Amy Tries Again

The Tale Of Higgins – or – I Think It’s A Poem
March 5, 2014, 9:45 PM
Filed under: Dangerously Close To Sentiment, Miscellanea

We had this dog.

Here’s some poetic preambulation: his name was Higgins, and he was a liver-spotted Dalmatian.
If you’ve never encountered that particular variety of the creature
Think regular Dalmatian – except instead of black, the spots are sort of…bleachier. He was white and brown.
He was a good dog.

Anyway, as a kid I was so enamoured with this fellow and his dots
I’d drag him to a mud puddle and paint on extra spots.
He just stood there patiently in a state of canine zen
– put a spot over here, or two, or ten –
thoroughly untroubled by human cares
And although he never, ever, ever quite managed to figure out where your voice was coming from when you called him from upstairs

He was a good dog. He wasn’t bright
But he was a good dog.

One night
back when he was a tiny wriggly puppy he’d squirmed out from the back of a moving car
and he’d had to be rescued from the middle of a busy freeway
Now although, in the circumstances, his survival was really nothing short of miraculous
Forevermore his walk was stiff and his brain was somewhat…vacuous.

We loved him.
When Higgins and I were both in our teens, I had spots as well
But whilst puberty was making my life a living hell
He had entered his autumn years. He was a happy dog,
pottering around (unable to ever figure out the source of a non-immediate sound)
in dementia’s increasingly thick fog

but he was cared for
and he was content.

He liked routine. Of course he did. Most old men do.
The vital, self-evident truths of being that in his heart he knew
were these:
and how to go for a walk.

Every morning, my mother took him the same way – so in his mind
that’s just. how things. were done.
when one
afternoon a schoolfriend left the gate ajar
our old man vanished.
It wasn’t like him. But before our search had gotten very far
before my mother had even had the time to properly visualise poor Higgins writhing in a ditch in agony after being hit by a particularly violent non-fuel efficient car
he was back
collected from a woman living several blocks away
who spotted him winding through the same streets she saw him on each day
and thought to herself: perhaps he shouldn’t be out.

You see
faced with the prospect of an open gate
Something had clicked: Higgins had thought – wait.
If that thing’s open… there’s something I should be doing. Something…outside…
And he’d mustered up a determined (if slightly rickety) stride
and taken himself off on his officially designated path
With grim determination best described as dogged
He’d retraced all the miles he’d ever…logg-ed.

A few months more, and he was getting older faster
He wouldn’t eat much. His appetite was there
but his teeth and gums rather suddenly didn’t fare
too well against proper food
My uncle the vet
advised us gently that the sun would shortly set.

Oh, give him a few weeks, we couldn’t help but wheedle
Just wait a month – perhaps we ought, before we resort to the finality of the needle
After all, his tail still wags, he trots about
We can always mash his food before we set it out.

Now, at the time
The inevitable demise of a geriatric Dalmatian was not the most dramatic thing that had been
occurring to the family at number nineteen
My parents weren’t happy, and there had been fighting
I might just point out here that as at the time of writing
It’s been 15 amicable years since they split
And the idea of them having been married at all is a bit

So if the whole impending broken home thing makes you sad
– well, you’re a sweetheart, bless you –
But everyone was much, much happier afterwards
so don’t let it distress you.

Anyway. There was a bit of shouting going on
it was Saturday, at lunch time, and all of the fresh bread was gone
So Mum was multitasking
by pulling some from the freezer whilst arguing with my father

I don’t know what it was about, but I do know
That in a moment of frustration she threw the icy bag of wholemeal sliced down the stairs below
And fueled by anger at her soon-to-be former spouse
the loaf landed
in the zone
to those who live in Queenslanders as

And there, with the washing machine and the tools and the potter’s table from my mother’s craft phase and my old dollhouse and this weird bit of concreting that was quite fun to skateboard down because for some reason it was on a slope
There stood the dog for whom we had given up much hope.

And an odd thing happened. The second that bread hit the ground
he started eating it
And the argument trailed off
and everyone just stood there watching Higgins scoff
The bread
with the enthusiasm of an tiger rarely fed
He devoured the lot
and looked around for more
and my parents smiled as they worked it out – the cold had soothed his jaw
It seemed that Higgins need not yet be killed
After all, he could manage any food now, so long as it was extra chilled.

It bought him some time, a few more good weeks
But you get to the point where you stop and you think: that’s it. He’s not having fun
Or at least not enough to avoid what must be done.

I’m making it sound like I had a say, or that I made some sort of mature decision
I didn’t: I was fourteen
everything my parents said provoked derision
I wanted Higgins to stay
But I did understand why he couldn’t. Okay.

As I said, my uncle was the vet
So, fortunately, we didn’t have the trauma of loading up our pet
into the car for that final journey
No, it was to be a civilised affair
At home
and we would bury him in the backyard.

Look, I won’t pretend it isn’t sad
to hang around and watch your dad
digging a hole in which to put the canine buffoon
who is tottering happily around the yard
wagging his tail at the proceedings
and generally having a pleasant afternoon.

The grave was finished. Was it time?
A soothing cup of tea – and then
the arrival of Uncle Ken
meant another
and all the while the mood on the veranda was grim
and heavy with delay
It was not a good day.

But poor, stupid Higgins, wandering around
listening to our voices, but baffled as to the source of the sound
lost his footing
and stumbled

He stood there, uninjured, looking up
not entirely sure where he was, but cheerful
while the rest of us were fraught.

My Uncle Ken is a practical sort
‘I could just do it here’ he said
‘It does look like he’s fairly keen.’
I don’t mean
to make my family sound at all cruel
but looking down at that liver spotted fool
standing happily in his own grave
someone started to laugh.

I don’t know who was first
but it spread
and the terrible, sombre mood shifted
and the dog who would be imminently dead
was lifted
from his tomb

and farewelled
and dispatched
and put back in.

Maybe none of these things were ever funny
maybe they were only ever sad
but I’m glad
we knew that stupid, lovely fellow
And I’d like to thank him for the gifts.

Oh, he didn’t know what he was doing:
but just think of it: in remembering the day I realised that my parents’ marriage was dead
I also have this happy thought about a dog eating a piece of bread

and the memory of the day my childhood pet died
well, that doesn’t pass
without me laughing at his final hours descending into poorly written sitcom farce.

So here’s to Higgins. A good dog.
He wasn’t bright.
But somehow he could make things
just a bit less
not alright.


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