Today's subject is life after death.
I just cleaned the back seat of my car. I've never done it before. But the back seat is where my dog rode, and he died last week. I've told the story of his death elsewhere and won't rehearse it here. Enough to say that he was very old, and we were able to do for him the final kindness we haven't found a way to do for people yet. Though that didn't make it any easier for those of us who have survived him.
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He's dead and four days buried but he's still everywhere in the house: the chair he slept in and that still smells of him, the carpet stain beside the sofa where he lay on his side and drooled, the mat behind my chair here in this study where he lay for hours as I worked. If he grew bored he'd come and stand beside my chair and lean against my thigh until my right hand reached down from the keyboard and stroked him under the chin or ran the silk of his ears through the fingers.
And I catch glimpses of him everywhere, round corners, in rooms. I said his name out loud this morning when I glimpsed him lying at the top of the stairs, but it was just the humped form of my partner's gym bag. He was my fourth dog so I've seen ghosts like this before, and I know that they will fade. But that doesn't make them any less real.
Nowhere is my dog still present as abundantly as in the back seat of the car. I left the car and garage always open because it was his refuge. The earthquakes had softened up his psyche. After 18 months of aftershocks even rain on the roof or high winds would send him to the car. He'd spend whole nights stretched out on the back seat or curled in a ball behind the wheel.
I'd fitted a cover over the back seat but he'd worn it through in several places. When I took it off just now it tore to shreds. And the seat beneath was stained like a map of the world with years of winter mud and summer swimming water. He's written himself into my world. He'll take a while to erase.
The nearside door has an arm rest. To Blue it was a ledge and pedestal on which to place his forepaws while his head stuck out the window and took in the world. It was a perilous ledge, offering no grip. If I braked with any suddenness he'd thud into the back of the passenger seat and thence down into the foot well. But it never deterred him. The passing world was just too intoxicating. Like every dog on the planet he was devoted to its sapid surface. He knew only the actual. He fell for no mythologies.
He had the whole back seat to himself. In the heart of the arm rest is a well designed for the human hand to grip to close the door. That well was full to the brim, was crammed with dog hair and compacted mud. But it was the foot wells that were the most impressive. There was fur enough down there to stuff a duvet. I hauled it out in fistfuls, fistfuls that I gave to the wind to blow back into the world they grew from.
When I'd done all I could with hands and pan and brush I fetched our top-of-the-line new vacuum cleaner, rechargeable, expensive and praised to the skies by those who take it upon themselves to care about consumer goods. My old dog stuffed it in seconds. He clogged its every vent and portal, reduced it to a feeble wheezing. It took me 15 minutes to free up its fancy tubes. I had to smile. Well done, my dog, I said, good boy.
Joe Bennett: Weathering the heat, but will we remember it?
I'm lost without three walks to punctuate my day. I've thought of doing other things, of finding recreation. Some 40 years ago at university, I used to row a lot and loved it. Perhaps I might ... but I am 62 and fat. I'd sink the boat. I thought of putting a lathe in the garage and turning wood but how many fruit bowls does a man need? I have even, God help me, considered golf.
But golf and lathes and rowing aren't me. As so often Ralph Waldo Emerson got it right. A man, said Emerson, is what he thinks about all day long. Right now I am my dear old dog and honoured to be so. Life after death.