A Rose by Any Other Name
by Faye Robertson
“I can’t afford the treatment.”
The woman raised her chin
and met my frown defiantly, daring me to say what I had been thinking: that she
thought more about her bank balance than she did about the dog lying on the
table. She was thin and tired looking, with bleached hair scraped off her
face, no make-up, and three boys all under seven fiddling with the instruments
on my tray.
Before one of them could
slice open his finger leading her to sue for damages, I slid the tray away from
them smoothly and placed one hand on the basset hound lying in front of me.
“The thing is,” I tried to explain, “dogs can continue to live quite
happily without their eyesight…”
“I understand,” she said
sharply. To my surprise I saw her eyes fill with tears. So she does care for the dog, I thought, and felt a stab of guilt. “I just can’t do it any
more.” Her voice was hoarse, tight with controlled emotion. “I’ve got so much
on my plate, I just can’t cope with this as well…”
I hated this part
about being a vet. “It’s okay,” I said awkwardly, “we can work something out.”
“Jasper was my husband’s,
you see, he used to look after him but when he left there was no room in his new
flat. It’s not that I don’t love him…” A tear rolled down her cheek. I
wasn’t sure if she was talking about the dog or her husband.
I reached out and touched
her arm briefly. “Don’t worry. I can see whether we can find another home for
Jasper, if that’s what you want?”
Relief washed over her
visibly. “Oh really? You can do that?”
“I can try.” Actually I
wasn’t sure that I would be able to find someone willing to foot the bill for
the dog’s treatment. He had severe, advanced glaucoma in his left eye and
early signs of it in the other, and it was not going to be cheap to treat him.
And of course he was going to be nearly blind after his operation. But I had
“Yes, please. I don’t
want him put down unless it’s unavoidable…”
“Why don’t we take you
out to the front desk and sort out the paperwork,” I suggested, leaving my
assistant to look after Jasper as I steered the woman neatly out of the door,
her kids following behind her like ribbons on a kite tail. None of them gave a
last look to the poor dog left lying on the table, and I swallowed the lump
that had suddenly appeared in my throat, concentrating on telling our
receptionist the problem so that she could find the appropriate form for the
owner to sign over responsibility to us.
When that was sorted, I
said goodbye to the family and watched them scatter out to their car. The
woman looked as relieved as a weightlifter whose dumbbells had been suddenly
taken away. I sighed and returned to my room. Jasper was still lying on the
table, Freya stroking his flank gently.
“How’s he doing?”
“He seems sad.”
“Bassets always look
sad.” I smiled. “But I know what you mean. He’s in a lot of pain. He
probably feels like he’s got one hell of a migraine.”
At that moment the
connecting door to the offices behind our surgery opened and my best pal and
oldest colleague, Neil, entered. “They’ve gone?”
“Yes. She signed the
“You’re not going to find
anyone to foot the bill, you know.”
“What are you going to
I sighed. “I was
thinking about paying for the operation myself. Then the Home might take him
and find him another family.”
For a moment he said
nothing. He looked at Jasper’s cloudy, bluish-white left eye, touching with
gentle fingers. Finally he straightened. I thought he was going to say
something about the dog’s condition, but instead he surprised me by saying: “I
think you should have him.”
“Me? I can’t have a
“Of course you can. And
you said you’re going to pay for the medication anyway, you might as well reap
“I work long hours, Neil,
it wouldn’t be fair to him.”
He looked at me over the
top of his glasses. “The dog will have to be fed and walked, Ruth, it will give
you a reason to go home. It will do you good to have someone else in the house
He had obviously realised
that the reason I worked late most evenings was because of the quietness and
the space in the house that had spread like a disease after Dan’s death. I flushed.
“What are you, my father now?”
“No, just a very
concerned friend. Think about it. I’ve got to go back to surgery.”
I stared at his
disappearing back, then looked over at Freya. She shrugged. “You could do
worse. He’s a lovely dog.”
Of course he was a lovely
dog – all dogs are lovely, I thought, coming closer and watching his chest rise
and fall slowly like a pair of bellows. But no, that wasn’t strictly true. I
knew from experience that dogs have personalities as much as humans, and I had
met plenty of both that I didn’t like.
I gave him my hand to
sniff. Dan had liked bassets. He had loved the Fred Basset comic strip and had
collected all the Alex Graham books when he was younger.
Jasper raised his head to
lick my fingers. Then he carefully lowered it again until it rested on my
palm. I felt the weight of it in my hand like a large, furry melon. He
blinked slowly, painfully. I sighed. “Okay, let’s move him out the back.
I’ll operate tonight.”
“Are you going to keep
“Let’s get him through
the surgery first, then I’ll decide.”
Jasper did make it through the operation. I
removed his left eye and implanted a silicone ball to keep the shape, and
stitched his eyelid shut. For two weeks he looked like a boxer (the sportsman,
not the dog) after a prize fight, but I kept reminding myself what we were
taught at veterinary college: that all they miss is the pain.
Gradually, that maxim
began to be true. As the swelling went down, Jasper began to perk up. Within
two weeks he was well enough to leave the surgery. By then, I had fallen in
love with him and I knew I was going to take him home.
The first few days were difficult. At first
he constantly bumped into things, so eventually I put my coffee table, plant
stand and other bits of furniture that I didn’t really need into my spare room.
Gradually he began to settle down. And after a few months, when Neil and his
wife Julie came over to dinner, Jasper seemed as if he’d been there forever.
We sat watching the
telly, eating fish and chips out of the paper. I no longer set the table when
they came over, as the spare seat next to mine gave me an almost physical ache,
like an amputated leg. Anyway, they didn’t visit that often. But that night
Neil had insisted I not be alone. It would have been my and Dan’s
twenty-seventh wedding anniversary.
Julie looked down at
Jasper. “Does he always sit in front of Dan’s chair?”
I looked at where he was
stretched out in front of the recliner that I still couldn’t bring myself to
“Yes, he picked that spot
the day he arrived here.”
Neil shoved a forkful of
chips into his mouth. “Not really, he can probably smell him.”
“I have cleaned since
“Yes, but his other
senses will have improved since he lost his sight.”
“Including his sixth
sense?” Julie smiled. “You’ll have to watch out, Ruth, and see if he spots
I laughed. “I don’t
think that will happen.”
I shrugged. “Because I think
that when we die, that’s it. Finito.”
She looked shocked.
“Really? I didn’t know you felt like that.”
I looked down at my
dinner. I’d suddenly lost my appetite. “I didn’t use to. I used to have
quite a strong faith. But Dan and I always promised each other that if one of
us died, we would do our utmost to contact the other one. And I’ve had no sign
“Absence of evidence
isn’t evidence of absence,” she observed.
“I mean that just because
you haven’t had a sign doesn’t mean there isn’t an afterlife.”
“If he could have found a
way to contact me,” I said flatly, “he would have.”
Neil folded up his empty
newspaper. “Yes, but the trouble is that if you really wanted to, you could
interpret anything as a sign. That doesn’t prove there’s an afterlife.”
Julie scowled at him.
“Way to comfort her, Neil.”
“I’m just saying…”
“Well, I don’t agree,”
she stated. “I think when the sign comes, Ruth will be in no doubt that that’s
what it is.”
That evening after they had left, I sat on
the floor next to Jasper in front of the fire. I stroked his ears tenderly.
Having the dog had been a good move – Neil had been right, it was nice
to have someone to come home to, and he did make the place feel less empty.
But I knew Jasper hadn’t
been as much of a comfort as Neil had hoped. Dan’s death just six months
before had pushed me off the raft of life, and I was drowning in grief’s black
sea. Jasper just wasn’t enough to keep me afloat. That evening, with the
winter wind howling outside, I felt so low that I kept glancing over to the
cupboard where I kept my sleeping pills, and I thought about getting out the
bottle, and downing them all.
But of course, that’s
what Neil had known I’d eventually want to do, and that’s why he’d suggested I
have Jasper, because even as I dissolved into tears, Jasper got to his feet and
shuffled to the door and I sighed, wiped my face and went over and let him out.
It was a cold, cold February
night. It had been snowing, and Jasper’s paws made scrunchy noises as he
snuffled around, investigating this strange white stuff.
I left him to explore,
pouring myself another glass of wine from the fridge and wandering for a moment
along the bookshelves, trying to find something that might take my mind off my
misery. Then I found it: an old Alex Graham book. I pulled it out, running my
hand over the familiar cover of Fred chasing a cat. I didn’t know I still had
one of those. I brought it over to the armchair and sat for a while sipping my
wine as I flicked through it and reminded myself of the old jokes.
It was only after about ten
minutes had passed that I suddenly remembered that Jasper was still outside.
Alarmed, I put down my wine and went hurriedly into the garden. There were
doggie footprints all over the lawn, but no sign of Jasper.
I called his name, but he
didn’t appear. Suddenly I felt myself go cold, and this time it wasn’t from
the freezing February wind that blew across the lawn. At the bottom of the
garden was a gate to the river down the hill. I couldn’t see properly, but in
the dark it looked like the gate was open.
Quickly I fetched my
torch and coat. I hurried across the lawn. At the bottom I felt my heart
sink: I had been right, the gate was open.
I continued to call his
name as I walked down to the river, my heart thudding in my chest. He couldn’t
have made it through his operation only to die like this. I forgot that I
didn’t believe in an afterlife and begged Dan to help him. “Look after him,” I
whispered. “Don’t let any harm come to him, not now.”
Suddenly, there was a
loud bark to my right. I stumbled through the grass and then it parted and
there was Jasper, sitting facing the river. He looked over his shoulder as he
heard me come closer, but didn’t come bounding up. He was sitting in a small,
flattened area of grass, as if he had done that strange dog thing where they go
round and round in circles in their basket. The flattened grass was completely
devoid of snow.
And in the middle of it,
at Jasper’s feet, lay a single red rose.
I gasped. Jasper barked
once more. Then he sneezed, picked himself up and began to trot back towards
I continued to stare at
the rose. Snow fell gently onto it, making it look as if it was dusted in
icing sugar. I went closer and picked it up gingerly. It was a real red
rose. By the river. In the middle of winter.
I stood holding the
flower, and looked around. He must have found it in one of the neighbour’s
gardens, I thought. It must have come from a delivery of cut flowers to
someone. It must have been in a Valentine’s bouquet. It must, it must…
Tears filled my eyes.
Red roses were my favourite flowers. Of course they were a lot of other
people’s favourite too, but they had always been mine, ever since I was a
I thought about the
conversation we had had that evening, Neil, Julie and me. Julie would have
said that everything happens for a reason; that I had been meant to have Jasper
from the beginning, and this was a sign from Dan, the sign I had been waiting
Neil would have said that
it was natural to take it as a sign, but that there was a logical answer to why
this rose had appeared at Jasper’s feet, and that it was just a coincidence
that it happened to be my favourite flower, and my wedding anniversary.
I knew it didn’t prove
that there was an afterlife. I wasn’t stupid. It was just a rose after all,
not Dan’s ghost, not a miracle.
But I did know that I had
been drowning, and someone, somewhere, had just offered me a life belt.
Holding the rose against
my cheek, I sniffed it gently. Its soft, sweet scent filled my nostrils.
Slowly I followed Jasper back into the garden towards the light streaming from
©2006 Faye Robertson
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