And so, my Pigeon did slide slowly into that good night.
It was very quiet and peaceful and true. The Sister, who came with me, for moral support, even managed a joke, so there was laughter with the tears.
I’m afraid there were tears. The idiot bourgeois in me was worried for the vet: poor fellow, with these crazed weeping women in his operating room. ‘Oh no,’ he said, when I apologised. ‘I hate it when people come in for this and are flippant about it. You cry because you loved her.’
They gave her a sedative, but she was sinking so low that she barely needed it. Then, the fatal injection went into the right leg. The vet left us alone, and I stroked her fur, still thick and black and vivid.
‘It’s all right,’ I said. ‘You can go now.’
I had some lunatic idea in my head that she might feel she had to hang on for me. She was always such a willing, generous dog. I risk wading into the choppy waters of sentiment when I tell you this, but she used to lick the tears off my cheeks when I was mourning for my father. I knew in my rational head that she probably liked the salt; in my irrational mind, it was because of comfort and love. I needed her to know she did not have to do that any more.
After about two minutes, she suddenly gave a long, gusty sigh. It was a sigh of relief, of ending.
And she was gone.
There are so many things about this day that I would like to tell you. Write it down, write it down, shouts the voice in my mind, the one for whom life is not life until it is written. Even as my entire body is filled with sorrow, the brain is still racing about, forming sentences, building theories, shooting off on tangents. I want to write about the nature of grief, and the curious power of the animal love, and the extraordinary kindness of strangers. But this is not a forensic time. I am not going to slice it open and dissect it.
A snatch of Prufrock comes into my head. This bit:
And I have known the eyes already, known them all –
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?
I am not going to sprawl on a pin, not today. It is what it is. It is a matter of the heart, not the head. I am going to turn the head off, for once in my life.
But there are two rather extraordinary things I do want to recount.
Yesterday, in a fit of faint absurdity, I made the old dog a playlist. It was rather like the days of my youth, when I used to make people I loved mix tapes. With care and attention, I pulled together the perfect mixture of lovely, lilting classical favourites. I played some of it to her this morning, before we left. She went out to Elvira Madigan.
I was so distracted when I walked out of the house that I left the thing playing. When I walked back in, two hours later, the yellow autumn sun was flooding into the room. I averted my eyes from the empty sofa. Then I heard the music playing. It was Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto. That has me in bits at the best of times, partly from its own mournful beauty, and partly because of endless watchings of the parting scene in Brief Encounter. Oddly enough, today, for the first time, it made me smile, not cry. It was a very magnificent piece of music for a very magnificent canine. It had a rightness to it.
The second thing is that just before I sat down to write this (write it down, write it down) a loud banging came at the door. I leapt in the air like a spooked colt. I remember this from my dad; grief seems to produce an insanely developed startle reflex.
There was a serious gentleman with one of the biggest bunches of flowers I have ever seen. They were my absolute favourite kind – elegant white roses, with delicate eucalyptus. They are sitting in my desk as I type, and the sweet scent is filling the room. Who could be so lovely as to send me flowers? I wondered, as I ripped open the card.
They were from one of the oldest of the nearest and dearest. We met at university, twenty-seven years ago, and became quick friends. We were those kind of antic, laughing friends; we were party friends. I remember us staying up late and talking nonsense. I don’t think we ever had those intense putting the world to rights conversations. We were good time friends. Then he moved to California, and I don’t think I’ve seen him more than three or four times in the last ten years.
But when my father died last year, he sent the best and most heartfelt and wisest messages. It was a subject which he knew all about, and he offered intense comfort from six thousand miles away. Now we stay in touch through the miracle of the ether. Still, one might think that kind of time and distance would loosen the bonds of friendship. Yet, he took the time and thought to send white roses. I sit in awe and wonder at that kind of sweetness. He signed the card from him and his dog. He knows the dog love.
And out there, in the roiling seas of the internet, where people are so often intemperate or inconsiderate, or downright rude, the same kind of thought and kindness exists, from people whose faces I shall never see. How does that even happen? Little arrows of love and sympathy shoot through the Twitterverse, on the email, via the Facebook, on the blog; too many to reply to. All those unknown human hearts; all that kindness.
Even as I write that last paragraph, a tiny critical voice pipes up. Come along, it says; it was a dog, you don’t have to make such a fuss. Stoicism and stiff upper lip, it says; that’s what got us through the war. You have not just had your entire house blown away in a hurricane, it says, mildly impatient. (The critical voice has clearly been watching the news.)
I’m quite glad I do have that voice. Although it can be disobliging, and has absolutely no sense of timing, it is useful for stiffening the sinews, and one must not let the sinews go to hell. It’s the voice that makes me pick myself up off the floor, dust myself off, and start all over again.
But I’m not going to listen to it today. Love is love. Loss is loss. She was the dearest, kindest, funniest, most beautiful of animals, and she leaves a gaping space behind her. Respect is due. Her going shall be marked. Today, as it turns out, with Rachmaninov and white roses and the kind words that fly through the ether to my battered heart.
After the thing was done, The Sister and I went up to Red’s View, to see the horses, and our old friend M, who knew the Pigeon since she was a puppy. This is what it looked like:
My two very furry and dozy girls:
I did take some last pictures of the Pigeon, but they are too sad, so, instead, here are some from happier, brighter days:
In The Big Chill, one of my all-time favourite films, Kevin Kline says, of his old compadres, something like: ‘How much fun, friendship and good times can one man take?’ I feel like that about my dog.
The hill, taken early this morning, before the sun broke through:
You have left so many kind and wise and generous comments; so many that I can’t reply to them all individually. So I send out a big, collective Thank You. The Dear Readers never were more dear.