Friday, July 04, 2008

the quiet dog

I’m standing at the door to the flat with a policeman next to me. He already has his hand to his face, because the hallway is thick with foul air. There are a couple of massy black flies lolling around the letterbox; I put the resus bag down because I don’t think I’ll be needing it.
‘Police. Open up.’
Rae shouts from the pavement that runs along the front windows to the flat. ‘I can see legs on the sofa – kind of.’
‘Are you happy kicking the door in or do you want me to help?’ I ask him.
He shakes his head confidently, takes a step back, braces himself with both hands against either wall, then lays into the door with one then two great flat-footed kicks. It splinters at the lock and swings backwards.
‘Ambulance’ I call out and step into the flat.
The air seems to ripple around us with fatty, cloying vapours. I move further along the cluttered hallway, breathing through my mouth. ‘Ambulance’ I say again, with much less vigour. The door to the sitting room is open. I can see the body of a large Alsatian dog lying on its side against the wall, the flesh along the length of its wasted body sinking into the gaps between its bones. Its eyes are bored deep and black. I walk into the room and see the dog’s owner lying on the sofa. He was naked when he died; now he is blown up with decay, spilling and blackened like a monstrous, over-cooked sausage.

I leave the room and walk back, passing the policeman in the hallway.
‘Very obviously dead,’ I say to him. He squeezes past me to see for himself as I move quickly outside. After a minute or two I start finishing the paperwork.
The policeman comes outside and asks me if I’ve got any chewing gum, or some mints.

A scattering of neighbours are being drawn outside by the police and ambulance lights. The woman in the flat next door to the dead man comes out in her white towelling dressing gown. She clutches it round her neck as she speaks to me.
‘What’s happened? Is he all right?’
‘No. I’m afraid he’s not. He’s – erm – he’s died.’
‘Oh my god.’ She puts her hand to her face. ‘What about his dog?’
‘I’m afraid the dog has died, too.’
‘Urgh. What’s that smell?’
‘He died a while ago. When did you last see him?’
‘George? I don’t know. Must’ve been a couple of weeks or so.’
‘Did you hear anything? See anything?’
‘I do remember the dog barking for a while. Come to think of it, that’s unusual. He’s always such a quiet dog.’
She looks out at the second police crew to arrive and hugs her dressing gown to her even tighter.
‘Oh my god.’
A woman comes out of the flat next door to hers on the other side and asks what’s going on as she locks the door.
‘That George has died. And his dog.’
‘Oh that’s awful,’ she says, pocketing the key. ‘I thought his truck hadn’t moved for a while. He’s normally so - out and about. Oh that’s terrible.’ She hurries off up the concrete steps. I turn back to my form and write ‘decomposition’ in the box that asks for signs incompatible with life.
‘That poor dog’ says the woman.
A policewoman comes over to us, and two more go into the flat with thick white masks on.


cogidubnus said...

What a sad old lie this is...whoops correction...What a sad old life this is...

Anonymous said...

As always Spence, an interesting, if slightly macarbe insight into Ambulance life.
It always supprises me how as a nation of animal lovers we can get quite upset over the death of an animal, but be so nonchalent over the death of another human being. I have seen this behaviour many times now in the upsidedown, perverse logic of the Ambulance world, but it never seems to be acceptable to me. Having spent many hours in the company of people who are deceased (often for some considerable time) looking at their mortal remains (and often very meager belongings)and wondering what sort of person they were like before death. The reaction of neighbours or onlookers always seems rather cruel and calious. I`m sure that they`re not aware of it but It can make our job appear very surreal at times like this.

loveinvienna said...

I can only imagine the smell :S Must have been horrible, especially as only a few days before the gentleman had been a living breathing human being. I wonder why the neighbours didn't check on him if they hadn't seen his car move for a while and hadn't seen him out and about? It's sad.
Liv xxx

Judith said...

It has taken me days to leave a comment on this post because this is the saddest post of yours so far. I wonder how many old people die alone and unmissed like this. Poor George! Poor faithful dog!

uphilldowndale said...

derrick, I wonder if people focus on the animal, because it is some how easier to cope with, the fact that their neighbour has been dead for days if not weeks and no one noticed is to scary for them to contemplate,after all it could have been them, and how quickly would they have been missed?
I think it is easy for very private people to become 'invisible', often through choice, they might be happy with their own company, and that of their pet, (although many will be just lonely and isolated.) Combine that with a society with less and less focus on 'community' and you could see more of such incidents.