“Where’s the dog?”
“I don’t know, I thought he was with you?”
And so starts the nightmare. French farmers shoot on sight and the dog already has form for bothering a herd of cows. We are surrounded by fields, and farms, and cows and sheep. If the dog has escaped our best hope is that he’s headed down the lane for his girlfirends JuJu and Lola so I head out after him.
About half way down, just past the horse field, opposite the ditch where I’ll find 2 abandoned kittens a couple of years later, I see a bundle by the side of the patched and potholed lane. Something black and white and crumpled. Time speeds down and slows up. My heart starts to thump like hearts do in books or movies when disaster and tragedy are imminent. The next few steps take seconds – and hours.
It’s a plastic bag.
The next 5 – count them – hours are fraught and tense. I start an argument with my father – whose dog it nominally is and who I blame entirely for his loss – which begins with the dog and ends with resentment and spite on my behalf. Accusations designed to harm because he lost my dog and I’m a whiney teen all over again. Because I’d lost another boyfriend and refused to acknowledge he was one worth losing. Because I was bearing a grudge from being 13 and not seeing him enough and wanting him to be around when life was shitty for me, too, dad.
The dog comes back – of course, little sod, his stomach says ‘home time’ – and we see his jaunty patchwork tail bobbing along above the long grass of the neighbouring meadow. Relief, tears etc follow. I am begrudgingly reconciled with my father.
The next day we have to run an errand – I forget, probably picking up a spool of strimmer string. I do remember we drove past the mushroom canning factory – impossible to forget the umami smell of a million boiling champignons de Paris. I do remember my father, silent, crying as he held the wheel. I do remember taking his hand and saying “I’m sorry”.
A few weeks later, on an autumn afternoon, we’ll be walking the lanes with out neighbour. I’ll hear my dad saying ‘ah, c’est quarante pourcent’ – turns out he means the efficiency of his heart. Which gives up a few months later early on Christmas Eve when the paramedic will shrug his shoulders in what is not at all a stereotypical fashion and say, quite matter-of-factly ‘c’est la vie’. I’m not making this up.
Thing is, France was my father’s dream – we’d roll off the ferry at the start of our annual holiday and he’d intone with semi-mock reverence ‘ah, la belle france’. When he made the dream real, the dog was a gift to help him keep fit and active – even though he was a cat man really. He’d tolerate all the dog’s bad behaviours explaining to visiting children that the dog was just enjoying an ‘arm dance’ – “I want an arm dance too” they’d petulantly cry – and they’d sit together on the old bench beneath the half dead apricot tree whilst my dad read Maigret (in French, natch). They developed a mutual respect and tolerance which suited them both.
Now my dad is dead and the dog is dead too. The rotten old bench sits in our pocket garden. We have a new dog. I have a husband who never met my father so I’ll never know if he would have approved (I know he would – of course he would). A son who has never known his granddad A dream of a b&b in the back end of beyond.
“What do you think, dad? Am I doing the right thing”
“I think it’s wonderful. Just one thing”
“Try not to lose the dog this time”