DOG GONE by Chris Green
It is Friday evening. Zoot has gone out with his friends and Stacey and I have the house to ourselves. Outside there is the kind of persistent drizzle you often get at the end of a working week, when you feel you’d like to go for a walk on the hill. Not that we go for a walk on the hill that often since the dog died. Once in a while if the mood takes us we shuffle down to The Belted Galloway and sit in the garden, which gives us a pretty good view of the common. We agree this is about the right amount of exercise, probably a mile there and back. We did talk about joining the gym, but we’ve decided to put it on hold for now. I might get the bikes out of the shed instead, once Man with a Van has collected the old mattresses left over from the car boot. Then we will be able to go a little further afield, perhaps as far as The Pallbearers Arms.
While we are waiting for a break in the drizzle, we are watching a documentary on Channel 5 about obesity in Hull taxi drivers. There seems to be very little on in the seven o’clock slot to entertain us these days. We had to give up the soaps because we weren’t getting anything done.
‘What’s the date?’ I ask Stacey. The linking of taxi drivers’ obesity with road accidents is jogging my memory.
‘May 26th,’ she says.
‘Oh shit! I think Geoff said he was going to kill himself round about now. When we spoke, he said if Abi wasn’t back in two weeks, he was going to end it. …….. Or was it three weeks. …… I’m sure he said the 26th.’
‘When did he phone?’
‘I’m not sure. I thought I’d get the chance to check him out before he did it, but with Gnarls having to be put down, it just slipped my mind.’
‘You’d better ring him then,’ says Stacey, taking a large pull on her brown ale.
Although she has never said as much, I get the impression that Stacey is not keen on Geoff, even though she has never actually met him. ‘Your friend Geoff called‘ she will say if she comes home to find he has left a message on the answerphone, in the same tone she might use if it was Harold Shipman that had called, or the Yorkshire Ripper.
As the dialler is ringing, I try to piece together Geoff’s distressed phonecall. Abi had left him for a Bulgarian plastics entrepreneur and he had lost his job at the fishing tackle museum. He was anxious about the bank repossessing his house and was being driven mad by the round the clock drum and bass music from his neighbours. His doctor had put him on anti-depressants but the anti part seemed not to be working. And to cap it all his ulcer had flared up again. He could take no more.
‘Hang on,’ I had said, ‘I’ll give you a list of things worth living for. Pick any letter.’
‘B’ he had said.’
‘OK. The Beach Boys, Breaking Bad, big boobs, barbecues, BB King …….’
‘He was dismissive of all my suggestions, even big boobs. They got in the way he said. He ranted on for a bit and said he would give Abi two weeks, or was it three weeks, and if she wasn’t back, he was going to run his car into the side of a truck. Not any old truck mind you, he had one particular truck lined up. A DHL Iveco Stralis, I seem to recall. If I were so inclined, this is not the way I would want to do it. An overdose or a lethal injection would be much more comfortable. But Geoff seemed to be quite determined about the collision and always one to concentrate on the detail; as well as the vehicle, he had worked out a date and time.
‘There are a lot of self help sites on the internet,’ I had said.
He said he could not connect to the Internet since he had installed CheapNet. I remember feeling a little guilty that I had recommended CheapNet. Since I suggested it however, we have had nothing but problems with Cheapnet. I finally cancelled our contract with them just two days ago, having become exasperated by the slowness of the connection and the language barrier when dealing with their helpline in Turkmenistan. Now we are with FreeSurf, which of course is not free but it does seem quite speedy.
At the time, I did not take Geoff’s suicide threat too seriously, but perhaps I should have. His phone is ringing. He is not picking up. Am I too late?
‘I think I ought to go round to see if things are …… all right,’ I say to Stacey, who has finished her brown ale and is now opening a bottle of advocaat. I have to admit that I have no idea what I will do if things are not all right.
I get the Proton out of the garage, tie the front bumper back on and set off, wondering if I am over the limit. True, Stacey drank the lion’s share of the Belgian cider earlier, but there is always that risk. Geoff’s place is about fifteen miles away, so just in case any police might think a brown P Reg Proton with no front number plate, a dent in the side and the bumper hanging off looks suspicious, I decide to go the back way.
The Proton coughs and splutters as it makes its way up Prospect Hill. At the summit, perhaps summit is an extravagant description for a rise of a hundred feet, a Bradley Wiggins lookalike in rain drenched day-glo lycra eases past me. The Proton coughs and splutters as it makes its way down Prospect Hill. Its days are numbered. I have seen a lovely little Daewoo for sale, but what with the extra hours I have been working at the balloon repair workshop and Zoot’s problems with his Maths teacher, I have not had chance to look at it. I resolve to make time over the weekend.
20% OFF SNAKES, announces a sign outside Ashoka’s, the new store on the roundabout. I make a mental to note to check if we need one. Perhaps it hadn’t said snakes, but you never know. I have heard that Ashoka’s sells just about everything. Someone at work bought an Alan Titchmarsh garden gnome there. They have a whole range apparently, Monty Don, Diarmud Gavin, even Percy Thrower. BUY ONE GET ONE FREE, says another sign, although I cannot make out what this is for. Inflatable Buddhas, perhaps.
I have to wait at the temporary traffic lights in Badgeworthy Lane where they are rebuilding the railway bridge. The lights have been there for months, if not years. How hard is it to strengthen a bridge? I try to get something on the radio to distract me. There is a choice between George Osborne’s Desert Island Discs, a dour orchestral piece by Brahms, or a discussion on downsizing. I switch it off. We were forced to downsize a year ago when Stacey’s eldest, Irie, moved in with Mojo. Irie’s money from her job at Morrisons had helped keep us afloat. It does not seem likely that Zoot will ever pass his GCSEs let alone be in a position to leave home. But perhaps I am being a little unfair. He is only seventeen.
The lights change and I drive on. The Proton seems to run along nicely so long as I stay in third gear and use the wipers sparingly. ‘ALL NIGHT HAPPY HOUR,’ says the sign outside The Bucket of Eels. I remember that Geoff and I used to play skittles there years ago. When it was a real pub, with a choice of twenty real ales, with expressive names like Feck’s Original and Old Badger. Before it was taken over by Wicked Inns. The year Geoff and I were on the team, The Bucket nearly won the County Skittles League, losing narrowly to The Pig in a Poke in the final match. Admittedly the season was quite short that particular year as only four pubs entered, but we were proud of our achievement.
In the four years I have been with Stacey, I have only seen Geoff two or three times. There is a tendency to neglect old friendships when you are in a relationship. Geoff and I speak on the phone occasionally and agree to go to the dogs or go fishing but something always comes up. In fact, it is probably ten years since we went to the dogs, and nearly as long since we went fishing. What a strange contrivance time is. It does not seem to follow a linear course, certainly not when viewed retrospectively. The memory constantly plays tricks. On the one hand Geoff’s cry for help phonecall, if that is what it was, seems like it had happened months ago. Could it have really been only two or three weeks? On the other hand it seems only last year that Geoff and I went boating in France to celebrate his forty fifth birthday, and my divorce from Denni. But now Geoff is fifty one or perhaps it is fifty two, as he is two years older than me. The folding of time, the inability to identify the correct order of events relative to one another is something that becomes more worrying with age. Temporal confusion will presumably happen more and more with each passing year. I will have to accept it, along with receding gums and decreasing libido. I am dreading being fifty. This is only a few months away. Fifty is a watershed. Did hitting fifty mark the beginning of Geoff’s decline, I wonder?
Even if one should feel the inclination to end it, there are the ethical implications to overcome. Committing suicide is in western culture regarded as a crime and in Christianity a mortal sin. Not that Geoff was particularly religious, but he had been brought up as a Catholic. I try to speculate how suicide might this affect one’s life after death status? Because you are in essence taking a life, do you go to hell? Purgatory? Are you perhaps allocated a shabby damp basement in Rotherham with fifties furniture, a shared kitchen and the lingering smell of yesterday’s cabbage?
My mobile rings, breaking me out of my reverie. Perhaps Geoff has got the number and is phoning me back. Why do I always put the thing on the passenger seat? Now it has fallen down the side. I have to pull over to retrieve it. It is not Geoff, but Stacey asking if I can pick up some eggs, and if I pass an off license, a bottle of ouzo. I tell her I will look out for a farm shop, but it is unlikely that they will sell ouzo. ‘Pernod will do,’ she says. ‘Just a small bottle.’
Before Gnarls was put down, Stacey would buy a bottle of Lambrusco with the shopping and this would last her a week. Gnarls was a sweet dog. He was a cocker spaniel retriever cross. He was just seven years old. An inoperable tumour. His passing has affected Stacey badly. She has all his doggy toys lined up on the mantelpiece and she keeps getting his basket out from under the stairs. Last week I got home to find her cuddling his blanket.
I arrive at Geoff’s, having passed nowhere that sells comestibles. The Proton retches and rattles as I bring it to a stop outside the house. I notice immediately with a degree of alarm that there is an estate agents board in the front garden. ‘SOLD,’ it says by Wilson and Love. Has it been more than three weeks since Geoff’s phonecall? Why didn’t I phone back sooner? Maybe there would have been something I could have done. My heart racing, I get out of the Proton and look around. There is no car on the drive. Is Geoff at this very moment ramming it into the side of the truck? The yard is tidier than I remember it. There are no dismantled motorcycles. And where are the geese? Maybe I have got the date wrong and it was May 16th or something and things have moved on. I fear the worst. I feel sick in my stomach. There is an eerie silence. No hint of the neighbours’ drum and bass music.
Not sure exactly what I am expecting to discover, I sidle gingerly over to look in the front window. A translucent waxy green film is forming on some of the bricks around the front door. I remember in an earlier conversation Geoff referring to this. In his paranoia he wondered if it might be radioactive. Perhaps Geoff had been on the slide for a while and I had failed to notice.
At this moment a blue Seat with tinted windows approaches and pulls in. Out step Geoff and Abi looking fit and tanned.
‘Hello Al,’ says Geoff, striding over to shake my hand.’ Long time. What are you doing out here?’
I am lost for words. Eventually I mutter something about the phonecall, three weeks ago. ‘I thought I might have been too late’
‘Have you started smoking the wacky-baccy again, Al? What phonecall? Anyway, three weeks ago Abi and I were in Dubai. Had a brilliant time as it happened. Magnificent architecture! You should go. Tell you what Al; I think that our life is starting to take off. When Abi and I got back from Dubai, we found we’d had a big win on the premium bonds and decided we would sell up. Fantastic, eh? House was on the market for less than twelve hours and we got a cash buyer offering the full asking price. What about that? From Bulgaria he is, some sort of entrepreneur.’
I am flabbergasted.
‘Good thing you caught us. We’re moving next week. Anyway, how are you, must be six months at least. You better come in and have a drink.’
‘Fine,’ I say. ‘Just a little bit shell shocked.’
‘Last time we spoke you sounded pretty desperate,’ says Geoff. ‘I was quite worried about you. Thought you might do something silly. The bank didn’t repossess your house in the end I take it.’
‘I kept saying that Geoff should phone you to make sure you were all right,’ says Abi.
‘No really. I’m fine,’ I say.
‘And how’s Stacey?’ says Geoff. Although he has never met her I have formed the impression that Geoff in some way disapproves of Stacey.
I stay and have a beer with Geoff and Abi while they show me a Videospin film that Geoff has put together consisting of photos of staggering post-modern skyscrapers.
‘Those are the Dubai Emirates Towers, that’s the Burj Al Arab Hotel, and that is the Etisalat building.’
These are punctuated with photos of dramatic mosaics and water features from the Dubai marina. He has even dug out some authentic oud music for the soundtrack. I feel it is a little self-indulgent of him, and I don’t imagine that they really listen to a lot of oud music in Dubai these days, but I am relieved Geoff is in good spirits. At the same time I am confused. I can think of no explanation for the misunderstanding and Geoff offers none except that I seem to have been overdoing it lately. As soon as it seems courteous to do so I bid my leave.
I decide to drive back along the dual carriageway. It is late. There will not be any police on the roads at this time of night. I am making good progress and have just passed the Crossroads Motel when the phone rings. It is Stacey. She sounds excited, but before I can make out what she is trying to tell me the line goes dead. Probably my battery. I keep forgetting to charge it. Whatever it is will have to wait. Up ahead a blanket of flashing blue lights lights up the sky. As I draw closer, acutely aware that an old car doing forty in third might seem a bit conspicuous, I see that there has been an accident and that all the emergency services are in attendance. A car has driven in to the side of a truck. A DHL Iveco Stralis. My mind races. What on earth is going on? Why is there so much strangeness in my life?
When I get home Stacey is still up. She has found a bottle of home made fig schnapps and is watching Celebrity Big Brother. Ayman al-Zawahiri has just been evicted, which leaves Paul Gascoigne, Katie Price and Stephen Hawking in the house.
‘I’ve just bought a dog on ebay,’ she says. ‘How was Geoff?’
© Chris Green 2016: All rights reserved