Dark to light, then dark again
Banjo can’t settle – never settles – barks every second, growls into space, looks beyond corners with Wilko Johnson eyes… By Maxim Griffin.
Vet says it’s time – Banjo’s almost 15, not bad at all for a Springer, but he’s becoming weird – snapping – he didn’t break the skin, but y’know – there are children in the house – vet says it’s time.
Middle of the night – witching hour – Banjo’s bouncing off the walls – after a quick and bleary coffee he’s hooked up to his lead – he shuts up because he never barks on a walk – Meg sticks her head up out of her bundle of cushions – she’s coming too – we steal softly out.
The street lights are timed to switch back on at six, but the moon is up and it’s crystal ship clear – the slates of the terraces shine silver – you could read a slim volume of Dadaist poetry by it – Meg is on the right, Banjo on the left – they pull at different paces – flick the torch on – red beam while we’re passing through the sleeping streets – far Belmont sends a red light back and the breath of dogs begins to rise.
It’s freezing – you can see the feathers forming on the windscreens – walk in the middle of the road because there’s nothing moving for miles – the tarmac glitters – Banjo’s cloudy eyes only just reflect the moon – this night has the colour of slowed down Debussy – the fists of Orion are shot through with satellites – we cut through the usual fields – keeping that sense of routine, ritual – Banjo sniffs the usual sniffs and pees on the usual corners – his back legs falter and he slumps for a moment – oh mate, it’s time.
There’s a chalk line across the last of the night sky – moon heading west, drawing ice out of the ground – our breath sharpens in the blaze of the torch light – across the field a pair of foxes rut and holla – Meg dashes around Banjo, play bowing and huffing, but he can’t keep up with her pace – the ball is thrown a short way – he can’t keep up the pace – we’re shadows on the blackthorn.
The first street lights flick on – six – still no one about – we get in, unbuckle, de-boot – Banjo starts barking – every second, spinning in circles, growling, howling, snarling into space – he has his medicine hidden in a lump of Cheddar and resumes his noise and motion – Meg settles in her blankets, but Banjo is still 100 miles an hour – we’ve understanding neighbours but it’s Sunday morning and not light yet – we buckle up – another walk for the sake of peace – two of the boys come down and boot up – John loves to see the moon and Rufus loves Banjo very much, they are best friends.
Day is coming – a mist off the canal but the sky is clear – those chalk jet lines turning red in the east – Banjo plunges in and out of the water – always a strong swimmer – but he needs help getting on the bank – he growls, blank-eyed and goes back on the lead – the boys know he’s ill but not what’s coming – they’re off ahead, all sticks and machine gun noises, blasting invisible Nazis – if they were dogs, they’d be spaniels too. There’s an iron bridge everyone knows is haunted and Banjo needs help getting over the stile – he snaps at my old herringbone coat – come on, good boy – he clicks back into the present – good boy, come on.
The world turning
We’re out beyond town again – two miles along the river and off into the big fields – no one is ever allowed near the abbey – there’s a wall remaining, some earthworks – never been excavated – Henry VIII did a thorough job – the boys want to investigate but they’re not subtle enough for that style of light trespass. A vast red cow forces her head through the beech branches, all steam and beef – John likes cows and begins a lecture in mooing – the cow retreats and poos much to the amusement of the boys – they run on cackling, calling to Banjo but Banjo doesn’t hear.
The moon begins to vanish – a perfect bright stone fading into the hills – the sun is coming – timed it right – to see the sun rise is a wonderful thing – daily, profound and free – the oldest magic. Jackdaws and crows over ploughed fields, a river of mackerel clouds turn ruby, orange then blinding white – the boys fuss Banjo and Banjo fusses the boys – ice cracks as we pass. Light begins to fill the outmarsh – through a far wood comes the first sight of the disc of the sun – look – how quickly it comes – look – the sense of our movement in space, the world turning – the boys faces shine, cold and gleaming – Banjo’s back leg falters again – oh mate, the world turning.
Field to field and across dry ditches – dog and boys keep going – hoar frost in the reeds, hoar frost in the wires, steam from the factories, the mute flights of jet liners – miles – we must have knackered him out now. Banjo enters the river and swims lengths – he once swam the length of Saltfleet Haven and into the sea, he’d have kept going until Denmark too – he needs help on the bank, growls low and goes back on the lead – the growls are alarming, but it’s the snaps and bites – we’ve tried everything, we’re his fourth home, no one else could cope with his energy – his medicine takes the edge off but that’s no way to live – the vet says it’s time.
Home – boots off, kettle on – a promise of sausages, eggs, pancakes – Banjo, unbuckled, dashes to his place – barking every second, spinning – he pauses and pinches the bacon from the kitchen table, dashes off as he snaffles it, Gollum style – the back legs falter again – the boys don’t see, they’re already fighting dragons on the Xbox – Banjo barks and barks, a rind of raw bacon in his chops, but nothing behind the eyes – the vet says there’s nothing to be done, it’s time – the vet is right.
Banjo: 18/3/08 – 8/2/23