6th March


Lying awake in the middle of the night, he suddenly thought of a dog his grandparents had kept, when he was very young, and how it used to turn and turn in a circle in its basket before settling down. That anxious flattening of the blankets, that spin into a tight, self-protecting coil, had fascinated him. ‘Why does he do that?’ he asked once. And the answer came: ‘Well, long ago, when dogs lived in the wild, they had to make a new bed every night, so they’d turn like that to make a nest in the grass or leaves or wherever they were, to be as safe and comfortable as they could. And they still do that, even though they’ve forgotten why.’

It had seemed a reasonable explanation then. It still did. And when he wondered why that image of the dog had come to mind now, out of nowhere, and so vividly, another reasonable explanation immediately asserted itself. Because of his father. Because what had woken him was another memory, or a dream, of getting his father to bed the last time he visited. Supporting him as he shuffled through to the bedroom, to the twin beds disliked by his father but which gave his mother at least a chance of a decent night’s sleep. Turning back the duvet before his father lowered himself. Helping him shrug off his dressing-gown. Bending to ease first one slipper, then the other, from the old white feet. Lifting those feet and swinging the legs onto the mattress. Pulling the duvet over him. Kissing the bald top of his head, and smoothing the wispy, baby-soft hair down behind his ears. Without his hearing-aid his father was already half in a world of slumber. He smiled up from the pillow, all the mental frustrations, bodily inconveniences and physical obstacles of the day receding, perhaps forgotten already. And he, the son, looked down on the father, a big man yet small somehow, a child again, exhausted, ready for sleep.

And the dog was long ago, years and years away. He lay awake, seeing it so clearly, but no matter how hard he tried he could not remember its name.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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