Learning from Dogs
The glass doors swished apart and Philip walked out of the terminal building. Dear old Bradley International here at LAX airport, almost an old friend, such a familiar transition from the tail-end of that long flight from England to arriving outside these terminal doors. Never failed to amaze him how from the moment that the Captain announced that they would be commencing their descent into Los Angeles within the next five minutes, it all seemed to run so much more like a London tube train on tracks than this free-flying aeroplane so far up in the sky. The start of the descent, the pinching of nose and air puffs to keep the ear-drums clear, the views of the Pacific Ocean and the horizon-to-horizon sprawl of greater Los Angeles, the thump as the landing-gear was lowered, the squeal of rubber on runway, the deceleration and the final taxi to the terminal gate. It all seemed so perfectly in order. This time was no exception.
Even the disembarking and passport control, collecting one’s luggage from the carousel and heading for the exit doors seemed so perfectly choreographed.
Then in stark contrast, the instant chaos of so many persons making so many decisions for the last lap of so many individual journeys. As different as night from day when compared to the all their behaviours on board the airplane.
“Hey Stevens, hey over here!” came a familiar shout. Danny was waving his arm in the air standing close to his car parked by the kerbside.
Gracious he hadn’t aged despite it being almost seven years since Philip had last seen him. That was back in the Summer of 2000 when he had brought Maggie out to California just a few months after they had married.
Maybe Danny’s grey hair was perhaps just a little thinner than last time. But in all honesty Philip wondered if he had aged as well these last years as Danny appeared to have done. When he felt braver he would ask Danny the question!
The ride from LAX back to Danny’s home in Costa Mesa was the same as it always seemed, something so homely about the way that Danny manoeuvred in and out through the traffic. Philip could remember the very first time he came out to Los Angeles to check out whether or not Danny’s company was an appropriate US West Coast distributor for him. Way back in 1979. Even practically thirty years ago how the volume of traffic and the number of traffic lanes on the freeway had been beyond anything he might have imagined.
Dear Danny, such a confident, well-assured person, so upright in stance and so upright in character. Sure, Philip didn’t necessarily agree with him on a number of issues but his laid-back, Californian approach to life was always fun to be around.
On the drive home, Danny quizzed Philip about the whole business of Maggie being unfaithful; didn’t he have any idea as to what she was up to, the almost incredulous notion that Maggie had come with Philip on this romantic vacation to Turkey, had really loved up to Philip to reassure him how much she loved him, and all the time she was carrying the child of another man.
There was a pause in the flow of conversation.
“Philip, my friend, you know I always say that shit happens. Take my word for it, you’re better off without her. Trust me.”
The plan was for Philip to spend a week with Danny and Georgie and then make his way North to spend a further week with Danny’s sister Lisa and her husband Don, before returning to LA in readiness for the flight back to the UK.
It turned out to be a week of great healing. Very quickly Philip was made aware of how much he had needed the easy-going, worry-free days that Danny and Georgie were giving him. It was just as a doctor might have ordered. Walks with Danny and his dog, Wendy, in the beautiful air of an early Californian morning, maybe a breakfast of toast and coffee down at Newport Beach, swimming and sun-bathing at Huntington Beach or along at the cosy little beach at Laguna, pre-dinner glasses of wine at one of the innumerable number of cosmopolitan bars, then dinner and then a night-time aperitif before bed. All bound up in a wrapper of great conversation and wonderful camaraderie.
Before Philip was hardly aware of it, the morning dawned when he, borrowing one of Danny’s cars, would make the drive from Costa Mesa up to Los Osos to stay with Lisa and Don.
He had made this journey a few times before and always chose the slightly slower Highway 101 simply because the drive of around four hours brought back alive to him the history of California. Like so many Brits, he had overlooked the fact that this part of North America was prominently Spanish not so far back in time. He could never remember historic dates even for his own country, let alone the Western coastal states of the USA, but he had this notion in his mind that it was only about one-hundred-and-fifty years ago when California became American. In terms of British history that felt like yesterday; Queen Victoria was on the throne well before 1850.
Thus as Philip worked his way North, he passed so many place signs that either reinforced the earlier era of the Spanish missions, because the old Spanish names still existed, or reminded him that California’s brand image was a worldwide phenomenon, thanks to the studios of Hollywood.
Thus Long Beach, San Pedro, Calabasas, Malibu, Santa Barbara, Los Alamos, Santa Maria, San Luis Obispo and on up to Los Osos.
He mused about how it was so difficult to reconcile the vibrant, modern country that California now is, with the desperate treatment of the Native American population back in those days of the Spanish missions. How a diverse, sophisticated and self-reliant people had been reduced by those missions to desperate peonage. How in the fifty years leading up to 1821, when Spanish rule finally ended, that Native American population fell by one third, to fewer than two-hundred-thousand persons. What a strange lot we humans are; how very much we need to learn the values and integrity of our best friend: the dog.
Danny’s sister, Lisa was so much like Danny and yet, in so many ways so different. Lisa had always been generous with her care and attention for Philip and, as with Danny, he and Lisa went back far too many years to contemplate; he had met Lisa not long after meeting Danny back in 1979; the thick end of thirty years.
By the time he had arrived after his drive up from Costa Mesa it was well into the afternoon. Don was pottering about the place and came over to welcome him. Shortly followed by Lisa coming out from the house, giving him a big hug and showing him to his guest room. Ten minutes later he had freshened up and went to find Lisa. She asked him what he wanted to do.
As he hadn’t met with Lisa and Don for equally as long as it had been with Danny, there was a significant amount of catching up to do on their respective lives over the last seven years.
But that could wait until dinner-time or later.
“Lisa, I tell you what I would love, and that’s a good walk. How about you and I taking off for an hour’s walk?”
“Philip, that works for me. Let me tell Don we’re going out for a walk.”
Lisa went across to a long, garage, entered by the side door, and was out moments later.
“Come on, jump in my truck and we’ll go across to the shores of Morro Bay. In fact there’s a neat forest trail along the shoreline. We’ll take a couple of the dogs.”
Philip had forgotten that Lisa was a quite a dog person.
Ten minutes later, together with two very excited dogs, he and Lisa were making their way down from the parking lot to the edge of Morro Bay.
“What are the names of your two dogs, Lisa?”
“Pancho and Shilo.”
“How long have you had them?”
“Oh, quite a few years now. They’re both rescue dogs.”
It was a lovely walk and Philip, seeing how much the dogs were enjoying the walk, once again missed his Pharaoh. When they had been walking for some thirty minutes and it was about time to return to the car, they found old tree trunk on its side and decided to rest a while. Within moments both the dogs were up against their legs, welcoming the head rubs that Philip and Lisa were giving them.
“So how you are feeling now that a few months have gone by?” Lisa asked, with obvious greater concern in her voice than the question belied.
“Oh, I don’t know, Lisa. To be honest, I’ve tried to put the whole last six months behind me, every bloody day of them, and just enjoy this magical trip out to California. But I know that there’s a pile of crap waiting for me when I get back home; just in a little under two weeks from now.”
A long sigh came from Philip as he paused, as if uncertain of whether or not he wanted to refresh the memory of that fateful day last December; that most terrible Christmas.
“Yep, I’ll have a divorce to plough through, get settled in my rental place, try and pick up a new social life and all the rest of it. Just one consolation, though.”
“Well I shall be seeing a counsellor a few days after getting back to England. Actually, he’s a lot more than a counsellor.”
Philip went on to explain how he had met Jonathan Atkins and the role reversal that Jonathan had agreed to.
“Thing is, Lisa, that I have this feeling, something I can’t bring to the surface, that Maggie’s unfaithfulness has hurt me way beyond the obvious ways I have been hurt. I must try and get to the bottom of that because, again, I have this notion that if I don’t I won’t be able to move on, whatever moving on ends up meaning. Here I am sixty-three at my next birthday and utterly lost in so many ways.”
They stood up and started heading back towards Lisa’s pick-up. Philip’s feeling of disconnectedness hung over him for quite a while. She seemed to sense that and left him to his own thoughts.
Just as the days staying with Danny had flown by so quickly, so did his time with Lisa and Don. On the last evening of his time with them, the evening of the 20th, he took them both out for a thank-you dinner at a local restaurant. They were back in the house a little after 9pm.
“Philip, can I get you a drink?” Don asked.
“Don, I’m not sure. I had more than enough over the meal and I was just thinking of the long drive South in the morning, me still not familiar with American roads, and whether I should call it a day, alcohol-wise.”
Lisa had come in to the room at that point and picked up on Philip’s words. “Say, I have some beautiful almond milk. Would you like to try a glass of that? It’s very soothing on the mind.”
“Sounds like an idea, yes please.”
She returned with a glass of what looked like ordinary cow’s milk. He took the glass and sniffed the liquid. There was almost a complete absence of smell. He took a small sip and was staggered. It had the most beautiful smooth, soft texture and while there wasn’t a strong taste, it was by no means unpleasant.
“Hey, this is rather nice.”
The three of them sat in the living room, the daylight rapidly fading away through the doors that looked out over a well-manicured lawn.
“Philip,” Lisa said. “Did you know that Don and I have a house down in San Carlos, Mexico?”
“No, I had no idea.”
“Oh, I had thought Danny might have mentioned that. It’s just that Don and I find the Winters up here in Northern California a bit too cold for our ancient bones and we tend to go down to Mexico around October or November time.”
“Whereabouts in Mexico is this place; did you say San Carlos?”
“It’s about a five-hour drive South from the Arizona border town of Nogales. San Carlos is on the shores of the Bay of California looking West, just a few miles from the town of Guaymas and a little more than an hour’s drive South from Hermosillo where there’s a good international airport.”
She continued, “Philip, what are you doing for Christmas?”
“Oh gracious, Lisa, give me a break!” There was laughter in his voice. “Haven’t even really got my mind around last Christmas.”
Lisa looked across at Don, “It’s just that Don and I were wondering that if Christmas in England was going to be a bit tough on you, what with memories of last Christmas and all that, then why don’t you come and spend Christmas with us down in Mexico.”
Don added, “Yes, Philip, we would really enjoy having you with us. You could come and stay as short or as long a time as you wanted to.”
Philip went quiet.
He stood up and went across to shake Don’s hand then across to where Lisa was sitting and gave her a hug.
He sat back down again in the easy-chair.
“Do you know, I might just do that!”
2,314 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover