With a halved apple in each palm, I would begin my morning. Barefoot on dewy pavement crisscrossed with snail tracks, I held up the sweet fruit to the soft, warm nose of the horse, Inca. It was during this morning ritual when Harry would bound from his dog house and lick my hands, my face, my legs, clean of apple-juice. He was a pup then, less than a year old, and would constantly knock me into the gravel. We were a rambunctious pair, always playing and sharing Cheese and Onion Taytos.
One particular evening after we had given Harry a bath, I was determined to spend the night in his dog house and I sat clutching him in the dark. Even though we were cuddled together it was cold and damp and uncomfortable and I soon scuttled back into the familiarity of the wolf-spider infested cottage.
Years later, as I was learning to read, Harry would sit by me on the red bench overlooking the pasture. My mother had bought me Roald Dahl’s The Witches, second-hand from an egg stand at the farmers market in hopes of convincing me to read. Harry listened expectantly as I stuttered words.
It was this summer that words first appeared to me—gifted in the tattered form of a well-loved book.
I wrote poems, short and rhyming, about fairies and told Harry all manner of stories. He would always listen and after I had finished, look up at me with his mournful, golden-brown eyes.
During these summers him and I were seldom apart. We went on expeditions to pick wildflowers and on rain-soaked adventures into town where I would inevitably get a 99 from the grocery and always end up giving the ice cream to him. In town, everyone would greet him by name and exclaim at what a big, beautiful dog he is. As was customary, I would respond, “Yeah, he’s part Labrador, boxer, and Great Dane.” This would usually get a gasp from the person I was talking to and then Harry and I would continue on our way.
Ten years later and we still go on explorations, only now his muzzle is gray all over and we can’t walk into town anymore because of his stiff legs. His days are spent basking in the sunshine and devouring 99’s from the nearby petrol station. He still listens to my stories and usually falls asleep in the process. The age seemed so foreign when I was younger and now it has caught up and is a constant reminder of the mortality which hangs over his arthritic paws and gray face.
His eyes, though, stay unchanged and maintain their vitality, brown and rich with soul and personality, alive with understanding of words and filled with wonderment. It’s these eyes that have, and continue to, adore me, through all the transformations of life. To know a friendship so wordless and filled with mute understanding and to feel the pain as age transcends his body.
On warm evenings when the sun sets in all the colors of the world, we still sit together on the red bench, sometimes we converse, but mostly we sit in silence and look at the birds fly over the pasture and wait for the white, ethereal fairy horses to appear behind the Burren wall. He looks up at me with those homecoming eyes and he sets his paw on my knee, as I read a book or draw some blooming plant and in this moment we are nothing more than a girl and her old-man dog.