Have you ever simply got the wrong end of the stick?

Not everything is about life in jail, here Wil shares with us an awkward 'bloke' chat that truly has some laugh out loud moments.

Gwen

“It’s been a tough weekend at our place”, Robin said, “Gwen has Cancer.”

Shit, I thought, Which one of Robin’s kids is Gwen?

I knew I only had about four seconds before I had to contribute something. In that time I wanted to show Robin what a good mate I was, by recalling something about his daughter Gwen.

“All that lovely dark hair”, I thought might be a nice contribution, suggesting that I remembered Gwen’s flowing locks and was going to miss them when she started chemotherapy. Or perhaps, “Goodness she’s only just finishing grade three.” This would demonstrate that I was aware of the ages of Robin’s kids; I had listened when he told me about art and craft, or spelling, or school productions, and that I was aware of the tragedy of a young life being swept into the maelstrom of cancer therapy.

The problem was I couldn’t recall her hair style, or age, in fact I couldn’t put a face to Gwen’s name at all. I wasn’t a very good friend.

“That’s terrible”, I said with two tenths of a second to spare, “How do you know?”

“We found a lump under her arm on Saturday” Robin said, his comfortable silence daring me to continue and reveal my ignorance about him and his children. It was like I was in a horror movie written by Hallmark. I knew Robin was looking for some sense that I felt his child’s pain.

“What are you going to do?” I asked, aware that this was a REALLY STUPID question.

What is he going to do? I furiously asked myself... He’s going to let this one go and try for another kid. He and Fiona are young; they should still be able to conceive, surely they weren’t that attached. What THE HELL did I think they were going to do? Damn not only was I a terrible friend, but I was an idiot.

Robin seemed oblivious to my frantic internal monologue,

“Fiona is taking her to the vet today, and we’ll see what he says.”

Why would you take your kid to the vet?...The sentence was just about out of my mouth when I paused...and almost laughed with relief. I wasn’t a bad friend. This was their Dog. In a flood of recollection Robins kid’s names came back to me, Jessica and Ailagh, they were about eleven and eight; cute kids who liked to paint their Dad’s fingernails black and have deep chats with him whilst they were doing it.

It’s the dog, the fucking dog, thank God. A parent outliving their child is abhorrent, against the law of nature, and the flavour of the abhorrence seeps into your conversation, and reduces you to the kind of garbage I had been spewing only moments before.

With dogs it was easier, dogs die. You could reasonably expect to experience a doggie death every ten years or so and, whilst this was tragic, it was also an excellent opportunity to help the kids learn about life and death and loss, without resorting to chemotherapy. It was also a good chance to get a better dog.

More comfortable with the conversation now and trying to make up for my recent verbal outburst, I was determined to get things back on track, “The kids must be devastated, especially Jessica”, I led with this, proud to show Robin that contrary to my previous conversation, not only did I remember his kids, but remembered Jessica was the youngest, and therefore more likely to be upset by the death of a beloved pet.

“She’s a bit sad”, Robin said matter of factly, “But we’ve explained rats only live for two to three years.”

“Sorry?”

“Rats”, Robin said, “Gwen the rat has cancer, we think. She has a lump anyway.”

“Does your Dog have cancer?” The sentence was out of my mouth again before I had thought. Robin was looking quizzically at me.

“Do you even have a dog?” I asked, feeling something close to cheated.

“Yes...sorry...what?” asked Robin.

I thought of trying to explain to Robin but wasn’t sure how.

I want to make sure we’re talking about a rat with cancer, because at first I thought we were talking about one of your kids, and I was relieved when I realised it was your Dog. Now I’m kind of pissed off at you for not telling me Gwen is a rat, because I’ve invested all this emotion over a R-A-T. It sounded complicated, but it was true.

If I told Robin this he’d reply that Gwen had a terrific personality, she was very clean, and the kids loved her. I thought about how ‘clean’ rats were. It was true that my Rottweiler engaged in intimate grooming, and occasionally ate his own waste, but I don’t think he ever carried plague, and that was enough, in my mind, to raise him up as a cleaner animal than a rat. It’s personal preference I know but I’d take a bollocks licking, poo eating dog over a white rat any day.

As far as kids loving rats, kids love spinning around and around until they get dizzy, throw up, and bash into things. They love picking their noses and feeding it to their mates. The point is kids like stuff that the rest of us, reasonably, think is rubbish.

Robin was just staring at me now and I realised it had been too long since I last spoke, desperate to salvage something from this conversation I said

“If you had a dog, wouldn’t the dog eat the rat?”

“He sniffs them but leaves them alone” Robin responded.

Seriously if we were ever going to get through this conversation he was going to have to stop shocking me. ‘Them’ suggested to me that Robin, my stoic, introverted, guitar playing friend, someone who I thought I knew pretty well, was a secret rat collector.

“Them?” was all I could manage.

“Aggie, Gwen, and Silverthorne.” He said, “Actually it’s funny, the dog is fine with Gwen but we’ve had to separate her from the others. Apparently rats have an extremely keen sense of smell and can tell she’s weak. If we left them together they would probably eat her.”

I didn’t think that was funny at all. I thought it was ruthless, efficient perhaps but not funny. I thought of telling him it was a dog eat dog world, but we were both confused enough already.

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