The Robinia is still recovering from the storm. The edges of its fragile leaves are brown and bruised. It is not how it usually looks in summer. It is autumnal, bedraggled.
The Willy Wag tail nest is still there. Stoic and strongly harnessed to its branch. But it is empty. No longer do the busy little black and white birds make their way, back and forth, with bounty from the grass.
Where do Willy Wag tails go to grieve?
Mrs. W is in her seventies. She wears a polycotton blue and white floral print dress for her visit to the vet. It is a happy dress. Benny is her Jack Russell terrier with a long history of heart disease. We have battled his belly, which grows rigid and tight with oedemtaous fluid, but the belly has won. The skin is drawn tight over the gourd-like abdomen. She keeps a measure on the size of his belly with her dressmaking tape. Today it measures 60cm. I think of Elizabeth Taylor playing Scarlett O’Hara and her less than 20-inch waist.
I can tell by the quiver in her voice. The way she holds him into her chest, that she has come to say goodbye. The medication is no longer working. His heart sounds like a working washing machine. She tells me he is not eating and he looks at her as if to say, help me, I’ve had enough.
Is she anthropomorphising? Yes. No doubt. So what. He is her only close companion these days. He is human to her.
We decide that, yes, Benny has had enough and together we will be saying goodbye to him today.
I imagine her at home, before the visit, before she has rung for the appointment. She has had to build up to this. She has tried all the foods she is not supposed to feed him, to see if he will eat. Streaky bacon. She has doubled his diuretics. She has decided to ring and then waited another day. She has sat and watched him through the night. She has dialed the number and then hung up before the phone has answered. She has driven past with him in the car and even into the car park, but turned about again and gone home. He follows her around the house, into the bathroom. She sleeps with her hand on his chest, feeling it madly vibrate beneath her palm. She has prayed that he will drift off in his sleep. She wonders how big his abdomen can get. How much can one little dog belly hold? Can it pop like a overinflated balloon?
I sedate him, and while the medication takes effect, Mrs W tells me about her old mum who recently passed away. Her mum was in a coma for days, being given morphine and not able to communicate, but, before she died she opened her eyes and looked around. She saw her daughter there and then turned her head towards the window and in the light that beamed through her daughter was convinced that her mother saw someone waiting for her. She had a wonderful, not-often-seen, smile on her face. The daughter believed it was her brother – the boy who had died of peritonitis when he was a three-year-old infant. It gave her enormous comfort to think of her mother, who had grieved all her life for her son, as reuniting with him. She then went on to tell me the story of the boy’s illness and his death. She had been five years old. She had a memory of her mother dressing the child to take him to hospital on what would be his final visit. Before this, her memory was one of his seesawing illness and her anxious parents. She remembered her mother’s tears as she reassured the boy that he would be made well. But the small boy cried that if he went to hospital he would never come back. She promised him that he would get better. And as I am expressing my sympathy for her dear old mum and how terrible it must have been for her to lose a child she tells me that yes it is unfathomable. She says it is 2 years, 4 months and 3 days ago that, at the age of thirty six, her daughter took her own life.
Benny is feeling the effects of his sedation. His head is lowered. We both touch him. Unison of strokes. She has his head cradled in her cupped hands. She will never be ready to let him go. Wrapped up in him now is all the loss in the world. She is weeping across him. She is weeping for her mother, her brother and her daughter. She is feeling an ever enlarging whole of empty pushing its way out through her chest. Fat droplets of tears are running across her face. Blue tissues turn wet and soggy in her hand.
Now she tells me about Benny. How he came to her from a home where the children teased him and he was never allowed inside. She said he didn’t know how to play when she got him. He only knew how to hide. She asked if it was her fault that his heart was the way it was.
I held her hand and we let Benny go.
We both wondered aloud, whom Benny was off to join in the light. She thought of a previous old dog, that Benny had known, one that knew how to fetch tennis balls. He would be waiting and ready to teach him to play.
Mrs. W goes home. She takes Benny’s collar and lead. They have his smell. The lead is impregnated with his white hair. She will pick them up and holding them will remember him. His tight bellied waddle following her about the house.