Happy Papillon

IMG_8420It was getting a little tiresome. Every single time we passed a dog:

‘Awwww’ in a singing crescendo. Sopranos, tenors, the lot. 

‘Awwww, look Mum, soooo cute, we NEED to get a dog’. Years and years of it. Rescuing dogs that didn’t need rescuing on wild beaches. They’d only be trying to have a swim. But my lot would sense abandonment and danger and invite whatever mutt up to join in on our barbecue. Which they’d dutifully do until some owner or other, a camper or a walker, would appear over the grassy headland and reclaim their pet. A different sounding ‘awwww’ then, dripping with disappointment. 

Then there was the evening when I arrived home after my monthly novel writing group meeting. I was greeted by marque 5, who really should’ve been fast asleep, but something thrilling had him wide awake.

‘Dad said if I finished all my homework quickly and well, we’d get a puppy’. Ah, good one. These kids really are geniuses at trying it on.

‘No he didn’t, now get to bed, quick’.

‘He did, he did, he said we’d get a puppy if I got all my homework done and…’

There was, how can one put it, a little confrontation.

‘Tell me you didn’t promise a puppy for completed homework’.

‘I did. We’ve talked about it. We both know we’re getting a puppy. So yeah, why not now?’

That familiar feeling of needing to throttle someone near and usually dear to me tingled in my finger tips. 

‘Well we’re not getting one, because guess what? While you sail off into the sunset interacting with real people I’ll be here cleaning up shit, which, I think you’ll find I’ve already excelled at and no longer choose to do. Really? Supervise homework once and promise a bloody dog? Well you’ll just have to un-promise, poor kid’.

There. Sorted. All the lovely feelings of creativity and potential from the encouragement of my colleagues in the monthly writing meeting had seeped down into my toes. 

‘But we’ve been promising this for years and…’

Ya-da-ya-da. I can’t hear you.

But then. The hamster went and kicked the bucket and there was a palpable void. It would be disloyal to her to shove another hamster into her cage and pretend. 

‘It’s time. We’re going to get a dog’, I announced, lounging in front of the fire one evening, as if it was all perfectly logical. He looked at me from his corner chair. Looked. Said nothing. And so it began.

We already knew the exact breed. We had met and fallen in love with a Papillon at a Christmas party. Prosecco coursing through me, I might just have tried to sneak away with him. Beautiful, friendly, bright, alert, performing tricks for cocktail sausages. This was a full year ago, practically to the day of my announcement. 

‘Oh my god, I could really imagine one just like him in our family’ I had said, stroking his little head. I suppose I could be accused, on occasion, of sending mixed messages. I’m particularly good at it. 

He got googling after my proclamation. Said nothing. Googled. The problem with falling in love with a Papillon is that they are damn hard to find here in Ireland. They are continental toy spaniels, named due to their beautiful butterfly style ears. They enjoy popularity in many parts of the world. But here? 

For all of you savvy pet loving readers, you already know how not to go about looking for a dog to purchase. But if you had seen the little face on Done Deal, maybe, just maybe, you’d have been stupid like us. Advertised as IKC registered, microchipped, wormed, fully vaccinated, sure what more could you ask for? He sailed off to the owner’s house with marque 1 to meet and greet. Something niggled at me. That place had been in the news recently, had it not? I googled. Too late. Someone had been shot through the kitchen window in the exact estate he was heading to. With my precious son. I rang him.

‘Turn back, feck the dog, it’s bandit land…’

‘But we’re just outside. I’ll go in and see and..’

‘Do not leave my son in the car to be shot at while…’

They went in. Fell for dog. Fell for owner. Sold it to me. A pushover at the best of times. Showed me videos. Yep, let’s go for it. 

Oh, we’ve learnt so many lessons this past little while. We continued on our perilous journey. I named the dog, having not actually met him, but hey, he had this beautiful gemstone colouring. Jasper. The kids loved it. I could be found calling him, in my head, perhaps out loud a little, perhaps patting my knees for him to come to me, occasionally. Watching the videos of him over and over and over again. Oxytocin or something like it fuelling me. 

The owner said she would bring him to us. How lovely and kind, we thought. So the day before his arrival, I brought all the kids up to Petstop and enlisted for the puppy package. Crate, bedding, lead, harness, bowls, food, treats, toys, brushes. Oh what fun we had. Then marque 2 spent the last of his savings. A little cream fluffy coat with a hood for Jasper. €29. Ah god. We went home and set it all up.

On the morning of the day he was due to become ours I googled the check list for buying a puppy. The IKC check list. Make sure that the owner has the registration papers, the pedigree history and the change of ownership form at the point of sale. I’m sure she knows all that, I thought. 

‘Just text her and tell her to bring them with her’ I said. He did so. Texted. Asked her approximate time of arrival. Oh and to bring the papers. Deathly silence for three hours apart from the kids asking every two minutes when he’d be arriving. Then she got on and said she’d be with us by six. That was it. ‘Will you have the papers’ he asked with my gentle pin-pricking persuasion.

‘I’ll have the microchip number’ she said. ‘The papers should be with me shortly’. And there it was. An utterly horrendous electrifying feeling of parental let down. Us to the kids. There were no papers, obviously. How could we have been such fools? 

‘But sure I can bring him over to you and I have his parents’ papers so I can bring them and I can draw out the pedigree for you’. Yes, you just come on over and dangle the adorable dog, who is probably the product of a brother and sister, right in front of my kids. Then get out your pen and start to draw.

‘Eh, no, we’d need the papers for this actual dog’ he texted. Slowly, oh so very slowly, the cop was beginning to come. I rang the Kennel Club.

‘Is there any way a dog could be registered with you and for the owner just not to have the papers?’ I asked, already knowing the answer. She laughed, but not unkindly. This happens all the time apparently. But usually the poor muppets have already purchased. Then they ring to find out that the papers are not actually on their way in the post. At least when the little bit of savviness came it wasn’t too late. We pulled out. The owner offered to drop the price, rather dramatically, as he would be going to such a good family an’ all. Eh, no, thanks anyway.

It wasn’t easy then, trying to dodge the empty crate, bedding and toys lying in wait, the little coat draped over it. Nor the lead swaying gently, uselessly by the door. The kids took to bedding themselves in the crate. Pretending. They’d crawl in and curl into a foetal position making little whining noises. Marque 5 announced that it was much more comfortable than his own bed, and wondered if there was any way we could just cart it upstairs and let him take up permanent residence in it. Years and years of therapy bills loomed. We needed to fix this. Only I was beginning to get cold feet, again. It had been such a close call. We are such fools. Would we even be capable of looking after an animal? There was certainly a mountain of evidence against us. 

Every cloud a silver lining, and all that. We set about doing some proper research. A lovely breeder, who breeds seldom, who keeps them living in the family home with her. She doesn’t advertise. She doesn’t need to. A communication began. We visited. We fell. All the lovely colourful stamped papers were shown. I sneezed and rubbed my eye and thought, here we go, I’m allergic, I’m going to shatter their dreams, again. So she let us take him on a trial basis. If he triggered anything at home and we didn’t want to go ahead that would be fine. The odd red eye and sniffle in some. A trifle of a thing. Nothing that a couple of anti-histamines and a bit of time wouldn’t sort. We have him. He is ours. Smudge. The  collective blood pressure in the house has gone right down and the joy levels are soaring. ‘Awwww, look at our happy Papillon’ they can be heard murmuring to one another, nuzzling in to him, accepting all his unconditional energetic love and dolloping out mounds of their own. He is, of course, the sweetest, smartest most beautiful little dog in the world. Alert and fun when needs be. Quiet and curled up by the fire when that’s what we’re into. Oh and it’s an absolute pleasure to clean up after him. 


This thing

I knew but I didn’t know. Not really. Because how is it possible to believe that it would actually be in? I was up after a night of fretful sleep. It was early, oh so early for a Saturday. But when you’re having dreams in which indecipherable notes are scrawled on the underside of sheets of toilet paper, sealing your fate, you know it’s futile, this sleep pretence. The notes might say ‘congratulations, well done you’ in weird mirror writing or maybe they are saying ‘not published, last minute ditch’. It’s difficult to tell from this side of the sheet.

I had tried very hard to knock myself out. The plan was that copious amounts of Prosecco imbibed during the Friday night Late Late Show would see me through a serene deep night’s sleep until a decent hour on Saturday, by which time some angel or other would’ve been out to the shops. They would then appear at the end of my bed, pop the crucial newspaper on my lap along with a steaming delicious freshly brewed Americano. I would take my time, have a few sips first. Either it’s there or it’s not. There’s nothing I can do about it anyway. It’s great to be so chilled.

It was not thus. The horror of the dreamt anonymous toilet paper notes, combined with an arid post-prosecco mouth and perhaps a faint ache about the head, had me downstairs, all alone, knocking back water and wondering. What time would the papers reach the shops? Was there any way of getting them without actually leaving the house? What would be a decent time to wake someone else who might just oblige. Because there was a little creature, a new family member, who was very excited to see me at this early hour, and who would bark enthusiastically and unrelentingly if I tried to escape. I played for time. Eight o’clock on a Saturday. Sure what shops would even be open? I made myself that Americano. Marque 1 purchased a glorious yoke of a machine that serves up frothy strong aromatic coffees as if by a barista. It can make a person feel super competent at the switch of a button at any time of the day.

I sat at the dining room table with the early morning sun streaming in and the puppy at my ankle. I felt strangely calm. I didn’t know. I didn’t know how I would get to know. But I had this lovely creature to chat it through with. He seemed to agree that just sitting down sipping coffee and stroking his beautiful head was absolutely the right way to go about things. Dashing around, getting dressed, looking for keys and then trying to escape to the shops which may or may not be open to get the newspaper which you may or may not be in, was not, he was saying, the best approach to this. It turned out that he was right. There was no need for it. Because when I checked my e-mail at 8.30 there was a lovely surprise from an unexpected source. The subject line read ‘congratulations’ and the mail began ‘Ive just read your short story in the Irish Times. Simple elegant writing bring us to the mind and body of a young girl…’ The source was a retired excellent sociologist, mentor, friend. The last time I’d seen him, pre-retirement, we chatted about the possibility of opening up creative sociology within the University. Something new and fresh. An unguarded uncontested terrain. He’d be leaving soon. It would be up to someone else to push that boat out. So there was something fitting about me learning it from him first. This confirmation. That the much coveted Hennessy New Irish Writing prize for February was mine. A story that had its origins in a Master’s by research which was left behind due to the high sensitivity of the topic material. I went on to do a different Master’s and a very different PhD. There’s a beautiful symmetry to it now though. To drawing on the research done decades ago to produce a creative piece which actually gets published and read. To hearing confirmation first from a fellow sociologist, someone I’d lost touch with, the story out there sketching reconnecting lines.

I couldn’t have been happier. There was a puppy at my feet, on my Grandmother’s carpet, the sun streaming in, the house oh so quiet. There was no need for anything else. The toilet paper seems to have been saying congratulations after all.

Link to This Thing.