We had managed to buy Freddy cheap because he’d been sent back from his first owner in disgrace. They’d locked him in the shed to keep an eye on the budgie. I’m not sure what went wrong, but I think it may have involved some loud complaints on his part, and liquid protests. It may also not have helped that Freddy tended to round off a meal with something that wasn’t on the menu: a shoe or a cushion, for example.
When we took him home I was allowed to hold him on my lap in the car. He slept soundly; with a passion, you could say. It was as though he knew he’d found his destiny. From that day on he always slept on my bed.
Freddy was a dopey, affectionate dog, and though whippets are hunters, he seemed not to understand this. In the country, if a rabbit appeared in the distance, I would run down the field to show him that speeding after rabbits was what dogs like him were supposed to do. He would bound along behind me, enjoying the fun, impressed at my new-found speed. But he was not interested in the idea of pursuing a fellow creature.
He was not a wimp, however. He could be brave. Once, my cousin Amy took him for a run in the Surrey Hills. He loved to sweep across wild expanses, and that’s what he did for a few minutes. Then Amy called to say he’d run into a wood and disappeared! She was panicky. It turned out Freddy had run through the wood to the open fields. He’d then managed to cross the M25 Motorway, with its eight lanes of speeding cars, and pass through several miles of London streets to make it back to me. After that, Freddy became not just my dog, but my hero and my world. After my Mum had left home I’d lived with my Dad. After three years my Dad offloaded me back to my Mum. But Freddy was not like that. He was reliable. I poured my affection into him. He discovered a hidden reservoir of love somewhere inside me I never knew I had.
One summer I went on holiday to stay with my aunt, near Barnstaple. She wasn’t allowed pets in her flat, so Freddy stayed home. I’m sure my aunt’s shoes would have breathed a sigh of relief, if shoes could sigh, but for me that meant the hours passed slowly. I begged to be allowed to return home early, and after a couple of days they let me. I arrived back in the evening, and walked down our street looking towards our house. My mother was standing outside, and as I approached, I could make out her face. It seemed to have turned grey. She had something bad to tell me, and I immediately knew what it was. It was what I somehow always knew would happen.
I approached her and said: “It’s Freddy isn’t it?” No reply. “He’s dead, isn’t he?” She said nothing. But I knew.
Finally, she spoke: “He went into my bedroom when I was out and chewed the top off my bottle of sleeping pills − you know what he was like. There was no pain. He just went to sleep.”
And now I’m 45 years old.
And yesterday, late in the evening, I was walking up Regent Street towards the tube on my journey back from work when I reached Oxford Street. As I stood waiting at the kerb, I was thinking about what was on TV that evening when my mind strayed onto those long-past events. It suddenly occurred to me:
“Of course he didn’t chew the top off the bottle of pills.”
I must have spoken out loud, because the tall woman in a smart blue raincoat standing next to me looked round.
“She had him killed,” I said.
It had taken me 35 years to figure it out, but I was sure this was the truth. I remembered my mother had said it was not practical to keep a dog in the house all day while she was at work and I was at school.
“And he’s so naughty.” She’d say. “He’s trouble. He has to go. It would be the best thing − for him as well as us. It wouldn’t hurt him.”
I had protested, of course: “I would rather anything than that. Anything!” I said. “He can even go to another home!”
“That wouldn’t work.” She said.
“Because he wouldn’t settle.”
The woman in the blue raincoat looked worried.
“Are you OK?” She said.
David Crook does not believe in astrology but he’s such a true Libran it worries him. He works in investment and writes for the theatre. His latest play, ‘In the Bear’s Jaws’ will open at the BITEF theatre in Belgrade, Serbia, in May, and then tour.