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Thursday, 29 September 2011

A bear caged, a crab perling; let loose the dogs!

"You did! You nearly knocked me down"  the boss's voice is implacable,  on this warmish  grey September morning, as I mount the stairs to see what (the bloody hell) is going on. The boy stands stock still on a stair, brow lowered, eyes stormy and shakes his head.  "He pushed me, as I went up and he was coming down" , she is having satisfaction for  this.  "Did you?",  he shakes the head again,  "He did!, he's not speaking to me, so he pushed me instead".  I look  up at him,  surely he has grown upwards some more, and outwards, his shoulders bulking up, his schoolbag perched incongrously on his back. It seems  as though planes of skeletal growth, spurts of hormonal driven energy project   out  of him in jagged fashion,  his growing frame  simply unable to contain it all. The wonder was that he didnt take the walls down with him, never mind the boss, as he made his driven gloomy way downstairs. "Ah, I 'm sure it was an accident, and he will be more careful....eh wont you?".  The boss is outraged.  I ignore a forensic examination by her of how IT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN  an accident. "Are you, in fact not speaking to her"?  I  feel compelled to ask,  "I am not, as, if I do I will probably  say something she will not  like" he finally speaks. "And then...yet more ....trouble".

The boy was dispatched in isolation to his room the evening before for saying something I did not like, in a tone I liked even less. He had presented me with a very poor maths test to sign, which was inscribed by his teacher with the very reasonable request that he pay attention and work harder on maths homework. The boy and I have a rapprochement regarding homework. He has moved from the position that fifteen minutes was more than adequate,  to an hour or so after which we run through what was  allegedly revised. I have moved from a rosy vision of the boy putting in three hours (as suggested brightly by the school), in the face of his cold horror at "WHAT! THREE HOURS...IMPOSSIBLE . It  ocourred to me then  that maths was not a subject included  by him  in the  said revision.. "I uh dont actually need to revise maths, |I listen, in class, I always get it, except for this test, but hey its not a a problem because I got it afterwards..I ah know it now. .. He is an expert re assembler of the facts, where his comfort zone might be in danger, I have consistantly found. I presented the test paper to our resident mathematician,  fresh from her  A in honours  maths. "Hmm ,algebra (who knew ,with the boys scrawl), basic stuff,  these are basic mistakes" and she offered to help him with the revision.  The boy fought hard against this prospect of" WHAT?  MORE homework," and that culminated in  the aforementioned  period in isolation : Not because of his resistance but because of his raw dismissive tone, his impatient barely  surpressed fury. towards myself.  I tell him that I will not tolerate disrespect or indeed agression verbal from him, although , in fact I do tolerate a certain level of contrary sniping  from  (the front) him, because I know he literally cannot help it and it is necessary to him.  Its a matter of crossing a line , beween us. His sisters fail to see the nuanced  line I have with him, though , and the boss is voluble in her criticism of how HE ALWAYS GETS AWAY WITH IT,as I put the dog in the garden  and sheperd all three into the car, for school.  The boy trudges, rawboned and ackward to the car. Its clear that he would rather be nibbled to death by ducks than apologise to his sister, or acknowledge her in any other way .

I am aware of him sitting behind me in the car, crouched like a caged bear, his knees jutting ackwardly, his face a study in unyielding male stoicism.  I can hear the  dog too, barking mournfuly as we exit the driveway. He has an oscar deserving collection of wistful, mournful  and tragic barks in his armoury  , depending on circumstances. Sometimes, with the boy,    I wish I could just stop. Bring to a dead  halt  the programme of homework, routine, lectures and tellings off, directions to be...civil to you sisters...in control of your temper...accepting of correction.....unresisting of discipline...to take in food as though your body was a temple and not an old junkyard....and  on  and on  and on.  I wish I might just let him be, to fish all day with his monosyllalbic fisher boy friends, and when not,  to devour large quantities of carbohydrates with no trace of green stuff or most  of the fruit family;  to watch tv shows about aliens, wildlife, haunted houses, crimecall, family guy,and all  the fast moving ridculously violent chase movies, until he falls exhausted into his bed.  A crab in comfortable retreat in his shell, without irritant of clever knowing sisters and HOMEWORK.   But.... but ....he is a proud one, and an ambitious boy and so we must poke at him till he delivers up his pearl. Yes we must  persevere.

The dog and I have  companionably co existed for the weekend past, the children being away for rest and recreation  with their dad (the other half of the parenting team). He becomes a sort of surrogate child, or children even, a  silent though faithful shadow, at these times,  in contrast to  his usual role of yougest family member cum guard dog, cum slightly irritating younger  brother of the boy.  When the children return  he finds the re adjustment  difficult. He is a smart one, a wheaten terrior of slightly nervous and entirely benign disposition. A slavering lover of meat, who tracks down and sleeps with the boy's smelly socks at night (his bed in the house) and  a raucous lover of company.  He is to be found sitting in the middle of  childrens noise, his element giddy activity.  Like the rest of them, he has his own agenda to pursue,  the hunt for red meat or any of the other food groups, hanging with the boy, cozying up to the girls and .....walks,  no, not walks, but glorious crazy dashes through the front door opened by the unwary.  He lies in wait, and he is off! a blur of light brown doggy fur, galloping, a racehorse,  across the green and home free  to  the nearby fields.  No leash  required  thank  you all the same.  He comes back spent. I have often glimpsed him through the glass panel on the front door, lying like an abandoned fur coat, prone on the doorstep, many many hours later.

I felt  nudged , whispered to, about  his real job,  over the weekend, when he went missing for one night, and I was home alone.  I would not have expected to mind this, apart from a slight concern about his whereabouts, ( I knew he would be back, its has happened before) but I slept poorly, often waking with a sense of unease, the house seeming strange,  empty, with an unsettling feeling of absense. As I lay awake,   I found my self thinking of another evening  when a man from the gas company , or maybe the ESB , was outside our house reading the meter, and the  dog, who was shut inside with us, transmogrified into a hound  (or four) of the Baskervilles, menacing and powerful. The scene in the bedroom where the dogs guarded the child in the movie the Omen come to mind.  I looked out to see who or what had disturbed our ridulously friendly mutt, and there was an  unthreatening  looking man, though  a stranger, at the side  of our house. It was  odd  when you consider that the  dog welcomes all sorts of folk, adult and child,  known and unknown,  with madly swishing tale and grin.  Why this man.? And then there was the times when the low menacing growl would begin at someone or something approaching the  front gate, a long way back from the house, when you would again find yourself , unsettled,  uneasy, hissing  at him to shush! shush! for  the love of God!", before you checked to see if you  had locked the door.....closed the windows....gather the children in.

He retured  in the morning, and my normal sleep pattern, the  descend into exhausted oblivion,  resumed.  Sometimes I think we get a  fleeting glimpse of a common  invisable network , of pivotol roles and presences designated  unspoken  in each human household , the actual glue keeping body and soul together, making life  safe, bearable, possible even.


                                                 GATEKEEPER

                      The dog's cocked eye awaits
                                     the spillings  of crumbs
                                               the shavings of beef,
                       in the silence at my back as I prepare the meal.
                       each  dog muscle poised to leap on the intruder,
                                      whose footfall
                                                has disturbed
                                                       the air at the end of the lane.

                       His bark weaves in and out through  fallen night
                       as I lie in my bed adrift between this place and another.
                                         Guardian,
                                               of this house, and all here.
                                                   Gatekeeper.