"So, here we are," I said, wilting into the familiar dark of isolation. "In this house. On this island. Far away from everyone. You and me. Alone. In England."
He yawned and sniffed his butt.
Now, some might think this action rude, but I knew it was dog speak for, "Suck it up, Buttercup. If you don't like it, do something different."
He lifted his ears when I stood, and we raced together to my glorified golf cart of a Smart Car . He was always willing to accompany me on an adventure.
The route to Wells turned out to be all winding country roads, little lanes blocked on either side by building-high hedges, streets with pinch points so narrow that even my tiny car couldn't share the space with so much as a bicycle.
But I had learned to zoom right by the sheep and the cows and the red Royal mail trucks that looked close enough to brush with my fingertips without so much as wincing. I had recently shrunk into a smaller person, my sense of space no longer American, my sense of self no longer certain.
Of course, my partner-in-crime, the dog, in the passenger’s seat had no such identity problems. He looked like Gene Simmons with his five-foot-long tongue hanging out his black-lipped mouth, which was hanging out the open window.
I put the heat on full blast because I was nursing a cold but let the dog continue to lap up the smells of the English countryside. I whistled along with the theme song to “The Archers” on BBC radio. Alex barked into the wind, quite pleased with the good time we were having.
We cruised under the endless canopies of Somerset trees, dazzled by the orange and red leaves: the soft golden hues of autumn. I shifted gears and climbed a steep hill to break through the forest, to see green fields stretching for miles. They were dotted with livestock grazing, rock fences, tractors at rest. Looming in the distance was the Glastonbury Tor, a tower built by monks long before the United States existed.
Keeping one hand on the steering wheel, I reached over and stroked the dog’s fur, feeling at peace again, grateful for opportunities to see the world with a friend. Life was glorious.
After finally parking in a space the size of a postage stamp, Alex and I walked around the tiny town of Wells. People said hello to us, and since I was normally invisible, I knew this was because I had the dog with me. There is not an English man or woman alive who doesn’t love a canine, and no one on either side of the pond could ever resist Alex’s magnetism.
In truth, it was magic to watch the effect he had on these people... how those stiff upper lips went all wobbly at one little doggy whine, even if it was given in an American accent... how those normally straight-through-you stares fired with warmth at the mere sight of him.
He looked shaggier than normal, his hair puffed out from the ride, his fluffy tail perched as high on his butt as a cat's tail when he strutted proudly down the pavement. I held firm on his leash, going where he led me, like a good girl.
I thought God bless that creature! I wanted to feed him hamburger for the priviliege of his companionship. I wanted to make him steak for dinner because my sorcerer dog had the power to stop me from feeling like a stranger in Britain.
Together, we strolled by the old beggar's porch, peeked down the Vicar's Close, walked around the moat that circles the Bishop of Bath's palace, and finally went up onto a public footpath, a dirt road that cut through trees and made me forget there was a town anywhere near us.
There I unhooked the leash and let the dog run as free as God had made him. He was already an old mutt with grey in his beard, but he ran like a puppy, chasing up goodness knows what in the grass, jumping like a rabbit in a field, acting like joy itself, grinning in the sunshine.
Finally, we needed to get going. There were groceries to buy, clothes to wash, a boy to meet at the bus-stop.
I opened the passenger's door to my car, and the dog hopped inside. He settled behind the steering wheel as if he was going to drive until I pushed him over. He had left several brown paw prints where my bottom would need to go, but I was not annoyed in the slightest. Because he’d been there to ride beside me, to give me courage to explore, I had ignored the sniffles in my nose, the tightness in my chest, the darkness that had so often dampened my spirits with wasteful homesickness.
I reached down to brush the dirt away from the upholstry, but my fingertips felt wet.
I lifted my hand under my nose and sniffed.
The dog grinned widely, his tongue lolling out of his mouth again, his warm brown eyes radiating that pure love that only a dog can give as my face contorted into a grimace.
“Ewwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeee,” I whined. “It’s sheep poop.”
No steak would be served to Alex that night!
I didn't care if the British treated me more like a person when he was with me. As I reached in the glove box for napkins, it was easy to forget the laughter that had filled my heart when I had watched him running.
Next time I ventured out, I wasn’t takin’ the stinkin’ dog!!!
Except... well... Of course I always did.
He was often the reason I went in the first place.
Rest in peace good and faithful friend.
Alex Lane – 1997-2013