The lapping of the river is like a giant dog licking itself. A constant slurp. It is skinny milk café latte. Sometimes it shimmers. Sometimes it is smooth, muddy brown. Bottomless. When boys get atop canoes and kayaks it becomes Huckleberry Finn territory. They have legs like twigs. Hobbit feet. Notoriously unsteady. They wear life jackets because a father said “what if a boat hits them” – one is unconscious, and then the other is forced to try to rescue a dead weight and then they both drown. Could happen? Fear makes you drive to Ray’s Outdoors and spend more money. Dog eyes make you buy more slow releasing dog food toys since there is a City Farmer’s next door. And whilst you’re at it purchase a piping bag for the Birthday eclair making later in the day. Since Master Chef these things are easily purchased, as is a madeleine tray, or blow torch for creme brûlée.
It is a river that flows and all rivers have their own strength. Beneath its silky surface, it is all force and wanting. Sometimes stronger than the muscles of an eleven year old. Especially ones so sinewy and strapping. More like sapling trees that bend and sway, than meaty boys. So not solid. Rubber limbs. Life jackets makes sense. It gives mothers and fathers peace. It gives boys freedom. Specks now as they paddle away. Urged on. Laughter carries on water.
Mosquitoes keep mothers inside. They suck even through denim. Mighty. Squashed, they are filled with more blood than their size allows. A baby keeps a young girl occupied. She has been abandoned by the sapling boys who have told her not to follow them. Her white blonde hair would make her a Gretel in the forest. She must stay with the women who drink tea and talk endlessly about how to make babies sleep. At least she has Nutella.
The baby is soothed by pumpkin and breastmilk. He seems easy, and hard to please, at the same time. Mothers of saplings remember back and can’t. Have stories, but stories could be made up. Memory is so mutable. It seems hard work – the baby thing – being so attached. Having to be carried, picked up, pushed around. I tell how I have spoken of Jasper in the plural to make him sound like more than one baby. I speak of “children” when I should have said “child.” To make myself sound equal to a mother of six. How hard can one be? I hear them all thinking. So I multiply him.
Now the saplings are off most of the time, or else take themselves away from the adults to commune in their room with their own music. Macklemore. What headphones they would buy if only they could save up the money. They run most of the day, jump in and out of pools, scrape knees, chew gum, and then at night fall they are couch-bound. Like heavily worked horses, they need watering, feed bags full of grain.
At night the river turns syrupy. Molasses. Really treacherous now. As if the snags and concealed boughs could move and strangle. It slurps and pulses. It grows stronger. There is a blood moon. It hangs heavy and low in the sky – disguises itself as a street lamp.
The dog stands on the jetty, peering. He is intrigued, but not stupid, and not brave either.
We talk of another dog, left home in the care of a comforting cleaner. Gold dog has had rounds of chemo to little effect to shrink down the size of a facial tumour. Despite the mass, she bounds happily in all types of tepid, stinking water. The smellier the better, you get the sense. If she was a person you might describe her as loopy, as the type to approach everything with gay abandon. The kind to strike up conversation with any stranger. She has anxiety too, and now is on multiple drugs to ease her disquiet. Sometimes she is panicked and wide eyed – her thoughts only on demons. She tears up whole rooms and, when a nail splits, it is as if an ax-murderer has been in the bedroom.
Solving her dilemma might be more than science and love can muster.
A new study shows that women look at their dogs with the same eyes they have for their newborn babies. Makes perfect sense to a woman whose love for her dog makes her curious about what he might be feeling and what makes him happy. He slips out the front when the rest of the house is eating dinner and could easily take off down the street. Instead he waits patiently outside the front door till someone realises he is missing and lets him in. He spends the rest of the night at the feet of the couch-bound saplings.
Babies and dogs are not so very different. Mothers are vets and vets are mothers. Babies are dogs and dogs are babies. Love is love.