It’s Saturday and I am looking after the dog. She’s been a regular visitor for just under two years, courtesy of her anxiety at being left alone for more than two minutes and her owner’s desire to have a night out every once in a while.
Looking after this dog has helped me through some stuff. She’s calm, affectionate and as comfortable in my company as I am hers. Now she’s getting on a bit, she often gives the impression of being bang up for a walk down to Tooting Common, only to get to the front gate and blithely refuse, standing her ground and looking up at me with blank puzzlement as to why I would’ve suggested it in the first place. So a lot of our time is spent napping on the sofa together.
Tonight I’m making soup, and I’ve gone out and bought everything in advance of the dog delivery, because it’s an overnight stay and once she’s here I can’t go to the shops. I’ve stocked up on chicken twisters too in case she gets the hump through perceived starvation and starts doing that thing where she hits her bowl with her paw in protest to make it clatter.
Before I start cooking I have a cigarette out of the bedroom window, with the door shut so the smell doesn’t get through. As usual, she soon realises, and comes and moans at the door to be let in. Even the shortest time spent in solitude triggers her memories of whatever the idiots who used to own her did to her before she was rescued. Hers is now a restful, secure life, but one spent in constant fear of abandonment. Until she got comfortable here, she used to get up and follow me whenever I left the sofa to make a cup of tea, just in case I was leaving her forever. I open it up and she comes in, wagging in relief.
I shut the door behind her and she jumps up on the bed while I continue to smoke. She’s used to being on the furniture and sleeping on the bed with me. As is common, she starts pawing at the bedding to try and make herself a little nest of rolled-over duvet and pillow she can lie down on. This makes her a little agitated because she can’t quite get it to match whatever ideal bedding arrangement she’s got in her head, and though this is nothing out of the ordinary she works herself up into a state at which she can find no other course of action than to piss on the bed.
The thing about living on your own is that it’s great, unless you’re missing someone, when it feels a prison you’ve voluntarily constructed for yourself, or when something like this happens. When something like this happens you feel vulnerable and alone.
I can think of a couple of other similar instances over the years, living alone in rented flats. Once where I was bleeding a bathroom radiator and more water than I knew how to stop began to leak out. And a period when everyone in the building had moved out except me and the woman in the flat opposite, who had schizophrenia and would scream a lot, and for whom I opened the door to paramedics one Sunday morning because she’d overdosed.
Situations like these are, to obviously varying degrees, urgent and require you to do something about them right away. It’s these moments that force you to confront the fact that the comfortable bubble you’re in, in which you can get home when you want and leave pans in the sink for two days, is more vulnerable than you’ve allowed yourself to think. No one else is there and no one else is going to deal with it. If you don’t know how to deal with it, you feel like an adult impersonator; all of a sudden hopelessly exposed and childlike. Everyone else in the world but you would know exactly what to do now.
I don’t know how to clean dog urine out of a mattress but paper towels are probably a good place to start. I need to shut her out of the room while I soak it up, which makes her anxious and the whole thing harder to deal with. My urge is to start cooking and hope it all somehow sorts itself out, but I can’t. I find a YouTube video in which an American lady deals with her child’s overnight “pee-pee accident” with a combination of vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, so I apply that and greet a doubly relieved dog at the bedroom door.
She goes and lies on the bobbled mat in the bathroom that I’m told reminds her of a similar mat at home, while she watches me chop up broccoli and chilli. She’s embarrassed and sheepish, as I suppose most of us are when we’ve just soiled ourselves in front of a close acquaintance. I give her a lamb shank bone I’ve been saving for her for a few weeks, and she happily chews it to bits.
Soup isn’t hard to make: it’s something I’d previously thought a bit insubstantial for a main meal but that I’ve got into over the last couple of weeks as a low-calorie method of getting rid of stuff I’ve got lying around. I’ve got some lime and mango chicken bits and a tin of sweetcorn, plus some broccoli stalks and florets to go in, along with a bag of chillies I’m probably not going to get through before pickling just before they go slimy. You just throw it all in, boil it for a bit with a couple of stock cubes, taste and correct, then thicken it up with some cornflour.
I sleep on the fold-out sofa bed in the living room while the mattress dries out, and the dog lies on my legs on top of my sleeping bag, with a disregard for my comfort you might think churlish for someone who’s just pissed on your bed. It’s all right, I tell her, scratching her chest, for about the twentieth time tonight. It wasn’t your fault. She looks at me blankly and goes to sleep.