An Ode to Friendship (of the quieter kind)
About this piece…
I didn’t struggle so much with the use of the second person in this piece, however writing in the future tense proved to be a bit of a struggle. I kept on wanting to slip back into the present tense, which would have felt more natural for me. That said, my aim in writing this story was to make it as open-ended as possible, a piece that many people could adapt to their own lives. The narrative view-point proved to be very useful in that respect. The ‘you will’ gives it that applicability, that idea of possibility, in someone’s life. It gave me the space to be vague about the facts; I want the reader to fill in the gaps, apply it to their own story (their own pet/dream pet, their mental health, their job and their relationship). I found it challenging to keep that distance, especially when it came to not specifying the precise nature of the pet – I had my own idea in mind and I was trying not to intrude the piece with that. I found that to get past that obstacle I had to pull the camera back significantly and just focus on the outlines of what was going on.
When I first thought of writing in this narrative viewpoint, I thought it would inevitably be quite an aggressive, ‘bossy’ piece. I decided to swerve somewhat and write something gentler for the reader – I hope this comes through. I am struggling to identify the kind of voice I adopted, and who the narrator really is: at first, I thought it may end up as an essay, with a slightly formal tone, but it became more personal along the way. Perhaps it’s more of an ode, now, a personal ode that attempts to touch upon the universality of this kind of situation. The story drove me more than I drove it: I got an idea that I wanted to write about how pets can help in times of crisis, and the various examples of that popped out along the way.
All in all, it was a slightly challenging piece to write, but fun all the same. The choice of narrative viewpoint really shaped the purpose of the story for me. I wonder how this would have turned out if it were written in a different person or tense.
An Ode to Friendship (of the quieter kind)
You will wake up one day, feeling odd. You will not be able to smile, or laugh, or construct your day in your head. Everything will become a blur, and you will realise that your thoughts are running in tight circles, trapped. You will wonder if this feeling is just today’s, or if it will extend into an indefinite bunch of tomorrows. You will feel sick, not quite physically but a deeper nausea, a sickness of the heart, or the soul, or whatever is inside that body of yours.
You will decide, on that heavy day, that you need a pet. The thought will come to you sometime between lunch and dinner. It will float into your mind, like cotton wool. It will give you two minutes of respite.
You will do some careful research upon returning home. After days of manuals and pet magazines, you will head over to the shelter and consider each animal in turn. You will choose the skinny one with the defiant eyes. When you finally hold her in your arms, you will do so delicately, as if she were an egg. You will name her Rumpus. And you will take her home.
Rumpus will run away at the sight of your slippers, at first. She will show you the whites of her eyes and dash under the sofa. You will decide to make your world as gentle as possible, for her. You will set your alarm in the morning to wake up with her. In the afternoons, you will follow her around your garden, peeping under the verbena bushes, sometimes crawling in amongst the leaves. You are more agile than you thought. You will begin to feel that at least one part of your brain has a focus, a routine. This part never blurs.
After a while, Rumpus will wag her tail when she sees you, rushing towards your open arms. She will nestle against you and you will feel her frantic heart. Her smell will linger on your hands and clothes; it will blend in with your sofa.
You will realise, one day, that you are fed up with your job. Your colleagues at work raise their eyebrows when you walk in, they make hushed comments behind your back. Your resentment thickens like darkness and you feel yourself slipping into that pit of angry shadows. At home, you will confide in Rumpus. You will mumble bitterly, relieve that lump in your throat. She will curl up on the tiled floor, and you will lower your body to join her. She may turn and lick your face, or simply stare into space with you. You will both lay there a while, you ranting, her listening; slowly you will doze off together.
You will write your letter of resignation the next day.
In the months to come, you will find somebody to put your arms around. His eyes will be bright, his smile lazy and warm. You will both laugh over breakfast, crumbs spilling over the table. You will tell each other that life is taking shape, that your future is a cottage covered in red leaves, complete with a fireplace and the smell of wood smoke.
You will introduce Rumpus to your man, shove her into his face, grin. He will smile with mild annoyance. Rumpus will frown in her own way. She does not want to play pet in your love affair. Boundaries, my friend, boundaries.
Some years after this, you will lean against your front door, sipping your morning orange juice in the rain. You will wonder how it is that each sip makes you feel emptier. Your man must be miles down that road by now. He belongs to you only in memory; his smile will mock you from the frames of blurred photographs. You will hold the tears in as your mind stumbles and falls. You will lie on the floor of your lounge as Rumpus explores. You will close your eyes and grit your teeth. Your pet will keep on coming back to you. She will nudge you gently at first. Then, as you refuse to move, she will crawl onto you, paws on your belly, nails scratching your skin. You will suck in your breath until your lungs hurt. Rumpus will lick your skin, slowly harder, harder, until the lick becomes a bite and you have no choice but to jump up. You will curse, push her away. Then you will take a deep breath and pull her into your arms. She will let herself be cuddled, sobbed upon. Really, she would like to go back to all that exploring. But she will wait it out. For you.
Your pet will grow old, you will remain young. Now she will lay in the lounge, and you will pace around, making plans for life. You will take a break from your thoughts and sit next to her. As you stroke Rumpus’ left ear, you will feel anchored, at home, and wholly sane. Her animal warmth will fill your hand, crawl up your arm and settle in your heart. You will take her paw in your hand. You will whisper, I love you.
In that cosy snuggle, you feel, with certainty, that you will be okay.
by Alicia Davies