|He was soft as rainwater. On that first night I took him across a field mined with pheasants that flew up in our faces when we fused them out. The vertical explosion of a trod pheasant is shock enough when you know it. I knew it and it still skitters me. What could he know at two months old, head like a question mark?|
I made him walk on a lead and he jumped for joy, the way creatures do, and children do and adults don't do, and spend their lives wondering where the leap went.
He had the kind of legs that go round in circles. He orbited me. He was a universe of play. Why did I walk so purposefully in a straight line? Where would it take me? He went round and round and we got there all the same.
I had wanted to swim. I had wanted to wash off the hot tyre marks of the day. I wanted to let my body into the obliging water and kick the stars off the surface. I looped my dog-lead through a trough-hoop and undressed. Oh this was fun, a new pair of socks to chew and an old pair of boots to lie on. His questioning head sank to a full stop and he didn't notice me disappear under the water. The night smelled of rosemary and hay.
Oh, this was not fun, his sun drowned and him lost in a dark world without his own name. He started to yap with the wobbly bark he had just discovered and then he discovered he could use his long nose as a Howitzer and fire misery into the fearful place where there had been no fear.
I used my arms as jack levers and raised myself out of the pool. I spoke to him, and he caught the word as deftly as if I had thrown it. This was the edge of time, between chaos and shape. This was the little bit of evolution that endlessly repeats itself in the young and new-born thing. In this moment there are no cars or aeroplanes. The Sistine Chapel is unpainted, no book has been written. There is the moon, the water, the night, one creature's need and another's response. The moment between chaos and shape and I say his name and he hears me.
I had to carry him home, legs folded, nose in my jacket, he was twice as big as a grown cat even now, but small as my arms would allow.
I had collected him that morning from his brothers and sister, his mother, his friends on the farm. He was to be my big dog, shot out of a spring litter, a coil of happiness. Bit by bit he would unfold.
He liked my sports car until it moved. Movement to him was four legs or maybe two. He had not yet invented the wheel. He lay behind my neck in stone-age despair, not rigid, but heavy, as his bladder emptied his enterprise, and the blue leather seats were puddled under puppy rain.
We were home in less than five minutes and he staggered from the car as though it were the hold of a slave ship and him left aboard for six months or more. His oversize paws were hesitant on the gravel because he half believed the ground would drive off with him.
I motioned him to the threshold; a little door in a pair of great gates. He looked at me: What should he do? I had to show him that two paws first, two paws after, would jump him across the wooden sill. He fell over but wagged his tail.
I had spent the early morning pretending to be a dog. I had crawled around my kitchen and scullery on all fours at dog height looking for toxic substances (bleach), noxious hazards (boot polish), forbidden delights (rubber boots), death traps (electric wires), swallowables, crunchables, munchables and saw-the-dog-in-half shears and tools.
I had spent the day before putting up new shelving and re-arranging the cupboards. A friend from London asked me if I was doing Feng Shui. I had to explain that this was not about energy alignments but somewhere to put the dog biscuits.
I re-routed the washing machine hoses. I had read in my manual that Lurchers like to chew washing machine hoses but only when the machine is on; thus, if they fail to electrocute themselves, they at least succeed in flooding the kitchen.
The week before I had forced my partner to go into Mothercare to purchase a baby gate. The experience nearly killed her. It was not the pastel colours, piped music and cartoon screen, or the assistants, specially graded into mental ages 2-4 and 4-6, or the special offers, 100 bibs for the price of 50, it was that she was run down by a fork lift truck moving a consignment of potties.
I fitted the gate. I tried to patch up my relationship. I spent a sleepless night on our new bean bag. I was pretending to be a dog.
The farmer telephoned me the following day.
'Will you come and get him now?'
Now. This now. Not later. Not sooner. Here now. Quick now.
Yes I will come for you. Roll my strength into a ball for you. Throw myself across chance for you. I will be the bridge or the pulley because you are the dream.
He's only a dog. Yes but he will find me out.
Dog and I did the gardening that virgin morning of budding summer. That is, I trimmed the escallonia and he fetched the entire contents of the garage, apart from the car. It began with a pruning gauntlet which he could see I needed. There followed a hanging basket, a Diana Ross cassette, a small fire extinguisher, a handbrush that made him look like Hitler, and one by one a hoarded collection of Victorian tiles. Being a circular kind of dog he ran in one door to seek the booty and sped out of another to bring it to me. He had not learned the art of braking. When he wanted to stop he just fell over.
I looked at the hoard spread before me. Perhaps this was an exercise in Feng Shui after all. Why did I need a Diana Ross tape? Why was I storing six feet of carpet underlay? I don't have any carpets.
The questions we ask of the universe begin and end with questions like these. He was a cosmic dog.