3 min

More life, less diary

The magnetic power of dog walking

Dear Diary; So. He leaves in the morning with his shirt tucked in and a chalky stain of toothpaste on his lip. I try to kiss it away but he thinks I want sex, pushes me off his chest. “Stop fawning,” he says. And I smile with teeth, apologetic, stupid; I watch him leave for the office. Confused, I put my hand up to my mouth. I do fawn, I know, and it is not becoming.

But fawning is less romantic than Tim might like to think. It is not a sign of irrepressible affection; nor is it the bubbling of a twenty-something twink with nothing on his mind. Fawning means only this: I have for years been lonely and only now, having been given this man so oatmeal-honest and good for me, only now do I know how lonely I was.

So I fawn.

I straighten collars. I make him tea. I watch him shave in his underwear (skin still flushed and beading from the shower; big hand carefully tracing his jaw). I think his life may be a movie and I just sit in the dark with popcorn, amazed.

Must do something with this great yawn of a Tuesday…

So I took the dog for a walk. Why do I get this thrill, still, when I take Jacob out on my own? Like a five-year-old left to guard a baby, I look around to see who notices the responsibility I’m invested with. Only mature, stable men have dogs to walk. No wide-eyed boys stroll with Labradors on the seawall. Only we grown-up few. Jacob pants on, tugging at the leash-he knows the way to the park.

The sky was grey today, a planet-sized flake of ash, suspended above. I felt small and inconspicuous, working my way past the half-open concession stand and daydreaming nannies with their dozing, stroller-strapped wards. My best friends have all flown away, leaving me adrift in my free moments to wander the park with Jacob.

We’re a pair of flâneurs, him and I. We share a deep interest in the habits of ducks (though Jacob is rather more hands-on in his investigations) and we are both content to waste grey afternoons sprawled on patches of grass, lazily watching the hundreds of important people hurry by.

We were occupied with just such a project when Jacob suddenly sprang to his feet, gave a barbaric yawp, and hurtled after a boy riding a skateboard. He ignored my calls for him to return, but the poor skateboarder, alerted to the approach of his attacker, lost his balance and spilled unceremoniously into a rhododendron.

I had to go help.

The boy, on closer inspection, was not bad looking-except insofar as he was perfectly groomed. He wore a mesh-backed trucker’s cap and an Abercrombie T-shirt-an outfit so magazine-typical as to blunt his natural good looks. As he picked himself out of the bush, his smile (embarrassed? annoyed?) caught me off guard though. And his ass, a pair of puppy dogs, was angled toward me when he leant in to retrieve the skateboard.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s OK.” He spun one of the wheels, holding it up for inspection. He had the fingers of a piano player. His skin was moon pale. There were bits of rain-ruined petals on his cap, which I brushed off for him a little nervously.

“I love Labradors,” said the boy. And Jacob loved him too, apparently, now that he was dismounted. In that moment, with the dog smiling at him, then me, then happily scratching, it seemed an appreciation for Labradors was a spectacular coincidence, a common bond worth exploring. “What’s your dog’s name?” he asked.

“Jacob,” I said. But my throat tightened in the silence where I might have mentioned he belonged to my boyfriend. “You wanna walk him for a while? That way he might get used to skateboards.” But when I passed the leather leash, the dog looked back over his shoulder at me. Was he worried? What was that ear-dropping, close-mouthed look he shot me?

We fell into step together, wandered under a stone bridge and toward Lost Lagoon. Jacob, in raptures over the appearance of so many new ducks, bent all his weight forward to urge us along.

“I’m Will,” I said as our pace quickened. I gave him a smile, just a smile and my hand.

“I’m Dan. Daniel Whickham.”

I’m allowed to go for walks with strangers if I choose.

Of course, there is no Daniel Whickham. What an absurd name to have chosen.

New mission: more life, less diary.

When will Tim be home? It’s 5:30 and I’m starved.