The last of the melting snow

Sitting in the damp light of a late grey April, I can see the final place of your passing. It’s a lighter brown than the darker soil around it, the unearthed clay we returned last still visible, dense and knotty. Some of it fans out beyond the border, reaching out into the green of the lawn, doing what earth does: spreading, reclaiming. It seems impossible that we stood here five weeks ago, our own little knot of grief, but there we are: time has a habit of passing.

You’d probably be happy to know that the garden is alive with birds – emboldened by your continued absence: fat pigeons, pulling on their braces as they waddle towards one another, gangs of warring starlings, pecking in patterns too abstruse for us to grasp, the ridiculous rippling angles of a nuthatch on the fence. The tulips are up on the borders, chins to the sky; the camellia bush beside you is electric red; even the air is denser – denser with the mystery of spring’s great thickening. It’s rained so much that your run along the back alley is a mulch: hazel catkins, acorn litter, unknowable freight from the upper reaches of the valley. Big Dave has stopped by a couple of times. He eyes us suspiciously, wondering what we’ve done with you and I wonder if he, the birds, the creeping shrews, still sense you, still smell the great labours of your scent mappings. An olfactory haunting.

A light rain has started. It’s hanging in the air rather than falling: a veil of soft vapour. It’s been that kind of month. It’s hard to believe now, but it snowed the day after you passed. We looked into the garden, turned into a new room by the snow, and we worried we’d not be able to find you again. We thought of you under the earth and didn’t want to admit we were worried about you being cold. But somehow the snow forced us to pause; and while we marvelled at the newly shrunken, anechoic world, we gathered ourselves and made some sense of things.

It had gone like this: L called when I was still at school. You know the cause of the calls before you hear the words: the panic of caught breath, the audible ache in the throat. You were at the vet’s, awake, but already fading, approaching the distant twilight reaches. They said it was the internal damage. That your back legs were cold. They needed the nod, which we gave because, well, what else were we supposed to do? We did the hardest thing, which was to tell J&R: your partners in all this, your very best of friends. Your closeness was a profound alchemy, a closeness that goes beyond what we forgetful adults can remember. The news broke them, as we knew it would, as we always knew it would; but it also created a sacred space for us to share, one of the little miracles of a life lost.

When I came to collect you, the vet suggested I come to the side door. She brought you out in a frayed towel and all I could think at the centre of this madness was how heavy you were, how warm. Your last home was ready by the time I returned, the clay oddly disturbing in its exposed redness. We stood in a huddle around you, a little parcel, heavy with the gravity of your leaving. We murmured soft incantations, waiting for you to wake up. And there, in the thinning light, sharing soil, holding, holding, we let you go.

Looking out now I think of you under the great wheel of the sky. The chatter goes on above, the mad scurry of life. The days pass so quickly it’s a wonder sometimes that we hang on. In the hurtle of it all, you have become our little earthen comma, a marker curled there in the soil, our fixed point in the mad arc of the seasons.

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