Saturday, February 12, 2011

Grateful for crumbs

‘Have you no friends?’
‘None, Sir. I had a friend once but she died a long time ago.’
Jane Eyre’s words to Mr Rochester.

They stay in my mind this morning and rattle around there when I think about the task of letting our dog out into the back garden after his night asleep in the laundry.

For the past year we have kept the dog corralled in a corner of the kitchen living area, which includes a window with a cat door through which the dog is free to come and go. He has the whole back yard in which to play. The dog is small. He can use the cat door with ease and he does so, but not often enough it would seem.

The dog - perhaps like most dogs left to their own devices - prefers to sit inside in his small kingdom under a table on his bed hour after hour until someone walks him or encourages him outside.

My daughter came home from school last week and announced that the kitchen stank of dog.
‘He has to go outside more.’
And so we decided to seal off the cat door and keep the dog outside by day.

It is summertime and although the weather has been unpredictable and far from ideal, it is not so cold that a dog would catch a chill.

We continue to let the dog inside at the end of the day while we prepare and eat dinner. We still let him roam around inside until last thing at night when he now knows to take himself off to the small indoor laundry for sleep.

In the mornings, I feel bad about locking him outside.
‘He’s a dog,’ my husband says after I express my misgivings. He’ll get over it.’

I have no friends. The words resonate. A dog has no friends. Human friendship seems fickle.

The dog keeps interrupting my writing time by barking. He sits on his bed now transferred outside onto the veranda out of sun and rain and barks. He barks every time he hears a neighbouring dog.

Can I blame him? Is his barking a form of communication? Is it out of boredom that he barks? Does he need a friend?

The responsibility of another dog is almost more than I can bear. I did not want this dog in the first place. We have three cats. Enough I say.

Dogs unlike cats need so much love and attention. Dogs are companionable, loyal. They love to play. They want to be near. These qualities, this need for attachment stirs up the maternal in me, both the warmth of affection I now hold for him, but also my guilt.

I anthropomorphise this dog to death, but I do not believe he is without feelings. I can tell when he is unhappy and when he is not. I can tell that this new arrangement does not suit him.

And perhaps my husband is right: the dog will adjust. We all adjust in time to unfortunate circumstances, but it does not ease the pain I feel when I consider this dog’s life.

To me he is like an unwanted child, like Jane Eyre in the home for unwanted children. Such children were forced to be grateful for crumbs, a dog's life.

I remember when I was little I used to ponder on the nature of gratitude. How old was I? Ten, maybe twelve, when I considered that a child should be able to exist in the world without all the time having to be grateful for her very existence. There were things I considered then that a child like myself should be able to take for granted.

I had argued with my older sister. She said I was lazy. Why did I not help her with the housework? Why did I at least not tidy up our shared bedroom?

It was a Saturday morning. I did not want to clean the house. I did not want to be like my older sister who spent what seemed like her entire weekend, washing clothes, hanging them out, scrubbing out the bathroom, cooking and ironing.

She was the oldest girl; the job fell to her especially after our mother went out to work in a children’s home nearby.

In Allambie Children’s Reception Centre our mother looked after over fifty children at a time. We stayed at home and my mother’s oldest daughter took on the task of caring for us. My oldest sister was meticulous then and now, unlike me.

I ran outside to escape my sister’s harangue. I sat on the brick ledge of the front gate and felt the sun through the thinness of my cotton dress. I sat there still and quiet until I felt dozy and in my reverie I considered these matters.

It was then I decided that children ought to be allowed to live free from the burdens of excessive housework such as my sister demanded of me, until they were much much older. Children should have childhoods, I thought then.

I still think this now, though I recognise the need for some effort to be made on the part of children to 'make a contribution'.

What hope would I have had in Jane Eyre’s day with attitudes such as mine then? Though if I were born into different circumstances I suspect such thoughts would not enter into my head.

‘You'll be hopeless in your old age,’ my daughter said to me while we discussed the disarray in our household, which is in need of a spring clean, a spring clean I refuse to undertake myself. I am still the ten to twelve year old of years gone by, but I no longer have an older sister to whip me and the house into shape. My daughter takes her place.
‘You’ll even stop washing yourself,' she says. 'You’ll let your house fall down around you. You’ll spend your days in front of the computer writing and nothing will ever get done.’

My daughter jokes but there is a sting to her words.

I do not care for the domestics as I once did when my children were younger and before I took up this writing life.

This writing life that I can only fit into the nooks and crannies of each day, but these nooks and crannies my daughter might argue should be filled with housework and cleaning and putting our house into order.

I have said it before in a quote from the writer Olga Lorenzo, when I die I do not want to have it written on my gravestone: She was a good woman. She kept a tidy house.

I want to read something else. I prefer the words: She wrote well.
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