On the way back from school, as soon as I get a mobile signal, I stop the car and call Dan.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ I sniff.
‘Look, Lize, we’ve been through this. I’m just finishing a few things and then I’ll be over. I’ll be at yours by 10.30. Are you all packed? And has Dusty got her overnight bag?’
‘Yes, we’re all ready. But I’m worried about Dusty. I don’t think she’s going to go on much longer. She couldn’t get upstairs last night and she didn’t even lift her head this morning to eat her little ball of food with the pills.’
‘But she is still eating?’
‘And she can get up?’
‘Yes, she did go into the garden before I took Lily to school. But she’s generally very lethargic. And the swelling is getting worse.’
‘Well look, Lize, I’ve said I’ll deal with it and it’s fine, I will, OK? I’m sure they can do an individual cremation. She doesn’t have to be thrown in with the masses.’
‘Oh, well that would be better…’ I say, hopeful for a second, and then filled with guilt and misgiving again. ‘But I can’t not be with her at the end,' I say in a melodramatic whine. 'She’d have stayed faithfully by my side if I were on the way out.’
Dan lets out a Saints-preserve-us-woman! sort of laugh. ‘Oh Lord! Here we go!’ he says. ‘Look, Eliza, I’m on my way. She’ll be fine. You never know, she might hang on until you get back.’
‘OK,’ I say weakly, starting up the engine.
We are at the Heathrow bus stop in Candlebury. Dan is busying himself putting my oversized luggage in the hold of the bus. Dusty is lying in state in Digger’s basket in the boot of the Land Rover. I stroke her ears and kiss her head. ‘Bye bye, my baby. You’ll be OK. I’ll see you soon. Good girl. Bye Dusty Do.’ She looks at me with her red-rimmed eyes. Resigned to her fate of going to stay with Uncle Dan where she’ll get boffed by Digger. Little does she know what greater resignation lies in store. What a betrayal.
‘All set,’ says Dan. He gives me a manful hug and I climb aboard the bus, sniffing and wiping my eyes and nose with the back of my hand.
The heating is overpowering and the windows are streaked with rain. I try to read Jon Swain’s River of Time, but I can’t focus. I sit with my eyes closed, sodden tissue in my hand, dabbing at my leaking eyes and nose. It’s such a handicap being sentimental, lurching between the past and imagined future, instead of being strong and proud like Lily, getting on with the here and now.
Old age, disease, decay. What is the point of it? Except perhaps, as the old, diseased and decaying become less themselves, to help those around them detach. Dusty isn’t herself. Not just the lethargy. She has been behaving rather like Lily (though presumably for different reasons), tolerating my advances rather than courting them. Normally if I sit beside Dusty on the floor she clambers on me, or butts me with her head like a goat kid, or rolls on her back to be tummy-rubbed. Am I just clinging on to the Dusty that was? But you don’t just discard things because they’re past their prime.
At the airport. Right, plenty of time for a coffee before hoovering up the old ladies. I look at the departures board. Thai Airways to
isn’t even listed yet, so I can’t get rid of this ridiculously oversized suitcase. Well, the flight isn’t till 9.30. I’m never normally this early, but then normally I’d be coming from Bangkok . The later bus from Candlebury would have been cutting it too fine. Chelsea
Manoeuvre my suitcase through Smith’s to pick up a Telegraph (the Guardian seems so irrelevant when you live in the country) and then into Starbucks. Mmmm! Crème Brulee Macchiato! Things are looking up. I park my suitcase, sit down and take a slurp. Urgh. Too sweet. Another sip. Actually not too bad once you’re past the caramel topping.
Text from Dan. My heart rate doubles. ‘Dusty ensconsed in her favoured place under the table. Breathing steadily. Hope you make it OK!’ There’s a jpeg attachment. I brace myself for a sweet picture of Dusty under the table. Oh. It’s a scene of four semi-submerged aeroplanes at a flooded airport. Argh!
Google: floods in
. ‘Advancing floodwater in Bangkok saw commercial flights at Bangkok shut down…’ That’s the domestic one. What about the international airport, though? Surely Mike would have called if it was underwater? Hmmm… Seems to be open. Yes. ‘Flights are operating normally.’ Don Mueang Airport
Dusty… my baby.
There’s a tight band around my chest. I feel like a Thai plane, half-submerged, in suspension, waiting for something to happen, something to shift. Call Dan.
‘How is she?’
‘She’s OK.’ He sounds grave. Not his usual joshing self. ‘Hasn’t moved from under the table. That swelling round her neck. It looks worse when she’s lying down, flat out, doesn’t it? She doesn’t exactly have a jawline any more.’
‘No, I know,’ I agree. ‘Has she been out at all? I found she perked up a bit around this time when she thought she might get some supper.’
‘No, she really hasn’t moved.’ Dan pauses. ‘Lize… I think I should call the vet in the morning.’
I can’t speak. I can’t bear it.