I wrote this several years ago, before I knew the internet existed! I hereby issue a (slight) dog lovers/black humour alert.
‘It’s for the best’, Ben thought to himself as he made his way back along the cliff walk path, but he felt a pang of guilt as he watched groups of dogs and walkers coming towards him. He would no longer be part of that companionable set. Never again would he and Jack take their early morning constitutional along the sea front, and up the hill to where the sea lay stretched out beneath them. Now things would be different because Jack had had to go.
It wasn’t as if he’d actually done away with him, he just hadn’t done anything to stop him sliding off the path and into the ocean with a gentle and gracious plop, one final thankful sigh. Of course Ben had known that the path was uneven and precarious but Jack trusted him absolutely and had followed him unquestioningly. Why wouldn’t he? They’d been together for years, man and his faithful canine friend.
Ben sniffed slightly, he’d miss Jack’s pinched up face, his long whiskers, his quizzical expression, the way he greeted him so enthusiastically every morning. He’d been poorly for ages. His sight was bad and his hair was falling out in places. One of his legs was gamy too, the result of some escapade from his youth that had stayed with him. He’d lived to a good old age. Ben hadn’t wanted Jack to suffer out his last days. He’d had to be cruel to be kind. They’d had lots of good times together up here. What better place to end his life than out in the air, the breeze filled with sun, the salt-kissed spray filling his nostrils?
Ben quickened his pace. The walkers seemed to recognise him, to wonder why he was alone. The dogs seemed to watch him accusingly. He shook himself as if to rid himself of responsibility, of the memory of Jack’s final moments. Surely it was what Jack would have wanted if only he’d been able to ask him. And Ben had made his own sacrifice, selflessly giving up his closest friend. He was on his own now. How would he manage?
* * *
Mrs. Higgins opened the door of the surgery and stiffly stepped out into the light. Her eyes squeezed closed automatically against the glare and she screwed up the centre of her forehead, etching even deeper the lines that furrowed into the folds of her fragile parchment skin. She sighed, things hadn’t been easy since her husband Michael had died last year, passing away in his sleep. She had tried to keep a positive frame of mind but they’d fitted together like a pair of old socks. It didn’t feel right to be only one.
The doctor said she should try to get out more, even taking a walk every day would get her out of the house. Years ago she knew everybody. Now everyone was new or foreign or young or busy, click clacking along the pavements as if their lives depended on it. She didn’t want to bother them by saying hello.
The doctor said that she was depressed, she needed to meet people. She’d gone to the Old Folks association a few times but being surrounded by so many other sagging and wrinkled bodies had made her realise just how old she was, how she would never again regain the vitality of her youth. It had been different with her husband. When you grew old with someone over time you didn’t notice so much how the years took their toll on the features. Somewhere there was always the memory of the young person you fell in love with. That perfect picture always stayed with you.
Anyway she had to go down to the chemist for her prescription. The doctor had written out a docket for some pills. She wasn’t sure what for, she hadn’t been paying attention. Pains and aches she thought. Mary in the chemist’s would tell her.
Wait for the flashing man at the crossing... She wasn’t brave enough to take a chance further down the road. The man had already turned red by the time she was half way across. The cars began rolling towards her. She felt her heart thumping and she threw her fist up towards the drivers in frustration.
She paused to take a breath on the other side. She couldn’t get about like she used to. She had all the time in the world on her hands but didn’t have the energy or ability to do anything with it. She shuffled on down New Street. The chemist’s had a flashing green light too. At least you didn’t have to hurry for that one.
She almost stumbled as a man flew out of a shop door and landed on the pavement in front of her. ‘Sorry love’ he said, putting his hand on her arm. ‘Alright, alright’ she said, leaning against the window. A large homemade sign with black lettering was pasted inside the top of the window. ‘PAT’s PETs’ she read out loud.
Perhaps she should get a pet. There was a notice in the window with a photograph. That nice woman on that afternoon TV show had interviewed some elderly people who were mad about their pets. Said it stopped them getting lonely. It would be company for her, now that she was getting on. Perhaps she’d meet up with other owners, have a chat. There must be lots of older people like her with pets. Mrs. Higgins peered into the pet shop window, reading the sign. Dog found on cliff walk. Needs care and attention in new home. Owner deceased. ‘Perhaps she would just enquire, it could do no harm’ she thought as she pushed the door open and went in.