All is not right.
This is the year of our dreams.
Almost everything is better than we had dared hope when we decided to take a break from real life and spend a year in the French countryside.
But there is no Dog.
It’s not just that there isn’t a dog, it’s the palpable absence of dog.
There are shadows of dogs everywhere.
They’re there in the garden shed, overgrown with ivy and used to prop up firewood, the name Cannelle (Cinnamon) painted meticulously on the door under a perfectly symmetrical love-heart.
The name suggests a female and a mélange of breeds, a dark-brown scruffiness, an affectionate nature, a friskiness with a touch of fire – perhaps a growling impatience with toddlers and flies.
What a place for a dog. All this terrain and no fences between fields that go for miles. Neighbouring dogs to play with, lizards and squirrels to chase and the occasional whiff of a fox. Massive plane trees for shade, bees to snap at.
I don’t imagine her to be a yappy dog.
Was she the sort of dog who chased her tail around the trees then threw herself on the ground, tongue in the dirt? Were there children here throwing acorns and walnuts for her? Did she pace frantically around the poolside and eventually, inevitably, throw herself in and paddle resolutely until someone rescued her? Or was she the empty nest dog? Companion for an older couple who quietly paced the perimeter of the farm while she sniffed and charged ahead then doubled back to check?
Did she peer down the wells, sniffing their watery depths, aching to test the water? Did she chase spiders and trap them under her paw then leap back playfully, feigning fright, when they made a dash for it?
I wonder if she liked to eat flowers.
There’s a kennel too. Cobwebs across the door, full of dried leaves and a plastic bowl that suggests a more recent presence.
The shadow of this dog is bigger, heavier. This dog would find the hottest months of summer troubling and would spend the afternoons seeking out the darkest, dirtiest, breeziest shadows, chin on the ground, waiting for night. This dog would spend autumn evenings on the patio, eyebrows seesawing as the leaves fell around him. He would hunt squirrels but without enthusiasm. Pickings from the kitchen would be too good. They would let him sleep inside when it was too cold.
I am certain that he made friends in the neighbourhood.
One of them is a fox terrier who turns up every week or two, presents itself at the front door and looks past the humans for something else. It scouts the garden, circles the house, chases the children, always searching, searching.
The other dog, the wiry red border collie whose name sounds like a bark, can be seen with the farmer whose durham wheat and asparagus grow all around us.
The collie skips from field to field, shying away from the strange words of the foreigner always trying to close in on her. She will allow herself to be patted under orders from Monsieur L but prefers, as do all the most loved dogs, the attention of her pack.
She would have liked our collie. They would have growled and snapped and circled for a few moments, then one of them would have bolted – a mad, low-flying sprint and then a chase with heroic feints and dodges, ribcages grazing the ground, dust flying, tongues flung sideways.
I can see Bella here. I wish she was here.