Him: come down.
Her: I won’t.
Him: calm down.
Her: I can’t.
Him: I’m waiting for you.
Her: it’s cold up here. and the air feels fresher. realer.
Him: I’ll wait for you.
(suddenly, she whips a hand out and grabs a bird perched at the end of the branch she has been sitting on. swallows it whole.)
(she begins to clamber down from her tree. opens her mouth. nothing but birdsong.)
Crazy old dad, I always thought, with that crazy big old dog. That lacquered little photo, two matchboxes wide, laid low under my pillow where my downy four-year-old head rested its way to five and six and seven and then the war was over and dad never did come home and on we went with our days which scudded past like burly big clouds.
And though the picture was long lost, every night through my adolescence, gut-punching along like everyone else’s, every night through my twenties, my thirties, my marriage, my children, every night I put it under my pillow with my inside eyes and traced its grey lines that I had so loved. Dad, big-nosed, big-eared, skinny-shouldered, like he’d forgotten to grow anything lower than his chin, grinning a dumb old grin. Cap off to the side, all jaunty. I wondered so hard how it stayed on when he ran, when a gust of wind howled through the snowy trees. Stripes on his collar, like big roman numerals, another peeking diagonally across his chest like it was trying to reach out and steal his buttons. And that beautiful big eagle over his chest, dancing on a circle whose centre I could never quite see clearly.
And then, right by his head, breathing hot onto his shoulder, that dog. The biggest there had ever been, I thought. White and shaggy and vast, his head dwarfing even dad’s big old noggin, with his teeth bared and his eyes black and cold.
But dad wasn’t scared, no way, he was smiling on over, bold as brass while that big old dog grinned the best he could, canines and wet black lips. The best of buddies, I thought. Dad and his dog, off to the war, and I bet they fought like soldiers and I bet they never stopped smiling, just like that, dad under his big dad nose, and the dog under his black button one. They were the best team there had ever been and I was glad, glad they were looking after each other, together til the end. And when we never heard about any awards for either, not for dad and not for the dog, I knew it was because they were too cool to brag, because they knew, they had each other and they’d always know what they had done.
It wasn’t until mum died and I was left to sort through the sack of sadness that was her house that I found it again. Two seams across it, straight like that emblem never had been, folded and unfolded and refolded and cried over. There he was again – same old ears, same old nose, though to be honest, both a trifle smaller than my child brain had made them. And to his left, that big old dog. White and fat and wolfish. I knew every curve of its fur still. And of course, it was my adult eyes that finally stepped in and chided my four-five-six-seven year old ones for what they hadn’t seen. How I’d ever thought it was real I could not fathom, but hope and love will do what nothing else can. The costume was cartoonish, the face confused, part dog, part wolf, part sheep, part bear. The mouth cracked open and black flooded behind the teeth and I wondered whether I could see the human eyes inside that mawkish grinning mouth. And I wondered whose eyes they were, whose hands were laced into those brutish paws. Who had made my father’s eyes glitter so beneath their cap, above their collar. And I wondered who else my father, my beautiful big-smiled father had looked at and seen nothing but a dog.