Everything is very lovely in this house and it makes me keenly aware of my luck. Old friends come for lunch and the small relations run about being funny and antic and there is even perfect weather, the November sun so warm we sit outside as if we are on the Riviera. There are ancient jokes and worn teases and fond laughter; there are the invisible stitches of shared history and the pulling threads of mutual memory. Everything is as glorious as human wit and meteorological kindness can devise.
Later, I miss my dog so much it is as if someone has smacked me upside the head.
Oh, I say to myself. I see that is what happens now. I can comport myself perfectly well in public. I can smile and laugh out loud. I can hear the name spoken; I can nod when people say they are sorry. ‘Oh I remember that dog coming to stay,’ someone said today. ‘I loved her’.
All that can happen and I’m perfectly fine. Then, in a quiet room, with no trigger at all, the desolate missing hits and there’s nothing for it but to put my head down and barrel through it to the other side.
Then it’s fine again, and there is the evening ahead, and I shall smile and smile, and mean every inch of it. I shan’t be painting on a good face; the face shall be honestly good.
This is my theory. If you allow the grief to exist, then the other stuff is not drained of colour. There may be vivid shades of light; and then there is the moment of absolute dark. It’s when there is the fighting of sorrow that everything switches to grey, because holding on takes so much effort that there is no energy left for pleasure of any kind.
It’s a work in progress, that theory, and I’m not sure I’ve written it right. I think what I really mean is that it’s important to cry sometimes, or everything else goes to hell.
The five-year-old, my smallest cousin, arrives in my room.
‘Do you want to see a picture of the Pigeon?’ I say, showing her the good one below.
She nods and looks.
‘Do you remember that smiling face?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ she says. ‘Do you have a picture of her dead?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘There is no picture of her dead. I just carry her in my head.’
She thinks for a bit.
‘Do you want her back?’ she says.
My voice wavers a bit.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘I do.’
The furry equines, up in the Scottish sun:
And the lovely old Pigeon, from the archive:
Oh, I do want her back. I do, I do, I do, I do.
But, as I said to the Smallest Cousin, in my most reasonable, grown-up voice: Sometimes in life we can’t have every single thing we want.