I don't believe I hated the dog because a retriever can't be abhorred, not entirely, and the pedigree itself commands a nearly visceral love born of and borne by the unsullied loyalty and gentle disposition somehow programmed into the lineage in Guisachan for sport and not for companionship but for the thrill of the hunt because the advances in weaponry made game fall farther from the firearm, and a dog that had to carry a pheasant three times as far to convey it to the rifleman was unlikely to return the bird whole, but the jaws of the retriever matched its demeanor and a duck delivered was safe for the taxidermist or the cook, and a sheepdog couldn't have done it, which was just as well because Connor didn't have in his lineage any sheepdogs but the whole of his breed came from an extinct water spaniel. So, there wasn't any real contempt toward him, though I wanted desperately to despise him because the advent of the dog meant the capitulation of the marriage and the resignation of the hope and acquiescence to the melancholy inevitability of a continued existence absent Amelia, but he couldn't be my target, the object of my scorn, my clarion bÍte noir because I bought him, and even though Alice loved him, I bought him not for her but to prove to Amelia that I was the better parent, or more to prove that Alice would call me the better parent; and because she was allergic, Amelia couldn't give to Alice what I gave in Connor whenever Alice came to me on Tuesdays and Thursdays and every other weekend, and thus I stole from her the crown of our daughter's preference and tormented her with Alice's adulation for her dog and her indulgent father on the Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays and the two weekends per month she stayed at the home Amelia and I purchased together with my grandfather's inheritance just two months after we married.
I could bear Connor no animosity any more than Alice could avoid adoration, and perhaps my malice was ever present as I watched her hold him or send him to retrieve a rubber ball or place in his jaws the pink and white meaty bones procured from the butcher, three every Wednesday, and stored in the refrigerator by the juice boxes and applesauce and cut carrots; because even as I drank my Glenfiddich or my Glenmorangie or my Glenlivit and told her how all Golden retrievers came from Glen Affric from the same four pups that produced Irish Setters and Sandy Bloodhounds and Newfoundland Water Dogs, I told her not so much because I wanted her to know as because I knew the inevitable nature of an eight year old girl's mimicry and recitation and understood that the knowledge would steal from Amelia time to tell Alice of her own interests and replace it with more acclaim for me. So, I drank the single malt and watched the daughter and watched the dog and knew that Amelia would diminish, (not in reality because there is no dog that can replace a parent, but in a phantom way because the insecurity of all mothers and fathers about the affections of their children, especially when the progeny is passed from one to the other, is easily manipulated) and I resolved that I would never tell that I first bought Connor so that Alice could sleep at night without crying for her mother and piercing me with the trace of disappointment that clouded her face when she saw me come to comfort her and not Amelia; and when I did tell, at the funeral, it was too late because though Connor served perfectly to jostle open the door that separated me from my daughter and forced the lock that had prevented my own ministrations to her, he also served as the wedge that fully separated Amelia and me so that when we might have sought each other for condolence, we instead grieved alone, standing beside each other as the minister spoke and the flowers trembled slightly in the breeze.
Still, I could manage no antipathy for him, and when at night I drank my Speyside in gulps and no longer sips and he would come to me and whine because Alice was absent, I would try to hate him but would only cry and fall to my knees in front of him and pull him to me and damn if the animal didn't put his muzzle against my cheek and rest his head on my shoulder as though he knew that his duty as the dog was to comfort and he approached the obligation with the same placid determination to benefit his master that I'm certain he would have displayed if we stood in the foreshore, the sound of the number 4 tungsten-iron spray still reverberating, the gun already breached by the time the mallard, the teal, or the wigeon (or even maybe a Grey lag, a pink foot, or a Canada) hit the water, and Connor already wet and swimming on his way to the quarry. Of course, there was no satisfaction or revitalization in the embrace, though I pled for solace and entreated his coat to call to mind memories of Alice and to stop proclaiming my malevolence and my spiteful contention and my baneful antagonism with Amelia, and prayed through sips of single malt for a restoration of the companion and a recovery of the darling she once was, because he never was my daughter's, nor even mine, but really Amelia's, an affliction to her I disguised as a bounty to a daughter who deserved a boon that was genuine and a father whose libations and endowments were real and not cardinal minions in a battle Amelia waged no longer in the first place; and so his eagerness to please and his enthusiasm to accommodate and his ardor to soothe was vacant of effect; but still I held him and still I sought from him amelioration, a remedy for my pain, or even just remembrances of Alice, knowing the futility but still seeking it as I knelt on the floor with arms around him, seeing his soft golden coat through a mist of tears in a haze of scotch.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, WJ Rosser. All rights reserved.