Thursday, 31 October 2013

How We Found Rosy, And How We Lost Her.

She's not staying, mum said to me, as she opened the car door to reveal the Miniature Yorkshire Terrier trembling on the front seat. She was on the road by the river, about to be run over. I scooped up the tiny dog and felt her heartbeat racing against my chest. She's not staying, said mum again, her voice firm. I nodded and tried to steel my own heart against the ache already pulsing there. If she wasn't staying, it wouldn't do any good to fall in love with her.

This was no stray. This dog seemed fresh from the grooming parlour. Her fur was soft, clean, and fragrant. Clearly, she was someone's treasured pet, and much as I relished the feeling that she was beginning to relax in my arms, I knew the pain and distress of whoever had lost her. We called the local police station. The desk sergeant told us that he had spoken, not an hour before, to a distraught foreigner claiming to have lost a small dog. The woman's Spanish hadn't been good, but it sounded highly likely that this was the owner of the elegant fluff ball currently reposing on my lap. Had the woman left any contact details? She hadn't, said the police officer, but we were welcome to leave ours. If she called back, he'd pass them on. Over the next few days the dog, who we named Rosy, made herself increasingly comfortable. I spent the whole time expecting and dreading a phone call that never came.

Since the police hadn't managed to help, we decided to try the vet. I confess, my heart clenched uncomfortably when his scanner beeped over the tiny microchip buried in her neck. I knew it was our obligation to return the dog as soon as we found out who her owners were, but I was already deeply attached. I may have been in my twenties, but deep down I was still the little girl who wanted a puppy. I will probably always be the little girl who wants a puppy. I braced myself for a name and address, but the microchip was blank. It was probably implanted by the breeder, but never registered by the owner. Mum and I linked eyes across the vet's table. Perhaps it was wrong to admit defeat at that stage. Perhaps we should have tried harder - though I'm not sure how - to find out who had lost her. What happened was, of course, that she stayed. She was somewhere between four and six years old at the time.

It would be difficult to overstate how important that little dog became. Rosy had special powers. She had this uncanny knack of soothing loneliness and raising spirits when spirits were low. She was exceptionally loving with us, whilst being comically bad tempered with most other people, especially men. She had a zero tolerance policy as far as rival dogs were concerned, and firmly believed herself to be at least as big as an average German Shepherd. Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough! was her general approach to all things four legged, despite the fact that any fair-sized cat could probably have given her a sound trouncing. Rosy was also particularly strident on the subject of seagulls, and other miscellaneous birds. She was positively indignant that they felt they had the right to flap about in the sky near our apartment. The bally cheek of it. She would bark and yap and generally make a total nuisance of herself at the sign of all things winged.

We lost her for a whole day once, and she came back so matted with burrs that it took about three hours to get her clean. We were so overjoyed to have her back that we didn't care. I knew, then, as we pulled the dry, spiky spheres from her fur, how her original owner had felt when she went missing, and I sent a silent whisper of thanks to whatever had bought her home to us. I hope that whoever lost her would have been happy to know that she wasn't dead by the side of the road, but had instead found a new set of human slaves to dote on her.

Rosy used to sneeze when you held a ball high above her head. She used to skid along the kitchen floor in pursuit of said ball, crashing into stools and kickboards. She steadfastly refused to bring the ball back to you, instead carrying it to her basket for a comprehensive demolishing. She always made us laugh.

Rosy had a lot of adventures with us. She had puppies. She made a policeman howl with laughter after she was reported as a dangerous dog by a particularly mean spirited neighbour. She woke me up time after time because she was too small to jump on my bed. She trembled during storms and fireworks. She chased a lot of balls across the floor. She told a lot of seagulls where to go.

I was less than a week into a new job when I got a text from my mum, who was on holiday, telling me that Rosy was missing from the luxury kennels where she'd been staying. We'd deliberated over these kennels - it wasn't cheap to house Rosy and her daughter, Gypsy, for a week - but we knew and trusted the owners, and the place was lovely. A particular plus point was the large outside run, which allowed the dogs to play in the fresh air rather than stay cooped up all day.

I cycled home, slightly anxious, but mostly confident that Rosy would be found. I imagined that she'd discovered a hole in the fence and headed off in hot pursuit of mischief. I sat down on my carpet, laptop on my lap, and video-called my mum so that she could update me on the latest. Baby, she said. Rosy didn't run away. She was taken by an eagle.

It is difficult for me to write this without my jaw setting and my eyes filling with tears as I remember my howl of pure, primal pain. From moment to moment I went from slight anxiety to the knowledge that something - someone - I loved deeply was gone forever. And not just that she was gone, but that she had probably suffered profound terror and pain in her final moments of life. I want to believe that she died almost instantly, that all she had time to experience was a shock of indignation before all turned to darkness. But I don't know, of course. I don't know for how long she suffered. I try not to think about it too much.

So that's the story of Rosy, or the part that we know, at least. She had another life, once upon a time, as a pampered puppy somewhere else in the world. Someone else has memories of her, and probably still thinks of her with a pang of longing. We will always remember her with great love. She came to us by an unusual route, and she couldn't have found a much more dramatic way to leave the world. She always did know how to get our attention. If there's such a thing as doggy heaven she's up there for sure, yapping at the angels, deeply unimpressed by their massive wings.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Wedding Ring

It wasn't that she didn't know about the affairs. She knew. She had known for years. But when she lifted the pile of clean shirts and found his wedding ring nestled in a stiff white collar, the stab of pain took her by surprise. She took a step back and sat down on the corner of their bed. She pressed the hand holding the ring to her chest and was still for a while, feeling her breaths, allowing her heartbeat to slow. At last she lowered her hand and looked at the ring, turning it between her fingers. He doesn't know, she thought. All these years, and he doesn't know that I rotate his shirts. It was worse, somehow, than the infidelity; that sudden, clear knowledge that the things she did for him, the small kindnesses, held no space in his consciousness. But he loved her, she was sure. He never crossed the threshold of their house without some small gift. A fresh apple. A wildflower from the side of the road. In many ways he was still so like the young boy she had fallen in love with all those years before. Yet in her hands she held evidence of his casual betrayal. His promise to remain true to her for the rest of their lives burned cold against her skin. He had taken it off, and he had hidden it away. He was out there, in the world, without it.

Her fingers tightened around the dull gold band and her eyes cleared. She stood, turned, dropped the ring into the pocket of her apron and swept her hands over the coverlet in a sharp, practiced movement. The creases disappeared. She returned to the wardrobe and finished rotating his clean shirts. The ring bounced gently against her thigh for the rest of the day. She felt it as she fed the hens, and as she buffed the silver frames in the living room with a soft, butter-coloured cloth. She felt it, and she thought about it, and she decided what to do.

The next day she dropped two gold rings into the hands of a jeweller. Not the local jeweller, where he bought gifts for her, and for their daughters and granddaughters. Another jeweller, far away, who did not know her face or her family. Who could not see the pride, fierce, in her eyes. What God has united, she said to herself, no man shall separate. And no woman, either.

A few days later she collected her new ring. Forged from the gold of his wedding band, and hers, it was decorated with a repeating pattern on the outside, like a sheaf of wheat curling around her finger. Inside, his initials, A.A.G. and a date. She put it on, and it felt smooth and safe against her skin. The power of his mistress, of his mistresses, sank deep inside her like a stone, diving to the bottom of a river. It was heavy there, it would never truly go away, but the weight and rush of her love for him was stronger, faster, unstoppable.

Shortly after my great grandmother Josefina died, my mother, broken hearted, went to grieve with her grandfather. Before she had even removed her jacket he was pressing something firmly into her hand. She wanted you to have this, he said, his eyes damp and bright with tears. She was very insistent. She said it was for you. I don’t even know where it came from.

My great grandfather never knew what happened to his wedding ring. I wish I could ask him now, what went through his mind when he returned to the pile of clean shirts and found no trace of what he had hidden there. I imagine him lifting one and then another, trying not to rumple them too much, but increasingly desperate. Eventually, perhaps he emptied the whole shelf, shirt by shirt. How easily did he give up his wedding ring as lost? Did he think about replacing it? Did he know it well enough to buy an exact replica? And what would my great grandmother have said, had she ever spotted an imposter on his finger? I imagine she might have pressed her lips together, and turned her ring in a small circle, screwing it tighter into place. He did not buy a replacement. He did not ask his wife if she knew where his ring was. He never again wore a wedding ring, and they never spoke of it. I would like to say that he was ashamed, but I do not know if that is true. I know that he did not stop having affairs. But every day, as he crossed the threshold of their home, he bought his wife a small gift, as a token of his love for her. A fresh apple. Or a wildflower from the side of the road.

My mother wears the ring, and she told me the story when I was very young. She adored her grandmother Josefina, for whom I am named, and whose name I carry with pride. Maybe you think it's nothing to be proud of, this endurance of her husband's persistent, sustained infidelity. But I think it took enormous courage to take that ring away, to melt it down, to hold true to her absolute faith in the vows she swore in her church, before her family, and her god. For better or for worse. Wouldn't it have been easier to put the ring back, to do nothing, to ache in silence and bitterness? What she did, she did with love, and with extraordinary dignity. I admire that.

Just let some bugger try the same with me, though...

Friday, 4 October 2013

Barking at the Moon

I was living in Spain, in a rambling pink house complete with peacocks and a guard dog Alsatian that was more likely to lick a burglar to death than bite them. The Alsatian's name was, rather unfortunately, Denise, and she used to bark at the moon several times a night, right outside my bedroom window. It being Spain, and summer, and hot, I always slept with the window open. This meant that the barking reached my slumbering ears at full volume. I loved Denise, but anyone, man or beast, who interrupts my sleep on a regular basis is not going to rank high on the popularity charts.

I would generally toss and turn through the first three or four outbursts, but eventually, exasperated, I would leap from the bed, fling my head out of the window and yell "DENIIIISE" at full volume and with considerable vehemence. This was surprisingly effective, until the moon peeked back from behind the clouds and the darn dog started up again. This usually happened approximately thirty seconds after I fell back to sleep. It was a fun game. It was difficult not to forgive her in the morning, of course, when she welcomed me at the door with her big silky brown eyes and her innocent expression. "Me? Barking? There must be some mistake. I would never disturb your precious sleep, oh glorious mistress, for surely I do adore you, and your every need and desire is my greatest concern in life. Breakfast?" How could I refuse?

Anyway, one night I was sleeping particularly badly, even before the barking commenced. I was clammy, restless and uncomfortable, sweating under my thin sheet. When the barking started, I pulled the pillow over my head. Whilst this muffled the sound very slightly, it also significantly impeded my breathing and made my head a lot hotter than it already was. Not ideal. Nonetheless, somehow I drifted back into an uneasy sleep, and the dog must have given it a rest, because I managed to make considerable progress on a rather troubling dream.  Mid-way through the night, Denise piped up again, and I was dragged awake. Hot, angry, still half asleep, I stumbled out of bed, yanked back the flimsy curtain, and wound up to fling my head out of the window, taking a deep breath, ready to shout "DENI..."

CRASH. My forehead and face made hard, fast, catastrophic contact with the glass. I reeled back as it cracked almost elegantly, in a cartoon-like zig-zag. The window was closed!? WHO CLOSED THE BLOODY WINDOW!? Oh yeah. I did. Earlier, when I thought it might rain. Oops.

Dazed, bruised, but fundamentally unharmed, I fell back into bed and back to sleep. I slept pretty well for the rest of the night. Mild concussion, perhaps.

We all had a good giggle the next morning, in between giving Denise her breakfast and calling a glazier.  It may have been the one and only time I sincerely wished I had CCTV in my bedroom. I still laugh when I think about myself winding up to headbutt a window. We would have made our £250 from You've Been Framed, for sure.

After that, I never shouted at Denise again. I learnt to tune her out, or to accept her barking as the inevitable soundtrack to the long hot nights. In any case, who am I to interrupt a dog's conversation with the moon?