufus bring RJ into the building. “This is a place of worship. A dog would interrupt the proceedings.” Rufus looked the rector in the eye. “You ever seen God? In your ‘proceedings?’” The good rector admonished him. “I see the divine in all those who gather here.” Rufus ignored the growling in his belly as he admonished right back. “Ever heard a bullet zippin’ past your head? It sounds like the Almighty asnappin’ his fingers!” RJ alerted at this, because dogs understand these things. “We offer food and comfort for your spirit,” the rector offered. “My spirit?” Rufus declared. “You ever roped down a cliff in the midnight blackness of a cold, moonless night some godforsaken place east of the Khyber Pass? You step off the edge, out into all of nothing, and just for the hair of a second you don’t know if…” Rufus’ voice trailed off, his spirit overwhelmed.
RJ licked his hand, the universal sign that dogs from all times and all places follow to indicate one thing: peace. And acceptance. Then he was off, running across Main Street, nearly being run over by some white Uber van. Rufus dashed after him in alarm and hugged the dog to his chest. They both looked up. Before them was the high blank wall of the Chapel of the Great Question. A woman in a garment of all the colors of the rainbow smiled at both of them. “Would you like to fill it?” she asked, nodding toward the wall.
So it was that Rufus and RJ returned to their outpost of weariness. They walked among the reviled and the refused. They followed the path that all pilgrims from all time and all places follow: They asked for something from each of them. And they gladly received. A bit of a rag. An old bread wrapper. Plastic straws. Bent hangers. Frayed fragments of forlorn clothing. A useless cell phone case. Even a $2 bill. And a fair share of combat medals and a ribbon from a Silver Star. RJ greeted each of these wanderers with dignity and grace. And he did not complain when Rufus hitched him to a jury-rigged wagon with only three wheels to bring their haul to the wall. And he was excellent company as Rufus labored through the long nights.
That next Sunday morning, worshippers and wanderers alike were stunned by what appeared on the wall. All the bits and pieces, detritus and determination were shaped and shadowed, taped and tacked together into words. That asked a question. It was a question that echoes down through all times and in all places where only the brave of spirit dare to venture:
Eloi, Eloi, Lama sabachthani?
Words are magic, and writers are wizards.