If there's one thing worse than a sick infant, it's a sick animal. People who deny that their pets are a child-substitute are generally talking pish. I have been through the parenting business; my daughter is, as Chuck Berry would have it, 'almost grown' and now my paternal instincts are directed mainly towards our scruffy mutt. Daphne's our little girl until our real little girl comes home again. Good grief, I even talk to her in terms of 'mum's going to take you out for a walk this morning, because dad's got some urgent work to do'. I know, it's sad – but probably not that uncommon. At least I don't dress her up in dolls' clothes.
Daphne got sick this month and her papa was worried sick. Mama, too, for a little while, but she has much more faith in things like recoveries than her woebegone husband. Woe, woe and thrice woe. All is woe. The world is a terrible place and no good will come of it. We're half way through the neutral month of November and so far it has been dominated by dogs and war. I'm hopeful that the twain shall never meet.
Let's start with the war; get the worst stuff over with first. It didn't come much worse than what was laughably termed the Great War and, on the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 2018, we celebrated, or remembered at least, the signing of the Armistice in a railway carriage a hundred years ago. Other than sparing a few more million lives (for a few months until the Spanish Flu carried them off), nothing much good came of it, since it sparked a chain of events that led to the rise of Nazism and another great-in-terms-of-misery-and-blood-letting war a mere 20 plus years later.
My paternal grandpappy fought in the Great War and my eternally jammy father joined up just at the end of its follow-up, just late enough to miss out on active service, which would have pleased him no end. I think he inherited his good luck from his father, who developed a virulent case of trench-foot while waiting to be slaughtered at the Somme. He was sent back to England, from where – by some serendipitous quirk of administration – he was sent to Arkansas to help train the American troops to be slaughtered in the trenches. He took up with an ice cream millionaire's daughter, who taught him how to dance – and maybe one or two other things besides, although those were very different times and my grandfather was a reserved man. My sister and I used to call him Grandpa Quietly. My delightfully Bohemian grandmother used to rib him about his dalliance with Anna-Fae Solliday, the ice cream millionaire's daughter, and he would chuckle to himself.
Perhaps one of the reasons he was so 'quietly' was to do with the fact that he must have seen the horror, the horror in the time it took for his foot to turn horrid. He never spoke of the war to his grandchildren until a time late in his long life when he recounted a few details to me over one of his ruinous gin-and-tonics. One of my grandmother's brothers was killed in the trenches, and another – favourite – brother was so shell-shocked that he took to alcohol and became a shadow of his former self.
Thus it was that I had a few ghosts of the past to remember on the 11th day of the 11th month. I proposed to the Good Wife that we should go down to the mairie on the Sunday to take part in our local ceremony. Perhaps yearning for a quiet Sunday morning at home, she questioned my motives. Did I simply want to be seen by my fellow communards to be respectable and respectful? Probably, partly. But I also argued that it was only right and proper that we should remember all those innocent millions who lived with the rifles' rapid rattle and died like cattle.
We were both glad that we went. Even though we didn't get to sing La Marseillaise – again – the mayor put on a good solemn show outside the mairie and afterwards we all trooped off to the Salle des Fêtes for a little exhibition of memoranda. The mayor's elected henchmen and women read letters home from the trenches and vice versa, which were very moving and poignant in their concern for the routine from which they had been torn. Let me know how much corn you manage to harvest from the top field... One woman signed off by telling her husband to be brave, but not too brave. That kind of thing tugs at your heart-strings.
As does the look of a hungry dog that can't understand why you're denying her breakfast for the second day running. We didn't stay for the meaty nibbles – zero tolerance as usual for vegetarians or anyone with dietary disorders – but went back home to be with our poorly pet. In fact, she was already better. I took her on a walk earlier that morning hoping that she would perform for papa. The vet had stuck a gloved finger up her fundament a few days before and diagnosed something like haemorrhaging diarrhoea or some such joy. Daphne got a shot of antibiotics, something peculiar in a chunky syringe to take mornings and evenings and some probiotics to mix with her food when she was allowed to eat once more.
For two or three days, we could only let her out on a lead, since she wasn't allowed even to eat grass. Too abrasive for her irritable bowel, apparently. I don't suppose that our vet imagined that her prescription would trigger a situation in which Daphne's parents would respond to barks in the night by getting up out of their warm bed to give their patient a quick walk. Well, you'd do that kind of thing for a sick child, so why not for a sick dog? In actual fact, it was quite memorable in its way. There was just enough light from the moon to cast a stark silhouette on the occasional dead tree and everything at such an unearthly hour was as quiet as a nun. Only the patter of paws on tarmac and the abrasive squeak of my jacket's artificial fibres. Think about it: one normally sleeps through the night and misses out on such an experience. On balance, though, I prefer to sleep.
Anyway, Daphne was quickly restored to her customary playful, affectionate self. She loved the fish that I bought from the supermarket as a soft substitute for her customary croquettes. My concern was that something was still lodged in her gut. Some shard of an illicit bone perhaps. So I needed to see some evidence of transit before I could properly relax. That Sunday morning, just before the ceremony of remembrance, our dog performed for her papa during the morning walk not once, not twice, but thrice. Good solid healthy-looking stools each time. I walked home with a spring in my step.
The worst seemed to be over. The end of the bloody faecal matter. If only one could say the same thing about war.