I was talking to my rarely glimpsed neighbour who was out the front doing the gardening.
We chewed the fat for a while
and then I asked him about Gus, his elderly Jack Russel.
He doesn’t annoy you. does he? He asked.
Not at all, I said. I’m a dog person.
Well, he annoys the hell out of me, he said. The other day he was barking at the dining room wall and wouldn’t stop. There was nothing there.
Apparently, they see ghosts, I said. Even in the dark.
He stopped raking.
Or he has dementia? He offered.
Wow! I said. That would open a can of worms. Think how many documented ghost sightings could be put down to dementia.
People don’t bark at walls, he said.
Not even if they’re barking mad? I said.
We both laughed uneasily.
He went back to his raking.
Inside, the dog barked.
I took two of my mates to the vet the other day.
The Jack Russel came too.
Three of us were on valium.
All except me. I was the designated driver.
Do you mind taking the dog for a walk, I asked, in case he pees in the car?
They shuffled along the street like zombies, Les had taken three, Dave four with a few beers, but the dog’s eyes lit up when he came to a bush on the verge and he lifted his leg the way dogs too —- I tried it once and made a mess — but he was too doped to pee,
He managed in the car though but Les had a pee blanket under him so that was alright.
As we drove Eddie, the Jack Russell, put his head out the window, his ears flapping in the breeze.
That’s so cool, I said. I did that once but the cop who pulled me over told me to pull my head in, it was dangerous.
Dogs have all the fun, Les said, but he was slurring his words.
It was only five minutes into the trip.
It was going to be a doozie.
I worry about you like you worried about Chloe;
Would she be happy in Heaven?
Would someone throw the ball for her?
Take her for walks along the blue pastures
Of the sky?
But I can’t rescue you from adulthood.
All I can do is like I used to do when you played
in the Nationals,
Cheer from the sidelines
Wish you fangs and claws to fight off the trolls,
The sting of the scorpion
A heart as fierce as Balerion, the dragon
From Game of Thrones,
But peaceful and playful as Puff, that magic dragon
Hey! He said. Why are those bozos off the leash and I’m not?
You have Attitude! I answered.
Oh great! People with Attitude should be leashed? What about rappers, revolutionaries, politicians with morals?
There are no such things, I said, as politicians with morals.
You got that one right, he said. And anyway, what about you? You have Attitude. Perhaps you should be on a leash.
Perhaps, I smiled.
Look, he said, let’s change places, just for five minutes. That’s fair, isn’t it?
I had to concede that it was.
Hey! The collar’s a bit tight.
He loosened it a little.
So off we toddled along the beach, he on his hinds, me on all fours, the three bozos scattering seagulls.
My body alarms me.
It rings two or three times a night.
Who’s in charge here anyway?
Poetry flowed from me
Like water from a garden hose.
Days were diamonds.
My feet horses’ hooves.
Nothing defeated me.
I was sharp as Sherlock.
Prolific as Zola.
I had two hounds.
The wheels turn.
Accept, my friend tells me, Embrace.
Loss is gain.
Now is the new normal.
You’re barking up the wrong tree, he said.
I don’t care, I snapped.
But you’re barking, he said. People don’t do that.
It’s my backyard, I said. I can bark if I want to.
I guess so, said the man, patting me warily on the head as I wagged my tail against his chinos.