Issue #8

The Box

The woman is in her late thirties, but looks younger. She is dressed in jeans and a surfing t-shirt, and is barefoot with brightly painted toenails.  There is a chair behind her, but she is sitting cross-legged on the floor with a photograph album open on her lap.  There are three cardboard boxes to one side of her, two closed and one on top with the flaps open.  It is early morning.

Why did he have to come?  It just made things more difficult.  I couldn’t concentrate on how I felt, or spend as much time as I would’ve liked.  There was this constant nagging thought, whether he was okay or not.

We’d prepared the day before; taken last photos, a lock of hair, even a plaster cast footprint; only to arrive and be told we didn’t have an appointment.  They apologised, but still sent us home.  I’m not sure if it was a relief or not.  You know how you psyche yourself up for something?


Anyway, he came.  Insisted.  Even though he normally hates things like that.  I knew he wouldn’t hack it.  But, I could hardly refuse, could I?  So there we were, half carrying him to the car.  Me the head, him the useless legs.  A dead weight between us.  

It’s only up the road, and we got there way too early.  The last appointment of the day.  That wait.  It was horrible.  He tried to light a fag, with shaking hands that dropped it so many times, I ended up snatching it from him and lit it myself.  And me the non-smoker!  I just stood.  Stared at my feet, thinking about what was ahead.  He was physically trembling, which at one time might have made me come over all caring.  But this wasn’t his day.


I sat on the cold, tiled floor, Doc’s head in my lap.  Daft name for a dog, I know, but very apt.  The day he arrived, this fat puppy waddled across the room and curled up at my feet, looking all cute and innocent.  I didn’t realise he was quietly chomping his way through my boots, the little bugger!  He made a proper mess of my DMs.  So, Doc was named, and claimed.  From the last of the litter that nobody wanted, to the second set of teeth I brushed each night before bed.  The passenger in the seat of my car, a red seatbelt on when the roof was down in Summer, tongue flapping in the wind.  The one hiding behind my legs, licking my hand for comfort, when faced with the drunken, abusive stranger my partner turned into at weekends.  The company on walks, the next morning, while the drunk was still sleeping it off.

Go to black

Come up on the woman, now sat on the chair, nursing a mug of coffee in her hands. It is midday.

He couldn’t sit upright, or stand.  That morning his legs just stopped.  It was the right decision.  I had to keep telling myself that.  I promised I’d be the last thing he saw, the last touch he felt.  If I could do one thing for him, that was it.  The nurse told me animals who went through this alone struggled, they got panicky and distressed.  Having someone familiar calmed them somehow.


The clippers buzzed, as I cradled his head, murmuring soothing words. He stayed very still, seemed tired and listless.  Resigned somehow. 

-Fuck.   I can’t do this!

I looked around to see the door slam.  Couldn’t believe it.  Why didn’t he listen?  I bloody knew he’d cut and run. 

I took a deep breath and tried to focus, this wasn’t about him.  The clippers shaved the skin bare, smooth and pink like a baby.  She found the weakly pulsing vein, held the bottle up, and pierced it with the needle.  A punctured sound, then clear liquid began seeping into the glass tube.  My head was swimming:

Will he feel any pain, does he know what’s happening? 

- He’ll just close his eyes, drift off into a deep sleep.  His breathing getting slower...

until it stops, right? 

She looks up to the side towards the window. Long pause. 

Because he was never going to wake up.  I knew that.  What I didn’t know was if he’d struggle, or how I’d cope if he did.  What was it like to feel the life draining from somebody, to feel their heartbeat fade to a flutter, then stop? 


I put my face next to his and kissed the tip of his nose.  Held him tight as the needle pressed into his vein.   I felt his breathing slow, then stop.  He’d gone. It was so quick.  Still warm, but strangely limp, I sat and stroking soft, suede ears.


Then the voice in my head started.  What if he wants to say goodbye, see him one last time?  He’ll only get one chance.  Oh shit, I’m going to have to ask.

I must’ve sounded an absolute crackpot.

How long ‘til he goes stiff?  I mean really stiff, ‘cause I know there’s two lots of rigor mortis, the first that wears off then the second, more permanent like.  My mother-in-law told me, she’s a nurse.  And will he start leaking body fluids, or anything grisly like that?  ‘Cause I don’t think he could handle that.  I mean how long will he stay warm?

Her voice soothing. 

-Just take as long as you like.  Whatever time you need.  You can stay in here while we see to other patients, I’ll make sure nobody disturbs you. 

No.  No, that’s not what I meant,  I’m just worried my partner might want to see him.  And if he does, it has to be while Doc’s still natural looking.  I don’t think he’ll cope otherwise.

-You have a while yet, but you might want to go and get him soon. 

Thanks.  Thanks for all your help.

She smiled and left the room.


So I sat on the cold, hard floor, his body on my lap.  Touched warm fur and breathed in his smell.  I talked to him a bit.  Cried a little.  But all the time I kept glancing up at the clock.  In the end I gave in.  Found him stood by the car, surrounded by cigarette butts.

-Has he gone?

I nodded.  D’you want to see him?


You sure?  It’s not scary, he looks like he’s sleeping…

-I can’t.  I just can’t.  I saw the clippers and had to get out of there.

You shouldn’t have come, I knew you couldn’t do it.  I’m going to sit with him for a while.


I went back inside.  With the knowledge that once we left I would never see him again.  I wanted to take my time, get me head around this.  Grieve a little.  But, that wasn’t allowed.  He wanted to leave, my feelings didn’t matter.  They never did. So I left.  Closed the door on my constant companion of 15 years.

Go to black

Come up on the woman kneeling up by the cardboard boxes.  She is now wearing a hoodie as it is evening and a little chilly. She places a small wooden box into the top of the open cardboard box.

We got him cremated.  I wanted to keep him with us, at least for a little while.  Our nomadic lifestyle meant no place to rest, for him or us.  I picked a plain wooden box – a simple inscription. ‘Doc our beautiful boy.’  Argued over his idea of an accompanying scatter pouch.  To split him up just felt wrong, somehow.


Months later I packed my car and put Doc behind the driver’s seat.  Twenty years of my life crammed into an old Golf GTi.  A one-way trip, so I had to be selective.

Lancashire, to Devon, then up to Scotland.  Time on the Mull of Kintyre.  Lots of walking, up mountains and along beaches.  No companion, but I found me again.

She looks up and straight ahead on the last line (from ‘but I found me again’) and half smiles.

Doc sits at the bottom of my wardrobe these days.  Behind the Converse, my walking boots and numerous handbags. 

I still haven’t found a place. Yet. 

She closes the flaps

Light fades.

© Hayley Alessi 2012

Hayley Alessi