Thursday, April 15, 2021

Failing by Ruth Makepeace

I miss the feel of his head. The broad rough span beneath my fingers. Nose crinkling hopefully as he pushes up into my hand. One fang catching gummily on a nail.

I loved him because he was so reliably needing of love, of attention, of certainty.

He demanded nothing else, had no inconvenient flaws. No meekness, weakness, instability, all the elements that set my teeth on edge with people.

I’m slow to empathise, quick to sentimentalise; I’m endlessly tolerant towards the poor behaviour of animals but flicked on the raw by the slightest imperfection in my fellow man.

Not an attractive characteristic by any measure. I thought this would at least mean when the end came for my lovely boy, I would have the balls to face it square on as some sort of comeback to every time I’ve shied away from feelings, failed to dredge up a sliver of compassions for my imperfect, lovely ( I can’t even write that without doubting I mean it) family and friends. But no, I failed in this too.

He wanted company right to the end, our palms ran gently across bony ribs and shanks, all fearfully watching the shifting breathing patterns. Show sucking breaths, shallow panting; sometimes you’d hold your own breath to watch, as if that heightened your perception, meant you’d be less likely to miss the next labouring wheeze.

And still he kept going, materialising suddenly in different spots: under the bench in the cool forgiving long grass; stretched out on the hessian mat in the conservatory. We barely ever caught him making his way from spot to spot - a drunken old man, lurching with careful dignity. Only the renewed strained breathing showed what it cost him.

I knew how the end would be. I’d planned it, like the arrogant twat I am. I’d lie next to him on the rug, tell him how much we loved him, tell him to let go, to be at peace. I did all those things, even held his water bowl tenderly at head height so he could drink. 

But in the end, he didn’t want that. He disappeared while I was texting ‘think we might need to phone the vets’. It didn’t take long to find him though.

He’d crawled into the dark space between conservatory and fence, lying on discarded balls and a fork. You never go there I thought.

The breathing was loud, tortured; I didn’t know whether to touch him or not. Then he howled out a yowling agonised protest. There was such pain in it, and I was scared. 

I rang my husband. “I don’t know what to do”. 

He gave me the absolution I was looking for “Leave him, you don’t want to drive him further in.”

No, no I didn’t want that. I also wanted to avoid pain and suffering; I wasn’t brave enough to comfort when it was needed.

So, I left him. Stood uncertainly in the doorway, trying not to hear, hoping for the end. 

And I’m back eighteen years, watching a tall man shrinking against the radiator as he lets me in, hand tentatively reaching out to pat the shoulder that breezes past.

“Hi Dad, how are you? Where’s Mum?” A cheerful greeting squeezed out of a strained throat.

And I’ve failed him all over again.

© Ruth Makepeace


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