I have a picture in mind today of the first time you met Martha, my sister. I see you having a chin wag on my sofa on matters literary, artistic and culinary. I was just the parlour-maid at the time, drawing Nespressos from the machine. I know my place. You took to Martha immediately, remember? And we met on the doorstep, you and I having dawdled merrily on the way back from our afternoon walk in Regent’s Park, in our North London neighbourhood, to spot her turning the corner of the Close a few paces ahead of us. I knew you’d get on famously, because you waggled your head in greeting and your tail swished through the air and you tossed your long head back and started up a greyhound roo, something you rarely do outdoors, and even more rarely upon first acquaintance. A greyhound roo is very musical, stirring, indeed, and I explained this to Martha, about the roo, how particular it is to the greyhound, how close to a wolf call and full of special information. I note that you roo for joy and in appraisal, and for those amongst my friends of whom you especially approve. You never roo for me, but we don’t need such telegraphy. We have a language all our own.
This memory puts me in mind of two things, Master. Seeing you and my sister on the sofa the day you met reminds me of the day we first met on a warm May afternoon in Norfolk not two years ago and, of course, it reminds me that I promised a piece of writing for an anthology book, which would be a dialogue, as I envisaged it, between your voice and mine. I was always your cheerful amanuensis. What a partnership it would be! What larks we would have! But you died, Master. Four weeks after I promised this piece, you died after an unexpected illness of lightning speed and violence. You were not yet four years old.
What do I do now? Tell me what to do, please. Without you. I loved you so much. Where shall I begin?
- Mine anatomy! Discourse upon mine anatomy!
- Yes, Master. Good idea.
One of the most famous descriptions of the greyhound comes from the 1486 Boke of Seynt Albans, a book of monographs for the gentry on hunting, hawking and heraldry with a chapter on fishing added some ten years later. Call it The Field of the fifteenth century. In the Book of St Albans, Dame Juliana Berners wrote that
A Greyhound shold be
Heeded lyke a snake
And neckyd lyke a drake,
Backed lyke a beam,
Syded lyke a bream,
Footed lyke a catte,
Taylld lyke a ratte.
I first saw Master on the website pages of a greyhound rescue in County Kerry, Ireland. There were several photographs, one with him looking straight to camera in a racing yard, on the end of a rope, a tight leather “fishtail” collar round his neck and a rusty water bucket at his feet. And there were several in profile, mugshots. I was captivated on the instant.
The nose. Aquiline, Roman.
I was drawn to his name, Master (racing name: Jeffs Master), and his sheer blackness. I did not know at the time that black hounds and male hounds tend to linger longest in rescue. The racing world abounds with the offspring of Master’s grandfather Top Honcho and great-grandfather Head Honcho, both famous Australian champions, both black and both epic stud dogs, their sperm frozen for posterity in a spirit of hopeful and ambitious breeding. Not all the Honcho descendants are black, of course. And not all are good at racing. Jeffs Master wasn’t. He ran two trials, winning one, and five races at Tralee and Galway stadiums, taking second, fifth and six places in an undistinguished grade. According to the race comments, he had, variously, EvCh (every chance), was SlAw (slow away) QAw (quick away), set the EP (early pace), and Blk (baulked). He was Crd (crowded) several times. He finished sixth in his final race despite running on the inside. Losses and wins are gauged by tenths of a second.
It is interesting that black in a greyhound should be deemed unfashionable today when, from the time of the Medieval Forest Laws, unbroken colours were always favoured by the nobility for whom greyhound ownership was a special preserve. A blue, fawn or black greyhound is so easy to see. Brindle colours may well have been bred into the hound in an effort at camouflage, because greyhound-ownership had been outlawed for commoners in the early eleventh century, a law that endured for hundreds of years. Master evoked one of the two solidly coloured female hounds, one black and one blue, in the famous portrait of “Rolla and Portia” painted by the Swiss artist Jacques Laurent Agasse in 1805.
Agasse (1767-1849) grew up happy and wealthy, spending much of his time in the family stables and kennels in town and country, and drawing pictures of animals copied from volumes of Natural History. His father sent him to art school in Geneva before Jacques Laurent furthered his study of animal anatomy at a veterinary school in Paris, after which he returned home, where he met the aesthete and corinthian George Pitt, Lord Rivers. He painted a portrait of the Englishman’s dear departed dog, which pleased Lord Rivers immensely, and Agasse was eventually persuaded to follow his patron to England. Here, Agasse was in his element, achieving handsome landscapes and refined portraits of horse and hound for the predilection of the gentry. Jacques Laurent is buried in St John’s Wood.
He must have enjoyed the London Zoo, Master, which we skirted nearly every day. He surely loved the zoo and, what with being a favourite of the nobility, I daresay he was granted special access by Fellows of the Zoological Society. I daresay his spirit wanders there still and he saw you, Master. He admired your comportment and elegant anatomy and was reminded of Rolla and Portia. The prepossessing black greyhound in his painting could be your grandgreymother.
Master! Your silken coat! How it came to shine, to gleam. To shimmer, at times, with iridescence.
The Regent’s Park.
Regent’s Park became our second home, our reward at the end of my writing day. The first time I let Master off lead was by mistake. In early days, I attached an equestrian lunge line to his lead and worked on recall for short spells as he learned his name. In the racing life, a hound will almost never be addressed by name or looked in the eye. One day, on his regular lead in the central playing field in Regent’s Park, Master began to spin and dance for sheer joy and I dropped the lead for fear of hurting his neck as he sprang forth. He ran in beauty with a greyhound grin on his face, speeding in grand laps round and round my startled self, but when I whistled once, then called his name, he galloped my way to stop at my feet, ears pricked and eyes like sparklers. This was his first zoomie, an impromptu of dazzling style, and unforgettable.
Your zoomies, Master, were an ode! An incarnation. I laughed open-throated to see you, became aware of my heart in all its parts and functions, the circuitry and oscillations, the vital coursing of blood.
Day after day we wandered the park, strolling the avenues and sniffing the blooms and doing zoomies in the fields, drinking from the fountain, resting in the shade of his favourite tree, a London plane by the Broad Walk off Gloucester Gate. We watched the ducks and geese and heron in the wetlands and scouted for ogres on the Long Bridge known to us as “Troll Bridge” for Master’s strange wariness there, bewildered as he was by the sound of roosting pigeons on arch and truss beneath the beams. And I fancied we were shadowed by a crow. He followed us everywhere, often at several paces. I named him Misha of the KGB. What adventures we had, Master, in these our bucolic hours, our paradisiacal days!
I see you everywhere.
There are spirits everywhere. No, that is not quite true. It is safer to suggest that certain people, certain creatures, are so very singular they simply raise the dust. They are templates and touchstones for their perfection of form, for their personality. They are just a little closer to the gods. Master was a head-turner, an eye-catcher, his presence was moving, fetching. One had to gawp. And when we bestrode Regent’s Park or walked on moor and seashore, I swear I could see the spirit of his antecedents in the broad afternoon! I took many photographs. Sometimes they appeared there, his ancestors. I drained the colour from photos, I applied a vignetting and lo, there surely was Master’s grandgreyfather bestriding Regent’s Park or the Yorkshire moors, or looking out to sea! To look at Master closely was to see history, to see into the past and forwards again, to all there might be to come. I saw so very far. He made me see so very far.
Heirlooms and legacies.
Master’s forefathers were not competitive racers until the early twentieth century. Chasing an artificial lure round an oval course for a wagering public did not begin as a sport until the first track opened in California in 1919. The first meet in Britain was held at the now notorious Belle Vue Stadium, Manchester, in 1926. Greyhound coursing, a sighthound sport not exclusive to greyhounds, and involving pursuit of the live hare, has a much longer history, and is originally a noble pastime as old as Ancient Greece. In its modern competitive form, open coursing took shape in England with The National Coursing Club forming in the mid nineteenth century to regulate an increasingly popular sport that declined, however, with the advent of greyhound racing. Coursing is now illegal in the UK, though closed coursing still thrives in Ireland, that land of dreamers and inveterate gamblers.
It is without doubt in a greyhound’s genetic makeup to run. That is his heritage. It is in his blood to run, but not always torace. It is exhilarating to watch a greyhound run and I can understand the instinct to harness that talent for sport. It’s what we do. We do war and we do sport and we enlist the services of beasts in both fields. We do war and sport very well, but not grace. We do not do grace very well, and regardless of the arguments for or against greyhound racing, it behooves us to remember the hound never chose to race or course for money in an organised fashion or to be bred almost entirely for such purposes. The power of choice does not necessarily dignify man over beast, so it behooves us further to remember that the greyhound cannot influence the conditions in which his career is conducted, he cannot quit of his own volition, but only when gainfully retired, or retired injured beyond further capacity, or dumped, destroyed, and failed. This is where I came in—when a racer failed. Here is where I tried to show a little grace and take responsibility for the often sorry consequences of man’s decision to assign the noble greyhound a new job description, a new reason for being, thus turning the consort of princes into a sporting machine. Master was a failed racer. He needed rescue.
Everything hurts. I am finding it so hard to sleep. The moment I close my eyes I see terrible things, I see your last moments. My eyes burn by day and I am coming out in inflammations and chilblains and fiery rashes. I am having silly accidents in the kitchen due to fatigue and carelessness. Friends send me advice and ointments and dietary recommendations. The Neosporin +pain relief ointment “soothes painful cuts and provides temporary relief from pain.” That’s good. I thought I might spread it around the heart region and across the lobes of my brain. Someone suggested I dose myself with Bach’s Rescue Remedy. This is a natural dilution of five flowers—Rock rose, Impatiens, Cherry plum, Star of Bethlehem and Clematis in a 50:50 mix of water and brandy. It is a “vibrational” or “energetic” medicine for the healing of depression, insomnia, stress. For the spiritual crisis in a person. Well, well. Spirits again. Rescue Remedy has never worked for me and frankly, for not a great deal more than the roundabout £10 I require to procure myself a scant 20 ml of it, I can purchase a bottle of bison grass Zubrowka vodka, which surely has tremendous naturopathic properties due to its infusion of bison grass—or “holy grass”—an aromatic comestible favoured by the sole remaining wild bison herd in Europe, grazing in the primeval lowland forest of Northeastern Poland. It did make me smile, though, as I toyed with that tiny dropper bottle of vibrational medicine at the pharmacy. It made me think, I was it, Master, wasn’t I? I was your rescue remedy in May 2011 when I met you, and five weeks later when I finally took you home. For the kennel stress you were suffering. For the possibility of euthanasia pending.
The average age of the “retired” racer is two and a half years. Master was almost two years old when he came into rescue in Ireland on February 20, 2011, shortly after which I saw the photograph taken in the racing kennel yard on the Kerry Greyhound Connection website. He looks scared in the photograph. The profile notes told me Master had run seven races and that he displayed a fine temperament, such as they knew it thus far.
But, oh what a prepossessing head!
I was struck by the greyhound-long muzzle with a slight Borzoi bend, a nose described in his short biography as “Roman.” His Roman nose, it read, lent him a “regal” air. And that is true, it really did. I studied all the notes, all the snapshots of other hounds seeking homes, and kept returning to Master. The last picture in the sequence of photographs taken in late February 2011 upon Master’s official retirement is also the one on his pedigree page on the Greyhound Breeding and Racing Database, the one showing him in the kennel yard in an uneasy stance, with fear and uncertainty in the eyes. Notwithstanding the fear and uncertainty, he is seen in relatively good condition, quite unlike the hound I met in Norfolk on May 7.
Jeffs Master, I learned in the spring of 2011, had been shipped from County Kerry to a support branch in Cromer, Norfolk, and then on to an animal sanctuary in Woodrising, Norfolk, to make room for an emergency influx of rescued racers. When I rang the animal sanctuary they told me he had been moved to a local kennels, but when I rang the local kennels to arrange a meeting, he was no longer there, but back at the sanctuary. Apparently, he suffered badly from stress at the kennels and had acquired bleeding sores. Apparently, he refused to lie on anything soft. And, I was told, he was a little underweight.
What a piece of work is a greyhound!
A greyhound’s coat is short and his skin very thin with no subcutaneous layer to speak of, making him particularly prone to lacerations and even de-gloving. The greyhound heart is larger than in other breeds of dog and his blood work significantly different, the red blood cell count noticeably higher and more concentrated, with his cardiac output increasing fivefold in the course of a race when he is capable of pumping his entire bodyweight in blood in the space of a minute. Only the cheetah accelerates faster. A greyhound can reach a speed of roughly 70 km/h in 30 metres or six strides, at his constant stride frequency of 3.5 strides per second using a rotary gallop with two flight phases—that is to say, limbs extended and limbs gathered, and all four of his paws leaving the ground twice in one running cycle.
Greyhounds tend to be raced underweight. They develop a thicker undercoat, known as a “kennel coat,” to withstand the cold and often have bald patches (Bald Thigh Syndrome) due to cage-rub, hard surfaces, cold, diet and metabolic conditions such as hypothyroidism, amongst other possibilities. Alopecia can come and go. Though there is some dispute, and certainly great variation in quality, where the racing diet is concerned, it is fair to assume much of what is fed is moist and not exactly conducive to dental health. The diet is high in protein and a hound coming off such a regime when retired can be a little wound up. A bit “keen.”
Jeffs Master raced at a weight of 28.5 to 29.5 kg. He had attenuated to a ghastly 22 kg when I first beheld him, a bag of bones with bleeding lacerations on rump and shoulder and a kennel coat heavy with scurf and dull as dust. His thighs were not bald, but the hair was sparse there and he had obvious muscle wastage. His young teeth were encrusted with yellow plaque, his ears greasy and he smelled of warm dung. Yet he was alert and merry upon greeting. I was allowed to see him briefly without his muzzle and he lapped me once on the chin as I crouched, a nervy darting lick, much as a child plays with a flame. I found him beautiful.
Master! Someone wrote this on your Greyhound Data page: “Sadly deceased Feb 2013—the most loved dog in all of England.”
My good friend Dr. Diana Weinhold drove me to Norfolk. She is a professor of Economics at the LSE and highly articulate, with a rigorous mind and a marked lack of sentimentality. She also has a lifelong experience of dogs. We walked Master round the paddock where he greeted an amazing bestiary with perfect affability: feral cats, llamas, horses, white peacocks, goats and, finally, a row of keyed-up dogs (not greyhounds) behind kennel bars who roared at him as he passed. He was enchanting. I asked the sanctuary to reserve him for me, pending a home check, and on the drive home to London, Diana remarked, not without compassion, that Master was clearly a “sweetie,” but looked terrible. She said he looked as if he might drop dead very soon.
It is interesting, not only that there are so many expressions and combining forms featuring the word “dog” in our lexicography, but also that they are almost universally pejorative. A dog’s trick, a dog’s dinner, dog eat dog. Die like a dog, not a dog’s chance. The list is long. I was dogged in my pursuit of Master, in the politest fashion possible. The OED has this entry for hound: “v.t. 4. Harass or persecute relentlessly.” One might say I hounded the sanctuary for news of him and for my home check.
I knew that because of their minimal body fat and peculiarities of metabolism, greyhounds do not tolerate anaesthesia well and the protocols for administering this medication are necessarily different than for dogs in general. Master was due to undergo a routine castration before I could expect to adopt him and he was so drastically thin, I worried he would die of anaesthetic. I rang the sanctuary often. I waited four weeks for my home check, during which time I not only hounded a contact from the Kerry rescue organisation, a woman who no longer had any say in the matter, for advice on how to expedite matters, but fussed inordinately in my quest for Master’s necessary accoutrements, despite a vague anxiety I might be tempting fate. I began a search for the martingale collar I knew I must have due to the specifics of greyhound anatomy. The greyhound’s neck is larger than his head, which means he needs a collar that he is unlikely to slip, once it is properly adjusted. And it must be fine, not to chafe the delicate skin. These are the requirements of the sighthound martingale, often with a narrower section between two brass D loops, which should almost but not quite meet behind the ears when drawn close. I remember finding it quite extraordinary to see so many sites with such elaborate collars and vestments. It seemed most certainly special to the breed. Why do greyhounds have such beautiful things? What moves people so to adorn them in this extravagant manner, I wondered. I thought of that scene from Fitzgerald, from The Great Gatsby, when Daisy Buchanan is shown Jay Gatsby’s house and she weeps over all his English shirts in his dressing room. Daisy weeps. She says,
“It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such—such beautiful shirts before.”
Before long, Master likewise had a wardrobe of singular depth and flourish.
Master, you were a shooting star. Unparalleled for personal dash! And what a race to the finish! The metabolism is so quick in a greyhound, death struck like lightning. Greyhounds do most everything fast.
When Cécile Soyer, the oncologist at the Queen Mother Hospital, Royal Veterinary College, in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, rang me for the third time on February 13 to impart the latest news, I listened until I could no longer hear and so I gave her a friend’s number, as that friend had suggested to me in the course of that awful day, having anticipated I might lose control of my faculties. And then my friend rang again to tell me in the gentlest of tones that things were very bad indeed and there was nothing to be done and I must hurry back to Hertfordshire. I poured a glass of wine and stood in my duffel coat watching the clock for the time I should meet Nancy, my lovely Flemish friend who was to drive me for the second night running, coming to my aid both nights at a moment’s notice. As did your illness, Master. Your illness and death came at a moment’s notice. How you adored Nancy and her greyhound Mary, racing their way across Regent’s Park whenever Nancy called your name! I watched the clock that Wednesday evening, February 13, and paced the floor and drank with difficulty, because my throat was closing and my jaws clattered uncontrollably, a sound of castanets. I had to hurry to Hertfordshire.
In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen. Oh, but they do. Yes, they do.
The popular and somewhat twee expression for a greyhound’s passage from this world to the next is the crossing of the “Rainbow Bridge.” It no doubt applies to the demise of other breeds, yet I heard it here first, in the greyhound community. It is sad and silly and wishful all at once and, at my most fanciful, I see the departed prancing there in the great beyond over the rainbow bridge. Stretching, play-bowing, doing zoomies, as is it is fondly known in greyhound-speak. Effecting a greyhound waltz, the greyhound terpsichorean.
June 12, 2011
It was five weeks before I returned to the animal sanctuary in Woodrising, Norfolk to sign adoption papers and bring Jeffs Master back to London with me in the car my friend Lincoln rented for the purpose.
“GREAT looking dog!” he exclaimed. Lincoln beams with good nature and optimism at all times. Only the rain can dispirit him. And he meant it, great looking dog!
“Yes, he is!” I said. “A bit thin at the moment. A bit—”
“Ahh! He’ll be fine!”
When Lincoln lifted that dung-smelling, scarred and scurfy bag of bones out of the car in my street in Camden Town some hours thereafter, Master had left a sea of scurf upon the thick mat we had laid in the back for him. The vehicle smelled like a farmyard. Master had done a lot of stress-panting and farting during that long car journey and insisted on wobbling precariously on his long legs for some time before finally lying down. We had a fairly extraordinary first night together, quite aside from the fact that recently retired greyhounds are wholly unused to houses.
In greyhound vernacular, the prospective adoptee is described as looking for, not his “forever home” as the typical saying goes in animal rescue, but his forever sofa. The greyhound predilection for sofas is partly due to being accustomed to a raised, straw- or shredded newspaper-filled pallet in racing kennels, and partly due to his thin coat and skin and prominent anatomy. It is also due to an instinct for finer things no amount of hard knocks can eradicate. Though Jeffs Master arrived in Camden Town on June 12, 2011, un-housetrained and new to the business of staircases, it took him perhaps two hours to discover my sofa.
And there, after a brief while, we developed the habit of reclining together to watch Jon Snow on the Channel 4 News most every evening and, perhaps once a week, to share a dozen soft-boiled quail eggs between us. In our ritual, I peel the eggs one by one and dip an end in celery salt, biting that half before offering the other to him. Master had a big thing for quail eggs.
I proudly sent photographs of Master on my sofa at home, and of Master in a garden in Worcestershire in his first week or so, to my contact in Kerry. She was quite taken aback and asked for more, particularly of Master standing. She remarked that when I had mentioned his weight and poor coat in earlier correspondence, she had thought he might well have lost condition due to kennel stress, which can strike some hounds hard. She thanked me for the photos, “though my gods,” she added, more than a little surprised he had been homed in such a state, “am I angered by his condition!”
There are many reasons a shelter or charity can let a creature down. The shelter can be overstretched and overambitious and, as in this case, if it is not a dedicated greyhound rescue, where most hounds are to be found, the charity may simply be ill-equipped to cater for his more specialised needs. A greyhound is a singularity. I have been to a racing kennels and watched a greyhound pogo into the air repeatedly in his box to the vague distress of his kennel mate. I was staggered to see this, how high he could jump, straight as a rocket, and how long he persisted. I am told this is not unusual. I know of one other hound who went “kennel crazy” in this manner at career’s end, still no doubt flying high on the protein-rich racing diet he was taken off too hastily. He incurred grave damage to the hip.
O ye gods and little fishes, Master! But just look how you gleamed by autumn! And we had adventures, did we not?
There are three tall sash windows facing the close in the front room of my London flat. I had built the sort of flyscreen one sees quite commonly in Canada for one of my early Victorian sash windows out of strips of pine, fly screen mesh, Velcro, glue and small brass hinges and door furniture. The panels were window width and maybe 30 cm in height and, in summer, I would fit it beneath the raised sashes to enjoy the cool breezes while not simultaneously offering free room and board to all manner of winged things. I was quite pleased with my handiwork, but I shan’t be using the screen ever again, because in Master’s second month with me, I left him the run of the flat for the first time, thinking to minimise his separation anxiety by not restricting him to the hall, bedroom and bathroom, thus telegraphing my departure, and on that occasion he flew out of that sash window straight through the screen to follow me. I am told his scream was heard all down the street. I was barely ten minutes away when the accident occurred, alerted by a neighbour on my mobile, and I raced home to find Master all a-quiver, yet upright and miraculously intact, in a fearful lake of blood. I scooped up that 22 kg body and made for the Royal Veterinary College Animals’ Hospital, prepared to stagger there with a bleeding greyhound in my arms as fast as humanly possible, but a passing car of local security officers, called Guardian Angels, arrested the traffic at the sight of me and ferried us to the RVC at breakneck pace.
Some months later, this same pair of Angels stopped me in the Camden High Street I was on the point of crossing with Master. They had to introduce themselves because I did not recall their faces from that wild day when Master took to the sky, entering the world of flight. I embraced the community officers in the High Street. I would not forget their kindness.
Guardian Angels, Master. Where were they in February 2013? Why didn’t they come? I have a recurring dream these nights, one of many. In this one I kiss a stamp, a document, something, and it shrivels and curls, desiccating instantly. It flies to the air like ash.
In an imaginary trunk in an imaginary attic, along with a desiccating pile of imaginary photographs of Master’s grandgreyfathers, there is also a photo documentary and a bundle of diaries recording the marvellous adventures of the twenty months and a day we enjoyed together. And now there is a letter I wrote to him in the aftermath of his death.
Here is the letter.
Twenty Months and a Day.
I have so much to tell you and in no very particular order. Order is quite beyond me at the moment, which is why I rose very early this morning almost directly upon wakefulness to try and write you this letter. Writing is my chief instinct, my compulsion and my succour. Writing is my thing and might save me, which brings me to number one.
1. You were my compulsion and my succour likewise, and saved me daily, yes, every single day. I loved you so much.
2. Since I last held you, I’ve had a few hours of blessed semi-consciousness, call it sleep, crawling into bed out of sheer exhaustion, hoping to find you there in our most private place, but bed is desolate without you, and that’s number two.
3. I am wearing the same outer garments you collapsed against on Wednesday night 13 February 2013 at the Royal Veterinary College Queen Mother Hospital in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. In that dreadful moment I thanked you for being in my life and for living with me. There are two dozen quail eggs at home I will find so difficult to eat without you, I said. Then you were gone. I do, in fact, regularly wear the same outer garments day after day. You were the one with the ever-changing bespoke wardrobe and that brings me to number three. You required no adornment, Master. You were so prepossessing, a hound of epic beauty. I never tired of taking in the sight of you. It was merely my fancy and pleasure to adorn you.
4. My life is littered, so very suddenly, with small agonies, this obstacle course of pain. The sparkling sight of your bowls I polished with Astonish stainless steel cleaner in anticipation of your return. The Master coaster I just placed my long Nespresso on at 5 a.m. this morning, the one designed by my friend Susan in the style of ancient Greek pottery, designed for us specially, because she fell in love with you, too. The sepia screensaver of you on my MacBook Pro I opened for the first time since Wednesday afternoon. The goat-hair baby brush I felt against my skin as I reached for something in my bag yesterday, the one I carried everywhere so I might brush the dust from your body any time it should fall upon your lustrous self. The silver whistle I touched in my pocket as I fumbled for a tissue; your tooth mug; your Virginian Rebel Rooster stuffie toy, also a gift from Susan, the Virginian; your folded pyjamas. A hundred things, Master. A hundred and counting. The terrible empty Forever Sofa. Your paws not alongside mine wherever I step. I cannot fathom how you are no longer there. Oh, walk with me.
5. My Canon Powershot S100 lies undisturbed in its leather case and I have not touched the camera function on my iPhone 5 since Tuesday night. On Wednesday night, it was, of course, unthinkable. Though I took thousands of photographs of you in our twenty months, they are merely a secondary impression, a rearrangement of light at one remove. Were my mind’s eye so untrue.
6.There are a great many messages from friends and acquaintances I have not been able to read yet for lack of courage and because I cannot clear my vision for any sufficient length of time. My eyes are veiled with tears.
7. The shocking speed with which you were struck down by a rare and dark union of two vicious cancers in your very prime, one month shy of your fourth year, was a blessing. I grasp that now. The shocking speed was a blessing. And how brave you were in those last days, I grasp that too. Your heart was so strong, whispered Cécile the oncologist, as she helped you die.
8. My own heart soared daily as I watched you play and do zoomies, and pant with merry exertion, and explore and flirt and beseech, stroll and wander with me, eat and drink, and charm without guile and go grrr with mild-mannered irritation, and disport yourself with such singular grace and elegance except when tripping up the stairs, falling out of bed, getting stuck in open doorways or bumping your head against my table.
9. I wanted to be with you always, and take you everywhere I went, and it worried me deeply there might be places where that would not be possible, because not everyone in the world, strangely enough, has the sophistication to see we ought not to be apart. Not ever. I planned my life cheerfully with our togetherness in mind and now look what happened. You went somewhere I myself cannot follow, not yet. In a way, Master, my dove, my love, I can at last take you everywhere, absolutely everywhere. I require no permission. So, come on. Let’s go. Walk with me.
10. Sounds. The ringtone on my iPhone 5 sounds like a bell. The terrible calls that came, on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 February 2013! My phone tolled like a bell, a death-knell. I’m expecting a further terrible call, this from a crematorium about a delivery of a plain box filled with ash, ash like the taste in my mouth, a taste of dust and ashes. That’s not you, Master! It can’t be you, never you! Emma, be polite. Accept the box.
When that box comes, I’m going to walk it to Regent’s Park. I’m going to place it in the big field and stand under your big tree and make a great sound of my own. I’ll call your name and out you will leap to race my way at exhilarating speed with that marvellous light in your eyes and your mouth open in a greyhound smile and your paws in air as much as on ground, thundering brightly. Oh, what a sound!