The Bean is a well travelled dog. Her mileage by road and air (and a little by rail) is boggling for such a small canine. To facilitate her cross-border maraudings she has to abide by rules and she holds a European Pet Passport which logs her necessary vaccinations and rabies shots and, if she wants to visit the country of her birth, it registers the worming tablet demanded by the British to be administered not less than 24 hours and not more than 120 before travel by a certified veterinarian. To partake of this delight, we toddle chez le veterinaire in our nearest town and the vet jokes with her that it is just a little French sweetie (she is bored with the joke, has been since the first time when she discovered the depth of the lie) and with me that it is ironic that he, a Frenchman, takes money (35€) from me, an Englishwoman to allow my British dog to travel to our own country. I smile my beatific smile and nod and wonder why it is necessary at all and count my blessings that I don’t have to be wormed as well.
Yesterday, we pottered into the ‘Cabinet Veterinaire’ a little after 9 and were greeted warmly and asked to take a seat. The newly upgraded surgery is bright and cheerful with a row of radiant yellow alternating with dazzling orange plastic chairs and a vast and jubilant tub of plastic plants in the centre. I sat remembering the last time The Bean and I were in that spot in August. A frail old man, driven by his strapping hard muscled from hard work 30-something grandson struggled to carry his best friend, a sheepdog once bursting with energy now simply desiccated with age, into the surgery. They were expected and were ushered silently straight into the treatment rooms. I waited a while and then took The Beligerent Bean in for her vile pill which she spat out a few times to keep the vet on his toes, as is her custom, whilst he made his joke about the irony of it all and I attempted to be beatific but achieved instead a handsome grimace. Afterwards I stepped back into the reception to pay my bill and there was the old man his grandson standing sentinel next to him as he pulled his chequebook out to pay for the demise of his best friend. Cheque written, the lovely lady who presides cheerfully and appropriately over her domain began to explain what would happen to the dog and the old fellow shook his head and signalled his young protector to take the details. He simply couldn’t and wouldn’t take in any more. I caught his eye and said ‘I am sorry for your loss’. He crouched on his creaking haunches and caressed The Bean, told her she was beautiful and such a goooood girl in cracked gutteral Auvergnat French which takes years to tune into accurately even if you are a Parisien. He looked up, the depth of sorrow in his eyes so cavernous that I could not hope to reach the bottom and he thanked me. Thanked ME. The grace of ordinary humans never ceases to astound me. Never.
Just ahead of us yesterday was an old lady. Immaculately turned out in her best coat and shoes, shoes that have seen service for as many decades as I have taken breath, I would vouch, mended, remended, polished and serviceable, a scarf draped at the neck she was as pale as moonlight in midwinter. She had arrived in a taxi driven by a young woman of similar age to the grandson in summer. In the interests of lightening this sombre piece I will tell you that our local taxi firm is magnificently named ‘Taxi Willy’ which obviously makes a girl born in England quiver like an ill-set jelly as I stifle my inevitable sniggers. The driver was deferential and warm as she looked after her passenger who was as stiff as a board not in hostility but in the way of someone holding herself together because she must. I surmise that this young woman drives the lady often. Taxis (Willy’s taxis) are the only means of transport for a woman widowed who doesn’t drive and lives probably some miles from town. It’s the nature of rural life when bus services cease to operate because we all have at least one car. All of us that matter. It’s the nature of being left behind in the place that you have always lived as it sheds it’s young to the cities and quietly erodes around you. She was nestling her cat when they went in to see the vet. When they came out some 10 minutes later there was no cat. The vet, a lady explained to the woman the different options for cremation (the French word is ‘Incineration’ which to English speaking ears is jarring and rather unfeeling) …. she listened, she acknowledged, she fumbled in her handbag for her purse and the driver gently helped her find the money to pay. She walked to the taxi and she climbed stiffly into the backseat and as they drove away I was struck by the enormity of her holding herself together. I imagined the young woman seeing her into her silent home. Making sure she was comfortable, offering to drop in and see her later. And I imagined her, coatless and tiny walking to her chair as the taxi drove away, allowing herself to shed the tears that no man nor woman outside of her house must ever see. And I thought of us all preparing for the holidays, the hubub of excitement, the coiled spring of anticipation of the gluttonous festivities, the plethora of brilliant sparkling lights lifting our spirits high, the overspending and the overeating and the overdrinking and the overmerrying. And I thought how dreadfully sad it is to be on your own with your companion about to be incinerated and your life spent. And I thought of the dignity of the old man, the ramrod buttoned up stoicism of the old woman and the kindness paid back by the muscular vital grandson and the paid taxi driver. Nothing will make up for losing those best friends, I can hope that new best friends arrive to comfort them but life trickles away and it is so easy in this time of overindulgence to forget. So I care to remember.
And my picture, offered in response to the Photo Challenge titled ‘Anticipation’ is The Greedy Bean anticipating cheese when we were picnicing on a hike last winter. Pulling tongues, she assumes is cute and she always stands on her hind legs when anticipating these delectable morsels prompting me to almost title this piece ‘Stand Up, stand Up for Cheeses’ as a nod to the Sally Army and their wonderful work at this time of the year. Her anticipation, by the way, is always gratified just as the shadow of a sheepdog and the cherished cat were. She, like they, is a good best friend. You can indulge in all the other dandy entries to the gallery here.
PS: Two Brains remarked after yesterday’s poignant encounter that it is so easy to be a little scornful and supercillious of people’s relationship to their animals but that the sad vignette finely illustrates the enormous importance that our domestic pets have in the lives of others and of us. Later, wading through an enormous 5-course lunch including wine and coffee for the princely sum of 13€ each, the door of the Auberge burst open with the force of a hurricane but accompanied by no bitter wind and the light seemed to briefly dim as a leviathan with shaven head, sporting khaki t-shirt to expose his magnificent tatoo-adorned muscular arms and hunting trousers with a pair of positively combatitive laced boots and hefty leather and chrome belt to stash his beefing blades strode in and over to his fragrant, coiffed and chicly attired wife waiting decorously for him. In the arms of this middle-aged goliath snuggled the tiniest Yorkshire Terrier, born with such tenderness and passed to his spouse with a care normally reserved for a scrunched up new-born and the identical kiss to the teeny canine forehead bestowed before he let his precious bundle go. Comic and touching all in one we found it hard not to stare like a pair of uncouth Pinnochios.
And because it’s Christmas and the title has no relevance whatsoever, being, as it is, stolen from Frank N Furter in Richard O’Brien’s now legendary ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ as he makes his raucous entrance to the unfettered alarm of the stranded Brad and Janet, here is Tim Curry to play us out as I wish you the Happiest Holidays, le plus bon fête de Noël or the Merriest Christmas depending on where in the world you are. ‘I see you shiver with antici…..pation!’