Archive for the ‘Art’ Category
A bit of a compilation for today.
First, a few more of those ‘senior moment’ cartoons continuing from last Sunday.
Now two pictures taken on Christmas Day of a young deer feeding on cob that we put out daily.
Then animal greetings to you all …
Finally, enjoy this short video sent to me by Dan Gomez.
These boots aren’t made for walking.
No, not the Shakespeare version!
Shakespeare wrote The Winter’s Tale in 1623. The title came to my mind following another tale written slightly more recently; just five days ago to be exact.
It’s a story published by George Monbiot that has a wonderful shape. When I read it on Christmas Eve it seemed yet another story that Learning from Dogs readers would enjoy. So, as ever, grateful for Mr. Monbiot’s permission to republish it. His story is called Unearthed.
December 23, 2013
A winter’s tale of guns, gold and greed.
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 24th December 2013.
Perhaps I should have been more careful. Last year I decided that every Christmas I would tell a winter’s tale or two(1). Through a long history of doing stupid things, I’ve accumulated a stock of ripping yarns. But I failed to explain myself. Some people interpreted the tale I told last Christmas as making a political point about Travellers I had no intention of suggesting; a point that is in fact the opposite of what I believe(2). So please read what follows as a story and no more: true to the best of my knowledge and memory but without a polemical purpose.
I was told this tale by a gold prospector in the garimpos of Roraima: the illegal mines exacavated among the river gravels in the forests of northern Brazil. He and his friends swore it was true. Though parts of the story must have been filled in later, in the light of what I had seen I found it easy to believe.
To say that the mines were lawless is not quite correct. They stood outside the laws of the state, but had established their own codes, which were informed by power and honour and greed and lust. Every week, thieves were taken into the forest to be shot. Duels were fought on the airstrips, in which men took ten paces, turned and fired: the miners circulated Wild West comics and acted out scenes that might once have been mythical, but there became horribly real.
To illustrate the point, before we get to the tale itself: one evening João, a remarkable man from the north-east of Brazil, who, after leaving home at 14 then spending ten years crossing and recrossing the Amazon on foot, had found work as a minder for two prostitutes, took me and his charges to a bar at the end of the airstrip village in which I was staying. The bar and the strip of dirt were owned by Zé, a man who spent some of his vast earnings on causing trouble: roaming around with his band of pistoleiros, starting fights and roughing people up. Zé, in whose house I was staying (by his choice, not mine) was said to have killed five men, starting with his business partner: by this means he had acquired control of the airstrip, and the extortionate fees for landing and leaving.
The bar was a flimsy shack in which a ghetto blaster was turned up so high that you could scarcely hear the music. Ragged men swayed and lurched and sprawled across the more sober prostitutes. On every table there was a bottle or two of white rum and a revolver. The men who had stayed in their seats drummed their fingers nervously on the tabletops, halfway between their drinks and their guns. The door was shoved open, and Zé and his thugs walked in.
His was at all times an arresting presence: charming, mercurial and terrifying. A machete scar ran from one cheek, over his nose and across the other cheek. He wore a sawn-off denim jacket and two revolvers on his belt. He opened his arms and announced, in a voice loud enough to carry above the music, that he would buy drinks for everyone. Zé moved through the bar, slapping backs and shaking hands, flashing his gold teeth. João’s eyes darted around, watching people’s hands. Bottles of cachaça were passed down from the bar.
Suddenly João shoved me so hard that I almost fell off my chair. He grabbed my arm, managing at the same time to seize the two prostitutes, and propelled us towards the door. As we hurtled out of the bar it erupted in gunfire. Amazingly, only one man was killed: he was dragged onto the airstrip with a hole the size of an apple in his chest. He was one of an estimated 1,700 people murdered, in a community of 40,000, in just six months.
So here’s the story. Two men established a small stake in the mines, in a remote valley some distance from the nearest airstrip. They cut down the trees and began to excavate. They found the digging and hosing and sifting of the gravel exceedingly hard and, though they had discovered very little, they decided to hire two other men to do it for them. They agreed to split any findings equally with the workers. The two hired men dug for four months without success: with high pressure hoses they scoured great pits into which the trees collapsed; they turned the clear waters of the forest stream they excavated red with clay and tailings; they winnowed the gravel through meshed boxes; they dissolved the residues in mercury and burnt it off; but they produced almost nothing. Then they hit one of the richest deposits ever discovered in Roraima: in one day they extracted four kilos.
If you find a lot of gold in the garimpos you keep quiet – very quiet. A single shout of triumph can amount to suicide. You gather it up, hide it in your bag and explain to anyone who asks on your way out that months of work have brought you nothing but disease and misery. But first it must be divided.
The two men who owned the stake began to comprehend, for the first time, the implications of the deal they had done. “We risked our lives to establish this stake. We spent every cent we had – and plenty we didn’t – travelling here, buying the equipment and the diesel, hacking out a clearing in the forest, hiring these men. And now we have to split the gold equally with people who are no more than manual labourers, who would normally be paid a few dollars a day.” They told the two workers that they wanted a special meal that night, and sent them to the nearest airstrip to buy the ingredients.
As the two workers walked they began to ruminate. “We’ve nearly killed ourselves in that pit. We’ve been up before dawn every day and have worked until dusk. We’ve had malaria, foot rot, screw worm, sunstroke, while those two bastards have done nothing but lie in their hammocks shouting instructions. Now we’re expected to give them an equal share of the gold that we and we alone found.” When they reached the store, they bought cachaça, rice, beans, a packet of seasoning and a box of rat poison. They mixed the poison into the seasoning and set off back to the camp. Before they reached it, they were ambushed by the two owners and shot. The owners then picked up the bags and went back to the camp to celebrate over the first hot dinner they had had in weeks.
Some time later a party of men moving through the forest to look for new stakes walked into the camp. They found two skeletons over which vines were already beginning to creep. And four kilos of gold.
OK, it is an advert but it’s still a great message for us all.
(With thanks to Jon Lavin for sending this to me.)
Grateful to Cynthia Gomez for sending this to me.
I took my dad to the mall the other day to buy some new shoes (he is 70).
We decided to grab a bite at the food court.
I noticed he was watching a teenager sitting next to him.
The teenager had spiked hair in all different colors – green, red, orange, and blue.
My dad kept staring at her.
The teenager kept looking and would find my dad staring every time.
When the teenager had enough, she sarcastically asked: “What’s the matter old man, never done anything wild in your life?“
Knowing my Dad, I quickly swallowed my food so that I would not choke on his response.
In classic style he responded without batting an eyelid ….
“Got stoned once and had sex with a parrot….
…. I was just wondering if you’re my kid.“
Learning from Dogs
Back to the beginning.
The grey smoke from the fire drifted up into the still air of the night sky. It had been a good day for them. Their small community out here in the wild lands. Eight of them had been foraging since the sky had first become light. They had found nuts and plants and fruit aplenty, perhaps sufficient to provide food through one more darkness, maybe two.
Jogod and Omo sat together with their loving animals. Those two tiny, helpless, shivering, baby wolves that Jogod and Omo had rescued so many moons ago. Now grown to such beautiful animals and now so much a part of their tribe that Jogod and Omo could not imagine ever being without them. The wolves were not outsiders. They were part of the community, even to having names like all the others members of the tribe. The young female wolf had been called Palo and the young male had been called Toto. So quickly did they come to know their names. So quickly they came to speak with Jogod and Omo in their strange voices. So quickly that Jogod and Omo came to understand those voices; know what so many of those sounds meant.
The fire at the start of darkness was another part of the way they all lived. For it offered some warmth before the long night. It made the animals that would want to harm them stay away. Now with the fire burning and having Palo and Toto sleeping in the entrance of their cave, they could sleep so more deeply than ever before. Palo and Toto had become their ears and eyes. They knew when danger was coming close. They knew how to wake the sleepers in the cave so that they would make noises and shouts to make the creatures that would harm them go away.
Having fire to keep them warm and safe had been long part of their lives. But this very day their fire had given them something very different. It had given them new food. Good new food.
Jogod, with Gadger and Kudu, and with Palo and Toto, had been deep in the land of tall trees when they saw an animal that they had seen before at times. An animal with a head on a long, slender neck, a body covered in brown hair with rows of white dots, a body on long, slim legs. It was eating the leaves of a tree, did not hear them until, too late, it tried to run as Palo and Toto lunged at it. Palo and Toto grabbed the animal, held on to its back legs. It could not run. Kudu came up and threw his arms around the slender neck. Gadger brought down his wooden club hard between the soft ears of the creature. It became still and fell to the ground.
Jogod had carried the dead animal across his shoulders back to the cave. They had lit their evening fire as they always did. But in this new darkness they also had sticks in the fire, each stick had some of the meat of the animal in the heat of the flames. They had tasted and then eaten some of the hot meat of the animal and it was good. This hot animal meat seemed to comfort them in a way unlike the fruit and the nuts.
Jogod held a stone with a sharp edge and cut meat from the animal for Palo and Toto. Palo and Toto knew that what they had found for these animals who walked on two legs was good. Good for all. Palo and Toto knew they could find other animals like the one they had found today.
After they had all eaten, it was time to sleep in the cave.
Jogod felt good. He rested down and put his arm around Omo. They slept.
Then Toto came to lay with Jogod and rest beside him, and then he slept. Then Palo came to lay with Omo and rest beside her, and then she slept.
Such was the moment of these happenings. This moment when the trust between man and wolf became the power of faith of each in the other. The faith that they would forever be joined. The destiny for wolf and man for the rest of time.
718 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Reflections on the National Novel Writing Month.
On the 4th November, I published a post called The book! In the beginning. That post opened thus:
Well I’m underway!
Last Thursday, I announced that I had decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Or NaNoWriMo as it is more familiarly known.
It’s clear that to achieve the goal of 50,000 words by the end of November, it must be all about writing; writing flat out. Any distraction from writing will make it impossible to maintain the average of 1,670 words a day for 31 days!
So just warning you that as I publish each chunk of the book here on Learning from Dogs don’t expect anything like a polished result. Given the miracle of actually completing the 50,000 words then December will be the time to edit, refine and polish.
Mind you, any feedback good, bad or indifferent would be fabulous to have from you. OK, enough said, on with the show!
Well, unbelievably, I completed the initial draft of 55,976 words and in thirty minutes the last 718 words of that draft book will be published on Learning from Dogs.
Come the start of January comes the start of the editing and refining period, again ably assisted and supported by NaNoWriMo.
The wonderful support that so many readers and friends have shown me has been magnificent: thank you. More than one person has encouraged me to both produce the final version and to self-publish. Let’s see how things turn out.
Learning from Dogs
It was October 25th, 2013. Exactly a year since the day that they had moved in to their Merlin home. Yet in some very strange way if felt neither as long as a full year nor as short.
Molly and Philip were sitting on the decked verandah looking out over the acres of grass. A group of five dogs were cavorting and chasing around in what looked like for them a dog heaven.
He came back to his strange thought of it not feeling like a year; in either direction. The beauty of their land, the joy the dogs experienced every time they ran freely about the place was beyond measure. All their neighbours, without exception, were people that he and Molly liked. More than that, they were also helpful and sharing persons. Rationally, he admitted, this was probably a key aspect of country folk right across the United States of America. But it didn’t diminish what it felt like. Plus his Englishness was welcomed and enjoyed and that created an additional layer of acceptance. Thus in those ways it felt that they had been here for much longer than twelve short months.
On the other hand, his difficulty at learning names and faces of people, even neighbours; his struggle to still find his way to certain stores and shops in Grants Pass had a feel as though they had only just moved in; had been here much less than a full year. That slowness in learning his way about the area worried him at times. It was disquieting and more than once he turned inwards and quietly worried that dementia was stealing up on him as it had for his elder sister, Diana, who had died of it earlier in 2013.
More generally, two dogs had died of old age over the past months so they were down to a total of nine. Those nine were divided into groups of five and four.
The group of five were Pharaoh, Sweeny, Dhalia, Hazel and Cleo. Cleo was the younger German Shepherd that they had purchased as a companion to Pharaoh, who had passed ten-years-old last June. This group was affectionately called the bedroom group because they slept overnight in the main bedroom with Molly and Philip. The other four dogs were Lilly, Ruby, Casey and Paloma. Known as the kitchen group because they lived in the large kitchen and dining area. It worked very well. All nine dogs found their home property endlessly interesting simply because each day there were so many new smells for them to follow.
There was another aspect of their year here that figured very strongly in Philip’s mind. That was the tension between anger and peace, his anger and his peace, and the role of dogs in his life.
He had observed strongly how the level of disquiet, to put it mildly, in the minds of everyday folk all around them was increasing. A throw-away comment in front of a store check-out woman about how we were living in interesting times would trigger a facial expression, a shrug of the shoulders that spoke volumes. Often added to by a comment from the next person in line. Many other tiny windows into how so many people were feeling uncomfortable about the world we were all now living in.
He fully expected to see growing levels of social anger and unrest over the next few years. He could feel the force of anger playing with his mind.
What was it that Jonathan used to speak about? Yes, the difference between power and force. How force could never produce lasting change. Yet how power came from within and could change mountains, metaphorically speaking. Or, as Jonathan pointed out, literally in the case of the power of water and sand.
Philip knew that to bury his face into the furry warmth of a dog’s coat, to wrap his arms around one of their animals and feel the dog relax in to that hug, offered him something priceless. It offered the lesson, time and time again, that anger is only cured from within. That the power of that dog’s unconditional love for him effortlessly took him within himself and bathed him in love, peace and contentment.
One evening during early September, Dhalia did not return to the house after the usual after-supper dog run. He said to Molly that he would go out and look for her. He walked down to the forest just by the creek and stood calling out her name. As the sun set behind the tall peaks and the darkness drew in around him, he started imagining what it would be like to leave their property and plunge into the deep forest searching for one of their dogs that had become lost. He shivered with the thought of how fragile was the boundary between being secure at home and being utterly lost in a vast wilderness.
Thank goodness, he wasn’t put to the test because at that moment the sound of little paws heralded Dhalia’s return. She came immediately to his side, her tail wagging with such furious affection, as it so often did. Philip kneeled down and hugged her. Dhalia lowered her head and pushed herself under his left arm. Tears flowed from his eyes revealing his joy and love that this precious dog was not lost or harmed.
When he and Dhalia had returned to the house, he couldn’t shake off that image of being out alone in the forest. To the extent that the same evening, quite untypically, after their meal he had excused himself to Molly and sat down and written a short story on the theme.
Sitting there with Molly on the verandah more than a month later he reflected that what he could remember of those words was a little hazy. He rose from the chair to go and find where he had put the completed story. He found it almost immediately and came back out to the verandah.
“What’s that you’ve got there?” Molly asked.
“It’s that story I wrote of being lost out in the forest; you know the one I wrote back in early September.”
“Oh yes, I loved that story. Do read it to me again.”
He took out his reading glasses, looked down and started reading.
“Molly, where’s Dhalia?”
“I don’t know. She was here moments ago.”
“Molly, You take the other dogs back to the car and I’ll go and scout around for her. Oh, and you better put Pharaoh on the leash otherwise you know he’ll follow me.”
“Philip, don’t worry. Dhalia’s always chasing scents; bet she beats us back to the car. Especially as it’s going to be dark soon.”
Nonetheless, Philip started back down the dusty, dirt road, the last rays of the sun pink on the high, forested cliffs about them. This high rocky, forest plateau, in an area known as the Siskiyou Forest, not those many miles from their home in Southern Oregon. It made perfect dog-walking country and rarely did they miss a week-end afternoon out here. However, this particular Saturday afternoon, for reasons Philip was unclear, they had left home much later than usual.
There was no sign of Dhalia ahead on this remote forest road so he struck off left, hoping that she was somewhere up amongst the higher trees and the boulders. Soon he reached the first crest; panting hard. Behind him, across the breath-taking landscape, the setting sun had dipped beneath faraway mountain ridges; a magnificent sight. Suddenly, in the midst of that brief pause, him admiring the perfect evening, a sound echoed around the cliffs. The sound of a dog barking. He bet his life on that being Dhalia. Just as quickly the barking stopped.
The barking started up again, barking that suggested Dhalia was hunting a creature. The sound came from an area of boulders way up above the pine trees on the other side of the small valley ahead of him. Perhaps, Dhalia had trapped herself. More likely, he reflected, swept up in the evening scents of the wilderness, Dhalia had temporarily reverted back to the wild, hunting dog she had been all those years ago. That feral Mexican street dog who in 2005 had tentatively turned away from scavenging in a pile of rubbish in a dirty Mexican town and shyly approached Molly. Molly had named her Dhalia.
He set off down through the dense forest to what he thought was the valley floor. Some thirty minutes later, thirty minutes of hard climbing, had him reach those high boulders.
Philip whistled, then called “Dhalia! Dhalia! Come, there’s a good girl.” Thank God for such a sweet, obedient dog. He anticipated the sound of dog feet scampering through rough undergrowth. But no sound came.
He listened; no sounds, no more barking. Now where had she gone? Perhaps past these boulders down in the next steep ravine beyond him, the one even more densely forested with pine trees. With daylight practically gone he needed to find Dhalia, and find her very soon.
He plunged down the slope, through tree branches that whipped across his face, then fell heavily as his foot found empty space instead of the expected firm ground. Philip cursed, picked himself up and paused. That fall had a message for him: the madness of continuing this search in the near dark. The terrain made very rough going even in good daylight. At night, the boulders and plunging ravines would guarantee a busted body, at best! Plus, he ruefully admitted, he didn’t have a clue as to where he now was, let alone finding his way back to the road where he had left Molly.
The unavoidable truth smacked him full in the face. He would be spending this night alone in the high, open forest. It had one hell of a very scary dimension.
He forced himself not to dwell on just how scary it all felt. He needed to stay busy, find some way of keeping warm; last night at home it had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing. Philip looked around, seeing a possible solution. He broke a small branch off a nearby fir tree and made a crude brush with which he swept up the fallen pine needles he saw everywhere about him. Soon he had a stack sufficient to cover him, or so he hoped. Thank goodness that when he and Molly had decided to give the five dogs this late afternoon walk, he had put on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, a pullover thrown over his shoulders. It didn’t make Dhalia’s antics any less frustrating but he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death!
The air temperature sank as if connected with the last rays of the sun. Philip’s confidence sank at the same rate as the temperature.
He lay down, shuffled about, swept the pine needles across his body, tried to find a position that carried some illusion of comfort. No matter the position, he couldn’t silence his mind. Couldn’t silence the screaming in his head, his deep, primeval fear of this dark forest about him, his imagination already running away with visions of hostile night creatures, large and small, watching him, smelling him, biding their time. Perhaps he might sleep for a short while?
A moment later the absurdity of that last thought hit him. Caused him to utter aloud, “You stupid sod. There’s no way you’re going to sleep through this!” His words echoed off unseen cliffs in the darkness reinforcing his sense of isolation.
He was very frightened. Why? Where in his psyche did that come from? He had spent many nights alone at sea without a problem, a thousand miles from shore. Then, of course, he knew his location, always had a radio link to the outside world. But being lost in this dark, lonely forest touched something very deep in him. Suddenly, he started shivering.
The slightest movement he made caused the needles to slip from him and the cold night air began to penetrate his body. He tried not to think about how cold it might get and, by extension, thanked his lucky stars that the night was early September not, say, mid-December. So far, not too cold. But it wasn’t long before the fear rather than the temperature started to devour him. What stupid fool said, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself!’ His plan to sleep under the pine needles, fear or no fear, had failed; he couldn’t get warm. He had to move.
He looked around and vaguely saw a boulder a few yards away, like some giant, black shadow. No details, just this huge outline etched against the night. He carefully raised himself, felt the remaining needles fall away, and gingerly shuffled across to the dark rock. He half-expected something to bite his extended hand as he explored the surface, ran his hand down towards the unseen ground. Miracle of miracles, the granite gently emitted the warmth absorbed from the day’s sun. He slowly settled himself to the ground, eased his back against the rock-face and pulled his knees up to his chest. He felt so much less vulnerable than he had laying on the forest floor. He let out a long sigh, then burst into tears, huge heart-rending sobs coming from somewhere very far within him.
Gradually the tears washed away his fear, restored a calmer part of his brain. That calmer brain brought the realisation that he hadn’t considered, well not up until now, what Molly must be going through. At least he knew he was alive. Molly, not knowing, would be in despair. He bet she would remember that time when out walking in the Dells down in Arizona they had lost little Poppy, an adorable 10 lb poodle mix, never to be found again despite ages spent combing the area, calling out her name. A year later and Molly still said from time to time, “I so miss Poppy!” First Poppy and now him! No question, he had to get through this in one piece, mentally as much as physically.
Presumably, Molly would have called 911 and been connected to the local search and rescue unit. Would they search for him in the dark? He thought it unlikely.
Thinking about her further eased his state of mind and his shivering stopped. Thank goodness for that! Philip fought to retain this new perspective. He would make it through, even treasure this night under the sky, this wonderful, awesome, night sky. Even the many crowns of the tall trees that soared way up above him couldn’t mask a sky that just glittered with starlight.
It was that heavenly clock that resided in the night sky and tonight offered a magical example of the immensity and grandeur of the universe.
Often during his life the night skies had spoken to him, presented a reminder of the continuum of the universe. On this night, however, he felt more humbled by the hundred, million stars surrounding him than ever before.
Time slipped by, him being unable to read his watch in the darkness. However, above his head there was that vast stellar clock. He scanned the heavens, seeking out familiar pinpoints of light, companions over so much of his lifetime. Ah, there! The Big Dipper, Ursa Major, and, yes, there the North Pole star, Polaris. Great! Now the rotation of the planet became his watch, The Big Dipper sliding around Polaris, fifteen degrees for each hour.
What a situation he had got himself into. As with other challenging times in his life, lost in the Australian bush, at sea hunkering down through a severe storm, never a choice other than to work it out. He felt a gush of emotion from the release this changed perspective gave him.
Far away, a group of coyotes started up a howl. What a timeless sound. How long had coyotes been on the planet? He sank into those inner places of his mind noting how the intense darkness raised correspondingly deep thoughts. What if this night heralded the end of his life, the last few hours of the life of Philip Stevens? What parting message would he give to those that he loved?
Molly would know beyond any doubt how much he had adored her, how her love had created an emotional paradise for him beyond measure. But his son and daughter, dear William and Elizabeth? Oh, the complexities he had created in their lives by leaving their mother so many years ago. He knew that they still harboured raw edges, and quite reasonably so. He still possessed raw edges from his father’s death, way back in 1956. That sudden death, five days before Christmas, so soon after he had turned twelve, that had fed a life-long feeling of emotional rejection. That feeling that lasted for fifty-one years until, coincidentally, also just a few days before Christmas, he had met Molly in 2007.
His thoughts returned to William and Elizabeth. Did they know, without a scintilla of doubt, that he loved them? Maybe his thoughts would find them. Romantic nonsense? Who knows? Dogs had the ability to read the minds of humans, often from far out of visual range. He knew Pharaoh, his devoted German Shepherd, skilfully read his mind.
Philip struggled to remember that saying from James Thurber. What was it now? Something about men striving to understand themselves before they die. Would that be his parting message for William and Elizabeth? Blast, he wished he could remember stuff more clearly these days and let go of worrying about the quote. Perhaps his subconscious might carry the memory back to him.
He looked back up into the heavens. The Big Dipper indicated at least an hour had slipped by. Gracious, what a sky in which to lose one’s mind. Lost in that great cathedral of stars. Then, as if through some stirring of consciousness, that Thurber saying did come back to him: All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.
He reflected on those who, incarcerated in solitary confinement, had their minds play many tricks, especially when it came to gauging time. What a bizarre oddment of information; where had that come from? Possibly because he hadn’t a clue about his present time. It felt later than 11pm and earlier than 4am, but any closer guess seemed impossible. Nevertheless, from out of the terrible, heart-wrenching hours of being alone he had found calm, had found something within him. He slept.
Suddenly, he was slammed fully awake. Something out there in the dark had made a sound. Something that caused his whole body to become totally alert, every nerve straining to recognise what it might be. It sounded like animal feet moving through the autumn fall of dead leaves. He prayed that it wasn’t a mountain lion. Surely, such a wild cat preparing to attack him would be silent. Now the unknown creature had definitely paused, no sound, just Philip knowing that somewhere out there, something was watching him, waiting. Now what! The creature was making a sniffing sound. He hoped it was not a puma. Pumas could make trouble; they had no qualms at attacking a decent-sized dog.
Poised to run, he considered rising but chose to stay still. Very quietly and gently he moved his fingers around the ground near to him on either side. A few moments later he closed his right-hand around a small rock. The sniffing stopped. Nothing now, save the sound of his rapidly beating heart. He sensed, sensed strongly, the creature looking at him. It seemed very close, ten or twenty feet away. The adrenalin hammered through his veins.
He tried to focus on the spot where he sensed the animal was waiting; waiting for what? He pushed that idea out of his head. His ears then picked up a weird, bizarre sound. Surely not! Had he lost his senses? It sounded like a dog wagging its tail; flap, flap, flapping against a tree-trunk.
A dog? If a dog, it had to be Dhalia!
Then came that small, shy bark! A bark he knew so well. It was Dhalia. He softly called her, “Come here girl, there’s a good girl.”
With a quick rustle of feet Dhalia leapt upon him, tail wagging furiously, her head quickly burrowing into his body warmth. He hugged her and, once more, the tears ran down his face. Despite the darkness, he could see her perfectly in his mind. Her tight, short-haired coat of light-brown hair, her aquiline face, her bright inquisitive eyes and those wonderful head-dominating ears. Lovely large ears that seemed to listen to the world. A shy, loving dog when Molly had rescued her in 2005 and all these years later still a shy, loving dog.
Dhalia raised her head towards his face and licked his tears, her gentle tongue soft and sweet on his skin. He shuffled more on to his back and that allowed her to curl up on his chest, still enveloped by his arms. His mind drifted off to an era a long time ago, back to an earlier ancient man, likewise arms wrapped around his dog under a dome of stars. This bond between man and dog. So different to each other yet so closely bonded. Bonded in a thousand mysterious ways.
The morning sun arrived as imperceptibly as an angel’s sigh. Dhalia sensed the dawn before Philip, brought him out of his dreams by the slight gentle stirring of her warm body.
Yes, there it came, the end of this night. The sun galloping towards them across ancient lands, another beat of the planet’s heart. Dhalia slid off his chest, stretched herself from nose to tail, yawned and looked at him, as much to say time to go home! He could just make out the face of his watch: 5.55am. He, too, raised himself, slapped his arms around his body to get some circulation going. The cold air stung his face, yet it couldn’t even scratch the inner warmth of his body, the glow from the bond between him and Dhalia.
They set off. As they crested the first ridge there ahead, about a mile away, was a forest road busy with arriving search and rescue trucks. Philip could just see Molly’s white Dodge parked ahead of the trucks and he instinctively knew that she and Pharaoh had already disappeared into the forest, knew Pharaoh was leading her to them.
They set off down the slope, Dhalia’s tail wagging with unbounded excitement, Philip ready to start shouting for attention from the next ridge. They were about to wade through a small stream when Pharaoh raced out of the trees from the other side. He tore through the water, barking at the top of his voice in clear dog speak, ‘I’ve found them, they’re here, they’re safe’. Philip crouched down to receive his second huge face lick in less than six hours.
Later, when safely home, something struck him. When earlier they had set off to find their way back, not long after sunrise, Dhalia had stayed pinned to him. That was so unusual for her not to run off. Let’s face it, that’s what got them into the mess in the first place. Dhalia had stayed with him as if she had known that during that long, dark night, it had been he who had been the lost soul.
Thus came the message from that night, a message as clear as the rays of this new day’s sun, the message to pass to all those he loved. We can only find ourselves from the places where we are lost.
Philip put down the story. There were tears to his eyes. Molly had just blown her nose with a paper tissue so he guessed he wasn’t the only one with wet eyes.
She looked at him.
“You know, that story about Dhalia reminds me of the way that Lilly stayed with Ben.”
“Sorry sweetheart, remind me of that again.”
“When Ben was dying, Lilly stayed by his side on the bed every minute of every hour except for a dash outside for a pee from time to time, and to eat her meals. I knew that Ben had died even before going into his bedroom because Lilly had come out from the room and was resting besides me. Lilly knew that I needed her now more than Ben did.”
There is so much for people to learn from dogs. So many of the ways that dogs behave that show us of what is so desperately missing from these times; from these so-called modern, twenty-first-century times. A time when many believe that our way-of-life is as good as broken. Broken by the levels of greed, by the lies and abuses of those wielding power and control, riven by the deep inequalities between those with comfortable, material lives and those who struggle to live more than one cruel day at a time.
Dogs live so beautifully in the present. They make the best of each moment uncluttered by the complex fears and feelings that we humans so often chose to have about us. They don’t judge, they simply take the world around them at face value. Yet they have been part of man’s world for an unimaginable length of time. Man’s longest animal companion, by far!
There is no archeological evidence of dogs being part of man’s life earlier than thirty-thousand years ago. However, there is serious consideration by scientists that the grey wolf, from which the dog evolved, was in some way connected to Neanderthal man. That the earliest dogs became man’s companion, protector and helper and that the relationship between dog and man was critically important in man achieving success as a hunter-gatherer. Allowing our species to evolve to farming the land and, thence, the long journey to present times.
However at some point in the last, say one to two-hundred years, that farming and husbandry spirit became corrupted by selfishness and greed to the point where the planet’s plant, energy and mineral resources were, and still are, seen as an infinitely deep pot. That corruption producing a blindness to the most important truth in all our lives. That Planet Earth is man’s only source of life. Unless and until we return to living in balance and harmony with our planet then we are close to the edge of extinction. Both a literal and spiritual extinction.
Dogs know better, so much better! Time again for man to learn from dogs!
Learning from Dogs
Philip drove himself, as quietly as he could manage it, back up to Lisa and Don’s house. It was a little after 4am. The night air was cold and as he slipped into his bed the inside of the bodega felt just as cold as outside. The hours of love-making with Molly had been a new experience for him. Of extraordinarily different dimensions from any previous experience. Like every other aspect of their relationship, because now it was most definitely a relationship, the ways that he and Molly were relating to each other, how each was getting to know the other, was a new journey for him. As with all new journeys in life, both the real, external ones and the inner, subjective ones, new journeys came with new experiences, new vistas and new horizons every step of the way.
As he slept on that next morning, Lisa had telephoned Molly and had asked her what the hell was going on. She seemed very upset in a way that Molly couldn’t fully understand. After Lisa had calmed down a little, Molly told her that she and Philip were now lovers.
Five days later, 2007 bid farewell forever and in came the New Year of 2008. Philip and Molly endeavoured to be together as much as possible for his remaining ten days. He was now effectively living at her house. In those ten days any lingering cautions in their minds about either of them being hurt just vaporised. For the very simple, yet gigantic, reason that he wanted to be with her and she with him. There was no doubt whatsoever that he would leave Devon and come to San Carlos with Pharaoh just as soon as it could be arranged. In the interim, Molly would come to Devon in the Spring to meet his family and friends. Then the plan was that in the early Autumn, he and Pharaoh would make the one-way trip to Mexico, routing via California.
Thus it came to pass that early one morning in September, Philip arrived at London Airport with two suitcases and one beloved dog: Pharaoh. They were flying one-way with British Airways, London to Los Angeles. He had been informed that Pharaoh would need to be checked-in at the World Cargo centre. Philip parked outside said cargo centre and walked Pharaoh on his leash to the animal check-in desk. Fifteen minutes later, with his face staring out at Philip through the grill of his travel cage, Pharaoh disappeared from sight without even a bark; without even a whimper. It was as if he sensed the new life that was ahead of him. Philip had asked as to where in the aircraft’s hold Pharaoh’s cage would be situated and had reserved a cabin seat more or less above that spot. He was of no doubt that Pharaoh would know that he was sitting as close to him as possible.
As is the way of long international, non-stop flights, it was over in some sort of time-warped way, before he could really grasp it.
Molly had driven up from San Carlos to meet him and Pharaoh when they flew in to Los Angeles. First she welcomed Philip with the world’s sweetest and dearest hug then they repositioned to another part of the terminal building to await Pharaoh’s arrival. In what seemed like no time at all they were all heading out from the airport complex, Pharaoh sitting on his haunches on the rear seat of Molly’s car unable to take his eyes off the strange world outside yet at the same time eagerly eating a bowl of dog biscuits being held under his chin by Philip.
So, it’s time for this story to take a pause. Well, maybe not a pause, more a drawing back from the intricacy and detail of the previous pages. For in so many ways the story has now been told.
Philip and Molly’s lives together were all, and more, of what they could have ever imagined.
He had been living in Mexico with Molly for about eighteen months when they were clear that they wanted to marry and find a new home in America. Because Molly had US citizenship through her marriage to Ben, it seemed sensible for Philip to apply for a US Fiancée Visa. So it was decided that they would find a home in Arizona and sell the beach-side house in San Carlos. They quickly found a comfortable home in Payson, a city of fifteen-thousand persons located at five-thousand feet, eighty miles North-East of Phoenix, Arizona. The subsequent move from Mexico to Payson went off remarkably well. Especially if one reflects that the move included fourteen dogs, seven cats and all their belongings. Their latest dog being a beautiful, black, half-Rottweiler female dog that was dumped in the street just outside the house barely ten days before they departed Mexico. She was still in milk, frantically tearing back and forth along the dusty street, presumably looking for her puppies, crying out the pain of her loss. Molly enticed her into the house, gave her water, for she was very thirsty, and within minutes the dog was showing her love and gratitude to Molly. They named her Hazel.
Then it was time for Philip to apply for that fiancée visa. There was no delaying that because his entrance to the USA, when they moved up from San Carlos, was on the basis of a ninety-day tourist visa.
Applying for that fiancée visa could only be done at the US Embassy back in his home country; England. In the end, it involved several trips back to the UK and strange, interminable processes convincing the US Embassy in London that he was a fit and proper person to be admitted as a resident to the United States of America.
Nevertheless, on November 4th, 2010, he boarded Virgin Atlantic’s flight VS007 from London Heathrow to Phoenix, the possessor of a United States visa permitting him to marry a US Citizen; in this case a very special one. Sixteen days later, on Saturday, November 20th, he and Molly were married.
This is where the story should have ended. Molly and Philip and their animals living very happily in a comfortable home in Payson, Arizona. But the story has a twist.
It had been a night in the middle of June in 2012; the night of the 20th June as he recalled. There was nothing about the previous day that could have had any bearing on his mind, as in any trigger for the dream, not that, as dreams go, it was a dream of any meaning; well not outwardly. He dreamt he had gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night and turned on the cold-water tap and found no water flowing from it. That was the dream; no more or no less. Bizarre!
Yet when he awoke in the morning, the dream was vividly present in his mind. He said to Molly that he had had the most strangest of dreams and recounted the experience. As it happened, they had a neighbour call by later that morning and the conversation lead Philip to mention his dream. To which the neighbour had simply remarked that if he was worried about water then they should go to Oregon.
While their property was sufficiently far out from Payson to require their own well and, as wells go, it was a deep one of nearly three-hundred feet, the water level had stayed pretty constant around sixty-feet down. On the other hand, this part of Arizona had been receiving below-average rains for the last twenty years.
Then, almost as though it had been pre-ordained, a short while thereafter Molly met a woman who said that she would be delighted to house sit and look after all the pets if Molly and Philip ever wanted to go on a vacation. Molly had mentioned that they were thinking of visiting Oregon. All of which came together and saw Molly and Philip setting off on July 11th on the start of a three-day, twelve-hundred mile drive to Southern Oregon.
On their arrival in Grants Pass, Oregon, yet another set of coincidences found them being introduced to an independent real-estate agent, Donna. Donna said she was happy to show them some properties for sale in this part of Southern Oregon. The second property that Donna showed them was a few miles North of the small community of Merlin, itself some nine miles North-West of Grants Pass.
Donna stopped at the entrance to the driveway, turned round and looked back at them.
“I have to be honest and tell you that I know very little about this property. There are not even listing particulars. It was for sale a few years back, rumours had it at well over a million dollars; possibly even million and a third. Then it was lost to the bank and, for whatever reason, nobody has gone for it. It’s been empty for at least two years.”
Donna drove in. The driveway was surrounded either side by tall forest trees; oaks, pines and firs. It initially sloped down from the roadway and then went across a bridge over a sparkling creek of crystal-clear water flowing from right-to-left. Donna paused the car as Philip asked a question.
“Any details about the creek, Donna?”
“It’s called Bummer Creek and it flows all-year. Not sure, will need to check on it, but I thought I had heard there were formal water extraction rights for the owners of the property.”
The driveway then made a gently climb along the right-hand edge of a large, multi-acre, grass paddock. In what must have been nearly a quarter-of-a-mile later, they drove up to a large, wooden-clad, single-story home surrounded by more wonderful tall pines and firs. It was stupendous. A four-bedroomed property in thirteen acres of fenced land with stables, a garage and other outbuildings, and what did turn out to be water extraction rights from Bummer Creek.
It took Molly and Philip less than an hour to make up their minds that at the right price this could be their home of a lifetime for them and all their animals.
Donna came up to them as they stood outside the front of the property.
“What do you think, guys?”
Philip answered, “It’s an incredible property and I don’t doubt that at some point it would have been an expensive property to purchase. Do you know the asking price?’
Donna answered, “I’ve just been calling to find out more details. The bank that originally foreclosed on the property then sold it a while back to a company called Gorilla Capital. Gorilla are just trying to flip the place for cash but, as with the bank, have had trouble finding a buyer. The company have told me they are looking for three-hundred-and-eighty-thousand dollars. I have to say that’s quite a low price for all that’s here even in these depressed times. My guess is that many people would find it a bit too much to take on in terms of the acres. Otherwise, I can’t see why it hasn’t sold a long time ago. Especially for the money being asked.”
Philip and Molly took another walk around the house. They ended up standing together on the wooden deck overlooking some eight or nine acres of grassland, dense forest sweeping up the flanks of the slopes in the near distance, and the mighty Mount Sexton visible four or five miles off to the North-East.
“What do you think, Molly?” he asked, putting his arm around her waist.
“It’s gorgeous, I just can’t believe what an incredible home it is. How about you? What do you think, sweetheart?”
His reply was unequivocal. “I think we should put in a silly offer.”
“Such as?” Molly wondered aloud.
“Come with me.”
He took her hand and lead her around to the front of the house, to where Donna was waiting.
“Donna, we want to make an offer. Tell Gorilla that we can’t go anywhere near their asking price just now. But if they want a deal today, we will offer two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand dollars. Cash on the nail as we say in my old country.”
Donna walked away to be out of earshot and rang Gorilla. She was back in a couple of minutes.
“They say that’s too low. Say there really looking for something a bit higher.”
Fifteen minutes later, Gorilla and Philip and Molly had settled on the figure of two-hundred-and-seventy-one-thousand dollars.
As they walked towards Donna’s car she said to them, “You do know, don’t you, that even in today’s depressed housing market, that’s one hell of a deal.”
So it came to pass that on the following day, Sunday, 15th July, over at Donna’s office, Philip and Molly signed the purchase contract.
They left to return to Payson the following day.
Upon their return to Payson, without exception, all the people they shared their news with were astounded at what they had purchased for such a modest sum of money. Now came the challenge of getting their Payson house ready for sale, packing up their things and transporting what was by now eleven dogs and five cats, the twelve-hundred miles to Oregon.
Nevertheless, as is the way of things, piece by piece, little by little, it all came together resulting in the day of the ‘big move’ arriving: Tuesday, October 23rd to be exact. Philip’s Jeep was towing a large covered U-Haul trailer and Molly was driving a U-Haul rental van towing another trailer carrying her Dodge van packed to the roof. They were off to Oregon.
Within less than forty-eight hours of arriving at their new home in Merlin, as Molly and Philip saw how the dogs reacted to their acres of land, the trees, the hollows and the borders, they knew that all of them, in the fullest sense of the phrase, had come home.
2,387 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Learning from Dogs
He was settling very quickly into the local scene. It was a strange mix of Americans and Mexicans. Then within the Mexican population there appeared to be as least two groupings, or categories. Those Mexicans that, in one form or another, had lives or businesses that revolved around the many Americans living there and then another group of Mexicans who were much less visible. Undoubtedly, this latter group were poorer, many living in an area of San Carlos known as the Ranchitas. An area that he didn’t expect to be shown but had been mentioned by both Lisa and Molly. It slightly reminded him of those early days in Spain when English tourists started travelling there, before the whole packaged holiday thing exploded. He could remember his father and mother taking the family for a vacation in Spain. Pretty sure that was back in 1953 because he recalled the streets of London being prepared for the Queen’s Coronation as they drove through London early in the morning on their way to the Channel car ferry. Distant and faint memories of the place where they were staying in Spain being dusty, hot and very uncommercial yet gearing themselves up to sell as many services as they could to these new British tourists. So, so long ago. Philip didn’t have a clue as to where they had stayed in Spain, just that at some deep level in his memory that place in Spain seemed to resonate some fifty-three years later with this place in Mexico.
Lisa and Molly arranged that all of them would go on Friday to a local dinner and dance establishment in San Carlos called Banana’s. Apparently, every Friday there was a Mexican Mariachi band that played lively music plus the menu offered a number of good local Mexican dishes.
He didn’t have a clue as to what to wear but not having brought an enormous range of clothes he settled on a loose-fitting, short-sleeved cotton shirt over a pair of cream slacks.
It was a perfect end to his first full week, and he had no doubt whatsoever that Lisa’s invitation to come here for Christmas had been a godsend. No better underlined than by the fact that yesterday had been the 20th of December and it was only this morning, the 21st, as he was showering and wondering what the date was, that he realised that the anniversary of the bombshell in his life a year ago had remained out of his consciousness. Maggie had been erased.
Rather than go directly to Banana’s, Don drove first over to Molly’s house and waited while she closed her front door and jumped into her own car. He caught a glimpse of what she was wearing; noticing how her low-cut blouse, a silk scarf across her shoulders, a pair of skin-tight long, pale-blue trousers signalled that this was a lady who was going to enjoy her Friday evening out with them all.
The atmosphere at Banana’s was electric for reasons that he couldn’t put his finger on. Not that it mattered what the reasons were, what did matter was that there was almost a festival mood all around them.
Molly was obviously a very competent Spanish speaker and ordered the meals and drinks for all in the Mexican waiter’s native tongue. Philip had rapidly come to the view that Molly was well-known in the town. Hardly surprising when one reflected on how many years she had been living here, as well as being a fluent Spanish speaker. They were chatting about the number of Americans living in San Carlos and Don explained how he and Lisa, as with so many of the other Americans, went North back up to the States during the Summer as it became so very hot here in San Carlos. Molly said that for her this was her one and only home plus that she couldn’t, and wouldn’t want to, leave her dogs.
Their meal came to an end. Molly was clearly itching to be dancing. Philip, never a great dancer at the best of times, was fearful of even being able to put one foot in front of another, let alone offer an attractive woman a worthy experience on the dance-floor.
The Mariachi group started another tune. Molly said, “It’s a tango, come on, let’s give it a try.”
He started to protest that he didn’t know how to dance the tango but, nonetheless, was rising from his seat.
She grabbed his hand and led him on to a smallish dance-floor saying just to follow her. The wooden circular dance-floor, perhaps thirty-five feet in diameter, had a dozen or so other couples getting into the swing of the music.
He put his right arm around Molly’s slim waist, grasped her outstretched hand with his other hand, and gave in to the rhythm. Molly danced in such a natural way that within a few bars of the music his feet had got the idea, and his head had embraced the beat of the music. He very quickly got lost in the whole sensation, not even the smallest part of his mind puzzled on how it was that he could walk on to a Mexican dance-floor with a woman with whom he had never danced, a band playing a rhythm that he would have been certain he couldn’t dance to, and feel as though he and Molly had done this their entire lives.
It was not unnoticed by others. As the music came to a close, Philip and Molly were aware, and rather embarrassed, to observe that other couples on the dance-floor had stopped their dancing and moved to the edge of the floor to give them more space for their gyrations. Molly put her arm through his as they made their way back to the table and said that was perfect; that she loved fun things and hadn’t had such fun for a long time.
Lisa looked up at them as they came to the table and remarked in Philip’s direction that for someone who claimed not to be able to dance the tango, he and Molly had put on quite a show.
Molly had her hand on Philip’s forearm as she declared to Lisa that this man was quite a dancer. Philip was at a complete loss to make sense of anything. It was almost as though the Philip of a year ago had died and been reborn Philip Mk. II.
After a pause of ten minutes or so, Molly was up for another dance and grabbed his arm. It was a slower dance and he had not one moment’s hesitation to be on the dance-floor with her.
Again, he became connected totally to her through the music, unaware of anything else going on in the room. All that he was experiencing in his heart was that being with Molly was unlike being with any other woman in his life. All he knew was that in a previous life having such close contact with a gorgeous, single woman would be triggering desires to have his wicked way with her. No, forget triggering desires, he would be scheming how to get her knickers off before the night was out!
But with Molly it was different. Yes, of course, she had a lovely figure and as they danced close to each other he could feel her beautiful breasts pressing through her silk blouse against his chest. No, the difference was that he had no ambitions, no sense of what was coming next; whether that next was in an hour’s time or in a life time. He had heard frequently about living in the present; assumed what it was at an intellectual level. However, what he was experiencing now was nothing less than being fully alive in this present moment. It felt like perfection of being.
They returned to the table to find that Don had left. Lisa explained that he was tired, that he wasn’t much of a partying man and had gone on home, with the expectation that Molly would run Lisa and Philip back to the house at the end of the evening. It didn’t seem to phase Lisa; quite the opposite. Because she said, with an eager and excited tone to her voice, that they should spend the rest of Friday evening at Froggie’s Bar. Apparently, Don had settled the bill here at Banana’s on the way out.
The evening continued at Froggie’s as it had started at Banana’s. Lots of silliness between the three of them to the extent that their peals of laughter, especially from Lisa and Molly, caused more than one head to turn in their direction. He couldn’t believe, even as he was experiencing these days in San Carlos, just how wonderful it was making him feel.
Thus it was some twenty minutes later, with Lisa enjoying a dance with one of the many Americans having a Friday night out, when he glanced at Molly and spoke with a slightly raised voice to counter the sound of the music, “I just can’t tell you what a difference coming to San Carlos has made for me.”
Molly, sitting next to him at the table, gave him what he thought was a most puzzling look. He was trying to read that look, a look that seemed part dreamy, part embarrassed, and part very private, when she lent her head close to his right ear, hand on top of his hand, and murmured to him, “Do you know I would love to be kissed by you.”
He swung his legs around to the right so that he was sitting opposite her, placed his right arm around her warm, slender waist and softly, so very softly, met her lips and kissed her. The moist tip of her tongue explored his tongue in what was the most sensuous kiss he could remember in a lifetime.
It had him turned totally upside down. As with their second dance at Banana’s he was feeling a wave of emotion unfamiliar with anything from his past life.
Lisa returned to the table and after another twenty minutes or so, it was agreed by all that it was time to call it a night. Lisa, in particular, didn’t want her return to be too late knowing that Don would be asleep in bed.
Philip suggested that as Molly and Lisa had clearly had quite a lot to drink, certainly much more than he had, then why not let him drive Molly’s car, drop Molly off at home and bring her car back first thing in the morning.
It was a little before nine in the morning when Philip drew up outside Molly’s house, turned off the ignition and opened the door in the front wall that enclosed a small yard space in front of the house. He was heard by the dogs well before he reached up for the iron door knocker on the main front door and shortly thereafter he heard Molly’s shout to come on in.
“How’s your head?” he asked her.
“Oh, fine. Thank goodness I rarely suffer from hangovers. Don’t know why because I’m happy to have a few drinks when the mood is right. Can I get you a coffee? Or would you like a tea? I managed to buy some tea-bags yesterday. Lipton’s tea, can you believe that.”
He opted for the tea and stood looking out across the bay. He heard the sound of water heating up in a pot followed moments later by Molly calling out to him.
“Philip, I’m so sorry about last night for being a fool. I got a little carried away in asking you for that kiss. Please excuse me.”
He wasn’t sure how to reply and sat on his thoughts, so to speak, as the sound of boiling water being poured into two mugs heralded the arrival of the tea.
“Milk but no sugar,” she called out.
“Yes, that’s correct. Well done on remembering.”
They both sat down on the verandah.
“Did you hear me saying how sorry I was to be such a fool?”
“Yes, I heard you.”
There was a silence between them of a couple of minutes or so, before she spoke up.
“I don’t know what to make of your lack of any reaction to what I just said.”
“Molly, it’s like this. Your kiss was beautiful for me and I thought you felt the same way. So when you just said sorry for being a fool, it’s left me confused. I don’t know how to match what I felt as we kissed with the idea that it may have just been a bit of a flirtation on your part coming out of a fun evening.”
Molly said nothing. She just put her mug down on the glass-topped table in front of her, stood up and came around to be behind Philip as he sat on his chair.
She wrapped both arms around his neck and shoulders and across his chest and lent her head down besides his, kissed his left cheek and breathed the words, “Thank you”.
As she stood upwards, he got out of his chair, turned and grasped his arms around her and kissed her full on her lips. This time there was a hunger in him and he felt stirrings through his body that were both sexually exciting and emotionally confusing. For he was starting to realise that Molly was something more to him, even if he was unable to define what that more was. Yet, at in the same thought, he knew that in just over two week’s time he would be leaving Mexico and travelling back to England. That he knew that he was emotionally unprepared for the separation from this woman that was starting to be so attractive to him.
“Sorry, Molly, now my turn to apologise. I was clearly getting a little carried away.”
Her face was written all over with the same emotional confusion as he had just felt within him.
“Molly, both you are and I mustn’t inadvertently hurt each other. I sense we are both yearning for love and compassion but …”
He couldn’t find the words to finish his sentence.
“I understand, Philip, I really do. You’re right,” Molly paused. “But I damn well wish you weren’t.” There was a twinkle in her eye.
“Come on, I’ll run you back to Lisa’s place.”
Philip was aware from previous times that Americans didn’t make as much of Christmas as Europeans do, and especially as the Brits do. However, Molly, in true British style, decided to put on a Christmas dinner for all four of them. He wondered what to give Molly for a Christmas gift. Luckily came up with the brain-wave of buying some blank recordable CDs and making up some music CDs. He had brought his laptop with him from England and there were several hundred music tracks to choose from. It was only after a long evening’s recording that he realised that the majority of the tracks he had selected had romantic music. Something was pulling his emotional strings!
Later, after his bed-side lamp had been turned off and he was settling down under his covers, he found himself thinking very deeply about Molly. If only she was living in Britain. If only …. He pulled himself up sharply. If only what Philip? Was he thinking that Molly is someone that he would like to have a full relationship with? But only if it was convenient? The voice in his head was very good at asking the questions but not so good at delivering the answers.
Christmas Day was a good day and Molly adored the music CDs. She had worked so hard to decorate her house yet Philip dare not admit that the warmth and the sun and the scintillating views out across the waters of the bay didn’t make it really feel like an English version of Christmas Day. Even the huge Christmas lunch couldn’t offset his feeling of displacement. It was small beer in the scheme of things.
The 26th, the day after Christmas, was a Wednesday. Two American friends of Molly, Don and Pam, invited Philip and Molly for dinner at Banana’s. They, too, had a second home in San Carlos. Molly came over to Lisa’s house to pick him up in her car
He immediately took to Don and Pam as they sat and enjoyed a pre-dinner drink. Don was asking him a little about his background when he noticed Pam say something to Molly in private that made her blush and snigger a little.
He paused in his conversation with Don and caught Molly’s eyes.
“Philip, Pam was just saying that the general view around the place is that we are an item.”
Don laughed and said how it only confirmed all that he had heard about British single men and their carrying-ons when on holiday.
“Come on Don,” Philip teased him back. “That’s single British men in the twenties screwing around, literally, on the beaches of the Costa Brava in Spain; the result of bottom-dollar cheap packaged holidays. I’m an ancient fella in contrast, I mean the wrong side of sixty-three and all that. Practically forgotten how to screw if you’ll forgive the expression. Last time I performed that way London was being lit by gas lamps.”
Pam threw back her head and roared with laughter. Molly poked a finger in his upper arm and commented that she hadn’t realised that he was that old.
It was another lovely evening. He couldn’t help noticing how he was being accepted by all those that clearly knew Molly well and it made him feel very good within.
After the meal, both Don and Pam and Philip and Molly enjoyed a number of dances.
He and Molly had returned to their table as Don and Pam remained for the next dance.
She took his hand and looked him in the eyes. “You know, I was thinking about what you said earlier.”
“What was that I was saying?”
“About how you have practically forgotten how to make love. Can’t use that other word.”
There was the briefest of pauses before she continued, the softest of loving tones in her voice, “Do you want to make love to me tonight?”
3,072 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover
Learning from Dogs
Philip was about to pick up his case and return to the cool of the airport concourse when out of the corner of his eye, right at the last minute, he saw a tall, elegant, blond-haired woman heading for the airport doors in a manner that suggested she hadn’t seen him. Before he even had time to draw breath and sing out a caution, she careened into his right shoulder almost knocking him into the pillar besides which he had been standing.
She stopped, turned towards him, and reached out to hold his right forearm in her right hand.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Bond. It is Mr. Bond, isn’t it? Mr. James Bond?”
In Philip’s most wildest of dreams he would never have anticipated that his first new minutes on Mexican soil would turn out like this.
He guessed who this attractive woman was. The smooth English accent was a bit of a give-away, the laughter in her voice confirming it was planned.
“Oh, you must be Molly? Lisa had mentioned a few times that she had an English friend here in Mexico.”
Then from out behind another tiled pillar popped Lisa.
“Hi Philip, welcome to Mexico.”
Lisa came over and gave him a long hug.
He picked up his case and followed the two of them the short distance to the car-park. He noticed the gaiety between them. Within moments they were alongside Lisa’s car, a Ford Explorer according to the badge on the rear of the vehicle. Of course, a make unfamiliar to him. He would have described it as an American version of a compact Estate car; apparently known as an SUV in this part of the world.
However the make and type of the vehicle wasn’t so much the focus of his attention. It was rather how on earth he was going to get in. Because, as Lisa opened the tailgate, there was revealed more large plastic sack-bags of dried dog food than he had ever seen in his life.
“Hopefully there’s just enough space at the top for you to slide your suitcase in. Will it fit?”, Lisa enquired.
He pushed a couple of the topmost bags to either side and just managed to squeeze his case in over the top.
He backed out and straightened Up. Molly had now opened the right-hand door to the rear bench seat.
“Sorry if it’s a bit cramped. We’ve had a bit of restocking of dog food.”
Molly wasn’t kidding, Philip thought, as he shuffled onto the nearest remaining piece of the bench seat that wasn’t covered from seat to roof-lining with clear-plastic wrapped cardboard trays of canned dog food.
Molly sat down on the front passenger seat, Lisa started the engine, doors were slammed close and they eased out of the designated parking area. Within moments they were clear of the airport zone and heading more-or-less South. Well that was Philip’s estimate looking at the setting sun low down off to his right; its golden rays accentuating the dry, desert landscape that seemed to run all the way to the horizon.
His eyes were drawn back to all the dog food. “Gracious, someone’s got a few pet dogs at home.”
He noticed a look pass between Lisa and Molly. It was Molly who replied.
“Lisa has five dogs and I have fourteen.”
“Did you say fourteen! My goodness, that sounds like a story.”
As they sped along what appeared to be signed as Highway 15, Lisa chatted away to Philip explaining the story about the dogs. How for many years she and Molly had been working together in rescuing dozens of feral dogs, so many of whom roamed the streets of San Carlos. Then them finding homes for the dogs most often with Americans coming down visiting San Carlos.
He looked across to Molly sitting in the front. “So how long have you been living in Mexico, Molly?”
“Oh, for almost twenty-five years. I came down here with my husband when he and I wanted a change from the USA.
As he listened, he started to focus on her accent. English it was, without any doubt. But better than that, for if asked, he would have guessed a London accent, even perhaps an East London or Essex accent.
“Molly, hope you don’t mind me asking but I’m hearing a London accent. Is that correct? Where were you born?”
“In Essex,” she replied.
“Ah, thought as much. I know Essex pretty well from my years as a salesman in that part of the world. So in which part of Essex were you born?”
There was a pause before Molly answered, a lovely tease in her voice, “The worst part of Essex.”
He stopped and thought about his memories of Essex. There were quite a few places in Essex that might qualify as the worst part. But listening to Molly’s accent was giving him a clue. He took a stab at the place.
“I think you were born in Dagenham. You know, where the huge Ford factory is.”
Molly’s answered with a giggle, “Yes, that’s right. How very clever. What made you guess Dagenham?”
“Well, when I was selling for IBM, I got to know that part of Essex especially well. Called on many of the Ford suppliers that had businesses in and around the Dagenham area. Places such as Romford, Rainham, Barking. I heard something in your voice that suggested Dagenham or close by. Because, as you go further out, to places like Basildon, Brentford, even Chelmsford, the local Essex accent starts to take on more of an East Anglian twang.”
“You mean posher than Dagenham.” Molly put on a thick Cockney overlay that, nonetheless, only accentuated the underlying playfulness in her voice.
“So, your turn. Where were you born, Philip? Have to say you sound too posh for East London or Essex.”
He was tempted to play games in return but didn’t have time to think of a cheeky retort. “I was born in North Acton in North London but almost from my first year lived and grew up in Preston Road, about a mile from Wembley Stadium. In fact I could see the stadium buildings from my bedroom window.”
Molly’s gift for accents was obvious as she came back in a pseudo upper-class tone of voice, “Oh, Wembley. Oh, I do say, how delightfully charming.”
They chit-chatted back and forth for some time as the miles sped by before Philip sensed, not quite sure how, that Lisa was feeling a little left out.
“Lisa, so back to the dogs. Is it normal for you and Molly to have so many dogs at home?”
Lisa replied, “Not really. A short time ago the local animal shelter in San Carlos, where both Molly and I used to help out, closed down. Many of the dogs were at risk of being put down. So the ones that could be placed elsewhere we took them in ourselves.”
The conversation in the car fell silent for a while. The flight down from Los Angeles on top of some residual jet-lag from his flight across from London, the smooth motion of the car and the approaching dusk all conspired to make him just want to close his eyes for a few minutes.
He was suddenly awake with the turning off of the engine.
“Whoops, sorry about that. Obviously dozed off.”
Molly turned and looked at him. “Don’t worry, you were snoring so very prettily.”
Philip felt himself blush as he got out of the car with the two of them.
“Sorry, Philip,” Lisa said. “We’re not quite home. This is Molly’s house and we are just going to put her bags of dog food in the back of her car for now.”
Philip went around to the back of the Ford and removed his suitcase. Molly opened a large pair of brown-painted metal doors to reveal a rather grubby white van-type car parked in her driveway. She opened the tailgate and he watched as Molly and Lisa carried the bags and trays of cans from one vehicle to the other.
He looked around him. It was now early night. A warm, sub-tropical night that, quite suddenly, reminded him of nights in Darwin, Northern Australia. There were a couple of street lamps shining their sodium light along an unsurfaced dirt street with properties to both sides. He walked a few paces so he could look down the side of Molly’s house and saw the black surface of a sea possible only twenty yards beyond the far edge of the property. The architecture of the house itself looked very non-European. Philip reflected that in more ways than one this was a very long way from Devon.
He jumped into the front seat where Molly had been sitting as Lisa started up the car.
“Looks like quite a location where Molly and Ben have their house,” he mused aloud.
“Just Molly now, Philip. Ben died back in 2005. He was a great guy. He and Molly had the house designed and built for them by local Mexicans when they first came down to San Carlo more than twenty-five years ago.”
He noticed just a hint of something slip across his mind, something not even as clear as a thought. Some tiny patter of emotional excitement that Molly was a single woman.
A few minutes later, as Lisa drove up the hill to her house, a combination of Philip’s exhaustion and the darkness of the night made it difficult for him to really get a clear idea of what the house looked like. For sure, it gave the impression of being a grand place but, then again, the feeling of it still being very much a working construction project.
Half-an-hour later, that was confirmed by Don as all three of them sat around a table alongside a grand motorhome.
Lisa explained that they still hadn’t moved in to the house but that they had made him up a bedroom in the bodega. Frankly, he hadn’t a clue as to what a bodega was but presumed that was the large awning with sides that he had been shown to when they arrived. So after a light snack, all that his stomach could take, he excused himself and promptly got settled into his nominated bed and barely before he could register the comfort of the bed and the wonderful night sounds around him, he was gone.
He slowly awoke, looked at his watch that was still on his left wrist and saw that it was coming up to 7 a.m. It had felt like a week’s deep, dreamless sleep; the sleep of all sleeps.
There was a hint of the coming dawn in the sky as he went outside and took in a few lungfuls of clean, fresh air. This pre-dawn light to the sky was on the horizon to his left as he stared out over a bay with the calmest of sea surfaces one could imagine. There wasn’t a breath of wind. Total calmness. He pondered about the strange interface between a calm, benign sea that had not even a single fishing boat upon it, together with the steep, barren slopes of mountains pressing up almost to the edge of the town and then elsewhere the views housing lots, construction projects, more smart homes and a golf course.
The air was noticeably cool so he went inside the bodega to find a sweatshirt. He went back outside and quietly sat on a garden chair and just allowed the peace of the surroundings to wash over him. It had all been quite a year. Here he was sitting in the most different of settings he could imagine, a little over a week before Christmas Day but, much more significantly, only four days from it being exactly a year since Maggie dropped her bomb into his life.
Lisa’s ‘what are you doing for Christmas’ question some seven months ago had certainly set some wheels in motion.
“Hi Philip!” It was Don coming across from the motorhome to say good morning. He stood next to Philip and said how he never got tired of the view across the bay.
Don turned to him, “Hey, Lisa says that we should take breakfast over at Rosa’s Cantina. As you can see, we really are not yet set up for cooking arrangements.”
“That’s fine, Don. Very happy to let you run my life.”
Lisa stepped down from the motorhome, telephone in left hand, “I was going to give Molly a call to see if she wants to join us at Rosa’s.”
She pressed a button and raised the phone to her ear, exchanged a few words and called out, “All arranged, she will see us there at 8 a.m.”
Lisa then came across to Philip, asked him how he had slept and showed him the bathroom and showering facilities.
They had just seated themselves at a table at Rosa’s Cantina when Molly breezed in. She was wearing a white cotton blouse over white jeans and a straw Stetson hat over her blond hair, the hat sitting a little way back on her head. Despite Philip not being the best observer in the world of what a woman was wearing or her make-up, he couldn’t help noticing Molly’s rich red lipstick on her lips. There was something about Molly that signalled she was one-hundred-percent woman.
She parked her sunglasses across the front rim of her hat as she came into the shade of the Cantina.
“Hi everyone. Did you sleep well, Philip?”
“Thanks Molly. Yes the sleep of a lifetime, I’m glad to say. Heavens, what with your white jeans and your Stetson hat there’s a bit of an equine look about you today.”
Molly laughed, “Are you saying that I look like a horse! Not much of a greeting to a woman, if you don’t mind me saying.”
They caught each other’s eyes as Molly sat down at the table. The laughter in her eyes was unmissable.
Breakfast was ordered and an hour passed by in an easy and gentle manner. At one point, Lisa asked Molly whether she had had a result from the auction. Molly replied that she hadn’t but that she expected to hear today and had her fingers crossed it would be a winning bid.
Molly turned to Philip who was looking quizzically at her .
“I’ve put in a bid at a silent auction for the most incredible carved dining table and chairs that you can imagine. Genuine Mexican hand-carved and just stunning. If I win it, I’ll invite you all round for dinner.”
After breakfast and back at the house, Philip was introduced to Lisa’s dogs. They were all lovely animals that were both curious and affectionate towards him. One of them, a creamy coloured, short-haired, bright-eyed dog, perhaps eighteen inches to her shoulders, looked as though she wanted to jump on his lap. Lisa said that her name was Shilo and that she was a dear. He was sitting down and patted his lap; Shilo jumped up without hesitation.
As he cuddled Shilo, Lisa explained how she had been found on a local street one evening, going through a pile of rubbish. She had been very thin and very wary of humans. However, Lisa put some food down for her and very slowly was able to coax her into her arms. As Philip stroked Shilo and felt her settle into his lap he suddenly felt very guilty that until this moment Pharaoh hadn’t even entered his mind. He realised how much he was missing him.
Later, towards the middle of the afternoon, Lisa came across to where he was sunbathing, on the sixteenth day in December as he could hardly believe, and announced that Molly had, indeed, won the silent auction, that the huge table was being delivered tomorrow and on Tuesday evening they were all invited to dinner.
“Let me tell you, Philip, Molly can cook up a storm of a meal. It’s going to be quite an evening.”
“Can I go and buy some wine for the occasion?”
“No, but you can do me a favour. That same day, the 18th, I need to take the Ford into the repair shop over at Guaymas; about fifteen minutes away. There’s a potential issue with the steering. The local Mexicans are brilliant with cars, all types, and most likely will fix the problem in half the time and half the cost of doing the same thing in the States.”
She paused. “But whereas Don can follow me in the morning in his Jeep and bring me back, later in the day that’s going to be a challenge. Because I will have dogs to feed and getting myself ready for Lisa’s dinner. So wondered if you can you go into Guaymas with Don to pick up my Ford?”
“Sure, I can. No problem.”
“If you follow Don back into San Carlos and go straight to Lisa’s house, just a single turn off the main road, then Don can come and collect me and we both will then come over.”
So it came to pass. Philip drove Lisa’s Ford back from Guaymas and arrived at Molly’s house a little after 5 p.m., the setting sun still allowing him time to be shown around the house. It was a magnificent property without being ostentatious, with glorious views out over the bay. The main living room had a wonderful domed ceiling and the new carved table that Molly had acquired at the auction set the whole room off in the grandest of styles. He could hear the dogs elsewhere chattering happily. Molly said that the next time he came across during the daytime she would introduce them all to him.
She offered him a glass of wine and, together, they sat on the verandah and made small talk. Philip was aware how easy it was to be with her. Not only was she a good listener, she was, as he would say from his sales days, an active listener. He found that very flattering.
As Lisa had accurately predicted, the meal was outstanding; beautifully cooked and beautifully presented. Later they all sat outside on the verandah savouring their glasses of wine before Molly went and prepared fresh coffees for all. Much to Philip’s surprise, a little before 8 p.m., Lisa turned to Don and apologised saying that she was feeling too tired to stay much longer and could Don take them home.
Lisa turned to Philip.
“Listen, there’s no need for you to come back now if you don’t want to. You got my Ford and you know the way across to the house.”
Just to check, Philip talked the short route to the house over with Don, who nodded, and a few moments later, with Lisa and Don gone, Molly came back out to the verandah.
“Do you want to come into the living room? Don’t know about you but it’s starting to feel a little too cool for me.”
He took the few steps into the living room and sat back in a comfortable wide easy chair. Molly refreshed his glass. Two of her dogs came up to his legs and looked up at him with longing eyes.
“That’s Dhalia to your left, and the other is Ruby. They are both Mexican street dogs that were rescued which I was unable to find homes for.”
He looked at Dhalia and Ruby. They were both similar in height and fur colouring; shortish, light-brown, straight hair with bright-eyed attentive faces on bodies of about eighteen to twenty inches paw to shoulder. Ruby, the slightly heavier of the two, jumped up on to the free part of the seat cushion next to where he was sitting. Dhalia stood up on her hind legs, tail wagging fit to burst, and placed both front paws on his knees. He idly stroked each eager head with each hand. Ruby, without meeting the slightest resistance from Philip, softly shuffled her body so that her front legs were across his thighs and laid her head down on her front legs.
“They’re beautiful animals, with such gentle natures,” he said to Molly. “I would have expected feral dogs to be, oh I don’t know, more wild, more feral.”
He went on to add, “And there’s something else I’ve noticed about your dogs, Molly, and that is how you have many more female dogs.”
He sensed he may have touched on a sensitive issue.
“Philip, some of the locals around here are very poor. They will sort through bins looking for anything to sell, trade or eat; not even immune to stealing stuff to sell on, and so on. While in some ways I can understand what the poorer Mexicans have to do, there is one practice that still hurts me even to think about it. I’m referring to their habit of impregnating mother dogs so that when the mother has puppies, they may be sold for a few pesos. But because they can’t afford to keep that mother dog, frequently I find them thrown out on the street not long after she has had her puppies, often with milk still in her teats.”
She paused before saying, “That’s why the majority of the dogs I have taken in are females. That’s why they are such beautiful creatures. Dogs understand.”
There was a long silence. He was surprised to find himself empathising so strongly with the pain of these mother dogs. As though his experiences of having Pharaoh in his life and the intimate ways that Dhalia and Ruby were connecting with him just now were opening something inside of him; something older than time itself.
Molly cleared her throat. “So, it sounds like it’s been a bit of a year for you. Lisa filled me in on the details. Must have been a tough period for you.”
“Well, from what Lisa mentioned I’ve not been the only one hurting. She told me that it wasn’t too long ago that your husband died. Damn sight worse losing a long-term loving and devoted husband than what I went through, me thinks.”
Molly replied in a quiet, reflective voice. She talked about her late husband who she had known and loved for years, how he had died of dementia brought on by burst blood vessels in his head, how she had looked after him, non-stop his last few weeks.“Ben and I were married for over twenty-five years and he was so good to me all that time. But in the end, the dementia turned him into a man I didn’t know and, I hope you’ll forgive me saying this, I was grateful when he eventually died.” He heard the conflict in her voice.
“How old was Ben when he died, Molly?”
“He was much older than me, some thirty-two years my senior, so he was eighty-eight when he died. I know what you are probably thinking, that I was some young, blond bimbo who grabbed hold of an older man for his money and all that. But it wasn’t like that at all. We were genuinely good to each other over all those years and he loved me and I truly loved him, right up to the last.”
“Molly, did you say Ben was thirty-two years older than you. Because, Maggie was eighteen years younger than me. Interesting pair of age gaps.” He paused, “But I’m sure, indeed certain, that Maggie and I had nothing like the relationship that it sounds as though you and Ben had.”
There was something about this evening, something about Molly’s openness, her seemingly sincere interest in his past, that led Philip to open up his heart and his soul. He talked, talked and talked, his flow of recollections of past times broken only by questions from Molly. Questions that always seemed the most exquisitely pertinent ones to ask of him. Questions from this woman who two days previously had met him for the first time.
There were several moments in his recounting of his past years when the emotion caught in his throat; when the corners of his eyes became moist. Unerringly, each time this happened, Ruby looked at him directly with her soft, brown eyes and licked the fingers of his nearest hand. And each time that Ruby licked him Dhalia uncurled herself from the carpet just in front of his feet, stood up and put her paws on his knees.
Molly spoke of how all her rescue dogs offered her so much love and affection. How they seemed to know that this particular human had saved their lives. At a deep, inner level he sensed a common thread. A thread of unconditional love from Molly to these dogs, Ruby to Dhalia, who, in turn, were offering him a feeling of being accepted as worthy of their unconditional love. He started to understand the potential bliss of living with so many dogs in one’s life.
It was an unbelievable evening in which he lost complete track of time but not only that lost the need to even know the time. Thus hours later, when he did look at his watch, he could not believe that it was fast approaching eleven-thirty at night.
“Oh, Molly, I’m so sorry. Seems as though I have just dumped my life story and more on you. How embarrassing. Just look at the time; I’d best be going.” Ruby completely of her own accord slipped off Philip’s lap.
Moments later he stood up and was immediately struck by how far away from everything once familiar to him it all felt now.
They stood just inside the front door.
“Molly, thank you so much for this evening, for letting me practically talk non-stop like that.” There was a pause before he said, “May I ask a favour?”
“Of course, what is it?”
“I would love a hug.”
She silently opened her arms and he just melted into her body. He knew that it had been a long time since he had needed such a hug and a lifetime since a woman had hugged him like this; being hugged by a woman who seemed to be accepting every part of this torn-up man. There was a deep compassion and acceptance flowing from her. Ruby and Dhalia watched them; each vigourously wagging a tail.
4,434 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover