Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Despite a slight rainfall on Sunday, I have been greatly enjoying the Spring weather of late.

My partner and I have almost succeeded in pulling the garden into a respectable state - now we are just waiting for some of the flowers to come out.  The climbing rose bodes well, with plenty of buds just ripe for the bursting, although I fear it will be another year before my estate reaches optimum glory.  I am minded to introduce some lavender, both to encourage bees and to mask a certain odour that seems to be hanging around of late.  My partner tackled me about it (as I knew she must) this morning.

"Jasper." she said, crossly. "You only ever eat good quality tinned meat and your biscuits these days."
I was happy to concur with that statement.  "Then how come, " she continued, "your bottom-gas always seems to smell of rotting cabbage?!"  For once, I had no reply.  'Tis mystery all.  But I think that only highly fragrant borders can save me now...

I have been greatly amused - and most flattered - by the small element of competition that seems to have crept in amongst my much-treasured blog followers of late.  The race to be the first to comment on my idle musings is terribly diverting, and never fails to put a smile on my whiskery snout.  Of course, for modesty's sake, the instigator of this new sporting thrust shall remain anonymous.  But if I hint that their name starts with "La" and ends with "nce", I'm sure I shall not be giving too much away.

I thought that you might like to see some pictures of the bluebells in the woods where my partner and I work.  They are particularly fine this season.  My partner says that, in one of them - if you look closely - you can see some kind of manifestation of what appears to be a wood-sprite.  My partner thinks it looks "sinister".  I, on the other paw, think it looks remarkably handsome.  Judge for yourself:


"Kipper is dead."  repeated Jake, in subdued tones.

"WHAT?!" I spluttered, aghast. 

"It's true." Rats nodded, in a small, trembling voice.

It was impossible to believe and my immediate reaction was that this was some sort of elaborate sick joke.  A moment's reflection, however, brought the swift realisation that neither Jake nor Rats were the type to derive cheap and twisted amusement from such serious topics.  Both of them, in fact, were remarkably sensible dogs.  I suddenly felt as though someone had just kicked me, hard, in the stomach.  I swayed on my legs and had to sit down.

"It can't be true..." I gasped.  How?  How could it have happened that Kipper, so warm and vibrant just a few short hours ago, had gone?  I stood up again and, going to the door of my pen, strained to look across the corridor into Kipper's.

I couldn't see Kipper's upper half, but from his ribs down to his tail, he just looked perfectly normal - sound asleep, half in and half out of his basket.  I did see, however, a little puddle of urine on the pen floor, by his thigh.  "He's done a wee in his pen."  I said, "That's not like him."

"That quite often happens after you die." explained Rats, quietly.  "When your life goes, your body relaxes and any wee or poo in you just comes out afterwards.  I'm so sorry Captain.  He's definitely dead."

Rats had been abandoned as a tiny puppy by his previous owners on a rubbish tip.  He had been found in a shoe-box, the only survivor alongside his deceased siblings.  He was therefore the dogs' block's accepted authority on death and I had no reason to disbelieve him now.

As I stared at Kipper's body, I realised that Rats and Jake were right.  Kipper's chest was no longer rising and falling.  It was too early to smell death - but I could smell the cold stillness about him.  My body suddenly and involuntarily retched violently.  Fortunately my belly was empty, or I'd have been sick everywhere.  Everything seemed unreal and other-worldly.  At any moment, I expected to wake up and hear Kipper berating me for oversleeping - "Wake up Captain, you lazy toad!"  How I wanted to hear those words.

Oh, I had wanted to be pack leader SO much - but not like this.  Not like this.

"When?" I managed to say, after a while.  Jake shook his head and Rats shrugged.
"Don't know." replied the little Jack Russell, as Jake retreated to the back of his pen, shuddering and whimpering.  "I didn't get to sleep for a while last night." continued Rats.  "Kipper, Pebble and I were just chatting quietly for a while.  Then we went off to sleep and, this morning, he was just... gone."

"Oh g*d, Pebble!"  I cried, making both Rats and Jake jump, and waking more members of the pack.  A quiet murmuring had sprung up, and the incomprehensible news began to spread around the block.  "Who's going to tell Pebble?!"  My heart fell even further - the loss of his bastion of strength and comfort was going to utterly destroy Pebble.
"Someone's going to have to."  whimpered Jake, from the rear of his pen.  "You're pack leader now, Captain, you have to tell him."

I began to feel nauseous again (I was too shocked and numb for any grief to set in yet.  I felt as though I was sleepwalking).  I looked at Rats, but he averted his eyes and would not meet my gaze.  Unhappily, the decision was immediately taken out of my paws.  Pebble's sleepy, bleary-eyed face appeared at the door of his pen.
"Hmmn...?" he mumbled drowsily.  "Who's going to tell Pebble what?  What's happening?"

I looked at the innocent face of the little Staffie-cross.  How could I bear to break his sweet, affectionate heart?  I recalled the advice I had offered Kipper just a few short days ago, when he was debating whether or not to tell Pebble about his adoption, and decided that the best way was the honest, direct way.  Pebble yawned and stretched and looked into Kipper's pen.  "Oh no!" he said.  "Kipper has done a wee in his pen by mistake.  He won't like that at all!"

"Pebble."  I said, in my clearest tone of bark.  "Something very, very bad has happened and I need your help."  Pebble blinked back at me.  I took a deep breath.  "I need you to be very strong, and help me."  I continued.  "Pebble, we don't quite know how or why yet - but Kipper died during the night.  I am so very, very sorry."

Pebble stared uncomprehendingly back at me for what seemed like an age.  And then, he gave a little laugh.
"Oh no, Captain, no." he chuckled.  "You mustn't tease me.  Rex will bite your bottom!  Naughty Captain!  See, Kipper is just sleeping.  Look - he's alright.  He just did a little wee, that's all."

I swallowed the lump that seemed to be growing in my throat and addressed little Pebble again.
"Pebble.  I am sorry.  Kipper is dead.  His life slipped away during the night and all you can see there now is the empty case that used to carry him about.  Oh, Pebble, I wish it wasn't true.  But Kipper is gone."

Pebble began to look uncertain and afraid.
"Captain..." he said in a small voice.  "Why are you doing this?  I thought you were my friend?  Please stop it.  It's not funny, I don't like it."  I didn't know what to do.  Rats came to my aid.
"Oh Peb.," he sighed. "It's true.  It was me that found him.  Kipper died in his sleep.  We'd all give anything to bring him back.  But Captain is right.  He's gone."

"No!" barked Pebble angrily.  "He's just asleep!  He was tired last night.  I think you're being mean.  I'll show you."
"Oh g-d." muttered Jake from the back of his pen.  He knew what was coming, and I had a fair idea.

"Kipper, wake up." barked Pebble.  We watched him, knowing we couldn't stop him.  "Kiiiiip-per!" continued the little dog in a sing-song bark.  "Come on, lazy-boy!  Come and hear what they're all saying about you!  Wake up!  Up you get!  Kipper!"  A note of panic began to creep into Pebble's bark.  "Kipper!  Please!  Please wake up... Kipper...?  Please...?"

I had to turn away as I saw realisation beginning to dawn in Pebble's eyes.  "Kipper...?" he whispered, one last time.  The small dog then staggered back and fell suddenly into a sitting position.  Trembling, with utterly stricken eyes, he raised his head and began to howl.  But it wasn't just a howl.  It was (and, indeed, still remains to this day) the worst and most heart-wrenching sound I've ever heard.

It was a howl, but not a howl.  It was an agonised cry - a wail - combining a blend of despair, grief, anger, frustration, loss, rage, fear, pain, misery... On and on it went, without ceasing.  It seemed to cut right through to the marrow in my bones and was utterly, utterly devastating.
"Someone make him stop." groaned Jake, his forepaws covering his ears.  Rats, being nearest to Pebble, did his best - but Pebble was lost in his grief and beyond the reach of us all.

Inevitably, the terrible howling brought Dave and one of the kennel-maids rushing into the block from the kitchen, where they had been preparing our breakfasts.  They crashed through the Door of Doors and sped to Pebble's pen.  The kennel-maid (I believe it was the one named Sarah) went into the distraught dog's pen and scooped him up in her arms.  She cradled him in her arms like an infant, doing her best to soothe and console him, whilst Dave examined Pebble's paws - both of them believing that some terrible injury had befallen the little dog.  Of course, no injury or malady was detected - but Pebble squealed on.  They turned, the kennel-maid carrying Pebble in her arms, to summon the vet for a more thorough examination of the hysterical dog - and then Dave noticed the wee-puddle beside the inert and motionless Kipper.

Without further ado, he entered the pen and dropped to his knees beside Kipper, prepared to do his utmost to revive the respected dog - but one touch was enough.  The body had grown cold.
"Oh no."  I heard Dave breathe quietly.  His hand rested for a moment on Kipper's cheek and, when he got up and turned to exit the pen I was unsurprised but still saddened to see Dave's cheeks wet with tears as they trickled from his eyes, down his cheeks, and became lost in his beard. He retraced his steps along the corridor to the Door of Doors. The sound of Pebble's wailing receded as he was carried out, either to the Isolation Block or Dave's bungalow - the latter, probably.

The sounds of quieter despair began to fill my ears as the rest of the block awoke to the tragic news. The younger pups began to cry straight away and then I lost my composure totally as I heard Rex - our pack enforcer, the large, mighty, powerful Rex - curled up at the back of his pen, whimpering and sniffling like a newborn kitten. As my first tears fell, Dave re-entered the block through the Door of Doors, pushing a metal trolley - the one that was usually employed in the distribution of our meals.

He drew it to a halt, his shoulders heaving, outside Kipper's pen. With the utmost care and respect, he entered the pen and gently lifted the inert, lifeless body onto the trolley. I watched, unable to tear my eyes away, as Dave covered Kipper's body with a white cotton sheet. Kipper's bushy caramel-coloured tail with its quirky white tip, which I had often envied him, protruded from the edge of the sheet, hanging limply off the end of the trolley. As a sad afterthought, with careful deliberate movements, Dave slowly unpinned the much-longed-for Red "Reserved" Card from above Kipper's pen door and laid it on top of the sheet-draped corpse.

As Dave released the brake from the trolley, and the wheels began to turn, I suddenly knew what I had to do.

I moved swiftly to the front of my pen, and stood boldly and firmly. I raised my head, pursed my lips - and began.

"Ahhrrr-ooooo..." I howled. Rats picked it up immediately.

"Ahhrrr-oooooooo..." he rejoined.

As the trolley began to move, the entire block united in a loud, triumphant rendition of the Song of Triumph. Dave pushed the trolley slowly, moved almost to distraction, as he escorted Kipper on his final journey along the corridor towards the Door of Doors.

I had kept my promise. The entire block united in the heartiest-ever rendition of the Song of Triumph; serenading Kipper’s body to its final resting place.

The doors closed. At last, Kipper had gone home.

Good night.

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