The call of what’s left of the wild- it's a dog's life
A later version of this story appears my book, "Doom, Gloom and Despair"
The call of what’s left of the wild- it's a dog's life.
The newborn German shepherd is a cute little puppy, with big paws. He has only just opened eyes. He suckles happily away alongside the comforting warmth of his siblings.
With grunts and whimpers, he begins to communicate with his big and cuddly milk supplier. She teaches him the beginnings of the language known only to dogs. She is surprised and pleased with him. This one, among the others and all her previous litters, learns so rapidly.
He looks adoringly into her eyes, as she tells him what is in store and how to behave to best survive. " You're lucky not to be born into a breed that’s damaged. See, in the next cage are dogs with so much hair in their faces that they can’t see. In the one across are some that can’t breathe properly, because their muzzles are too short."
He hears them wheezing and sniffs their scent.
She knows she has to be quick, as they will have too little time together. Indeed, his siblings are torn away one by one, in great distress. Their mother barks pathetically to no avail. "It's too early. They need my milk."
She slumps into silence, putting a protective paw over him; the last of her loved ones. She understands a little of human talk, but has long since realized that their merciless masters cannot not understand dogs and misinterpret fawning behavior to gain benefits as genuine love for them.
His mom tells him she hopes he will go to someone who will feed him well and look after him. "Maybe, it’ll be one of the white people rather than the locals. Many of those are meaner and treat dogs badly."
He is terrified and clings to her, whimpering in his dreams. Next morning, white people appear, two big ones and with two young. They smile and made soft noises. They stroke him behind his ears. He likes that.
Then to his utter horror, they wrench him away from his protesting mother. He fails to
understand them saying how cute he is. Forever afterwards, he associates their deceptive smiles as a nevil portent of dire events.
One of the small ones holds him tight, as they climb into a huge red machine. The people smell disgusting. The machine reeks of a strange dog, nasty chemicals and oils. He wrinkles his nose in distaste. The mechanical monster makes strange rumbling noises and moves off.
They arrive at an enormous black gate. It whirrs open. A large fat dog rushes to greet them, wagging his tail. This dog has the same smell he remembers from the car. The big female pats this dog on the head. She says something he does not understand and calls the dog ‘Dennis’.
Later, Dennis tells him a few things he does not like. " When they come in, run towards them. Don't jump up or they'll hit you. Look winsomely into their eyes and they'll stroke you behind the ears. If you do these things and never bark too loudly, they’ll feed you and all will be well."
He is unsure, but tries these things and they seem to work. He learns more from Dennis. "They like us to be placid and lick their hands. Dogs who are noisy and bite disappear."
He detects lingering scents of long gone dogs. The people say that his name is ‘Toby’. He learns to come when they call him. They drop or throw a ball or a stick. When they shout, "Fetch!" they seem pleased, if he retrieves them,
Dennis passes on dark rumors of a terrible place. "They take you to see a man in a white coat. He has rubber hands. His rooms are completely white too and smell horrid. Some dogs go into the room where he works. They never come out. There’s a smell of death.
“He cuts us and makes us bleed. It starts with him sticking in needles. It hurts. He forces us to drink horrible liquids. They wrench your mouth open, if you don't want to drink it."
Sure enough one day, the woman puts him in a travelling cage and carries him out into the big red machine.They pull in at a big house with other machines outside. There is a big sign, with red marks he does not understand. 'Veterinary Surgeon'
The mistress pushes open a glass door and puts his cage on the floor. He sniffs that lots of other dogs have been here. There are other people with dogs on their laps or in cages.
Some other animals and birds are here too. Their odors are pungent and weird. He senses fear and sickness. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Wild eyed with terror, he looks through the bars of his cage.
The door of another room opens. There is the man with the knife. A waft of death and sickness comes from the room. He yelps and shrinks to the back of his tiny prison.
Then it is his turn to go in. The man with rubber hands seizes him in strong hands and jabs the needle into him. He barks, to no avail. They force-feed him nasty fluids, just as Dennis foretold.
Back at the house, he regards fat old Dennis with new respect. He seemed a little stupid before and understands much less of the human language than Toby does. Still he has useful experience. Somehow, he does not have male scents.
Dennis tells him of the day he was castrated. It sounds truly awful. Again there was the injection and then the knife had sliced off his bollocks. Dennis was sore for days after and felt sick. Toby likes to lick those parts. It gives him a mild thrill. He asks, "But why do they do that?"
"I think it's to make us fat and obedient, but I don't really know. Maybe we get fat because they make us share their sweet and sticky foods with us. We have to beg and look pleased."
Toby listens and learns more human speak. When starving dogs come to the gate, he hears the big people say that it is a bad not to castrate them and they must take Toby to the Vet's soon. There are too many puppies living and starving on the street. He is terrified.
Two sunrises later they load him into the travelling cage. He tries to resist, but they push him in saying "Bad dog. This is for your own good. Besides it won't hurt."
The mistress drives the big red machine.
Once again in the vet's waiting room, he sees some other, older women there with wrinkled faces and mean pursed lips.They look very determined and intimidating.They bring frightened and cowed dogs. He notices that these women have very fat and tasty looking rumps and bare legs. From their smell, he knows that humans are made of meat.
They enthusiastically chat to his mistress " We've collected over fifty street dogs this month so far. The locals don't understand. Castration's the only way to stop them breeding. But there are always hundreds more."
These women are ravening fiends. Their eyes glitter when they speak of castration. Toby tries to make himself smaller. He must escape this, but how?
His owner is called to the operating room. There she coaxes him out of the cage with a treat. He pretends to go quietly. The man with the rubber hands strokes his muzzle, holding a syringe in the other hand. Toby leaps forward and bites hard into the rubber. The hand is made of meat too.
The man screams. Toby's mistress slaps him, but he bites down harder, with a satisfying crunch of bones.
The door flies open and the assistant runs in. Toby lets go and bolts for the door. The horrible women with the meaty rumps try to catch him. He runs through a narrow gap between elephantine legs. The outer door is shut. He dashes around, yelping. Other dogs bark too. How can he get out?
He is at a loss as to which tempting and massive target he should attack. The woman he chooses cannot see him. He is below the mass of her enormous bosom. He runs behind her and clamps down hard on a tasty buttock. She hollers like a stuck pig.
One of her friends flees, shrieking and opens the outer door. He dashes after her, pursued by the others in an angry mob. They cannot waddle very fast and one falls over, tripping his mistress and the nurse. He runs and runs.
He hides in the hedge of a field by the roadside. The machines rumble slowly past. The women lean out of the windows calling his name. He crouches in silence.
After dark, Toby continues up the road to the mountain. Whenever a machine's lights approach, he hides by the roadside. Eventually, the street turns into a path into the woods.
Desperately thirsty, he drinks at a stream. In the woods there are many strange odors. He hears animal and insect noises. Some flies bite him. They raise lumps that make him itch. He tries to scratch at them with his hind legs. He finally dozes off on a patch of soft moss under a tree.
He smells the dawn, before the sun rises. Big black birds with flapping wings tear at a dead animal. He chases them away, ignoring their protesting squawks. He gorges himself. Sniffing the air, he feels free.
As time passes, hunters going into the forest tell scary tales of being attacked by a huge hound from hell and a pack of other dogs, some that look like their giant, demonic leader. At first, the bravest hunters go after them, but the devil dogs seem to evaporate into the darkest depths of the undergrowth.
People say they must be ghost dogs. Mothers tell wide-eyed children that they will come to get them, if they are naughty.
Then, one or two huntsmen disappear, never to be seen again. Terrified woodsmen go elsewhere.
I Lust therefore I am- Un crime passionnel
These stories are for inclusion in book of dark thoughts,'Doom Gloom And Despair'.
Jacques considered his plight as he watched the clouds slowly passing below the aircraft window. He had led as dissolute a life as any Frenchman could. He regretted none of it. His only wish was that he had had even more affairs with his employees, suppliers and friends’ wives and daughters. Now, all that seemed no longer possible.
Throughout his privileged life, as the heir of a large chateau and several wineries, he had feasted copiously on the best cuisine in the world. His girth reflected this. He sported a well-stuffed stomach; lived in face and bleary eyes. Now, he was sad that there would be no more gourmandizing.
He had always appreciated the subtle aromas, delicious after tastes and intoxicating properties of fine wines, especially the premiers crus from his own Alox-Corton Chateau. His taste buds and olfactory senses were tuned like a Stradivarius. The simple pleasures of the grape were about to end.
The stabbing pains and debilitating aches in his various joints and muscles were beyond endurance. They had escalated in frequency and intensity over recent months, as if his body was vengefully seeking to consume itself with dozens of sharp knives and forks as retribution for its abuse.
He could no longer even give the famous Gallic shrug without wincing in torment through gritted teeth. For a Frenchman, this severely limited both the joy and extent of conversation.
So, he had decided to bring his life to its conclusion. Well, c’est la vie, or rather the opposite.
His long tolerant and suffering wife, Giselle, sat in the aisle seat. She looked lovingly at him and remembered. She had married him when her father owned an adjoining vineyard and Jacques was a dashingly debonair member of the National Gendamerie Intervention Group, GIGN. He looked so handsome in his kepi and captain’s dress uniform, proudly displaying his Legion d’honneur. He had won this for secret acts of bravery in fighting terrorists in Africa. She knew little of the details, but to her he was a fascinating James Bond type, full of mystery and élan.
Of course, she had admired him from a distance, as a child. He was a few years older so he never seemed to notice her. She had held him in awe as he led gangs of his playmates in games of pirates; Gauls against the Romans and endless boisterous mischief.
Often, she had listened to her parents tut-tutting at his latest exploits, commenting. ‘That boy will end up in prison one day.” To her, he seemed a young Napoleon.
Now, she assured him that his current afflictions were the wages of sin. Clinging to her Roman Catholic ideas of divine retribution, in the forlorn hope that he might yet change.
This might have amused him in the past. Today, her insistence on tying his crippling and ever more excruciating joint and muscular pains to his lifestyle, just made him angry. It was as if she wanted him to suffer.
This illness had struck him down like a lightening bolt. One day he was a fairly fit and active man of 68, hoping for another ten years of debauchery ahead, the next he could hardly move. Most nights were endless purgatories of sweat soaked agony. Between spasms, he contemplated various methods of suicide.
Giselle refused to even entertain his idea of a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. “Only God can take our lives. Our Church cannot condone suicide.” She longed for him to return to holy mother the church, even if it were to be a deathbed repentance.
He felt his wish to end it all was perfectly reasonable. So be it. He would act without her help. He considered some options. ‘Maybe I could loop a light wire hawser around a tree and tie it securely. Then I would pass it through the driver’s window of my Peugeot, looping a noose for my neck. I’d have to leave it all nice and slack, so then I could then push it through the opposite window and tie it off round another tree.
‘Next, I would climb into the driver’s seat and slip the noose over my head. Starting the engine and holding the car on the footbrake to build up the revs, I would release the brake and hit the gas. With a mighty roar and smoking wheels, I am neatly decapitated. All the mess is contained in the vehicle. Perfect!
‘If I it were done on the edge of the old quarry and I ensured that the cigar lighter was hot, to detonate the fuel tank with a satisfying Kaboom! there would be no mess. Giselle need not suffer too much.
‘Mmm, I don’t think I can do all that, in my present condition. Scrambling in and around the car would hurt too much and I’m not limber enough with all this stiffness and pain from every movement.
‘Maybe my old, special forces Manhurin revolver would be easier.’ He smiled, remembering how he dispatched two terrorists in an alley in Abidjan. Both were perfect double taps, one to the body and one to the head. That was the biggest adrenaline rush of my life. Kill or be killed. ‘I still love the heavy, blued steel of the gun. Its heft is so perfect in my hand. Giselle, thinks I was a hero, but I was a complete bastard and enjoyed every minute of it.’
‘I insert the barrel into my mouth and bang! The hollow point ammunition blows off the back of my skull. All pain stops. Voila!’
Giselle was relentless whenever he mentioned his desire to end it all, even though he kept the details to himself. Last time she had said. “Think of me. What about our daughters? They love you. Maybe we can find a cure for you? Stop drinking, chasing women and eating so much and maybe you’ll get better?”
"I might as well be dead!” He was angry with her, but arguing did no good. She had tolerated his gross behavior and suffered every indignity, because she still loved him, all 120 kilos of his louche, bull headed masculinity.
He noted a passing cloud, then continued his reverie. As soon as they returned to Burgundy, he would act. One of his workers would dig a shallow hole in the vineyard. Standing on the edge, he would pull the trigger. Bang! No fuss, no mess. His last view would be of the ripening grapes and his beloved chateau, a fitting end to a splendidly dissolute life.
At least the flights were going to plan. Giselle had arranged for a wheel chair transfer through Madrid airport. On the Iberia flight from Panama he ate a hearty dinner of excellent Spanish food. Each course was delivered with wines, perfectly chosen by the airline’s sommeliers. A generous glass of Tio Pepe accompanied the marcona almonds and olives he loved so much. He delighted in the freshness, fruity and young, of the Pazo San Mauro Albariño 2014. The robust red of the El Vínculo Reserva 2010 went exactly with the suckling pig. Everything was cooked to perfection and artistically presented.
Jacques savored each mouthful with his eyes closed, tuning out his own pain and Giselle’s exhortations not to have any more wine. If he was on his way to death, he was at least determined to enjoy a condemned man’s last meal or three.
He ploughed on through the sweet richness of the desert, relishing a large glass of Cardenal Cisneros, Jerez Pedro Ximenéz. Finally, a double Gran Duc de Alba, licor de brandy with his coffee transported him into a fitful doze.
He jerked awake. The plane was about to land in Madrid. Even the flat bed seat had tormented his slumbers. There had been no position he could arrange his aching limbs that gave him any relief. He had a splitting headache, could hardly move his tortured legs to get to the bathroom and had Giselle complaining, “I told you so.”
‘If only I had the gun here, I’d end it right now and maybe her first.’
Despite the pains, he was impressed by the way the airline managed the wheel chair transfers. He had often seen disabled passengers at airports, without much thought to the process. They tended to get in his way. The attendants expected precedence and used the chairs like bulldozers.
His man whisked him passed the lines at immigration control, where his entry to the EU was stamped into his passport tout suite. He began wheeling Jacques towards the first class lounge.
Meantime, Giselle indulged herself in last minute shopping in the upscale airport shops. As if the 5 extra bags she had already checked though were insufficient. He smiled grimly. Soon he need suffer no further shopping and even worse, hearing her irritating complaints and intricate details about every purchase.
Jacques pangs eased a little as his chair maneuvered like a barracuda through a shoal of baitfish. Despite his aches, he began to realize the advantages of wheel chair travel. Firstly, people gave way as the chair pushed its way to the front of any line. Secondly, instead of suspicious and surly glares from uniformed officials, they were solicitous. He received looks of sympathy or maybe pity. Security searches were perfunctory.
Best of all though was the unexpected view from the lowly perspective of the chair. It was exactly at buttock height. He noted the many callipygous girls jiggling and wiggling ahead of him. They were off on holiday or looking into the fashion shops. They wore chic, loose but figure hugging fabrics oblivious to anything else. Bliss!
He was positioned so that they could not see him ogling their derrieres. Even if they could, he was just a harmless old cripple. ‘Ha!’
His transport weaved smoothly through the crowds and the well-lit glitz of the duty free area, with its enticing displays of liquors, cosmetics and electronics. He was awfully tempted to reach out and grab a bottle of scotch. Even better, he might sample some of the young flesh sashaying before him.
He suppressed the urge, ‘Best not. After all, I’m not in France yet. There, such things are better understood.'
Next day, he woke in his own bed, rested and relieved. The splendid French doctor had sedated him. The torments were gone, at least for now. He tried a few faltering steps. The discomfort was there, but bearable. He leered at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. Maybe there were a few years of sinning left in the old dog yet.
After few days rest, he felt well enough to return to his office at the winery. He hobbled through the door with a cane. For extra support, he slipped his hand round the firm young waist of his secretary and mistress Marie Claude. He let it grope lower as she closed the door. Giggling, she helped him into his leather, high backed chair.
On their return, Giselle was puzzled at her maid’s absence from work. The girl’s Mother had called saying she was ill, but was evasive as to what her illness was.
Today, on returning from the market in the village, her maid met her at the door of the chateau. The girl was obviously pregnant and could not hold back her tears. “Come child, tell me all about it.”
She blurted out the whole sordid story between sobs. Her father owed Jacques some money. The Master blackmailed her into giving him sexual favors, often when Giselle was visiting her mother in Beaune. Jacques liked to slap her about and humiliate her.
Giselle listened with mounting anger. Finally, something snapped in her head. A red veil of fury blurred her vision and flushed her face. Incandescent with rage, she slipped something from a drawer into her handbag. She seized the frightened girl by the hand, dragging her to her Citroen and pushed her into the passenger seat.
The car roared wildly along the twisting country roads. The tires screamed as she fishtailed round corners. A local peasant, leapt into a ditch for his life. She did not even notice him.
Her maid clung desperately to the door pull, wide-eyed in sheer terror. They screeched to a halt in a shower of gravel, at the entrance to Jacque’s office building.
The secretary tried to step forward, but Giselle brushed past her, dragging the frightened girl along.
She burst into Jacques office, shoving the pregnant lass forward. He looked up puzzled. His eye brows raised when he saw the girl’s swollen belly. His attempted smile froze, when he saw Giselle’s crazed glare.
She shrieked “Monstre!” She hurled herself at him in a frenzied blur. The light glinted on something in her hand.
There was a sharp crack! crack! from her small automatic, as she emptied it into him. The first bullet grew in slow motion, as it streaked towards him. It smashed right into his right eye. White light. Blackness.
Gone but not forgotton
This story is for inclusion in book of dark thoughts,'Doom Gloom And Despair'.
Gone but not forgotten- A largely mythical state
Bernard sits on his patio with his long-term partner, Jane and their neighbours. Relaxing in their Adirondack chairs, they languidly sip iced Daiquiris in the balmy air. The red ball of the sun is mesmerizing as it slides slowly below the far, jungle-clad mountains. Its passing paints the entire sky, with fingers of fiery red, orange and pink. This flaming panorama is layered up to the highest wispy clouds. The silhouetted needle tufts of nearby pines add their own jet beauty.
All agree that it is yet another perfect tropical sunset, as they savour the heavy scents of the honeysuckle and flowering tobacco. Alan gulps a fortifying mouthful from his cocktail and looks nervously at his wife Ann. Bernard and Jane sit forward expectantly. Alan’s face seems to be sweating. His whole body seems rigid with tension. “We’ve been wanting to tell you something.”
The hosts set down their drinks and focus their attention, wondering what on earth can be the matter.
“We’ve decided to move back to Chicago.” Alan’s following words come in a flood of released angst. “Ann wants to be near her grandchildren, especially the new baby. My parents are frail and we have to be closer to them. You are our best friends here. We wanted you to be the first to hear.”
Bernard feels the muscles tightening in the pit of his stomach. He glances at Jane, thinking, ‘She looks as though her face has been slapped.’
He forces a smile, while he formulates a response. “Well Ann, we’ve known that your daughter needs help with the new baby and they have been reluctant to schlepp down here to see you. As long as you are happy, that’s the main thing. When is this due to happen?”
Ann replies, looking relieved. “Well I’m leaving next week. Alan’ll stay here to deal with the rental and pack up our stuff. We think in about a month we’ll both be enjoying the frigid Chicago winter.”
“Wow! That’s fast.” Jane says, recovering her composure and failing to laugh at the feeble attempt at levity about the weather. She thinks, ‘They obviously decided this some time ago.’
The bombshell announcement puts a complete damper on the evening. Stumped for other words, Bernard and Jane make the usual instant platitudes about how they will be sorely missed, how they will always be welcome guests and how they can drop by Chicago on the way to see their friends in New York, each year.
Shortly afterwards and earlier than usual, the friends leave. Everyone puts a brave face on it, with hugs and kisses all round. Ann and Alan set off on the short drive to their house on the next ridge.
As the electric security gate clicks behind them, Bernard takes his wife’s hand, gently leading her back onto the patio. The sun has set, so he turns the floodlights on in the garden. He pours Jane another Daiquiri and a stiff Scotch for himself. Slumping in his chair he exclaims, “Shit! That’s bad news.”
Alan is his best friend, the most respected contributor at meetings of his favourite writers’ group and his long-time bridge partner. Ann plays Mah-jong with Jane. All of them are active members of the Birding Club.
They have other friends and several dozen acquaintances. However this will surely leave a huge gap in their retirement life in their dream tropical paradise of Costa Rica’s Central Valley.
Jane says looks blankly at the garden for a while. “Well we thought this might happen and I’m sure it’s what’s best for them.”
“You’re right, we shouldn’t be selfish, but a pattern seems to be emerging. People arrive; make new friendships in our slightly over friendly expat community, then they leave after a few years.”
They sit in silence for few more moments, distractedly regarding their hydrangeas and canna lilies, picked out by the lights. Bernard considers the bad news.
As a student, back in 69, he read a Russian short story. Maybe it was by Gogol, but perhaps not. Last time he tried to research Gogol on the Internet, Google insisted on substituting Gogol with its own name at every attempt.
He shares his thoughts with Jane. Gogol’s tale is of those buried in a graveyard. They have dwindling vestiges of mental activity. They can hear one another beneath the damp and wormy earth. Slowly, an Alzheimer’s like destruction occurs in their brains. Finally, they can only croak ‘Babok’, like a group of fading frogs, until that too ceases.
‘Jeez Bernie that’s awful gloomy.” Jane contributes that their own experience demonstrates the impermanence of good neighbors. In every continent and country they have lived, humanity is transient. “People move to a place for many reasons: work, climate, culture, adventure, early retirement and eventually for care homes and death.” She laughs uneasily at the last thought.
Engrossed in their somber dialogue, they look intently at one another. He gently squeezes her hand as they share ideas. For once they fail to notice the night turning chilly and a mist dimming the lights in the valley far below. It crawls slowly up the mountain towards them.
They discuss why people move on. They go for health, bereavement or disappointment in the location. The endless torrential rain in October is depressing as can the wheel smashing potholes. Other reasons are: poverty; increasing risks of robbery or a need to be near family members in need of care, old or young. The reasons are many and compelling in every case.
He reminds her that many friends have faced the nightmare of one partner wanting to leave and the other not. Some couples weathered this pulling in opposite directions. In other cases relationships ended in acrimony. In every situation, one or both parties left only after much wrangling and soul searching.
Jane opined that long timers could be stranded. Maybe they foolishly put all their eggs into one, local financial basket. A few were on the run from a dark life elsewhere. Others stay because they bond with the locals, marry or find a viable career. Some simply have no better place to go in a hostile and troublesome world.
He says, “When Alice was leaving, she told us that the neighboring Ticos all came to say how sad they were. Whether these locals meant it, who knows, but at least the locals were polite.”
With a cynically wry smile, Jane chuckles, “Mmm, maybe they were worried about the loss of yard and odd job work? Our part time housekeeper says she lives in fear of her other families moving on. Only last week, she said that costs here are getting so high and break-ins so frequent that she expects more of us to leave. Remember we’ve heard of several employees stealing things when they heard people are leaving. Other’s fleeced them by telling lies in the labor courts.”
Jane voices her darkest concerns. “There’s no perfect place, but do we really want to be that strange old man and woman, living in the weird old house that no one ever visits. Waves of younger and eager immigrants arrive full of hope. They fill the gaps the others left. Many arrivals seem naïve and less interesting. Some stayers may become social isolates.”
He pats her hand reassuringly and tries to look cheerful. “There are lots of ways for long timers to survive. Becoming the center of a social circle is one. Some of your women friends do that well. Think of the arts circle. It keeps them in touch with the incomers. Supporting charities; joining expat political groups and attending the computer club all have their devotees.”
He snorts derisively. “Otherwise, it’s smoking dope; drinking your self into oblivion; jig saws or reading.”
A little to her dismay, he sets off on one of his analytical monologues. “The timing of transit waves depends on the state of the economy. In boom times, houses sell easily, in recessions they don’t.
“Those who leave fondly imagine that old acquaintances will be much as before. Facebook friends will be in regular touch. They will ask them to visit and stay with them. They will be made welcome. That’s often an illusion. Cost and distance add to the difficulty of spending time together. New friends and new lives beckon.”
Jane loves Bernie for his confident insights, but he can be a bit much. She decides to indulge him, as at least he is at least talking sense.
He carries on, blissfully unaware of her thoughts. “Some who remain, unconsciously see the leavers as destroyers of their dreams. They resent those leaving as they are ranking their friendship lower than the siren calls of the new location. Remember this happened to us when we left Chicago?”
She adds, “Yes, I remember one neighbor. He was always so friendly, but he more or less told us there was no point in having us round in the last months, as we would soon be gone.” She looked wistful “and I’d always thought his wife was a close friend.”
Bernard mistakenly thinks she wants him to say more. “Departures pour cold water on delusions of permanence. Each person leaving is unsettling to the dreams of those who remain. We all question our own decisions and reasons for being here.
“Only really close friends remain in touch, across the years and continents. First it’s weekly, then occasionally, ‘Babok’. Finally it becomes holidays, ‘Babok’. Fortunately, we have many lifetime friends on five continents, but with others it’s ‘Babok, Babok, Babok.”
They go to bed and cuddle up for reassurance and comfort.
The next day Alan calls a temporary halt to the pool game and petty gambling at the weekly social gathering in the church hall. He stands and addresses everyone in a loud voice. “I have an announcement to make. Ann and I are going back to Chicago very soon.”
As he gives their reasons, he is upset, as few appear to be listening any further. He hears one of the gamblers saying, “I bid five.” Then there is a clack of pool balls.
Frustrated, he regains some interest when he says, “I’ve brought a list of things we need to sell: the car, a fridge, the dehumidifier…..”
Folk drift back to their games and largely ignore him for the rest of the session. The one or two exceptions sidle up like vultures for items on the list. “Is the fridge still available? Put me down for it.
The same evening Ann and Alan go to a party by a well-known local hostess. As usual, the food is a mish mash of easy to make American cuisine, mostly provided by the guests.
This time, Ann makes the announcement. Those, who don’t have their faces in the trough or were not at the church hall that morning, listen. Then, they return to their conversations. Some take selfies in front of the food or with their usual friends for their Facebook entries. One or two say how sorry they are. Ann is distressed at the total lack of interest.
For the rest of the party Alan and Ann feel like ghosts. People who normally chat to them slink away as they approach as if they cannot see them. Others do not make space for them to join their groups. They are shut out.
They leave sad and early with a few perfunctory ‘Goodbyes’. Ann is mortified, “We’ve become ‘other’!”
He puts a comforting arm round her shoulder as they walk home. “Well look on the bright side. At least we have buyers for some of our stuff. We’ve learned the shallowness of some so-called friendships and we can leave with fewer regrets.
“Our best friends here, Bernie and Jane will stay in touch. At least I hope so.”
Ann bursts in to tears. “I hope so too, but what if they don’t? I’ve a hole in my heart. I’ll tell you this. I’m never coming back here!”
He produces a tissue. “I feel exactly the same, but remember women make new close friends quicker than men. Hey! In Chicago, we can build new relationships. There are decent museums and cultural events every week and in English. The roads are much better too. We’ll get Obama-care, now that we are retirement age, as long as the Republicans don’t close it down. The hell with this place!”
She smiles, as he reaches for her. From the strength and comfort of his arms, she looks up into his face. “Yes, but at least let’s keep our many happy memories: astonishing sunsets; abundant and colorful wildlife; parties; spectacular hikes and those friends we will keep. Even friendships where we lose touch are worth remembering. They added value to our lives.”
She rests her head against the warmth of his chest, as he says, “I really love you. Home for me will always be wherever you are.”
A sad short story
Passing it on
Bolted to a stout metal frame, next to two elevators that dived deep into the vastness of the underground car park, stand three plastic seats. Tired from limping round the enormous supermarket, John drops dejectedly into one of them. His view is restricted to the aisles nearest the supermarket entrance, but he is focused on his thoughts.
Feeling sorry for himself, he is hemmed in by a large, Coca Cola machine. Its red metal bulk obscures any view of the endless row of checkouts, in an attempt at cheery enticement to buy its toxic cans of chemicals and sugar. Though empty, the two neighboring grey seats seem to push close. They pose a threat to his sore left arm and swollen knee.
He lets his head fall into his hands, wincing as the movement twists the inflamed muscles in his neck. His leg throbs as he bends it. Knives seem to be jabbing into the bones of his right foot. He sits with his eyes closed against the brightness of the massive sales space, his forehead wrinkled with worry. At least there will be a few moments of relief from endlessly trailing his wife’s trolley around the superstore.
She seemed determined to read every food label and consider each of the thousands of gaudily presented items in the shop. John knows she is a loving person, seeking the best foods for them both and concerned for his suffering. It was his grouchiness that led him to complain and then angrily leave her to it. ‘I’m always such a selfish bastard.’
He feels a jolt in the seat and a twinge in his leg. He looks up to see a young, African looking fellow, maybe a Somali, occupying the furthest chair. The chap dumps a weighty cardboard box on the middle one.
Totally absorbed in his own life bubble, the newcomer pulls out his mobile phone and begins an exuberant conversation in an unrecognizable language. Animatedly, he waves his arms to emphasize his points to an unseeing counter party far away.
Young people mostly deep in cell phone chatter or texting stroll past as they enter the store. They have so much vigor and energy. Some of the women have a sexy bounce, failing to register his presence and following eyes. He recognizes that he is years beyond being of interest to the likes of them. Just as well, he had caused his wife enough grief the last time.
More slowly, old couples or singles stumble by. Some are pushed in wheel chairs. A wizened old woman, nearly bent double with age, takes tiny, faltering steps, leaning hard on her cane.
A careworn couple shepherds a lumpish, mentally handicapped son along. He is in his twenties, a burden for life, grimacing at passing shoppers and making loud grunts. This causes others to clear a wide path. John is sorry for them, but returns to musing on the joys of his own inexorable decrepitude.
He is jerked from his melancholy by an old lady with a large shopping trolley. “Can I squeeze in?”
The Somali obligingly stands up, moving his parcel onto his vacated chair, without breaking his conversation. John quickly moves his left arm and knee, as the woman’s enormous buttocks descend into the neighboring seat, threatening to jar his sore limbs. The three connected chairs wobble as she settles in.
They sit in silence for a moment. John notices that she must be at least ten years older than he. Her trolley appears to have some special stability, allowing her to use it like a Zimmer frame. He feels obliged to say, “It’s good to get a rest. This place is far too big. I see that some people have those electric mobility scooters to help them get around.”
“Yes I have one of those, but in some of the smaller shops you have to clamber out to enter. Getting in and out of the thing is the hardest part. So what’s the point?”
“Oh, I’d never thought of that.”
She produces a small polypropylene bottle of the dreaded Coke from her bag. “Do you think you could open this? It’s too tight for me.”
He takes it, wondering whether the soreness in the base of his thumb will allow him to grip it strongly enough. Fortunately, it twists off without much pain, his sense of masculinity intact. “Yes they make everything too tight. There you go.”
She sips a little Cola. Unexpectedly, based on the tenuous link of his helping her, she launches into her weary tale. “Two years ago my husband had a prostate operation. It really made him miserable. We’d been married for fifty years and he changed completely.”
Sorry for her, he tries to look sympathetic and softens his voice. “Oh dear. I know quite a few people who have had that. It brings traumatic changes and suffering.” He is about to tell her of the recovery of friends to a semblance of normality, but she ploughs on.
“Yes he couldn’t accept it. We used to like dancing and country walks. He was always the life and soul of the party. He hated the catheter in him and had to empty the bag around his ankle every hour.”
John sees that behind her glasses, her eyes are red from crying. He thinks, ‘Poor woman, she must be desperate to talk to share these intimacies with a stranger. I guess there are always people worse off than we are.’
Her story pours out. “Two weeks ago, he left the house and they found him at the bottom of a bridge. It was terrible. A policeman knocked on our door with the news. I had to attend the inquest.”
In shock at how grim this has become, John struggles for something to say, his pains forgotten. He only manages a trite and wholly inadequate, “Oh how awful for you! I’m so sorry.”
Her voice trembles a little. “He was seventy-nine. They said he pulled an empty trash bin onto the bridge and climbed on it to get over the railing. The verdict was suicide.”
She seems surprised by the coroner’s ruling. It makes sense to John, but he realizes she is in a state of confusion.
“He used to pay all the bills. I never dealt with banks and checks. Now, I don’t know what to do about everything.”
Concerned, John asks her whether any relatives are around to help her. Wistfully, she says, “My son lives a hundred miles a away in Kent. We don’t see each other much, because it’s so far, but he came up for the inquest and the funeral.”
Aware that it is a question that might elicit more distress, but might just help, John gambles. “Do you have grandchildren?”
“Yes, my grandson is a doctor in Canterbury.”
He attempts to lighten a hopelessly depressing conversation. He thinks of his own nieces who are dedicated young doctors, devoted to the wellbeing of others. “He must be very clever to have studied to be a doctor. Very few succeed in getting that qualification.”
“Yes, but I don’t see him much either. It’s a busy job. If I phone him to say I have a sore toe, he tells me to go to the doctor.”
They sit in silence for a few moments. John wracks his brains for something else he can say. There is nothing. His heart is in his boots with sorrow for the poor woman. He yearns to give her the hug she so badly needs, but that is alien to the culture they both come from.
Deeply depressed, he thinks about his own future. Finally, he gives up saying, “Ah well, I’d best go find my wife.”
As he struggles back to his feet his pains return. He sees a young woman taking his vacant seat and the older woman speaking to her. ‘Poor girl, she is about to hear the same sad story. The old woman needs to tell people, I doubt if it can do much to help.’
John staggers a few steps forward, as his stiff legs resume some semblance of walking. He ponders which direction to follow.
Out of the store, he might find a bridge. What if he were to hit a passing car? The distress and psychological shock for the driver would be horrible. What if there were children in the car? What if someone were injured?
A deep lock on the nearby canal could do the trick. Drowning would be dark and cold at first, but he remembered the seductive warmth from a bathing incident as a child. He vividly recalled that after the lung tearing pain of breathing in the water, he had felt a serenity and peaceful warmth. The lifeguard had pounded his chest back into life and he had coughed up water. ‘That hurt. You have to do it right. How to avoid that? Tying a stone round my neck maybe?’
What of his wife? He loves her. Unlike the lady in the next seat, she is the one who manages their finances and bills. She is strong. Does she need him? He is becoming a burden to her.
She might blame herself. How would she feel? Should he walk back into the shop to find her? If he were not there, no one would help put the groceries onto the checkout conveyor.
His suffering joints seem to be dragging him towards the floor. His heart is already down in his shoes. He reaches a decision. He takes the first lurching step forward.
When the Saints go Marchin’ in
A vitriolic short story about we Gringos in Costa Rica.
I wrote this in an afternoon, because I was bored waiting for editorial feedback on my latest book. It is a satire and refers to no known people living or dead. If you know Evelyn Waugh's 'Black Mischief, it is my attempt at that style.
2016-On the veranda of Pete and Carolyn’s house over looking the Central Valley
“I’d like you all to drink a toast to John and Joan. We, the other expats on the hill, welcome you both to Calle Mora. We hope you’ll have many happy years here.”
All raise their glasses and drink. “To John and Joan!”
John, a big red-faced Texan, wearing shorts that fit him fifty pounds back in time and showing off his varicose veins to best advantage, replies with a beaming smile. “Well thanks everyone. We feel really welcome. Joan and I’ll get round y’all to see how we can fit in and maybe help the community.”
John confides in a small group of men who nod sympathetically. “We came here because it’s cheaper than Houston. Property seemed especially reasonable. We liked the idea of free healthcare at low cost. They told us the climate was perfect, though the winds last week were a little high.”
The following week, Joan a bleached blonde on the anorexic side of thin, with the permanently surprised eyes of one too many facelifts, is sitting next to Cheryl at the ‘Cheeky Tica’s’ monthly women’s lunch club. So far she is pleased to discover that the women are mostly friendly and that they support various charitable causes.
The raucous babble of North American English is overwhelming. There are no Ticas there of course. The group’s name is merely to show how well its members think they have acclimatized to the local culture.
Joan likes to give compliments. “Say Cheryl, that necklace you’re wearing is really cute. I think that bit of polished concrete around the stone is very artistic. Did you get it locally?”
“Why no Joan. Cindy over there platted the cord from twine she bought from the Cabécar. They’re very poor aboriginals and live in the remote Chirripo mountains. She makes the stones herself from recycled floor tiles.
“We like to help the poor and the natives whenever we can. It doesn’t do to wear our real jewellery when the locals are so poor. Besides they might steal it. We keep mine in the safe, with Pete’s guns and his gold bars.”
“Yes, that’ s a good idea about the jewellery. I want to join in helping the Ticos too. Any places I should start looking, to give something to the locals?”
“Go talk to Janice, the lady to Cindy’s left. She has a big heart, and just about everything else. Come on. I’ll introduce you.”
They walk round to another table in the café. Janice, a very large woman with a booming voice is holding forth. She usually is. Her bosom obscures her half eaten chicharrones, (A Tico pork dish).
Joan and Cheryl have to await an opening. Eventually, there must be a tiny gap in Janice’s discourse. “Well, we sponsored 20 procedures on male dogs last month. Ticos prefer males as guard dogs, but they take no responsibility for them. Castration really is the only way to stop poor starving puppies dying on the street. We women prefer to neuter the males than to tackle the fewer females. We females suffer enough in life, don’t ya know. Castration also makes the dogs more placid.”
Just as Joan feels she is about to expire from standing there so long, Cheryl jumps in to the merest sliver of verbal space with the deftness of long practice. “Janice, this is Joan, she says she’d really like to help you with that.”
A delighted Janice pulls Joan into an empty chair. Joan looks around surprised, but Cheryl seems to have vanished into thin air. Joan spies her at a far table. ‘How did she do that?’
As the lunch breaks up, they all pose in groups for the obligatory 30 photos for Facebook. The same people appear every week somewhere, ‘Oohing and areing’ over their mutual admiration club.
There are lots of smug marrieds on Facebook, with multiple pictures of anniversaries, birthdays and all lovey dovey. The single women, like Janice, choose to publish pictures of their pets wearing silly hats and the like.
Many of the women are disaffected with politics in the US or Canada and publish political opinions or copies of artticles. They know in their hearts that their home country political problems are insoluble, so being in distant Costa Rica gets them away from the daily reality.
A month later, Joan and John are drinking whisky on the rocks, watching yet another spectacular sunset from their terrace. John moves on to beer, scarfing down his fifth slice of pizza. He is trying to speak between mouthfuls. Joan waits expectantly. He clears his mouth with a slurp from his can of Imperial, the most popular local brew. “Well this is what it’s all about. Look at that sun. How did you get on at the Caja today?”
“Oh Caja, the local universal healthcare, well the hospital was pretty crummy, but they let us into the system and its so cheap. Obviously, I kept our pre existing conditions away from them.
“The Ticos are as inefficient as everyone says they are. They only spoke Spanish and took hours over everything. It’s a good job Ronaldo the handyman was with me.”
“Yeh Joan, it is disappointing. They need us expats to employ them as builders, cleaners, gardeners and the like and yet they make it so hard for us. They tried to charge us for our workers’ Caja and labor taxes. At least we got out of that one. We didn’t pay our Mexicans’ taxes in the US. I’ll be damned if I’m paying here.”
She nodded sympathetically, “They can’t even fix the roads. Why should we pay tax? No one else here does.”
He grunted, readying himself for another gargantuan bite of pizza. “That’s right, and look at all we do for them with the dogs and English classes, supporting the orphanage an all that. The minimum they could do really is to employ English speakers and run the place more along US lines. At least we provided Spanish speakers for the Hispanics in the services in Houston.”
She looked sympathetically at him. “Well the girls tell me you can’t teach them anythin’. There so slow at the English classes. Jane said she tries to teach some of them yoga and meditation, she speaks Spanish you know.”
“Say Joan did ya hear that rumblin’? Oh God I felt a tremor!
Vulcanologist Doctor Jorge Rodriguez has been trying to warn the authorities for weeks about pressures and tremors he monitors in Volcan Poas. He calls the ministry, but they are unsympathetic. “Look Jorge, you’ve been wrong before. The Tourism Ministry produced their counter-evidence to yours.
“Too many of our friends’ businesses depend on the tourists coming to Costa Rica. I’m told to fire you if this story gets into the media. Believe me. It will be fine.
Dr Rodriguez glances again at his seismographs and then buries his head in his hands.
Down the hill a ways, in a rapidly darkening hovel with no electricity, Nicaraguans Maria 21, Pedro her husband and their four wide eyed, dirty children are going to bed hungry.
She complains bitterly, “El Gordo in the big car nearly killed us today, as we were walking up the hill. He was going so fast and didn’t even notice us. Little Gilbreth hurt his arm jumping into the ditch.”
“I’ll kill the Gringo, if I get the chance.”
“Santa Maria! Don’t talk like that in front of the kids Pedro. God will help us, if we pray enough.”
Joan is having coffee with Cheryl the next day. They are excitedly talking about the temblor, (tremor). She spots her gardener Luis, hacking chunks off her roses with a machete and screams at him. “Luis stop that, you idiot!”
She reverts to Spanish, telling him off. As she turns to Joan, neither of them notices his glaring at her rudeness in front of another Gringa.
He throws the machete down and fumes to himself in the shade of a palm tree, before resentfully resuming work. He needs the money. But one day she’ll pay for treating him like dirt.
He starts by sharpening his machette to a razor's edge, thinking as he makes the strokes on the stone. 'Why do gringos think it is fair and normal to be retired here and him still working at 66 years old and no pension in prospect? I heard that Gringos get straight to the front of the queue for medical treatment, even though they just arrived and never paid in before.'
Cheryl waves to some bushes that have been hacked about a bit. “Just look at those Joan! It’s like they’ve been ravished by a Brahma bull. These idiots aren’t gardeners they only know about coffee. I don’t know how many times I have to yell at him and he still doesn’t get it. I’ll have to get rid of him, but the last one was just as bad.”
At four in the morning, all the dogs for miles around start barking. With a roar like a thousand thunder claps, Volcan Poas explodes catastrophically. A huge pressure wave shocks all living things across the entire Central Valley.
A mile high jet of molten magma sears into the sky, and then vanishes as clouds of dust, gas and acid black everything out. The earth trembles and shakes. Magma, rocks and debris cascade down through the murk.
Dr Jorge and thousands of others are wiped from the face of the earth by the pyroclastic flow that sweeps away several villages in the valley at 120mph. It bypasses the hill by two miles, but violently shakes the ground for twenty minutes, like a nearby rumbling of a mighty goods train.
Molton rocks the size of houses hurtle for miles through the blackness of the dust, to land with crashing tumbling force. Houses vanish. Lives are snuffed out. Vehicles explode or are crushed into twisted metal.
Huge landslips block all routes to the area. The airports are inoperable, due to thick clouds of acid volcanic ash. There is no sun for weeks. Phones and cell phones do not work. All power lines are out. Water pipes empty. The whole of Central America is affected.
The Ticos all disappear down to their own homes. Their animals were dying. Crops withered and died in the choking acid darkness. They were a total loss.
Violent earth tremors cause further landslips and some of the gringo houses on the hill are enveloped. Two gringos leave to see if they can get help from down below. They fail to return.
Maybe 30 Expats gathered at Pete and Carolyn’s house. Several were choking with the acid dust, trying to breath though dirty rags. All were filthy. Every one of them was desperately thirsty. Some were ill from drinking contaminated creek water.
They looked to Freddy. He was always telling everyone he was the designated coordinator for the US Embassy, which sends out alerts every time a gringo is murdered, robbed or disappears. No one finds them helpful. He was wracked with pain and sobbing. He nursed a badly splinted arm in a grubby sling. He whined. “No one seems to care. Nothing from the Embassy, no vehicles can run with this dust. Maybe we should get down the mountain to the valley. There are people and food stores there.”
Pete brandished his Colt .45 automatic for emphasis. “You’re crazy. Any food down there’ll have been looted before now. I’m stayin’ right here with my own gold and supplies. Besides, we’ve been so good to the locals, they’ll be comin’ to help us soon. We must be practically saints to them. Still, if any of ‘em look dangerous, I can let em have it with this.”
There were some serious arguments. Freddy moaned at Pete. “Come on Pete, if you’ve got supplies we can share em, pool our resources, like the good Christians we always say we are. Like you said ‘saints’.”
Steeling himself, Freddy stepped towards Pete and held out his good hand for the gun. As others turned expectantly to Pete, he fired, once into the air. The next round went into the ground near Freddy’s feet, as he foolishly took a further step forward. “Fuck the Bible Freddy. Listen to the voice of my .45”
Freddy shrank back, looking at the dark black eye of the barrel. He half expected a lightening bolt to wipe Pete from the face of the earth, but God seemed busy eleswhere. Pete’s finger tightened on the trigger.
An hour earlier, the Ticos assembled below the hill. As usual word of the gringo gathering seemed to spread around.
Paulito built the house for Pete and did not like him. Pete had treated him without respect, barking instructions. Paulito said, “I know where there will be food and water. Follow me, I kept a key to the back gate.”
Under the cover of the commotion caused by Freddy and by Pete firing his gun, Paulito led the crowd of Ticos onto the property. Many were carrying sharp edged machetes. Their usual affable smiles were gone. They looked gray, hungry and desperate. Some women were carrying small children. One seemed to be dead, but the mother clutched it tight to her bosom.
Pete suddenly saw them emerging through the murk as a crowd of gray shadow people, like zombies. He spotted long machetes hanging down from some arms. Unhesitatingly, he started to empty the rest of his magazine into the new arrivals. He was loading another.
Several Ticos fell to the ground bleeding. A shotgun fired from somewhere in the mob. Pete collapsed, a look of disbelief on his face. He tried to hold in his torn open belly, as blood pooled around him.
His wife Carolyn ran to him shrieking. Pedro dragged her off him by one arm, holding her up so he could lop off her head with a one swing of his weapon.
Laura tried desperately to defend her wounded Gringo husband 20 yers her senior, as he lay bleeding and groaning in the dust. “ No, Stop! You know me. I am Tica. Joe is a good man. He helps you all. He believes in Jesus.”
A gray figure thrust his long blade into her belly and ripped upwards. Another repeatedly slashed down at Joe till he stopped twitching.
Some gringos tried to flee into the murk of the garden. The Ticos had fun flushing them out and hacking them open, butchering them amongst the ash in the yard. The screams finally subsided. The mountain rumbled.
That evening, in the quake resistant rooms of Pete’s house, the locals feasted on gringo stew, made with the water cache from his garage, adding some dried beans and rice. Pete’s housekeeper showed them where everything was stored and opened the safe. She helped herself to an emerald and diamond ring.It glinted dully on her finger in the gloom.
Pedro, the Nica, tucked a gold bar into his pants saying to Maria. “We can’t eat this, but we can bury it. Maybe it’ll be useful later. See! God did provide.”
She crossed herself and sucked the flesh from a fat rib. A week before, she had accepted 5,000 colones from El Gordo to feed her family. In return had demanded a disgusting act, too shameful to remember. She hoped this was his rib and gave it a lick.
A mangy starveling dog, neutered when Janice took it to the vet a month earlier, now happily gnawed on one of her huge thighbones, crunching it to get at the marrow. He seemed to remember this woman and gave a happy yelp.
When the Saints came marchin’ in, few of the Gringos were amongst their number.
Deaths and Dastardly Deeds at Gayhurst House
The honeyed stone magnificence of Gayhurst House rises majestically from the tranquility of its surrounding parkland. It lies not far from Britain’s busiest road, the M1, some fifty miles North of London.
Visitors comment that it is like arriving at Downton Abbey, as they cruise slowly up the long drive over the cattle grids and past the lakes.
Lambs gambol in the surrounding fields. Docile Red Poll cattle chew the cud and view passers by with stolid disinterest.
On the trimly manicured front lawn Jackdaws and the occasional wildfowl forage. The surrounding trees are home to Green Woodpeckers, Goldfinches and wagtails.
After appearing in the Doomsday Book, the Manor of Gayhurst’s history became more exciting than any TV soap opera. In the 16th Century, the property passed briefly through the hands of Sir Francis Drake, explorer, pirate and nemesis of the Spanish Armada.
In the 17th Century, Sir Everard Digby, a prominent gunpowder plotter lived here, before being bloodily tortured and executed for treason. His portrait and those of other prominent residents hang in the great hall of the House today.
Van Dyke painted Lady Venetia Digby. She married Sir Everard’s son, Sir Knelem Digby, a prominent member of King Charles II’s CABAL. Prior to that she was “une grande horizontale” in London.
During World War II Gayhurst was a second base to nearby Bletchley Park. Here translated the Nazi Enigma Codes for their U boats.
So you get the picture. Gayhurst is a really cool, bucolic place to live.
We awakened suddenly on Sunday morning after a neighbour’s dinner party the night before. Sleepily we sensed something was wrong. What could it be?
Rolling out of bed, I opened the curtains. The views of the splendid lawn, the pond and the unusual Queen Anne Church were there as always.
In the distance, fields and the far-off tree line looked especially impressive, lit by the morning sunshine. It was going to be another wonderful day, but something was not quite right?
Over our usual morning cuppa in bed we looked out across the vista. We noticed that there were no birds on the lawn. The Jackdaws were usually there, hopping about, seeking a breakfast of insects in the short grass. Then we realized why we had wakened late and with a strange feeling of foreboding. It was the sound of utter, mind numbing silence.
Normally the cooing of nesting doves and pigeons, in the roof valley outside our side window, wakened us at dawn. This could be mildly annoying and often we rolled over and went back to sleep. Our annoyance is always tempered by the belief that wild and feral birds have as much right to live as we do. Some of the doves and stray homing pigeons are quite beautiful, adding to the charm of the House.
On this day, we concluded that an occasional visiting hawk or Red tailed Kite may have scared them off. We prepared for a visitor from Scotland.
As often happens, the changeable English weather morphed into rain as our young guest arrived. She was full of enthusiasm about Gayhurst. As the young do, she took many pictures with her I-phone. The downpour became heavy, as we settled down for pre lunch drinks and a chat.
This was interrupted by a frantic knocking on our front door. Who could that be? Visitors and delivery drivers usually ring the bell downstairs. We were not expecting anyone.
When I opened the door, the neighbour from the apartment below stood, gasping and distressed. She was surprised by my usual perfunctory kisses on the cheeks, clearly in no fit state for social niceties. I felt insensitive for not recognizing her fraught state. “What ever’s the matter?”
“Is everything all right in your flat? We have water pouring through the ceiling downstairs.”
“Oh dear, there’s no water coming in here, maybe you should try next door?”
She went off. We thought there must be a leaking water pipe somewhere else in the house and enjoyed the rest of the day.
In the evening, we were a little surprised that the Jackdaws, which normally exchange banter with us from the top of our chimney via the fireplace, were strangely silent. We did hear strange scraping noises near the side window, next to our sitting room. Someone was working late on the roof. We still had not connected the dots.
Next morning, the birds were again absent. A friend called to say that someone had poisoned the birds.We were shocked that anyone would do such a terrible thing.
We were furious that anyone could be so cruel and stupid as to let them all die, suffering. Even in Spain, where the cruelty of bullfighting continues, they deal with excessive pigeon populations with contraceptive seeds, rather than poison.
Earplugs are a cheaper and ultimately more effective solution to the noise.
This morning, we feel that the Pigeons and Jackdaws may have the last laugh after all. New birds appear to be exploring the possibility of roosting in the ancient roof’s complex of nooks and crannies. A Jackdaw visits our chimney top to chat with us.
For our part, we think that maybe poison might be more appropriately used on some people rather than the wildlife. Now those idiots who arrive too drunk at night and noisily park on the gravel path outside the house might be high on my list, along with racists, homophobes, politicians and.......