Well, it’s been a strange couple of days here. Not many Bedtime Questions other than WHY?
I’ve finished eating a banana and just left the skin hanging in my hand as I’ve read the paper. No danger of a jumping puppy launching himself at it.
I’ve sorted laundry and it’s been left where it landed. No spaniel nest pulled and kicked together for an afternoon snooze.
And I’ve talked to my children about death, God, the soul, cremation, the national speed limit, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and fate.
On Saturday, I decided that I wanted to take SteveDog and the kids (11 and 7) away for an adventure. We’d just get up and go to a hotel in the country. Their dad was still on a trip abroad and the Sunday was going to be Mother’s Day and our 12th wedding anniversary. I was damned if I was going to be a lone parent trapped at home in East London looking at a pile of ironing and doing the weekly shop.
We booked, making sure dogs were welcome. “He’s only 8 months old, but he’s well behaved,” I said. “We’ll keep him off the furniture and make sure he doesn’t chew anything.” I had my fingers sort of crossed, knowing he’d at least pee on something or try to eat a mini kettle instead.
So we went, and we had a wonderful day. We walked in the grounds of a country park and stately home. Steve was in raptures, sniffing for rabbits, making friends with other dogs and swimming in the river. He was just so active and happy. The tail never stopped wagging.
At the cafe, the lady serving came out with something strange and prophetic. She looked at Steve and said, ‘You know they say labradors are born half-trained but cockers die half-trained?’. It turned out she had both at home and knew from experience how eccentric and unpredictable spaniels can be. ‘You’ve won the battle if he just stays near you,’ she said, and I assured her Steve always kept me within sight when he was on the runaround in the park. We were close.
Back at the hotel, he slept in his big cosy bed in the boot of the car while we had dinner. We checked on him every five minutes to make sure he wasn’t crying for us. He was sparko.
I actually had to wake him when we’d finished to take him for a last walk on the huge village green before we went to our room for the night.
Then fate intervened.
The kids ran on. I let Steve off his lead. He sprinted ahead of them. From the corner of my eye I saw a car coming the other way and realised the road bisected the green just over our line of sight. But too late.
There was a scream and some shouting and a noise I will never forget. The thud of our dog being struck by the car.
And I don’t remember how I got to the edge of that green. I can’t understand how the driver was there before me though the car was parked far down the hill. He was in his 60s. Did he run? Or had I frozen?
He was kneeling on the road with his hand on Steve’s flank, just looking at me with a look of utter devastation on his face. And before I could even think about Steve I was concerned for him. The first thing I could say was ‘this is not your fault, it’s not, it’s not’. It really wasn’t.
The children were pacing around, crying, howling as I just tried to do something but did a weird wavy hand thing and knelt beside him. What could I do? He was still. Asleep.
'He's gone, hasn't he?' sobbed the man. And for some reason I didn't realise until he'd said that, didn't notice that beneath Steve's perfect wee body there was a huge gloopy patch of blood spreading on the tarmac.
His friends appeared from the car, took the children aside.
A lady came from a house overlooking the green to ask if there was anything she could do. She went back to the car with my daughter to collect our coats as by now we were all shaking and in shock. The sun had gone down and there was a sudden frost in the air.
The two men had to do something to feel better. They moved Steven from the road to the grass verge. In the 40 minutes we’d been there only one other car had passed by. A quiet village green.
We exchanged numbers. I asked ‘what’s your name?’ and I dreaded he was going to say ‘Steve’. Having a dog with a person’s name is, sorry, was a bit of a weird one. But he was Paul. We’ve texted since and I am still completely shattered to have changed that man’s life with the simple unhooking of a dog lead. I can see where Ian McEwan got his ideas. Mad events bring people together in mad ways. I won’t be texting again cos that would be weird and a bit Ioan Gruff-whatsit.
My sister lives about six miles from the scene of the spaniel disaster and she and my brother in law answered my garbled call and came to rescue us. I have never been so glad to see them and feel them take over.
They had a blanket and I wrapped my boy up and put him in the back of the car. We went back to her house, took stock for a moment and then took Steve to the vet and woke the practice nurse up, paid £53 by Visa debit and told her I would like my dog back in a plain casket, ashes style. He’s going in our garden and we’re planting a cherry tree for him. We like pink trees in this house.
My son and I gave him a last gentle snout rub and a goodbye then went home for a sleepless, unhappy night, the three of us wrapped up in a single bed, swapping regrets.
My daughter is sure she knows what’s happening now. Steven Walberswick Johnston Jones is in dog heaven with Sandy, my first dog. Then there’s Ollie, our beloved golden cocker who died the week of my wedding. He’s there with a smorgasbord he’s nicked out someone’s fridge when they were on the toilet or answering the door. Jaspar, another beautiful spaniel who belonged to friends and passed away only a few weeks ago will be there, having just rolled in fox shite. There will be lots of Schmakos, ear tickles and a fresh, juicy pair of Uggs for everyone to chew on.
Goodbye, Steven 14.7.10 - 2.4.11 Love you very much.