Wednesday, 13 October 2010

As the Old World Slips Sadly By. (A short story of a dog)

I remember watching from the train as it rumbled into the station, the bill board advertisements rolling past the carriage window, slowing to a halt in front of a London transport emblem with the name Bromely-By-Bow sitting neatly inside of it. I was immediately struck by the way the whole underground station had changed. It left an ominous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The place had under gone a total face-lift, causing me complete bewilderment. It looked clean and modern, so different from the dirty run down place I had once known. I felt robbed of something when my quest had only just begun.

Never mind, many people had had the same feeling, at least once in their lives, when trying to recapture an old memory that just wasn't going too well. It was certainly happening to me on this particular day as I vacated my seat and went to the train doors with my faithful old dog, Peggy, following. She was fifteen years old and I was beginning to realise that sadly things change. Not always for the better. The Old World, that was shaped by beings you loved and accepted - took for granted, began to disappear. You realised that missing loved ones and the mundane little things, which reminded you of them caused remorse.

I looked down at Peggy as the automatic doors slid open, she was extremely old by this time and my grandfather's sudden death had shocked me, forcing me to ponder the fact that the 'little boy world' I grew up in, had changed. It was my Grandfather who bought her for me as a pup when I was Five years old.

"Here y-y-you are. N-N-Now look after her." I always remember the way he stuttered and even now I can picture him saying this as the playful pup wiggled her tail joyfully.

There was a heart wrenching lump in my throat as she laboriously led her front legs on to the platform and then followed with the rest of her fat body. When the task was complete she gazed up at me with her glassy sad eyes as the tube doors slid shut and the train rolled off. For a second I thought she knew what was going through my mind. She loved me as much as I loved her and we were bonded by a lifetime of memories.

There were certain things I had to deal with myself - I was twenty years of age and was compelled by a sudden and unyielding urge to recapture the era of my childhood, which was spent playing on the building debris around Teviot street in East London's Poplar district. Peggy would be devotedly by my side all of the time. She would be happily charging around with my gang of dirt-encrusted friends who played in the fantasy world we had created for ourselves amid the wrecked, dilapidated and abandoned houses.

As Peggy and I walked along the station platform towards the exit, I thought of those fine old days and how once upon the debris with friends, it would not be long before we were playing some game from a story we might have been seen on the television. The ideas were infinite, or so they seemed, and although Peggy did not perhaps know - sometimes she played important character roles in the worlds we children invented for ourselves. She could be a super horse from a John Wayne cowboy film, (though we did not try to ride her, for we knew she could not take the weight.) Or she was sometimes a monster from a William Hartnell Doctor Who story. The roles were endless and Peggy, oblivious to the game's meaning, eagerly played them for us. She had bought so much pleasure to me but I knew the lovable bitch was soon going to depart from my world.

"Come on Fatty," I whispered gently and she immediately responded by dropping her sad head and waddling her fat body beside me. I was constantly adjusting my pace for her over the last few months. Before, she was always wandering off ahead of me, sniffing around at her little things of interest then stopping to give me a tempestuous look that said. "Come on Slowcoach." She was so wonderful and her look was for me alone - or at least I happily indulged myself in this belief.

The building debris, I knew, would not be there. However, the flats where I lived would. Perhaps when confronted with the sight of these Peggy and I would briefly be able to escape back into the world of our childhood when the wretched and derelict houses were wondrous castles, full of majesty. The endless rubble of bricks and dust were serene rolling meadows with red Indians hiding behind each mound - a Peter Pan world that existed in the mind's eye of a child. Perhaps, for an instant, we would be able to run around with the other children that still played there – in our memories.

We continued our stroll, to the end of the railway platform, and came against a set of stairs that I could not recollect. Peggy, sensing my displeasure, sat down and looked up at me with sad enquiring eyes. She did not appear fanciful to climbing them, but we had come this far to get back into our special world.

"It's pointless getting all this way and going for the big turn-around Peg," I whispered. "The rest of the gang will be there waiting for us. You don't want to miss them do you?"

She stood resignedly, and gave her tail a little enthusiastic wag that told me she was still game for the rest of the journey, so I bent down and scooped her flabby body into my strong willing arms. She did not protest - in fact there might have been a slight feeling of relief in her. With complete ease I carried her up the stairs and gingerly lowered her when reaching the top. We then proceeded to the ticket barrier and out onto the dusty main road, where the air was thick with the pollution of car exhaust. Again, more change. The new road was much wider and unrecognisable as the traffic zipped by - nonchalant blurs spreading ripples of change in the form of sound, sight and smell - all alien to Peggy and myself.

"Nothing familiar girl," I said.

She looked up and gave a mild snort as though disapproving of things too and waddled along beside me. We walked on until we came to Teviot street with a near by block of flats called Tweed house standing on the corner. They, at least, were unchanged. The street was blocked off so that traffic could not turn into it from the duel carriageway - another minor change, but then maybe for the better. Gratefully we turned into the less-busy back street, away from the noisy highway. The noise of the uncaring traffic soon faded away and the buildings had the old familiar look on one side of the road. All of the old blocks were there, including the ones where I lived, but on the other side, where the debris had been, stood maisonettes that had been built since Peggy and I had moved from the area.

However, the grass lawns behind the old flats were still invitingly there and it was to this place that Peggy and I gratuitously walked. It was one of the playing areas that we had gladly roamed as youngsters. Perhaps we could find distant echoes here of the old fantasy world, if I thought hard and closed my eyes tightly enough. Like two long-lost adventurers, at last returning home, we walked amid the vaguely evocative surroundings. We had returned to our own infantile, make believe world, drinking in the sights that were reminiscent. I spoke to Peggy all the time, trying to bring across the significance that the place held for me - thinking that if she realised this, she would then travel along in the same fantasy with me. After all, it was her world as well as my own and in my heart - I dearly wanted her too. Then it could be a little special thing that would thrill and warm my unique old friend.

Upon reaching the decrepit housing blocks, where we once lived, we stopped and sat down upon the grass. Peggy flopped on to her belly panting away with her wet sticky tongue hanging out of her open mouth. She appeared to be enjoying the excursion, but looked as though she may have reached her excitement limit for one day. Could it be that she remembered the sombre though once happy place. For an instant, she lost that sad old closed mouth look and appeared younger again. Suddenly her greying snout was gone and she was my friend from past summer days, sitting with me eating a fruit flavoured ice-lolly on long hot summer afternoon, during the end of term, school holidays.

"There we are Peg," I said. "You can remember can't you? Can you feel it girl? Can you see the rest of the gang? They're all there!"

"Woof!" Her unexpected reply excited me. It was as though she knew I expected something from her and this was the best she could offer. It meant everything to me and I thought nothing else Peggy could do would surpass it. Yet she did! She stood and looked towards the direful buildings - my heart leaped in wondrous excitement.

"That's it Peggy, you're there now aren't you girl? Can you feel it?" I urged her onwards wanting to see some sign of recognition.

"Woof!" she responded, to the sight of the dirty flats, louder then before. I was certain she could feel something akin to what I was searching for.

"Woof!" Again, this time turning her head and looking back along the grass area from where we had just walked – it was as though there was a remote recollection of her surroundings.

"Woof! Woof!" she went with a bounce on her front paws as though she was about to take - off.

The emotions, from Peggy's outburst, flowed through me with an uncompromising passion, leaving a swelling in my throat and bringing tears to my incredulous eyes. Then, through my watery smear filled vision, coupled with an unearthly feeling that had a strange comfort to it, I suddenly saw myself as a small boy, running and skipping through the brick dust, while near to me a young black mongrel bitch dashed about excitedly. We were back! In a world where adults did not exist and no one ever died. Ahead was the castle - the debris castle where all the gang would be preparing a sugar-filled feast for Peggy and me. We slowed down at a mound, to walk by cautiously, just in case John Wayne's Indian enemies were hiding, or William Hartnell's Daleks were lurking.

As we neared our castle I spied a figure standing between us and our destination - a boy in dishevelled looking clothes. He looked as though he was from a time that was well before my childhood. The way children looked in the old black and white photos of the nineteen twenties. He was standing there with a morose and anaemic looking white face, ghostly - bewildered, while clutching a bunch of broken dead Dandelion flowers. There was a morbid serenity about him combined with rubble, piled as far as the eye could see and a dull apocalyptic sky.

The apparition sent a tingle down my spine, while Peggy, like all puppies, put her tail between her legs and hid behind my feet. Our young selves stopped before him, knowing he would have something to say. The phantom boy looked at me with his ice blue eyes, peering deep into my soul.

"You can't go any further, but P-P-Peggy can." He stuttered with the voice of my Grandfather. It chilled me to the very bone as I began to recognise the contours of the boy's face in the world where everyone remained young, the place of memories.

I jolted back to the welcoming arms of reality. Old Peggy had stopped her barking. Her mouth was closed and her sad look was back as she sat there regarding me with lovable watered, cow eyes. It was a posture that said. "There it's all done. Now, can we go home?"

My heart swelled, only to be mercifully deflated by my tears that flowed unashamedly for her. I knelt down and kissed her snout. She had just been indulging me. She knew that, somehow, I expected her to do something in response to my chattering. I wondered whether I had done the right thing by bringing her back to this place at such a time of life, just to search for a child's fantasy-world, which had perished long ago.

"I'll always love you Peggy and you'll always live here and many other places that are special." I poked my head with my finger – where dreams live.



She died four days later. I woke up on that fateful morning and she was lying there in her basket, looking as young as I remembered her. I wanted the world to stop turning. I hoped that time could stand still to stop her passing from my world. It was a hurt that I did not want to end as long as it made me think of her. Perhaps she was playing in the land of brick-dust and building rubble, running around as happy as she had always been. Now days, I still see her there, when closing my eyes tightly enough. Although with time's thrashing, her sweet memory seems more kindly and bearable – for a short time.

C.A. Powell

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