In May, walking home, I saw a hedgehog. I haven't seen one lately, but I don't need to, for I have Boy in Yellow Converse instead, a man more like a hedgehog by the day --- simultaneously the appearance of the friendly, the everyday, the familiar, that which belongs in the stories of what is good and right; and the wild, the fleeting, the moment that is captured and thought over, that which belongs only in the story.
On Saturday night, with a plastic cup of Fitou in one hand, I rubbed between the paw pads of a fine grey-and-white tom cat at a party. He observed me out of slitty eyes and concaved his spine with a sound only an interrogative cat can make, an uprising diaphragmatic trill of vaguely determinate import. His white belly fur furls out like a concertina paper lantern. In a bowl in the kitchen there are tiny ginger biscuits from the Netherlands and party-sized Mars Bars on the mantelpiece. Boy in Yellow Converse --- who at this time of year favours terribly retro white leather trainers with red stripes --- wanders the crowd, arching over it with mythological tallness and a Polaroid. His targets warm to him with the shy affection of strangers, clustering to his piked leanness like goslings to watch the images take shape. I talk to a girl with glimmering American dentistry in her smile and a formidable brilliant-cut diamond on her hand which flashes as her hands stir the air, she laughs, chipping high split cadences. I watch the dip in her throat, shorter than she.
On Wednesday my feet are cold again. Spongy, rabbit-combed turf and clover underfoot and Pluvialis a few hundred feet away at the fence calling Mabel out of a tree. She whistles, pushing her hair out of her eyes with the back of a hand that will later be bloodied. She hefts a quail in her hand and catches it, which has the absurdly loose-jointed action of dummies pitching over waterfalls in cheap action flicks. Mabel! The quail goes up again. I shuffle in my wellingtons, watching rabbits dancing everywhere, white flash-flash-flash gone into the hedge, under the sod. Suddenly a movement near, and I turn my head. Straight, impossibly straight, against the ground like a burnt butter hoverbeast, and fast. A silence in my mind. Black tipped tail, perfect like a calligraphy brush dipped just-so into the ink, and words come back to my thoughts all in a rush, David Attenborough, The Children of Cherry-Tree Farm, stoat! A small purposive furry sinew with a blaze of white under his chin. Rabbits in his nose.
There he goes.
I recover my voice. Stoat! I yell to Pluvialis hundreds of yards away, uselessly but I cannot help it. Even at the distance I can see her amusement at my eight-year-old delight and she displays a thumbs-up. I am ruining her day's hunting because I am distracting Mabel. I dance around on the hillocky warrens trying to keep warm, tinkering with malteasery piles of rabbit droppings with the toe of my boot. Pluvialis gets Mabel to the fist and wanders back to me with the distinctive rolling, sailorish gait she has when booted and disappointed. She sighs, circumflexing an expressive black eyebrow.
She gives the hawk a wing to pluck. Mabel is all at sixes-and-sevens and Pluvialis is accidentally footed. I see the stoat in my mind, skimming the ground, low wide-arc ears cupped to its head. She sucks the back of her hand. The silvery late afternoon glints go out of the light and we go back to the car.
M, ever maternal, puts Savlon on Pluvialis' hand and we drink coffee out of cups with wildflowers on them. S, the guru, rolls a cigarette and Pluvialis smokes her Camels. There are three pointers. I am wildly, wildly in love with these dogs, lithe and silly and brilliant. The black and white alpha bitch rests her muzzle in my lap and I hold her head, cupping her ears and running a finger down the groove in the centre of her lovely skull. I remember the gleaming, coppery afternoon in September when I watched her quarter the field in Barton for G's barbary. She had leaned against my knees, warm flanks alive with delight, miles to run, the fabulous smell of everything, the promise of things hiding.
But now they climb into our laps and cock their floppy ears and glance every now and then to S, the Super Alpha of the house, while he mocks me gently for my shameless adoration and craven capitulation to the insistent wet-nosed nudging for more ear-stroking. M confides later that this is rich, since he sleeps with the bitch cupped spoon-style into his belly.
At home I stand on the street, wiggling my frozen toes and puffing frost, watching the odd, Grimm-esque yew on the fence, alive and rustling with birds gobbling the squishy red seed cones. A mistle thrush dances out on a dropped, curving branch haphazardly bunted with needles and missteps, falling through the greenery, a soft papery sound of wings striking, a leopardy breast and bright eye, bobbing uncertainly on a too-far twig. Cocks its head, chocolatey go-fast stripes moustachioed. What?
Inside a tight ball of ladybirds sleeps behind my bedroom blind. I make tea.
In sickness and in health
2 months ago