Years and years ago, the world’s fattest, most annoying dog appeared, out of nowhere, on my parents’ front doorstep. Having just gotten rid of the world’s most stupid dog (to the Grim Reaper) they were – understandably- reluctant to take on another pooch. However, as often happens with stray dogs - particularly greedy, tenacious stray dogs - one night became two, became 7, became 10 years.
Throughout this time, the dog – now named Billy – got bigger and fatter and more annoying with every passing day. Which didn’t stop the Boy from adoring him; on the contrary, his abnormally high levels of irritation seemed to appeal to the Boy, who delighted in particular in feeding him whole, raw potatoes.
Years passed, and Billy eventually got so
annoying sick that he was, last year – more perhaps? – given a
one-way ticket to the great potato patch in the sky. His absence under our feet
at the dinner table during visits to Dublin was explained by “holidays”. “He’s on his holidays,” I’d say, when asked,
on a loop, where Billy was. “Still on
holidays,” I’d say, 6 months later.
Not that the Boy’s queries were confined to our visits to Dublin; periodically he’s brought up – in memory only – here. (He was, however, responsible once for literally bringing up his predecessor; the memory of him gambolling about with something – what is he holding? Oh sweet Jesus... – in his mouth is one which will haunt me forever. Let that alone serve as a warning to NEVER bury a dog in a shallow grave in a back garden. Remember: Even fat dogs can dig.)
Months having passed since the last enquiry, I assumed that Billy has finally been forgotten. Then last night, while discussing a forthcoming trip to Dublin: “We’ll see Billy!!”.
I decided it was time to tell him the truth. We’ve spoken about death ALOT so I figured there wouldn’t be too much explaining to do.
“Billy is dead, sweetheart. He died a long time ago.”
“Why did he die?”
“He got very old, and his body stopped working, and he died.”
“Why did his body stop working?”
“It just did. So, back to Dublin. Who else...”
“Where is he now?”
“He’s dead honey.”
“Yes, but where IS he?”
“His body is buried in the garden.” (Will they never learn?)
“When he died Pops buried his body in the garden.” [Actually, thinking about it I think they had him cremated. I know! A dog! Either way, we were always going to hit a sticky spot here.]
“He’s BURIED in the GARDEN??? HOW WILL HE GET OUT?”
[At which point I realised, notwithstanding having been through this dozens of times already, he still doesn’t get it. Not that it’s the easiest concept to get, of course, but I thought by now he’d at least grasped the fundamentals.]
“He won’t. When you’re dead you don’t move any more. You go to sleep and never wake up.”
“Do you have dreams?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Your brain has stopped working. All of your body stops working. So it’s like sleep, but forever.”
“And THEN what happens??”
“Um... you sort of... [cough]... melt into the ground and then... [splutter]... turn into soil.”
[OhGodohGodohGod. Then: brainwave!] “It’s the circle of life. Like in The Lion King. You start from nothing then go back to nothing.”
[By now I am wishing that I could melt into the ground and turn into soil]
“Do you remember before you were born?”
[He looks at me sideways. I know and he knows - and he knows that I know - that he can barely remember yesterday]
“Well, it’s like that. Before you were born you didn’t exist. And after you die, you don’t exist.”
“I won’t essist?”
“Will you essist?”
“Nobody will essist?”
And so ended another traumatic bed-time chat.
Or so I thought. This morning, he was lying on his bed, pjs off, tugging on his willy.
“Willy, someday you won’t essist. You will get old and stop working and then I’ll bury you in the garden.”
I think we might be back to square one.