Today, the last of the Zaltzman dogs died.
The first of the Zaltzman dogs died early in the morning on 13th November 1997 (yes, I remember the date, shuddup). All over the lawn there were dark patches in the grey frost, one for each time she had lain down to die. And each time my mother had brought her inside, anxious to keep her alive through the night lest we thought she’d deliberately killed the dog whilst we slept.
The vet committed the final dispatch, invoiced for the service with dispassionate efficiency, and I went to work.
“I’ve buried both of my parents,” said one of the customers, “but you never get over a dog.” He was a retired policeman and WW2 POW, so he’d seen some things; but you never get over a dog.
Later that day my boyfriend was punched in the face and mugged, but everyone continued to be more concerned about the dog.
The second of the Zaltzman dogs died in January 2002 while I was away at university. To raise my spirits, I bought the best sandwich from the best sandwich shop and took it to the best bench in the best park.
An alive dog approached.
It gently lifted the sandwich from my hands.
It jogged off with my sandwich.
CURSE YOU GOD, WHY DO YOU ALWAYS TAKE THE GOOD ONES?
Today, the third Zaltzman dog died after living far longer than expected. For a long time my parents have insisted that she will be the last Zaltzman dog. They want the freedom to travel, they say, but I wonder whether it’s just too much of a risk to allow that emotional attachment again when every 12-15 years the dog dies.
Perhaps they will waver, because for the first time since 1984 there won’t be a dark furry shape standing blocking the television screen, standing in the doorway refusing to budge, standing under the dining table waiting for food to fall. There’ll be no reason to do a lap of the garden in the midnight rain, waiting for the dog to urinate; nor to maintain a collection of chewed tennis balls on the living room floor. Nobody will headbutt the newspaper I’m reading to get attention; nobody will hide cushions in the garden; nobody will continue digging the mysterious pit in the flowerbed by the front door; nobody will fart on my hand while I try to prune the dreadlocks from their back legs (add ‘hopefully’ to all these, because I can’t predict what turns life will take). There’ll be no benign snuffling presence allowing me to pretend that I’m not alone in the room, because today the last of the Zaltzman dogs died.