• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 08

This house of outcasts

All the animals we rescued and nursed back to health are in the made-up picture of the life we could have had. You’re in it too, but I’m not. I’m the photographer, trying to capture something I could point at and call happiness later on. I’m the one behind the screen, cutting and pasting pixels from years’ worth of memories, washing them in sepia so there’s no mistaking them for present joy.

In my montage of heartbreak you stand in the far left corner of the garden shed, boxed in between a stack of pet carriers and the tall cage with the budgies that could say ”sweet baby bird”. You’re holding Hera, the kitten you didn’t want. “No more cats,” you said the evening I fished her out of a sewer, while Smokey and Bella circled around the new arrival, taking her in, assessing the threat. The day you caught the three of them sleeping in the wedge of light beneath the living room window, you had the lost advert half written; you crumpled the piece of paper and told me you hated having decisions made for you. I knew it would end like this: you had come round to so many of what you used to call “my things”. You had come round to black tea, you had come round to cult French movies, you had come round to beach holidays, and you were always going to come round to Hera.

We couldn't keep all the dogs, all the strays we took to a vet in the middle of the night or set up for a new home. You suffered for the dogs: for the Staffie that followed you everywhere, for the Lab that had lost its blind owner, for the ailing mutt that passed away the next day. But you would always have rather loved and lost; of all the good things to be said about you, that’s the one your leaving us hasn’t made any less true.

The last to arrive at our house of outcasts was Daisy, the old Weimaraner you claimed I cared about more than I cared for you. Her ears framed her face like an edgy haircut when she was still, and flapped up and down when I let her loose in the park.


This house of outcasts

“Who wouldn’t love you,” I whispered every time I leant close to her neck to click the leash back into place. “Who wouldn’t love you and still sleep at night?”

I watched you drive off on a late June sunset, the last rays reflecting off your wing mirror, Daisy’s head sticking out of the open passenger window. Smokey and Hera followed your car a few steps down the road, while Bella butted her head against my shin and gave me a knowing look. We all knew how much we’d lost, but who we’d miss most wasn’t a thing we could confess or hear each other say.