It had been a long time since he had driven these country roads. There was nothing gentle about the curves of the hot bitumen and the solemnity of the trip was interrupted as the resident wildlife played kamikaze with the car. This only added to the danger as the car struggled up the winding hills and he wondered how he had managed to get to school every day without decimating the local echidna population.
The excitement of it all came to an abrupt halt as he reached his intended destination. It had been almost 2 and a half years since he had seen the well worn driveway. The rough make up of his path forward reminded him of all the memories associated with this place. He pulled his car up at the front gates and was overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. The overgrown grass down the front of the property made you feel like you were about to disappear into some uncharted territory. The solitary gum tree to the right of the driveway’s entrance had amplified its reach, it had become mighty and impressive in stature. It threatened to reach out and scoop him up as he sat there staring up at the top of the hill. He might have welcomed such a fate if it weren’t for his need to be here today. There was a single dim light visible through the thicket of trees that followed the driveway up and away from eyesight. He shuddered at the thought of his last memory here. The sadness of leaving his home to venture into the unknown in search of adventure.
The drive up the uneven ground was necessarily slow to avoid damaging his car but he quickly found himself looking upon his former home. There it was tucked away amongst the trees and nothing had changed to his eye. The gutters were still full, the spiderwebs threatened to steal you away, and it was always colder here than elsewhere in the area and it was never fully explained why. As he removed his single travel bag from the backseat and made his way over towards the house he let out a sigh. Part exasperation, part exhaustion from the trip, it was all he could do to announce his arrival in the softest of ways. It was all he could think of to steel himself for what lay ahead. He brought his clenched fist up and banged on the garage door twice before the automated motors started up, and he caught his first glimpse of the inside of his former home.
Inside the garage was nothing short of massive familiarity. Nothing had changed at all. An endless sea of consistency. A room full of old furniture, sports equipment, trophies, cds, tools, fridges, clothes and shoes. These relics were of a once great civilisation of achievement and position. Now they sat in a graveyard of memories and dust. A place to dump what needed to be put away and never found again. The walk through this desolate archive of family accomplishment was a slow one if only to avoid what was waiting for him beyond the door.
As the wooden door slid open the world around him changed dramatically as if he had walked through a portal, stepping from his dirty and dusty mortuary into a world of cleanliness. He remembered it as if it were only yesterday. Everything about this place was pristine and well kept. The wooden floorboards were spotless as the day they were laid and the walls looked fresh and creamy as though the painters had just left and called it a day. The house was littered with art, flowers and hand crafted decorations. The shelf to his immediate right had all the family photos. The television added to the ambience of the place and he could distinctly hear Homer choking Bart in the other room. He stepped through the veil and entered his old home feeling every bit as out of place as he must have looked. As the door closed behind him his mother, the keeper of cleanliness came around the corner and gave him a look he will never forget. It was clear she was happy to see him again, but was unable to mask the intense sadness in her eyes. Their hug was brief and without a hint of awkwardness in it. There was still love there and he really appreciated his opportunity today and clearly his trip away hadn’t dulled their relationship any. He searched around to find his father and brother by the television. His father met his eyes with a look of despair on his face that did nothing to comfort him as he opened the back door and stepped out into the yard.
The sight of his best friend and companion lying there on the bed brought tears to his eyes. He had somehow managed to control his emotions in getting here, but this was too much. In making his way around to her side she had managed to realise who it was who had come to visit, and even in her paralysed state her tail began to wag meekly, and her eyes welled up with tears. Her sleek black fur was still shiny and soft to the touch and his voice broke as he pet her for the first time in 2 years. The sound of her tail thudding on the bed only semi masked the sound of his nose running rampant. As he brought her in and hugged her deeply, he knew this would be one of the last moments they had together.
The paralysis tick had got to her over the last few days and the phone call to come and say goodbye was received. He didn’t hesitate to jump in the car and get out here. This would be her last night on earth and the vet would be out tomorrow to euthanise her mercifully. She’d lost all use of her legs and most of her body and there was simply no way for her to go on.
He had come out here to say goodbye to his lifelong comrade in arms and he knew he had to treat her like a queen for the next 12 hours. It’s what she deserved, and as he fed her the tiny teddies she always loved the most, he could tell there was unbelievable happiness in her steely black eyes. He sung her Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”, because he really wanted her to believe that every little thing was going to be alright. He lay there cuddling her and reminding her of all the great adventures they’d been on together over the last 14 years. The time they’d stormed the castle and rescued the princess, and the time they landed on the beaches together and won the war, and the time she sat at his feet and protected him from other dogs and people in the park when he was 6 years old. He apologised wholeheartedly for getting angry at her and his wicked temper, and he remembered fondly the times she would just sit with him and listen to all his problems when he didn’t have another friend in the world that cared. Those same steely black eyes, and soft ears looked back at him now with a kind of restrained jubilation and he knew she wanted to tackle him and play like old times.
They spent the night together outside and the cold air, the mosquitos and limited space all tried, but he refused to be torn from her side. The cruel break of daylight woke him and he knew the time was coming. Like the arrival of a dreaded family member the vet arrived around 8am and administered the shot that would kill her. He couldn’t watch it happen and turned to see his father crying uncontrollably. The first time in his life he’d seen his father cry, it was a bizarrely comforting feeling and it was now he knew just how much this family friend meant to everyone. She grew evermore still as the drugs kicked into her system, and he made sure he spent every last second holding her and reminding her what she meant to him. The addition of his father, his mother, and his brother all crying broke him down and when she was finally quiet and her suffering was over he fell apart on the cold concrete. It wasn’t until his father returned from digging her a grave down by the well that he knew he had to recover.
They wrapped her up in her bedsheets and carried her down the hill to her last home just south of the abandoned well. The fresh country air gently stirred the grass around her grave and the emerald green trees helped provide a breathtaking backdrop. He buried his favourite poem in her grave and it gave him some comfort to know that even though she was gone, she wasn’t too far away from him.
When the last grain of dirt completed the process the family walked up to the house in complete silence. A silence that hinted at understanding and acceptance, and they ate breakfast together for the first time since he strapped on the backpack. The fond memories of her would be the final gifts to them all.