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  • Writer's pictureLiz Hudson

Grey

Grey awoke on the end of the bed, where he wasn't supposed to be.


For a few comfortable moments, he stayed perfectly still and listened to Diana's breathing. Somewhere beyond the cracked window, an early bird was beginning to make a ruckus and he tilted one grey ear with interest. A pair of blackbirds had nested in the hedge by the kitchen window the year before and he made a mental note to investigate later.


As his attention turned back to Diana, Grey's eye fell on the warm sliver of a sunspot; a pocket of early sunshine beaming through a gap in the curtains, up by the pillows on the empty side of the bed. He was tempted.


He didn't want to wake her, but he really did love a sunspot.


Carefully, he rolled onto his belly. Grey had been feeling his age recently; an ache had been creeping into his bones and he hadn't been as quick to his feet when the man in the shorts and red t-shirt stuffed envelopes through the letter hole every day. He didn't really mind the man, but he felt it was his responsibility to monitor the situation. This morning, however, Grey felt pretty good. Even from up here, his nose was detecting the sweet fragrance of summer buds beginning to uncurl in the garden, promising kinder weather. He always felt better in the summer.


Before he could stop himself, Grey huffed out a loud sigh of contentment and then froze. He watched her face anxiously but Diana slept on. His attention returned to the sunspot.


Reaching out with one paw at a time, he began to creep across the duvet. Creep and check. Creep and check. Diana's soft snores didn't falter. Creep and check. Grey's tail whipped back and forth with pride as he bellied towards his goal. Creep and check.


The sunspot was everything he'd hoped. He held in another happy sigh and expertly wriggled onto his back, letting his face loll towards her so he could watch her. He stealthily stretched out his neck and gave her an experimental upside-down sniff. He was close enough to poke out his tongue and taste the end of her nose or her cheek. The very tip of his tongue escaped through his front teeth but he managed to get control of it. Just. He enjoyed the fruity scent of her hair conditioner and the cream she rubbed into her skin before she went to sleep. She smelled of home.


His tail continued to whip back and forth, thumping against the duvet, making his body sway and his paws bounce. There was nothing he could do about it but it didn't seem to be disturbing her, so he tried not to worry about it. He allowed himself the sigh of happiness he'd been holding in and closed his eyes, letting the sunshine warm his hide. They were having a lie in. He did love a lie in.

*


He sensed the instant she woke up. The quality of her breathing changed and his eyes flickered open. Her eyes were open too and they lay in companionable silence a while. Grey waited to see if Diana would tell him off for being up on the bed but the silence stretched and Grey threw in a happy thump, thump tail bump. He had gotten away with it.


When Diana rolled to her feet, Grey slithered to the edge of the bed and let his front paws drop to the laminate. His back legs trailed behind him as he enjoyed a leisurely dismount stretch, elongating himself to keep his hind toes up on the mattress as long as possible. His left back paw dropped to the shiny floor with a little click of claw and then the right. He followed it up with a cat stretch, humping his back with pleasure as his muscles woke up. He made a mental note to check the hole in the hedge where Mrs Bandy’s cat kept getting into the garden. He didn’t mind the cat too much, as long as Mrs Bandy kept up her intermittent payments of treats, passed quietly through the hole when Diana wasn’t looking.


Dutifully, he followed Diana to the bathroom and located the patch of floor where the hot water pipes below warmed the tile. He sat and let his front paws slide out until he was accidentally on-purpose stretched out on his belly. He lay sentry while Diana sat and brushed and weighed and washed and flushed. He was glad when she didn’t get in the shower. Grey wasn’t keen on the shower.


He shadowed her back to the bedroom and supervised the combing of her hair and the selection of her clothes. He eyed her balled up socks with interest but managed to restrain himself.


Down to the kitchen next and he went straight to the corner where his bowl lived but, of course, she hadn’t put it down yet. While the kettle rumbled, Diana unlocked the back door and went to collect the milk from the gate; Grey took the opportunity to slip out and conduct his routine patrol of the garden. He went to the hole in the hedge, where his nose picked up the telltale scent of cat. He stuck his head in the hole but was disappointed to find no offerings. Mrs Bandy had been slipping recently.


Next, Grey circled the plant pots, the little tree with the red leaves and the bench with the wagon wheel back. Everything was in order. He just had time to dash round to the kitchen window and check beneath the blackbird nest. He smelled the birds but was disgusted to find no stray bits of feather or eggshell on the ground below. He spared another moment to check for interesting leaves that Diana might like but, in the end, returned to the kitchen with no bounty. Perhaps tomorrow.


Grey did love their morning routine.


Diana was dripping water into a little pot of green sprouts when he got back. The little paper bag stuck in the rim read Forget-Me-Not but he didn’t know what it meant. Grey let his eyes drift between her hands as she dropped a teabag into a purple mug and the toaster, which didn’t pop. When Diana carried her tea into the living room, toastless, Grey followed her and settled on the carpet by her feet. There would be no shared crusts today, but that was okay, because he hadn’t been able to find her a gift in the garden. He hoped she might reach down and stroke his ears. He did love it when she stroked his ears.

*


At lunchtime, they headed out for their walk. Grey waited by the door while Diana pulled on her coat and hat and gloves. His front paws paddled a little bit in excitement, sliding on the smooth floor. He popped up to spin a quick circle and then sat back down. He was working on his patience.


Diana slung his red lead around her neck and picked up her keys. She always brought his lead, but recently he’d been allowed to trot along beside her without it. Grey didn’t really need the lead anyway, he knew the way to the park and he never strayed away from Diana’s ankles. He was proud to be so trusted. He spun another quick circle and then bustled a little as she opened the door. He allowed himself a little scamper on the garden path but settled into a solemn trot as soon as they stepped out onto the pavement. He glanced up at the lead around her neck and his tail whipped from side to side with pride.


At the park, they watched a black dog chasing after a fuzzy yellow ball. A man with a bendy blue stick with a cup on the end waved at them but they didn’t stop to say hello. Grey hadn’t really fancied fetching a ball in a while but the grass on the big field had been cut and the turf felt so springy and smelled so green, he began to wonder if maybe he was missing out. He briefly considered chasing the black dog’s ball, when the man let it fly from the end of the blue stick, but then he looked at the lead around Diana’s neck and stuck close.


After all, Grey was a Good Boy and he did love their walks.

*


For lunch, Diana made a cup of soup. Sometimes she would make bread and butter, and Grey would get the crust. Today she just ate the soup by itself, sitting on the sofa and moving the spoon from cup to mouth until the cup was empty. Grey wondered if she was still sad about not getting a gift from the garden and made a mental note to bring in two leaves tomorrow.


The familiar click of the gate sent Grey surging to his paws and he ran for the front door, putting on the brakes halfway up the hall and executing a perfect sliding stop directly beneath the letter hole. He checked over his shoulder to see if Diana had seen, but she hadn’t caught up yet. Grey’s bottom weaved from side to side, following the frantic wag of his tail, and he watched it for a moment, fascinated, before returning his attention to the door.


A fistful of white envelopes began to poke through the hole, getting longer and longer until they toppled, hung a moment, and then fell, hitting the floor in a spray of paper. A perfect delivery.


Sometimes the man in the shorts and red t-shirt would call out to him through the letter hole but not today.

*


At four o’clock something different happened.


Diana pulled her coat back on and picked up the key for the car.


As Grey did love a ride in the car, he hopped in when she opened the door and dived into the passenger footwell. He hoped she might roll the window down so the wind would ruffle his fur and carry in the new scents from outside as they travelled, but she didn’t.


They drove past the kennels, and Grey was glad about that. He didn’t mind the kennels but he didn’t like to be separated from Diana for too long. They also drove past a bakery and Grey stretched his head out of the footwell, letting his nose bob up and down as he enjoyed the yeasty smell. He did love bread; bread was his favourite. He hoped there would be crusts tomorrow.


Grey’s heart sank when they pulled into the car park at the vets. He shuffled as far back into the footwell as he could manage. He didn’t used to mind the vets but recently they’d been prodding and poking him, and he didn’t like it. Their visits made Diana sad, and that made Grey sad.


They sat in the car park together for a little while. It smelled like sickness and grief.


Diana got out of the car and shut the door. Grey allowed himself a tiny sigh of relief and waited anxiously in the footwell for her to return. When she didn’t come straight back, Grey popped his head up to watch for her through the window. He saw one of the kind ladies in green trousers and a billowy shirt walking a dog with three legs.


When he saw Diana, his tail did an involuntary thump. Grey hoped they could leave and go home soon.


Diana had a tiny box. When she got in, she put the box on the passenger seat. She had a wet face. Grey hated when the vets gave her a wet face and made her body shudder with little sobs of sadness. He reached over and rested his chin on her fingers, where they curled around the knob of the gear stick. He waited while she shuddered and made the comforting rumbles deep in his chest that she liked to hear.


'I’m taking you home, Grey,' she said, and started the car. Grey didn’t like going to the vets but he did love coming home from the vets.

*


Grey wasn’t sure what was in the box, or why it made Diana sad, but he made sure to follow her extra closely for the rest of the day, as she shuffled from room to room.


They listened to the radio before bedtime. Sometimes Diana would leave the radio on for him if she had to go out and leave him at home but he liked it better when they listened to music together. He sat by her feet and made plans involving leaves and tennis balls and crusts.


More than anything, Grey loved Diana.


At bedtime, Diana carried the box upstairs and put it on the bedside table beside her glass of water. Grey performed his final duties of the day and supervised carefully as she wiped her face with a flannel, brushed her teeth, rubbed in her cream and dropped her clothes into the basket by the bedroom door.


Before she turned out the light, Diana ran her fingers over the four letters on the little brass plaque on the lid of the box. 'Goodnight Grey,' she said.


Grey waited for her to turn off the lamp and then jumped up beside her. He wasn’t supposed to be on the bed, but he liked it best when he was close to her.


As he curled into a ball in the crook of her knees, a final satisfied sigh rumbled up from the depths of his chest, making his whole body rise and fall.


In Grey’s opinion, the best thing about the end of the day was the promise of tomorrow. He looked forward to spending it the same way he always did, with her.


 

For Taz. You are missed every day.


Connect with me on Instagram: @writer_nerd.


Image copyright: Liz Hudson

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