My father and I like to bond over a beer or three in the shed at the back of my parents house. We have discussed many important topics over the years: best Beatles song of all-time (for me, this changes almost daily and is very much mood dependent, but we eventually both settled on Strawberry Fields Forever), The aesthetic appeal of TV’s Myf Warhurst (it is my assertion that she is a ravishingly beautiful woman, he is decidedly lukewarm towards her), as well as numerous other odds and ends that pertain to life, love and the human condition. Life itself has been solved within those four walls.
Recently however, my father asked a rather odd request of me. We were a few beers into proceedings, and were discussing the films of Ryan Gosling (go figure). He asked me if I would be interested in digging a grave for Jack. Jack, it should be mentioned, is the family dog, and a more loyal steed you could rarely hope for. Jack is almost fifteen years old, or 105 in dog years. My mathematics might be failing me, but the point remains: he’s old. The glue factory beckons. He is wheezy, he’s struggling to keep food down, he sleeps about twenty hours a day. Death is shaking a jangly fist in his direction, no doubt about it. The veterinarian claims that Jack won’t make it to Summer. He’s breaking down. Dad says that once his bag of dried food is empty, he’ll end Jack’s life. You can hear the reservation in dads voice when he says those words, almost like wants to say them out loud just to see how they sound. He doesn’t want to acknowledge that his old pal is in a steady and inevitable decline. It’s as if admitting Jack’s demise is somehow lending credence to his own mortality. Mum and Dad want the vet to come out and administer a lethal injection to Jack. They will then bury his carcass in the backyard.
That’s where I step in. I am the gravedigger in this scenario.
So, against my better judgment, I accept the strange request. Sunday morning arrives and the country sky is cloudless. Canaries chirp happily off in the distance somewhere. Dad hands me a shovel and points to an area of dirt over by the back corner of the property. I walk to it and commence digging. At one point, when I’m about waist deep into the grave and covered in sweat and clumps of soil, Jack approaches and looks at the hole. He then looks up at me with that quizzical, sideways tilt of the head thing that dogs do when perplexed. He then starts barking at me. It’s like he knows what’s going on. He senses that this ditch is for him and he doesn’t approve. He saunters away, struggling to catch his breath as he goes.
I call for my Dad when I’m about shoulder deep into proceedings, ask him if this is deep enough. “Bit more,” he says. “Just past your head would be great.”
I keep digging.
Jack was a great dog and an even better friend. I remember when we brought him home for the first time, February the 6th, 1999. My Mum and brother picked him up and brought him back in a milk crate. He spent the first two weeks sleeping out the front of my room. My parents put newspaper down. He howled most of the night for those first two weeks.
Rest in peace, Old Pal.