…the dog please?
Do you mind sorting the dog please?
From a deep sleep I haul my way into consciousness. We have a four month old baby so this is not an uncommon experience. The dog is less high maintenance but her middle-of-the-night needs still summon us occasionally. The clock radio that has somehow remained at my bedside for well over a decade reads 4.04am. A dreamscape recedes as I surface, swing legs out from the bed and stand. My lower back thrums with a dull muscular ache I hope is temporary. Perhaps I didn’t stretch enough after my short jog yesterday. Perhaps I was sleeping in a strange position. Either way it hurts.
Move. One footstep then another. Dream now only the lightest imprint, a faint outline, final fragment, gone. Slippers, dressing gown, down the stairs, young labrador outline against the front door, waiting. Outside back light switch, walk through house, open back door, then back back door, icy blast of January air. Dog leaps out onto the decking, growling, ready for cats, as she always does, then scuttles down to the small patch of tufty muddy grass to do her business. I pull the door back after her but don’t fully close it and stretch, leaning over towards my toes. It’s uncomfortable but now I’m more confident the ache is temporary. I go back upstairs to do my own business then return, whisper her name and she returns from down the side the building, claws clacking on the decking. I dry and de-mud her paws with the dog towel and we go back inside. Dog still seems strange, clingy, like she doesn’t want to go back to bed. I go back outside and stand on the decking. The large scary estate isn’t far away and we are always aware of a security risk. We are sometimes reminded by police helicopters overhead, incidents of break-ins, drug overdose news stories, gangland news stories, masked kids recklessly driving probably stolen motorbikes. We have had garden-hoppers here before, peering into sheds, but a couple of years ago, the other side of Christmas. Tonight all seems quiet, clear, still, frozen.
Back to bed, I tell Dog, and and head back upstairs.
She ok? Wife asks.
Think so. She might have eaten something weird earlier.
It’s always possible that Dog has eaten something weird and the previous afternoon she did. I walked her with Baby in the carrier and we encountered some of the Irresistibles. A retired policeman and his ageing cocker spaniel are the most incredible people on this planet, according to Dog. In the face of them our furry first born, almost three years old, is uncontrollable, feral. She bolts off in pursuit of them like her life depends on it, and bounces up at them, desperately hungry for their attention, their odour, their something. It’s the same with his son, a 20ish year old lad we encountered today. It’s embarrassing, frustrating and worrying. They both wear shorts all year round and their scent could be something to do with it. Dog is only as intense with this man and his son. Otherwise I am confident enough about controlling her. But it still worries me. Today she bolted back into woods for the lad as the chirpy lady with a distinctive strut and small bunch of yappy bichon frises approached from the road at the bottom of the park. She hadn’t seen the baby yet and wanted to make a fuss so we went through the usual motions: age, name, cootchy coo, etc. Then she gave Dog some attention. Meanwhile the lad headed off towards the road. We said goodbye to the lady and Dog once again bolted off towards the lad, who was about to cross the road. Clearly confident with dogs, the former policeman’s son caught her, kept hold of her collar and waited for me. But what if he had just crossed the road? Cars hurtle down that hill and traffic can’t see into the park from the road. It is blind. What if the dog had bolted across the road, blinkered, and a car had been coming? I worry about this retired policeman and his son and whatever inexplicable overwhelming attraction it is they possess. I worry that it will be the death of her. The same innate wild craziness that transmits intoxicating joy after she’s been invigorated by a swim is the same wild craziness that could kill her. It is a reminder that she is an animal, another species. All things being well, she will steadily mature and slowly lose that level of wild craziness. Together with the young lad and spaniel, we crossed the road and walked through the next stretch of park, where she ate something weird.
Dog continues to whine and grumble downstairs. She’s shown some signs of mild baby jealousy, but this is unusual behaviour.
Only once before had I properly slept with her, on the floor with a bean bag, when she’d eaten something weird that was worming horribly through her system. She had been sick multiple times, acted strangely in the garden, like she wanted to curl up under a bush and die. I wobbily carried her up the steps to the decking and inside. The on-call vet was no use, wouldn’t or couldn’t commit to saying anything of practical use. We would wait it out until morning. It was heartbreaking, how her eyes had appealed to me to make it stop as she climbed into my arms on the floor. Over the course of the night her symptoms mercifully eased. Several days of constipation followed before I found what appeared to be a small spinal column in a puddle of mustardy yellow shit. I was so thrilled she had done a shit.
She whines again. Fucksake. Slippers, dressing gown.
I go down and sit on a lower stair so she can jump on me and I can give her some attention. She doesn’t want to go outside again. I ask her what the matter is but she can’t articulate a response because she is a dog. Just clingy?
We try again, she whines again, I get up again. 4.30am. Slippers, dressing gown.
Downstairs I flop onto the sofa with a blanket, lying lengthways. Dog immediately jumps aboard my torso, grateful. She nestles her skull under my chin and rests her nose on my collarbone, our different limbs comfortably entwine, our heartbeats thud together, our breathing not quite synchronised. This dog is an excellent blanket, but heavy.
The small clock on the mantlepiece lightly ticks and I sketch these words in my head, hoping I’ll have the discipline to actually write them down somewhere before they fizzle away. They seem ok in my head but they are about me and my life so I am entirely biased. They could be boring and self indulgent to anyone else. At least they freeze this isolated window of domesticated time, a time impossible to envisage when I bought the clock radio in my early twenties. It still seems almost laughable. I often want to assure my younger self it is worth it in the end, all that being young bluster and bullshit.
I don’t fully sleep, her weight straining against my ribcage. She seems reassured somehow, like this was all she wanted. Her breathing stutters as she twitches, quivers, dreams. I believe dogs are capable of intelligent dreams, so maybe she had a bad one.
We stay like this for about an hour and a half. I try to turn slowly onto my side to relieve the pressure of her weight. It half works but we are both awake now so I pat her to get her off and try to go to bed again.
She whines again.
I go down and get her big cushion, bring it upstairs and drop it in the bedroom doorway.
Up you come then, I loud whisper.
Dog rumbles up the stairs after me and settles down on the cushion. I get back into bed.
Need loo, Wife says.
Dyou want to swap sides?
If you like.
I shuffle over to the Wife and Baby side of the bed, secured with a barrier. Wife promptly returns, patting the dog on the way past before sliding into my side. Baby is awake and clawing the air with sharp nails that need trimming again. Her eyes look spooky in this light, not unlike a tiny alien. I put my finger in her saliva slippery left palm and her hand squidges closed. Then her right comes around and starts picking at my T-shirt. Her left releases my finger. She is probably ingesting yet more dog hair. We tell ourselves it’s good for her immune system. I gently rock her.
Somewhere around 6am we all fall asleep.