Short Story: Walking the Dog

Becky9.45am, Thursday 1 October 1998

It was time. I’d been keeping myself busy on my computer all morning, delaying the inevitable. Downstairs, I can hear Beccy wheezing, the result of the chronic bronchial infection that had taken ahold of her in August, and now even the steroids and the bronchial dilators weren’t helping. Just a couple of weeks earlier, an X-ray also showed a developing tumour in her respiratory tract. The steroids were to keep it at bay.

I don’t know if they succeeded or not. We’ll never know.

6.25am, Wednesday 30 September

The rain makes it hard to walk without slipping in the Balfour Road playing field, but Danny and Meggan ignore it. Concentrating on stopping Danny from his usual foraging, which often results in him being ill, I suddenly realize Beccy isn’t with us, and peer back through the driving wetness to look for her. She’s stopped short, watching, but not following, by the top entrance to the field. As I walk back to her I know she’s been sick again.

Her breakfast is a congealed mess, the pills we’d hoped would ease her condition clearly visible. I don’t know if I cried then. The rain washed away any taste of salt.

9.55am, Thursday 1 October 1998

Praying for a miracle, I try to feed Beccy a pill on a piece of bread smeared with sardine paste. She refuses it, as she has refused all food.

November 1993 (Date Unknown)

Annie invites me back to her place from the pub for the first time as we circle each other, cautiously, both fighting shy of commitment when both of us have been hurt so recently, she far more than me by her ex. Beccy bounds up and takes to me instantly; Danny is stand-offish. There’s a bond. Beccy helped Annie and I together in those early days.

10.00am, Thursday 1 October 1998

Danny’s asleep on my chair and Meggan, who we’re looking after while our friend Fiona is away, is dozing. I pick up Beccy’s lead and she wags her tail. There’s still a brightness in her eye, an excitement at this unexpected walk. Danny, nearly 15 and just a little deaf, doesn’t notice we’re on the move. I close the inner door quietly, so as not to disturb him. Then Beccy and I set out for the vets.She remains excited, but by the time we get to the park near the college, on the way into Rochester, she’s exhausted. When I take her off the lead, she just stops. She doesn’t want to walk any further, and behaves just like she did with me yesterday, and with Annie yesterday afternoon. Annie knew then, as Beccy looked up at her in the park, that she had had enough.

22nd January 1995

Diary extract:

I can’t keep a diary. Maybe it’s the thoughts that don’t want to be written down. Over one year on since I last properly wrote something down on the right day without looking back to find pieces of paper scribbled on.I get married this year to Annie, 21st June, Summer Solstice, the year’s longest day. Off The Beat suspended operation this month – no money to keep it going at the moment. I’m Director of the Lancaster Literature Festival and Editor of the national Star Trek Monthly, working freelance for Titan Books. Finally, I’m working with Titan after all this time. I was offered a job back in 1982, then it disappeared shortly before I moved to London – and I ended up working for Marvel UK. Four months into my employment, I was editing Doctor Who Magazine. Titan offered me the job of promotions officer again later and Robert Sutherland put my salary up dramatically to stay at Marvel – shortly before he left.I’m happy, writing a bit more, still distracted by computer games and very much in love with my fiancé, Annie and her two dogs Danny and Beccy are absolutely fantastic.

10.15am, Thursday 1 October 1998

We’re on the park near the art college now. I slip Beccy’s lead, and she stops dead, again, looking at me in a pitiful way. I recall the times she’s run across this place, just as she did a couple of weeks ago after I took her to the vets before and they told me about her tumour.No miracle.

8.30pm, Wednesday 30 September

Annie tells me about Beccy in the park, that this dog, our companion, is telling her it’s over and that she knows it. Slowly, we reach the same awful conclusion; that we have to have our dog, this member of our family, put down. She is not going to get better and is clearly suffering. Despite the course of steroids and bronchial dilators, her condition has definitely worsened.That night, sleep comes fitfully. In the morning Annie goes to work, saying her goodbye to Beccy, not looking back as she walks up the road. I call the vets and tell them our decision. I fax work and tell them I won’t be in.

4 November 1997

Beccy and Danny come with Mum, Becky, Mark and Daniel on a trip to Eynsford. It’s a wonderful day out, the sort of day you treasure.

December 1987

Beccy is born. Annie told me she was taken from her mother too early, so small. Somewhere in boxes never unpacked from our last move are pictures somewhere of her puppy hood. I unpack one.

10.25am, Thursday 1 October 1998

We walk into the vets and Beccy just stands there, no interest in the two puppies in the waiting room, one of them whining. Usually she jumps on my lap and is a right pain the posterior. No longer.

I start to cry. The nurse comes over, has a look at Beccy, tells me I won’t have long to wait. They deal with this regularly, but you can see it still touches them.

The last four and a bit years

Countless walks, hundreds of happy moments, innumerable silly times as Beccy has cheered us when we’re down (as has Danny). The things that sometimes annoyed us come to mind: socks all over the floor when we came home from being out without her; scratches on the front windows where she’s tried to leap through it (though impossible), to protect the house from some passing stranger. What sticks most in my mind are those bright eyes, so full of trust in the both of us, whatever mood we were in.

10.30am, Thursday 1 October 1998

Beccy’s usually bright eyes are dulled as I explain to the vet how we’ve come to this point. I lift her as gently as I can onto the examination table, tears running down my face. The nurse is there too now, holding Beccy as the vet brings other the syringe, soothing words all the time. Beccy isn’t even looking, at any of us. It’s almost as if she’s looking at something beyond us, like she used to look at things in the corner of the room that we couldn’t see, or the way she’d look at her own reflection in the downstairs mirror, as if it was something beyond our senses.

She is already gone and then she is, the overdose of anaesthetic taking her in seconds, a last breath drawn and then the dark.”You don’t need to be here any more,” says the vet, quietly.

They ask about cremation but we have already decided to dispense with such things. Annie will plant something in the garden for her next spring. A holly bush, perhaps. In a strangled voice, trying to reclaim my emotions, I thank the staff for everything they tried to do as I leave, her lead and collar clutched in my hand as I walk out into the daylight.

It’s over. I decide to go to meet Annie from work.

I get a taxi. I don’t walk.

Walking the Dog © 1998 John Freeman. All rights reserved. This work is published on the Internet on the understanding that you, dear reader, are free to download this material for real-time browsing and off-line browsing on your own computer. You are further granted permission to print a single copy of these pages for your own private use in reading off-line off-computer.

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