Brown

When our dog Jumble died my mother couldn’t bring herself to tell my father when he came home from work, and got me to do it instead. I waited for him and caught him on his way to the back door. My father guessed what it was before I told him, and reared away from me, shying like a horse, and went for a walk alone in the garden.

      Jumble was a poodle, black and pure bred, not a jumble at all; he was named after the dog in Richmal Crompton’s William books. His blackness made him difficult to photograph so I have to make do with what I remember of him, that he was always around, like William’s dog: out in the garden with us, going for walks with my parents, once, terrifyingly, chasing sheep near my grandparents’ house in Ireland. I still have the special poodle scissors that my mother used to trim him; once she brought him to be clipped professionally and got him back as a different dog, completely out of character, with bare feet, a fluffy topknot and a pompom on his tail.

      A few years ago my brother, who did not usually go in for spontaneous presents, gave me a notepad with a drawing of a black poodle called Charlie on the cover. This Charlie looks very like Jumble, although a little too supplicating, not a likely chaser of sheep. It was years since I had thought of Jumble and I was moved by the present; when he gave it to me my brother turned half away, like my father, as if embarassed.

      The poodle scissors, the notebook and the William books are still there, but I don’t know of anyone else who would remember Jumble. We had cats too, of course, many cats: Phoebe was the first (I had been reading Catcher in the Rye), and Brown the last, also the best. He too, being very dark brown, was difficult to photograph, but he made up for it by being the most affectionate of all cats, the one who wanted you to carry him around all day, the one who, when you bent down, immediately came running. I still sometimes see him out of the corner of my eye; it happened again two days ago, when he appeared briefly in the courtyard, but when I looked again he had turned back into a flowerpot. Maybe one day, many years from now, someone will give me a notepad with a drawing of Brown on it.

      Today, 25 January, is the first anniversary of his death.

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