When my wife died that was the end for me, I didn’t want to go on.
I chose the hospital staircase rather than the lift, not wanting to see people. I really didn’t want to talk or have to make eye contact with anyone, because I didn’t want to lose control and break down in public. All this modern talk about grieving is all very well, but my generation puts on a brave face in public and we cry on our own.
I wasn’t expecting to meet up with my wife in the hereafter, as a lifelong agnostic I didn’t really believe in anything like that. It was more that now my life was empty, I had nothing to do, there simply was nothing to go on for. Our children were grown up, they’d emigrated to Australia and had families of their own. I didn’t have any hobbies really, my friends had been hers too, and I didn’t want to see a lot of long faces and sympathy for the next days and weeks.
And after eighty-four years in my own little unexciting groove, I’d simply had enough.
Back at home I felt kind of numb. I’d bought a couple of bottles of Scotch whisky from the supermarket, and I’d collected up all the sleeping pills that my wife had not taken over the course of her illness. It seemed logical that ten of these would do the job well enough. I also bought four sausage rolls from Greggs on the way home too, so that when I settled on the sofa and put on the TV, I was all set for my trip into oblivion.
However, as I watched a comedy programme, munched on the rolls and sipped the whisky I became sleepy, realising that the past days hanging around at the hospital, had taken their toll. I was exhausted. So that long before I’d got around to taking the suicide pills I had drifted off.
I woke up in the middle of the night to feel something heavy on my lap. I reached out and felt a shaggy soft coat, and all of a sudden the large jowly face and long floppy ears of a spaniel dog appeared in front of me, and he started licking my face. I burst into tears, pulling him close, longing for the contact of someone who might love me just once more in my lifetime.
Still half asleep, I worked out that I had deliberately not fastened the front door, so that whoever found my body wouldn’t have to break it down. The dog must have pushed his way inside and wandered into the living room and found me. I felt for a collar, but there wasn’t one. However, he obviously belonged to someone, they would be worried about him, so how on earth was I going to try and find his owners?
But it was the early hours, and I was still so tired that I decided to shelve the problem for the morning. The dog seemed quite happy to snaffle the remaining sausage roll from my plate, so I fell asleep again, with him contentedly settling on my lap, and falling asleep himself, making snuffling wooffely noises in his dreams.
In the morning I woke up to see daylight streaming across the room, and the dog asleep beside me.
That’s when I looked at the crumbs on the plate, and noticed the sleeping pills I had laid out on the edge. There had been ten. I counted them.
Eight! There were only eight now, and I hadn’t got round to taking any of them!
So I had poisoned this sweet dog!
I leapt to my feet, giddy with fear and horror, and gathered the sleeping dog up in my arms and raced out to the car.
I’d never had a pet before, knew nothing about dogs, but I did remember there was a large veterinary practice in the High Street, so I drove there, breaking the speed limit, screeching to a halt, parking on a yellow line outside the surgery. The receptionist was calm and kind. To my surprise it turned out to be Sally, the granddaughter of one of our oldest friends, and I remembered that she was studying to be a veterinary nurse. When I told her the urgency of the problem, she summoned one of the vets, a friendly looking young man in large spectacles, who frowned and used his stethoscope and did all kinds of medical things, while I showed him the pill bottle, and he nodded as he read the name of the drug.
It was the most awful fifteen minutes of my life, waiting while they took the dog into another room for various tests. All the time he remained fast asleep, apparently oblivious to what was going on.
That was when the nice vet called me in. My heart lifted when I saw that he was smiling at last.
“He’s okay,” he reassured me. “His heartbeat and vital functions are all perfectly normal. I’ve checked the amount of the drug he must have ingested, and we’d know by now if it had done any harm. Dogs are mammals just like us, the drugs we use to treat them are exactly the same drugs that humans take, so basically he’s just taken a relatively large dose of a sedative. He’ll just go on sleeping for the rest of the day, and when he wakes up he should be right as rain. Best if he stays here for the rest of the day so we can keep an eye on him, just in case. What’s his name, by the way?”
“I don’t know,” I confessed. “He’s not my dog, you see. He just wandered into the house last night. I was going to try and find out who owned him this morning.”
“Let’s see if he’s chipped,” he said, going across the room and opening a drawer.
“We’re in luck,” he said as he held the reader above the dog’s neck, then keyed some numbers into his open laptop, reading the screen. “It says he’s living at the local animal rescue centre, so he must have escaped somehow. I’ll phone to tell them.”
After his call, he turned to me. “Well, it seems that his last owner died a couple of weeks ago, and there was no one to look after him. He’s twelve years old, and there aren’t many takers for an animal that age. Of course potential owners have to be checked out, but Sally tells me you’re an old family friend, she can vouch that you’re a decent responsible person. So it looks as if he’s yours if you want him.”
“Goodness, I don’t know,” I told him, shocked at this sudden turn of events.
A dog owner? Me?
“I’ve never had a dog before, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
“I understand,” he said. “You’re right, taking on a dog is a big responsibility, you shouldn’t just do it on a whim. But why not think it over? Discuss it with your wife.”
“My wife died,” I told him. “She died yesterday in fact.”
“I’m so sorry.” He laid his hand on my arm.
“What’s his name by the way?” I was keen to change the subject.
He smiled again. “We were both making wrong assumptions. He is a she, in fact. Her name is Hazel. Look here, it’s a big decision, and there’s really no need to rush things. We’ll keep her for the rest of the day in our hospital. Either you come back before we close at seven, and we can tell the rescue centre you’d like her, or leave her with us, and I’ll get them to collect her.”
On the drive home, I went into the big pet store in the town centre, still undecided.
I found a few books in there, and picked up the one entitled: New dog owner’s how-to guide.
By the time I’d found out what food to buy and loaded my trolley with tins and packets, I went across to look at the collars and leads.
My mind was made up.
As I was deciding which collar to choose, a guy I used to work with came up to me. “Hello Alan, mate,” he said quietly. “We were very sorry to hear what happened. I won’t go on about it, I’ll leave you in peace, but you know where we are. You just pop in anytime you like if you want to chat.”
“Thanks, John,” I told him. “I’m a bit shell-shocked right now.”
“Course you are, course you are. Must be like being hit by a truck. After all, you were together sixty years or so, weren’t you? I know you once told me you’re not religious at all, but I’m a bit of a believer myself.” He moved closer to make sure we weren’t being overheard. “Some people jeer at the idea of an afterlife, but not me. I reckon she hasn’t left you. I reckon she’ll let you know you’re not on your own.”
“You’re right,” I told him. “Reckon I’ve become a bit of a believer myself.”
“Your Hazel was a lovely, kind, sweet lady. She was one of the best.”
The vet was pleased, and little Sally was delighted. Hazel looked at me, a bit confused at first, as I fastened on her collar. Then she licked my face.
“I hope you like her name,” said the vet. “If not, I’m afraid it’s a bit late in the day to change it.”
(image courtesy Adriana Morales, from Pixabay)