Carl wakes up and he feels like an old man again. It's the most frustrating thing. Ellie's gone, the house is gone, and he has somehow acquired a dog and a grandson of sorts. These are not all good things, but he's accepted them. But having a marvelous adventure, because that really was what it was, and then returning to struggling to get out of bed. It makes him grumpy. He has to go see Russel at the park. He actually wants to see Russel. The kid may be hyperactive but the more he's gotten to know him the more Carl can see he just needs someone to care. His mother's a charming woman, and very happy that Russel has found an older "mentor" she calls him.
Despite his reticence, his outings with Russel and Dug have brought joy back into his life. Russel sees the zoo the way Carl used to when Ellie was there to smile her excitement over the new giraffe. It makes the days brighter, even if he's had to move into an apartment. At least he doesn't have to deal with the stairs. And that's the thing. Two mornings ago he woke up and needed his cane. He doesn't have his cane anymore. It's somewhere in South America, a parting gift to those crazy birds. He was happy to give it at the time. But now, the adventure, the adrenaline rush is over. Carl knows he is an old man. He's had arthritis for several years. It's just never been so thoroughly demonstrated what a hinderance it is. The chronic aches and pains, the necessity for the cane, the fact that he can't run after Russel as he did when hauling his house albeit floating, behind him. He feels maybe a little bit like a failure. Didn't he just do all those things? And now throwing the ball too hard to Dug makes his hands hurt. Dug is endlessly forgiving and excited for anything his wonderful "master" does, but Carl feels like he's falling short anyways.
He hauls himself out of bed and shuffles slowly to the kitchen. The trick is to keep moving. If he's to still he'll get stiff. Carl thinks maybe after Ellie he became a statue, unmoving in the repetitive flow of days. Each moment the same as the one before, lacking that warm glow of her presence. And then that haze was shattered and he was a person again. He had a goal and purpose, everything was moving, and so was he. He's still moving, or trying to keep it, up, but that doesn't mean it's easy. Russel's mother thanks him profusely for letting Russel run rings around him and taking the kid camping and dog walking and out to ice-cream.
"Whenever he comes home he's so calm. I don't know what you do, but I've never had so many peaceful afternoons." She smiles gratefully. Carl shrugs and tries not to show just how pleased that makes him feel.
Russel is a reason to keep moving. And so is Dug. Dug is now bounding back and forth across the kitchen in hope of treats. It's the kind of energetic exuberance that might once have been annoying to Carl, now it only makes him smile. He doesn't give Dug a treat though, the happy dog has gained enough weight stealing ice-cream when they sit on the curb outside Fetton's. Carl is an old man, he feels it in his bones, in the daily ways his body doesn't do what he remembers it to be capable of. But he's adjusting, he's living. He may have arthritis but he also has has a young boy and a friendly dog, and a big wide world to continue exploring. Maybe he just won't go quite as far afield. When he pulls Dug's leash from the hook and they set off on their walk for the park, slowly and steadily, Carl decides not all adventures have to be grand.