The Violinist’s Dog
The little dog woke up early on the first day and followed the new woman into the hall. Everything was different from what he was used to. The front door was wide open, and he went to the threshold, stood there and concentrated. He allowed the morning breeze to wash over his nose and tasted it. He paid attention to the scent, its intensity and flavour, and considered its source. He also listened. He couldn’t see much past the cloudiness in his left eye; fortunately his nose and ears made up for the deficiency.
The change came when the old lady died. She’d been unwell for some time: she stopped playing the violin, her smell altered and her voice weakened. Towards the end, she hardly moved from her bed. Sometimes she groaned. He’d felt that a part of her was slipping away. People visited during the day, friends mostly. At night, they were on their own. All these years, he’d slept on the bed beside her, and now he cuddled right up close. Once, on her way back from the toilet, she fell. He did his best to comfort and encourage her up, licking her face and nuzzling her; it took a while. In due course, she dragged herself to a chair and pulled herself into it and from there back to the bed. With the passing days, she became more remote and then one day she was taken away.
He didn’t know at first why he was brought to the new house or how long he was to stay. The young man was too familiar and he nipped his ankle: they towered over him and told him off. He was surprised and confused. He felt like a pariah for a day or so, until people’s emotions settled. He realised that he’d have to do things their way, find his proper place. A new situation: with the old lady, he’d been number one.
After a couple of weeks, he knew what to expect. He’d get up when the new woman appeared in the morning. She dished up his breakfast in the usual way and let him into the garden for his business. He didn’t stay out long; then she’d brush him, including the place under his ears, which felt good, and his tail, less so. She’d open the front door and he would sniff the morning breeze and listen and think. Sometimes rubbish trucks came by and made mechanical noises. If a smell was promising, he’d venture onto the porch to catch a better whiff. He issued occasional warnings to the people next door. They meant no harm, going up and down their drive, but he was on guard. Besides, a bit of a bark cleared his throat in the morning.
The new woman sometimes took him along in her car, which had a more interesting smell than the old lady’s – people’s emanations, old food, pungent objects. He was used to sitting on the old lady’s lap while she drove, but this one wouldn’t have it; she relegated him to the back. He tried to get into the front, but she was adamant.
Being left behind wasn’t too lonely as long as the man was home. The man tended to sit in one place for long periods, so you knew where you were with him. Behind him was a window seat with the cushion from the old lady’s house. One could sit on it and look out the window. When cats entered the territory, he’d let rip, barking for all he was worth. The man would look out of the window too: ‘Good dog!’
He was taken to a beach. He could remember the beach from his puppy days: the water rushing up, retreating with a hiss, the tangy smell of stranded seaweed, smooth driftwood for throwing and fetching, seagulls taking off in a flap, the odd crab racing sideways, and the give of wet sand under his paws. He didn’t go far afield because the open space seemed to threaten in some way. A lead is not a bad thing, after all; it establishes a dependable connection. After living with the old lady for so many years, he wasn’t used to the outdoors, though the old lady’s house had been large enough, with a wide hall where he’d played with his ball. He missed his old lady, particularly the leftovers on her dinner plate. He would lick the plate clean – the old lady liked that: ‘As good as the dishwasher,’ she’d tell her visitors.
In this new house, he was ignored at dinner time. But after they’d eaten, a game was played with him and he received tidbits to eat. The tidbit bag made a crinkly sound as they took it out of the cupboard. Then he had to perform: what they wanted wasn’t entirely clear, at first. They would give an order and press on his hips till he sat. ‘Good dog!’ they’d say, handing over the treat – very tasty. After several evenings, he’d sit down as soon as they brought out the bag.
That wasn’t what they wanted, apparently: they gave the order, short and sharp, always the same word, in a stern no-nonsense voice, not their normal voice. When they said that word and he sat, he got the treat. That was the deal. They were so delighted when he sat that he sometimes sat down just to please them, never mind the treat. Funny creatures, people.