The Broken Bond…
Barry - South Wales - January – 1992
Tom lives in the Flat a flight of stairs below us.
He’s an elderly, former SAS soldier and always good company. With me being an ex-Para we have a lot in common and swap endless yarns and experiences. On a fairly regular basis my wife Elly and I spend an evening with him either in his home or ours. Lean and wiry, white bearded and with a story to suit every occasion, Tom’s idea of a homely meal is what he calls ‘Combat Curry’ served in British Army mess tins and washed down with a large Whiskey.
Walking downstairs to one of his invitations Elly and I are confronted on the landing by a group of children who promptly ask if we want a dog. Before we can say anything a boy roughly twelve years old opens his jacket and as if by magic produces a tiny trembling puppy. Immediately lifting it into her arms Elly murmurs adoringly. “Oh Bar, isn’t he gorgeous!” Jet black, except for a white flash on his chest dwindling to a thin streak under his throat, the puppy’s enormous brown eyes dominate his small angelically rounded face and gaze contentedly up at me when I stroke his plump hairless belly. By the time we knock Tom’s door the children, explaining they need to find homes for several more pups, have left, but not the dog. Living in a Flat, both working, and with mostly elderly neighbours in the lower Flats, keeping the dog is a non-starter. I’m thinking about Elly’s Brother, currently grief stricken at the loss of his dog. Perhaps he will give this tiny whimpering waif a home. Grinning with huge amusement when he sees the puppy, and then placing down a plate of milk, Tom defines it as being a probable mix of Doberman and Labrador. Lapping the milk, and immediately ejecting it over his carpet, Tom, completely unruffled, cleans up and comments a good name for him would be Dohbi, from an Arab word meaning ‘to clean’. At evenings end I carry ‘Dohbi’ up to our flat where we settle him onto a blanket inside our laundry basket and give him a toy, a rag doll with a long pointed hat. While contentedly playing with it he suddenly looks up and stares directly, almost questioningly at us. Elly is my second wife. After living together for eight years we married in Gretna Green registry office. She’s beautiful, very trim, and has raven black hair. With a Greek father and a Welsh mother, she’s one of the most genuinely nice people anyone could wish to meet. Following a few moment of absolute silence we find ourselves smiling meaningfully at each other as we realise whatever problems this cute little fella brings he isn’t going anywhere.
‘Our boy’ as we soon begin to call Dohbi, proves to be extremely intelligent and very quickly learns from the decreasing amount of newspaper layering the floor to be animatedly insistent about not soiling indoors. As the months pass and his rounded puppy features square off to a strikingly perfect profile only nature could chisel, if dogs can be termed handsome, Dohbi is a head turning Movie star. With unrelenting devotion that asks for very little in return he positively idolizes Elly, whose return from work every evening initiates a highly animated welcome where his tail rotates exactly like the rotors on a Helicopter. You would think Elly’s been gone for days instead of hours. By now weekends become a magical round of sheer endless pleasure as we walk countless miles around the coastlines of Barry, or the countryside. Can I ever forget what came next? With Elly restraining Dohbi on his lead I walk around the perimeter of a wide flooded meadow close to Ely River and almost in the shadow of Saint Fagan’s Castle. When I whistle and Elly releases Dohbi, he comes bounding after me but instead of following my tracks as I expect him to do, he plunges into this temporary lake and swims its entire width. Watching him pause to vigorously shake himself before running toward me, when I scoop him into my arms and feel his damp warmth nestling into me it brings a moment not just of pure elation but a sense of quite astonishing bonding.
Sadly, in the following months, and after a heart rending battle with cancer, we lose Tom. Among those who attend his funeral are serving and former soldiers, many who wear berets of differing elite units. Tom, bless his golden heart, was a good mate. We’ll all miss him.
As the years pass Elly and I slowly prosper, her with promotion and an increase in salary in work, and me with my small but thriving building business. We now sell the Flat and purchase a Dormer bungalow whose internal décor is somewhere back in the 1950’s. Having said that I immediately see its enormous development potential. Set in a semi-rural location with a fairly large rear garden, I utilise a sizable flat roof directly outside the dormer bedroom widow, which I replace with a set of double glazed French doors. Adding a solid floor and a balustrade we can step out onto a generous balcony with panoramic, unbroken views reaching to the infinity of the stunningly beautiful Vale of Glamorgan. We call our new home ‘Sunsets’. What a life we now have compared to the urban confines of the flat. In the countryside immediately behind our garden wall we see the occasional fox, squirrels, endless pheasants, and when sheep aren’t in the fields, occasionally hand feed potato peelings and stale bread to cows we christen with such names as ‘Rosy’ and ‘Gutsy head’. On soft summer evenings, when the setting sun tints the horizon with a golden orange glow of receding tranquillity, it’s the perfect back drop for a Barbie, and knowing my way around a Harmonica, time for gentle melodies such as the evocative ‘Legend of the Glass Mountain’. In his idyllic setting, and the unrelenting upgrade to the rest of the house, never does a screw go into wood or plaster skimmed onto a wall where the ever faithful Dohbi is not beside me. Beginning to show a hint of becoming facially grey, in his usual gentle demeanour he remains quite unperturbed when we ‘adopt’ two kittens we name Millie and Fonzie.
Millie is a feisty long haired tortoise shell whose fur is a striking rhapsody of shaded tans surrounded by a brilliant white apron on her chest. With an enormous fluffy tail Millie always gives the impression she’s a Davy Crockett hat with legs. Fonzie, a name borrowed from the character in the TV series ‘Happy Days, is black and white and effortlessly lives up to his namesake. Unbelievably laid back, nothing seems to faze him. The’ Fonz’ doesn’t give way just because the hoover is approaching. For the first few days Dohbi stares curiously at them, but other than the occasional curious sniff does absolutely nothing to intimidate them resulting, to our amazement, when they begin following him everywhere like chicks behind a mother hen. I reckon our new neighbours are somewhat amazed to see us walk to the small park at the end of the street with a dog on a lead, and two cats close behind.
We’re a close knit family.
* * *
Late summer – 2007
If there is one thing Dohbi really hates it’s going into kennels when Elly and I go on holiday. The cats are seemingly indifferent, but for him it’s like going to prison. We’ve tried all sorts of things to avoid this obvious annual trauma such as expensive so called foster carers, one of whom he nipped because, as we later discovered, he was ill-treated. Dohbi is as soft as a brush, especially with children, but however big the bully, not unlike myself, he never backs off. Now, into our lives comes Rob, who put the gentle into gentleman and speaks with a broad west Wales accent. A free spirit with a razor sharp wit who can passionately debate any subject you care to mention, Dohbi loves him and goes ballistic every time he visits. Not unlike myself, Rob chooses his friends very carefully and having done so, no helpful deed or act of courteous generosity is too much. He immediately agrees when we ask if he will stay our home and mind our pets when we’re away. With no more prison for Dohbi, for my approaching birthday we treat ourselves to a cruise on a Liner named the ‘Thomson Spirit’, which we board in Majorca. It will then set sail for Tunisia, Barcelona, Ville France and Italy, where we will visit the leaning tower of Pisa and the Coliseum. Effortlessly fulfilling everything it promises in the brochure, the ship itself is fabulous, as is the food, the spectacular evening entertainment and the attentively faultless crew. Before we know it Elly and I are walking around the remains of Carthage, a vast empire expunged for daring to challenge the might of Rome. Next comes Pompeii, a Roman city buried for centuries after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. In Barcelona, we are reduced to speechless awe as we photograph the awesome reconstruction of one of its larger Cathedrals, a legacy from the creative genius of Antonio Gaudi. We visit the sprawling coastline of Nice and the enchanting Monaco, the second smallest independent country in the world. Ville France has to be the most romantically scenic place of all time where Elly and I delight in losing ourselves in its seemingly endless warren of narrow side streets and alleyways. When I present a signed copy of my book to the ship’s Captain he responds with the rare privilege of inviting us to watch our departure from France from the bridge. We are enjoying ourselves immensely until we berth in Livorno and Elly’s cell phone rings with a disturbing text to contact Rob as a matter of urgency. Returning his call he anxiously informs us Dohbi has plummeted into severe ill health and has been rushed to the Vet. Immediately contacting the Vet, she explains Dohbi has lost three kilo’s, has chronic anaemia and that his liver is radically failing. She adds she will give him a blood transfusion from her own dog, but warns the situation is dire. Glancing at Elly, who is listening intently, I tell the Vet to spend anything, do anything! We’ll jump ship and be home as soon as we possibly can. Ringing the reception desk, the welfare officer, Lisa, comes to our cabin and after we explain matters, springs into very impressive action. In less than an hour she returns to inform us everything is arranged. We will leave the ship later that afternoon, stay the night in a waterfront Hotel and fly home the next morning to Bristol where a hire car will be waiting for us to drive home to South Wales. Suddenly vanquished is the carefree holiday atmosphere as we begin hastily packing our suitcases. Many of the crew wish us best of luck as walk down the gangway to a waiting taxi. That evening, holding hands on the quayside, we watch as the ship, a floating horizontal sky scraper bristling with lights and music, gives three long blasts on its klaxon and minutes later gently begins passing other ships in the incredibly bustling port. Walking dejectedly back to our hotel a haunting melody, ‘Harbour Lights’ from the John Wayne Movie ‘The Long Voyage Home’ wafts continually through my mind. The homeward journey is an endlessly frustrating series of hurry up and wait, what we used to call in the Para’s – ‘smocks on – smocks off’. Following a speedy sixty mile drive from Bristol we arrive at the Vet’s and with our stomachs churning sit with expectant dread in the waiting room. When she appears her grim expression says it all.
Informing us Dohbi is still alive, she initially cautions us his appearance has radically deteriorated, and then leads us to a small room at the rear of the practice where we see him lying on a blanket in an open kennel. Never more than medium sized, he’s incredibly emaciated and a large area of hair has been shaved from his hindquarters. The instant he sees us he gets slowly to his feet and plods toward us. Kneeling either side of him, as we embrace him but see instantly the light has gone out of his eyes, his tail tries valiantly to rotate but barely moves. As he nestles into us, and Elly begins sobbing uncontrollably, I feel a mammoth convulsion of sheer heartache as I make moistened eye contact with the Vet and murmur. “Is there no hope?” Slowly shaking her head she answers. “He almost fifteen! He’s very ill and very tired. Surgery will do nothing…?” With professional, but consoling finality she adds. “You must let him go! We can do it now, or, if you prefer, you can take him home and bring him back in the morning?”
“We’ll take him home!” Sobs a very adamant Elly.
* * *
What a diamond Rob is…
Even as I carry Dohbi into the house he’s pulling our suitcases out of the hire car. Gone is the joy of returning to the familiarity of our home as he makes cups of tea and begins to define in detail Dohbi’s rapid deterioration in health. He then has the sound judgement to leave us. No amount of tempting food will induce Dohbi to eat, instead, he continually drinks and then inevitably vomits. When he eventually falls asleep on the lounge carpet we sit and talk endlessly about the years of joy he’s given us. It’s wretched, very long night indeed.
* * *
Rob returns early the next morning. When I tell him where we intend to inter Dohbi in our garden, a paved, sunny area near the garage, he simply nods and with typical initiative begins excavating the paving stones. With Elly driving I sit on the back seat with Dohbi for what will be his final journey. What follows is unspeakable, and will remain so. Returning home and clenching our boy between us on the settee, we are inconsolable. Much later, after bandaging Dohbi’s eyes, which are wide open, in dismal rainfall we lay him to rest and place his favourite toys around him. After Rob helps me replace the paving stones we put a large garden pot with transplanted flowers on the grave. When Rob eventually leaves our home suddenly becomes dominated with an oppressive emptiness that something massive is missing, that at any moment Dohbi will surely come bounding down the stairs to snatch up the mail and fetch it to us. Incredibly, Millie and Fonzie sit beside each other and actually appear to be grieving. When we talk things over we decide very emphatically never to have another dog. Being still on holiday with five day’s remaining, as a diversion from our unrelenting reflections we unpack, clean the house from top to bottom and finally clean up the countless leaves deposited from the tree in our back garden tree. With little else to do, and as events begin taking their toll on our usual easy going relationship, when I drive into town to give both of us some space, I run into my mate Mike, who is genuinely sympathetic when I tell him about Dohbi. In his time Mike, now approaching his sixties, had an awesome reputation as a street fighter and has a face etched with the mileage to prove it. Normally a man of few words, when we part company his advice to immediately get another dog, especially the way Elly feels, is an extremely unlikely prospect, but minutes later, when I pause outside a Newsagents and read a postcard advert saying - For sale - Beautiful black Labrador pup - Fifteen weeks old - Male’, on a sudden compulsion I ring the number but get no answer. I have a cup of tea in a café and try again, but still no answer. That evening, when I mention it to Elly she remains totally unyielding. On Monday afternoon, after pricing a job close to a dog shelter, I call in and witness the incessant barking of dozens of dogs who stand clawing the wire of their cages as they beseech me to take them home. Back in my van, thoroughly dejected as I dwell on all that love gone to waste, I remember the postcard advert and on a sudden impulse reach for my cell phone. When a man answers and confirms the dog is still for sale, I get his address and twenty minutes later, with my heart very much leading my head, I’m knocking his front door. The guy who opens it is middle aged and extremely polite. Leading me through the house to a tiny rear garden two dogs instantly run toward me. One is black and white and clearly elderly, the other is a boisterous Labrador puppy whose coal black coat shimmers like brushed satin. Appearing to be genuinely happy to see me, my first impression is his vibrant alertness and the immense intelligence in his eyes; my second is his classic Labrador features. Sensing the man weighing me up, obviously more concerned the dog will go to a good home rather than money, when I tell him about Dohbi he slowly smiles, mentions the dog’s name is Bill, and the deal is done. Minutes later I’m driving home, constantly fending Bill off as he attempts to climb from the passenger seat onto my lap. Reversing onto our drive, as I hoist him out of the van I immediately see Elly opening the front door staring incredulously at us. Casually offering the puppy to her I say quietly. “Meet Bill! He’s looking for a Mam and Dad?”
Having clocked up twenty seven years together I’m a hundred per cent certain what will happen next and sure enough, in the same moment Elly eases Bill into her arms I see her hesitant expression vanish as she looks at me smiles before murmuring. “I knew you’d do this!” Walking into the lounge, when Millie and Fonzie glimpse our new family member and rapidly head for the sanctuary of the bedroom, I simply smile. That won’t last. Watching Elly sit on the settee with Bill on her lap, her eyes moist as she gazes at him, I leave them to get to know each other and walk out to our recycling bin for a handful of newspapers to layer the floor.
We’re back where we were fifteen years earlier and for the first time since the cell phone rang on board that Cruise Liner I feel the broken bond, and the broken hearts that go with it, are well on their way to being repaired.
* * *
Ten months later - July 2008…
Elly and I have recently returned from holiday.
As a grinning Rob welcomes us home to a boiling kettle and the assurance that all is well, a further welcome comes from Bill, who’s now fully grown. With scant regard to anything except our sudden appearance, and watched closely by two cats well on the way to being feline pensioners, he suddenly begins frantically racing around the lounge. When we finally calm him down and call him to us it is with immense pleasure Elly and I make lingering eye contact and smile knowingly when we glimpse how his tail rotates exactly like the rotors on a Helicopter…
All’s well that ends well…
Updated from a short story in my second book entitled - ‘Movie Idea’
Barrie David Corcoran - August 2016