Although we had both been sent away at six, for my cousin and I, despite now being the grand old age of seven, the new boarding school was something of a challenge. Never mind the over new uniforms with vast hems that shouted ‘new girls’, or being train sick on the way down, or petrified that we might have lost our teddy bears in the luggage transfer, it was supper that proved our undoing. Cocoa! And not just cocoa, but cocoa with a nice thick immoveable skin.
My cousin, who had already endured many vicissitudes in her young life, was a brave little girl, but faced with the cocoa and its immovable skin, she became paralysed just by the sight of it, unable to even lift the cup to her lips. Time passed, the other little girls were sent to bed. All of a sudden it seemed we were doomed to stay in front of the wretched cocoa until hell freezed over – and surely there was bound to be cocoa there too, the Devil busily making sure that there was a nice thick skin on it? Suddenly, the dining room door opened and in walked a Senior Girl, tall, dark and beautiful – why were we still there? Above the sound of my cousin’s sobs I explained the crisis. Senior Girl gave a ravishing smile, picked up both our cups walked to the window and threw the wretched mixture into the shrubbery outside. Tears ceased, she opened the dining room door and we flew up to the dormitory to find our teddies, and never, ever, ever to forget her kindness.
Time passed, as it is wont to do. We all grew up, and went our very different ways, until one day word came to me that she had lost a very, very beloved pug. Now I had just adopted a rescue pug, called Henry, who had become so rapidly beloved that the idea of losing him was almost inconceivable. Senior Girl’s sister told me that she was in terrible grief. Never a one to leave people alone when they are grieving, I rang her up, and we talked for a long time. All the usual criticisms had been levelled at her in her grieving state, inevitably by non-dog lovers. The first and most often repeated was ‘it’s only a dog’ swiftly followed, by ‘oh well you can get another one’, and ‘it’s not like you’ve lost a child.’ Well no, quite, but that’s not the point.
Now here’s a thing. I find I really have to pass on human beings who don’t love dogs. Of course I respect them, but I can’t love or even really like them, and I don’t suppose dogs can either. I have tried, and in the trying I have come to realise that the reason they don’t like dogs is that dogs are prettier or more handsome than them. Yes, even pugs are prettier than human beings. Pose the loveliest model beside a pug, and guess who everyone is going to be looking at in the picture? Not the model. None of this I confided to Senior Girl, we only talked loss, and how each dog is so different, and how they have the souls of angels if you treat them right, and even if you don’t they still try to love you, no matter what. They don’t realise that other people don’t feel as they do about you, they don’t criticise you, and they don’t envy you. They are thrilled to see you, and heartbroken when you have to leave them to go to sleep at night.
All this talk, like hearing a Consolation by Liszt was a little healing, but did not bring back Senior Girl’s beloved pug. Finally we wondered why we dog lovers put ourselves through the inevitable cycle of loss and birth, time and time again? We came to the conclusion it is because we love to be loved. This simple thought seemed to make up her mind; she would definitely get another dog. Of course I am hoping she will call him Cocoa, or at the very least Bean. I might even suggest it, but I would never tell her why.