Number 75- Waiting for the dogs to die.
There’s no real reason any more, but he can’t shake the off the routine.
Still wakes at 7am, can’t stay in bed beyond 7.30 am and within 10 minutes he has made Karen a cup of tea, delivered it to her in bed and set off down the road with the dogs.
Two dogs, always 2 dogs,one big, one small. The big one for him, company for the runs,the training for the marathons,the half marathons, the club fun runs and a smaller one, fluffy, Karen’s dog, the recipient of baby talk, wearer of jumpers, dog coats, jewelled collars. Her confidant whilst he and the big dog clocked up miles together.
These 2 are the last dogs, old now, their walks pale shadows of the ones they used to take. A gentle shuffle to the paper shop and back, a sniff or two of familiar lamp posts and then gratefully, back onto the sofa and old dog snoozing, snores and snuffles.
Too deaf, too blind to pay any attention to the world outside, the dogs are satisfied to curl up together, happiest when their humans join them and they have no idea,can have no idea that Karen and Geoff are waiting, waiting for the dogs to die, waiting to start their lives again.
Geoff is 63 now, took redundancy at 61, happy to take the package, happy to walk away, happy to be retired.
Karen is still working, but part time now, marking time, more than ready to stop, but she’s waiting, waiting for the dogs to die.
20 years ago, daringly,they bought an apartment, 2 bedrooms, use of a decent sized pool,easy walking to the beach and the bars in the canaries.
Every year for the last 20 years they have made 2 sometimes 3 visits a year, put down roots, made connections, become more than tourists, less than natives.
Their apartment has become to feel like their real home, the place that actually matters, they miss it when they are here, in the middle of this street, not the good end, but most definitely not the bad end and have found themselves taking less care of this house,not neglect exactly, but low maintenance, garden planted with shrubs and reliable perennials, walls painted magnolia,kitchen slightly out of date.
“It will do” they say to each other, because they both know that this house is not the final house, that their real home is in the sun, waiting for them, patiently from visit to visit.
But, they cannot go yet, they cannot relocate with these dogs,these old dogs who will not deal well with that much change, who will suffer, pine for their regular walks, their little routines and because Karen and Geoff are decent people, responsible pet owners, they are waiting for the dogs to die.
And surely, it can’t be long now,the big dog is loosing his legs, doesn’t always make the jump into the boot of the car, suffers the indignity of being lifted up,his face patient, dignified and just a little surprised when yet again his body fails him.
The little dog is almost blind, confident enough at home where Geoff and Karen are careful to keep everything in it’s place, but scared outside, doesn’t want to go off the lead, walks close to the big dog, trusts him to keep her safe.
But, the dogs don’t die, they fail a little more every day,but their hearts keep beating, they keep eating, they keep loving and Karen and Geoff keep waiting.
Friends don’t understand, don’t know why they just don’t take these ancient and frankly, smelly old dogs to the vets and just do the thing,get it over and done with. Get on with their lives, move to the sun.
And Geoff and Karen do know, of course they know what they’re doing, but they don’t talk about it, they just wait,,because they’re used to waiting,used to not getting what they want.
Some mornings when Geoff is out walking the dogs, he thinks about all the things he has waited for in his life,all the times he has paused, waiting for the next thing,the next rite of passage,the next part of his life to begin.
Wait until you’re older
Wait until you have a little more money
Wait until you get that promotion
Wait until you’ve met the right girl
Wait until you’re married
And then the big wait, the one that makes this wait,waiting for the dogs to die, look like a walk (albeit a very slow walk) in the park.
Wait each month,marking off the days, sometimes to scared to count and then watching the months become years and the years become more than a decade and finally there’s no more waiting left.
So, you move on.
Karen and Geoff have moved on, just one last wait left, but it has to be done right, which is why there are no trips to the vet, no out loud expression of what they are both thinking
“please die, please die soon”
Geoff still runs,but dog less these days, feet moving surely across the ground.
He doesn’t cover the distances he used, he’s getting older too,but not that old,not too old, young enough to start again with the sun on his back and Karen at his side and no sense of the absence between them.
He thinks about running along a beach, can visualise it even when he is running along the bypass, counting the lampposts before his turn into the canal. He can see it so clearly that he feels the warm sand between his toes, can taste the salt on his lips, sweat and sea breeze and when he looks down, there is a dog, middle sized this time, brown and tan, bushy tail, lolloping along,matching his pace, covering the ground and he smiles and the dog seems to smile back.
And at home, Karen sits on the sofa,magazine on her lap,but she’s not reading it, instead she’s absently playing with the little dog’s ears and he’s leaning into her, body wriggling with pleasure and at that moment Karen knows that when they finally move, when these dogs finally die, that she will be devastated and the absence, the thing they never talk about, will grow larger and larger,will fill their new lives and suddenly she’s scared and hugs the little dog to her chest
“Don’t die,not yet” she mutters and sits up straight, waiting for Geoff to come home from his run.