Thanks to a dog
I like to think that Polly and I chose each other fifteen years ago when we met. Considering the litter, I was drawn by her colouring and sweetly curious nature. Perhaps she recognised in me the answer to her own nervous excitability. We soon found that she had a very big voice: at eight weeks, every bark blew her backwards over the floor by an inch or two.
Still young, Polly delivered a litter of outlandish pups on R’s birthday. She was a devoted but dejected mother and the day the last pup left home she leaped from her milky bed and back into her own prolonged puppyhood. She only ever wanted to be my companion.
Her life was uncomplicated, punctuated here and there by my absences and one horrible incident. Polly had always shown ridiculous aggression towards big black dogs and men in black, but her greatest fear was of Weimaraners with their sleek pelts and piercing green eyes (one lived next door and a quiet chat with its owner was never possible if we met out walking). One day the nor’west was howling through, felling branches, when we came upon two strange dogs, one, as it turned out, a Weimaraner. Polly smelt danger and fled into the bush. Silent as stealth, the dogs followed and I did, too. Down in the gully, she was screaming. They’d rolled her in leaf-litter and the black brute was shaking her as if she were a mouthful of moss. I heard myself roar, a deep, primeval bellow that made the dog throw up his head. He recalled the century and that he was no longer a wolf.
I clasp her; frail with fright
she is momentarily lighter
then back it comes, her full weight
and the wet-iron smell of blood.
The years slid by. Children left home. Polly’s favourite places on earth were Naseby in the Maniototo and the beach at Doctors’ Point — as long as I was there, or one of her mother substitutes.
Last summer she developed a skin irritation where the dog once punctured her. By the time we had it biopsied, she also had another cancer. The vet suggested she might live two more months.
And so it proved. Right on the transit of Venus Polly turned fifteen. We celebrated with her in the snow above Akaroa. Two days later it became clear her life was almost spent so I made the appointment with Atropos and her merciful syringe.
She’s buried where the beehive was, beneath a circle of Polly-anthus and spring bulbs.
Polly has flown back to the great dog-spark in the sky where it’s perpetually rubbish day on a beach edged with rabitty tussocks and freshened by a keen spring wind.