Posted on 27th Sep, 2018
Hairy drowned at precisely 7.30 pm on 16 May.
The sun had long spun itself behind the mountains, leaving behind a dirty sky. Even the sea had turned nasty, but none of it mattered to Hairy. He raced up and down the shore, his mongrel heritage making him as nutty as ever. Maddie laughed at his antics. She loved the mutt. Loved him, despite the fact he farted non-stop after a feed of venison or possum, that his favourite crapping place was under her clothes line, that he sniffed bums, humped legs and bit most people he came in contact with.
Hairy circled the sand like a screwball, tighter and tighter as if chasing his tail – OCD. If he’d been human, you’d have thought he was ‘on’ something; something like crystal meth. But Hairy had always been high – high on life itself. And that evening was no different.
After grabbing a pine cone – the odd-bod had a pine cone fetish – he dug feverishly into the ground and buried it. Then sat his little arse on top of the sand pile, his eyes glazed with satisfaction and his body all puffed up.
Maddie called him in. As usual, he didn’t come. Instead he ran into the sea. A heartless sea; a hungry sea; one that looked as if it wanted to devour something up and spit it out again.
“It’s too cold. Too rough!” she shouted. “Get back in.”
But Hairy had no intention of getting back in.
Maddie watched as the wind waves of the bay knocked him about. At times she saw him dog-paddle in mid-air before falling off the roller’s crest. But the biggest issue right now was not Hairy. It was Maddie. She couldn’t swim. On the few attempts she’d made last summer, she floundered like a whale, sinking before popping up again, and only just making it back to the shore. She’d had to concede that, unlike other mammals, there was no energy stored in her thick layer of blubber.
Maddie cupped her hands over her mouth again. Her shout switched to a manic scream. “Get in, you mongrel! Get in!” She’d just blasphemed her only child.
Hairy splashed frantically. His paws slammed the ocean as he tried to stay afloat. Although a good swimmer, the winter water would not allow him the luxury of extended time. There was no way to sugar-coat it – her mutt was drowning …
Suddenly, as if the gods felt her sorrow, a wave picked Hairy up and propelled him towards the shore – lifeless. Maddie rushed into the sea, the cold causing an involuntary slippage of piddle.
As the sea offered Hairy back to her, Maddie snatched him up then returned to the shore, dog stretched across both arms and tight against her breasts. When she reached the sand, she lay him down, a wet lump, then dropped to her knees. Something rolled down her cheek. A tear, a saltwater splash, she wasn’t sure …
Except Hairy was dead.
Straight away she recalled the psychiatric penalty that sometimes followed the death of a pet. The 16-year-old who, after losing her King Charles spaniel she’d had since she was three, developed a rash on her hands, and couldn’t swallow fluids or solids, and repeatedly played with her fingers. The granny dog breeder who lost her champion Yorkshire terrier and had nightmares and attacks of sudden breathlessness. And a woman who was severely depressed for eighteen months after the death of her 14-year-old poodle.
Desperate, Maddie took a huge breath. Using the head-tilt, chin-lift manoeuvre, she pinched Hairy’s nostrils and covered his mouth with hers to make a seal. She gave two rescue breaths. Thick saliva ran from his mouth. Salt lined hers. Two more, then another two. Then she heard a small yelp before Hairy regurgitated seawater straight into her mouth. She spat out the goo. At the same time, she saw his little heart beat beneath his skin.
In slow motion, as if coming off his meth, Hairy stood. He shook himself, literally looking like a drowned rat. He eyed Maddie. A kind of thank-you look, she hoped.
The little bugger then cocked his leg against her, dashed ahead, rubbed his neck and back into some carrion and returned, yapping at her feet.
Maddie stepped back – the stench. Hairy yapped again. She knew he was trying to communicate something. Something that sounded like, “Take that!”
Marion's debut young adult novel, Whakaari, was published in March. Her second young adult novel, Pipi, will be released next year. The Elton Omnibus (four picture books in one) is nearing completion. In its early stage is Pakupaki Pīwakawaka, a new book in Marion’s popular nature series. Release date October.
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