Sunday, 8 December 2013
Running a bar in a small town along the west coast of Ireland qualifies you for many roles, financial adviser, councillor, medic, peacekeeper not to mention the provider of drinks and hangovers for a whole community. You'll find the young and not so young rubbing shoulders nightly, you may even find a dog or two snoozing under an owners stool while they mingle. Any of you that have read my stories will know that I'm a bit of a dog lover. I've never yet encountered a dog that caused me an ounce of bother but plenty of two legged customers have ended up on the pavement, backside first.
Two of my most regular customers are Mary Fitz and Bobby. Mary Fitzgerald lives four miles outside town and she is the mother of twelve grown children. They're all married now but have never quiet cut the apron strings. Every last one of them are living within ten minutes of where they were born. I've no idea how many grandchildren Mary has, but it seems half the towns calls her Granny. With so many people calling her that it was only natural the name spread to the rest of us. Bobby is the latest in a long line of dogs that have shared Granny Fitz's life and all of them were border collies.
Every Thursday, Granny Fitz and Bobby would walk the four miles into town. Regular as clockwork she would collect her pension and do whatever shopping she needed. At each stop, Bobby would wait patiently at the door until she came back out. When a full round of the town was done they'd stop by the church for a chat with Mr Fitzgerald, who's been resident in the cemetery for over ten years. Bobby never felt the tug of a lead on his neck, he never needed it. You'd always find him six inches behind Granny Fitz's heal, watching every move she made with utter adoration.
When lunchtime rolled around, Granny Fitz would call in to me for a bowl of soup and a toasted ham sandwich. At first, she left Bobby outside, like everywhere else she visited. One rainy day I insisted she bring him in. Bobby slinked inside the bar, not believing he was being allowed. That first day, Bobby lay at Granny Fitz's feet expecting to be hunted out at any moment. Since that day, he walks in with a huge doggie smile on his face. I always get lick and a head nuzzle from him before he settles down at Granny's feet while she eats. After lunch one of Granny's brood would come and collect the shopping while Mary and Bobby walked the four miles back. For some reason, she never liked travelling in cars.
A few weeks ago, Granny didn't turn up for lunch. I didn't think much on it but when it happened again a week later I called her daughter. Granny Fitz had taken a serous turn. She was in hospital but things were not looking good. For a woman who'd never seen dawn in bed, her end came quickly. Not a house or business in the town greeted the news with a dry eye.
In Kerry, when a person dies, the funeral always goes to the graveyard via the departed's house. Like I said earlier, Granny lived four miles from town and despite the graveyard being next door to the church, Granny Fitz's remains were slowly driven the long way out, to stop before her front gate. A final farewell.
If you ask me to explain what happened next, I cant. As the hearse stood outside the gate, Bobby launched himself over the hedge barking like crazy. He was in an awful state. It wasn't an angry bark, it was a pleading, heart-broken cry. Bobby clawed at the glass separating him from Granny Fitz, howling like he was being ripped limb from limb. The hearse pulled away and gathered speed but even in third gear Bobby kept throwing himself against the glass. It was a heart breaking sight.
The whole four miles, Bobby ran faster than I've ever seen a dog run. When the hearse finally stopped at the grave-yard, Bobby's chest was a blur as he wolfed air into his lungs. He wouldn't budge from the back of the hearse, remaining by his loves side till the very end.
As the coffin was lifted to the shoulders of her six oldest sons, Bobby lay prone at the head of the mourners, keening. I looked into the eyes of that dog and I'll never be told that they don't feel pain. If a dog could cry, Bobby was shedding floods. He was a dog no more, but a mourner, pure and simple. As the six sturdy men carried Mary's coffin to the freshly opened grave Bobby remained, as he ever had, six inches behind Granny Fitz.
When the coffin was lowered, Bobby inched forward on his belly until his muzzle and front paws hung over the edge of the grave. The priest began the service but Bobby couldn't contain his grief. Surrounded by a dozen Fitzgerald children, and nearly seventy grandchildren, everyone knew the chief mourner had four legs. Bobby whimpered loudly, whining with sorrow. In the end it got too much for the priest. He turned to the undertaker and said, "Can you do something with the dog, Sean." The burley undertaker had taken two steps towards Bobby before a deep voice rumbled from the assembled crowd.
"Sean Ryan, touch that dog and you'll regret it for many a year." The sound of Michael Fitzgerald's voice was enough to stop any man in his tracks. The whole Fitzgerald family closed ranks around the little black and white dog. The undertaker retreated quickly. A few tension filled seconds passed, everyone in the crowd held their breath. Then, the mollified priest finished his prayers and the congregation shook hands with the family. People drifted away, many to McFinnigans, where we raised a glass to a wonderful woman who'd be long missed.
That night, after I'd cleaned and locked the bar I walked for home. Passing the grave yard, something made me turn. It didn't feel right to go to bed without having a final word with one of my favourite customers. I walked through the moonlit headstones until I came to the freshly closed grave - but I wasn't alone. Bobby lay across Granny Fitz, his eyes huge and sorrowful. I hunkered down and rubbed his neck. He managed one lackluster wag of his tail but his chin never lifted.
"I miss her too boy," I said. What else could be said. I turned sadly and walked away, leaving a dog and his mistress alone in the moonlight.