A Story for Our Time: Woman’s Best Friend

When I was in my teens there was a large black dog that followed me everywhere

We didn’t mean to go to sea, the sun is shining, but it’s not helping much. Usually when it’s sunny I feel happy, but something is wrong today. I’m talking out loud to myself and it’s as if I’m watching myself doing it and feeling self-conscious but not in an embarrassed sort of way, more that the words sound wrong, I seem to be reassuring myself a bit too much. There is something wrong with the way my mind is working, or not working. I am out of the ordinary. Everything’s out of the ordinary. I have lived a whole lifetime under one set of mildly varying circumstances and now the world for me has changed, and not for the better. A new normal. There is nothing normal about this. I reject the ‘new normal’, I want my old normal, which to be perfectly frank, was not what most people would have called normal, but I had started to love what was occurring in some ways. The discovery that I could lead groups of people singing in beautiful harmonies was a very happy one for me, it changed the way I felt about myself, and other people.

One of the sweetest things that ever happened to me was directing a group of twenty-five or so people to sing a song I had written myself in three-part harmony. There were two wonderful things about it, firstly the sound that they made together was hauntingly beautiful, and secondly their enthusiasm to sing the song that I had written, and they repeatedly asked to sing it. I did something that brought happiness and joy to a whole bunch of other people.

My mother brought me up to always tidy up after oneself, especially at someone else’s house, you make the bed and do the washing up, that sort of thing. I think that perhaps life is supposed to be like that, living on Earth is a bit like visiting and we should leave it in a happier more beneficial state (for all beings) than we found it in. So far I don’t seem to have been very successful at that. Other people might disagree, but they aren’t here with me now, alone and lost in a vast ocean. 

Today it seems to be an ocean of torment, I keep catching glimpses of it looking at me in an unfriendly way. Is that paranoia? Can the sea really take shape and look at a person? It only does it when I’m not looking so there is no way of proving it either way, so one could just as easily decide it was merely a vivid imagining, and perhaps one should, for the sake of sanity. I must therefore be sane if I can logic my way out of a spot like that. They say (there they are again, the ubiquitous they) if you think you are mad then you are not. Mad people don’t think they are mad. So it would be ‘I think therefore I am not’ Descartes was wrong after all. Of course that’s ridiculous. I expect there are plenty of people who think they are mad who are mad, so that’s no help.

What would help? A week on the Greek island from my imagination with Gerald Durrell, plenty of animals and my kids swimming in a turquoise sea while I sleep off the last ten years on the beach.

I have always felt that I was born in the wrong time, but I’m not sure what the right time would have been, rough estimates in my mind put it as somewhere in the last one hundred and fifty years, but that would have been so that I could see planet earth before the teeming humans put tarmac over everything. On the other hand, my grandfather was born in 1911 and as a child he had his tonsils out on the kitchen table, so there are some less desirable parts of being born in the less technologically equipped past. There is nothing to say that my tonsils would have needed removing. Or before the industrial revolution, anytime before that would do really, perhaps not while there was a plague though.

It’s all pointless anyway because I am alive now. In this day and age. I am a modern human whether I like it or not, and I don’t. I crave to be out in nature, although apparently not out on the ocean, which is of course a part of nature. So even the thinking is wrong. Perhaps that’s the only thing that is wrong here. The thinking. I have been led to believe in the past that it’s easy to change your thought behaviours, what a load of balderdash. Horses for courses perhaps.   

I crave a life beside a campfire, just being near a fire warms not just my body but my heart too, I don’t know why, but somehow it makes everything right, and being by an outside fire is another level of wonderful. There is nothing better than sitting by a fire with friends singing and playing music in a beautiful place, and then sleeping under the stars and waking up to the song of the birds while the cold nips at your nose as you snuggle further down into the blankets.  

The cold has snuck its icy fingers into my whole being today, it seems as if my very bones are shivering. There is a strange light on the ocean like dull silver. I look down into the water as I have done so many times before, there is nothing new to see, but from that crafty corner of my eye I see something and it is moving just in the periphery of my vision. I know its tricks, as soon as I turn my head to look it will shoot out of view, it’s here to torment me. Well I’m not playing today, maybe if I keep my head still I will tempt it into view, I know it can’t resist the urge to frighten me forever, although it is doing a pretty good job of that without revealing anything.

When I was in my teens there was a large black dog that followed me everywhere, and I used to catch glimpses of it now and then, but whenever I looked at it directly it would vanish. At first I was afraid of it, but eventually I came to view him as a friend, a distant companion, my protector even. I continued to see my dog for many years, somewhat less than when I was a teenager.

I had a real dog too, his name was Gradely, as in ‘reet grand and gradely’ Yorkshire slang for excellent! He was a very good dog, I sort of inherited him from an ex-boyfriend when he left he seemed to forget his dog. Gradely was a very big orange Lurcher, part Greyhound, Alsatian and Doberman. We used to call him ‘big dog’ or ‘donkey’, and he was always getting in the way, he had a way of standing just behind your knees and making you fall backwards when you were cooking.

Gradely was famous for unceremoniously rescuing people from their bicycles, and anybody who knew him was careful not to run away from him as he loved to chase and pull people down, to save them from the running. He was a big liability. When he was young he was a bit too good at catching deer which got me into trouble more than once.

Gradely used to sneak into bed with me in my van, he would get between me and the wall, turn sideways and stretch out his legs until he pushed me off the bed, then I would have a long struggle to get him out of the bed, he would somehow lose the ability to use his legs and I’d have to drag him until he slipped and slumped from bed onto the floor while looking at me with incredulity for my cruelty. Then he would let out an enormous fart (big dogs do dangerous farts), sniff the air with a look of outrage and go back to sleep where he had fallen.  

Gradely had an uncanny knack of taking on my dislike of certain people, I lived on a traveller site in Donegal for a time, and there was a man known as twelve-dog-Bob, nobody knew for certain how many dogs he had, he refused to tell anyone, perhaps he thought it added an air of mystery, and if you went in his bus they tumbled around too much to count them. I didn’t like Bob, he was often unkind. I once got a lift with him somewhere and he spent the journey messing with my head to the point where I thought he would leave me on a moor in the middle of nowhere, or perhaps I just wanted to jump out of the car, I can’t remember now . Unsurprisingly, Gradely seriously did not like Bob, which to Bob’s chagrin meant that Gradely would not allow him to approach my van, or even to walk past within ten metres. Gradely barked savagely at any attempt by Bob to ‘visit’ me, and I watched from my door half-heartedly trying to hide my pleasure at Bob’s discomfort.

I could do with Gradely now, or the black dog of my youth, not just to scare off the shadows, but for the lovely firmness and warmth of a cheeky big dog leaning against me, I could share my troubles with him instead of talking to myself, that would at least give me the illusion of sanity, very comforting.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

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