I speak to a friend in London.
He says, “We’re about to go into lock-down here. You’re a lucky dog, ya’ know. Yorkshire is a good place to outlast a pandemic.”
I laugh and tell him about the Lucky Dog of Todmorden. It is said that good luck comes to those who pat the Lucky Dog.
I decide it’s time to pay the Dog a visit. As I walk, I think about London, place I never wanted to leave. Then Agnes, unlucky dog at the heart of that leaving. Then Todmorden, a place now, after what happened, I never can love.
I wish I had known about the Lucky Dog before Agnes sickened and died. Maybe she would still be here. Maybe she and I would love the town. The times of “magical thinking,” as Joan Didion has told us, pass slowly.
Now, Agnes gone, I might be free to return south. But the city is locking down.
Passing through the Garden of Remembrance, I reach the Lamp of Memory. I find I am unable to move.
“Why did she die?” I plead silently to the holder of the Lamp of Memory. “Why did she die here?” Magical thinking again. “Were we never meant to leave London? Should I have fought harder to stay?” I begin to cry, here in the land of the living. “Landlords do not like dogs,” I tell the holder of the Lamp. “I did what I thought best for both of us.” I confess my sins.
The holder of the Lamp watches in silence. Finally, I give up and walk away.
I study the names of the fallen in the Garden of Remembrance.
These are the real soldiers, I think. I’m no soldier. Never went over the top. No one has ever fired upon me. Agnes was no soldier, though she fought — and lost — the battle of the mouldy bread on the streets of Todmorden.
I think to myself, “Well, if life is a kind of war-and-peace tale of bread, shelter, love, risk, danger, longing, then sometimes we ordinary mortals may have a passing sensation of soldiering.
But the names on the wall laugh and jeer. “Go back and read Siegfried Sassoon’s Declaration before you discard your petty injuries here,” they snarl.
“I know his Declaration by heart,” I reply.
“On behalf of those (soldiers) who are suffering I make this protest,” wrote Sassoon in 1917. “I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize”.
“The callous complacency of those at home,” chant the names on the wall.
“Not sufficient imagination to realize,” chant the names on the wall.
The sing-song ridicule by dead soldiers, justified though it is, chases me away. I move out of range, leave them to their agitated wall. They cannot follow the living. Just as the trees in the angered forest cannot follow Dorothy and the rotten apples will be thrown only so far. I climb to the long lane above the park, aiming to circle back down to the Lucky Dog. On the tops, the moors above the town, I find love. But I cannot love the valley floor. The town.
I see Agnes walking ahead of me, as she likes to do.
Then little by little, she leaves me again.
Making my way back down the hill, I pass Marjorie Oie’s bench. Who was Marjorie Oie? I have walked by her bench dozens of times without noticing her name. But lately, flowers have appeared there. One spray. Then another.
And today, a neat row of marshmallows aligned with her plaque. Two marshmallows have fallen to the seat below.
“If Agnes were here, Marjorie,” I say, “she’d have your marshmallows.”
Did Marjorie love Todmorden asI love London? What did Marjorie and I ever share? Nothing but this path. We’re both on this path above the town. Marjorie with her bench, I with the ghost of a dog. Maybe that is the solidarity between us.
The solidarity of a path. The difference of times. The difference of places. Knowledges. Town and city. Soldiers and civilians. Virus carriers and those not yet infected. The living and the dead.
“In time we often become one with those we once failed to understand.” (Patti Smith)
I find the path to the Lucky Dog. There she is. I step on each stone. I reach her. I stroke her cheek, where Agnes liked to be stroked.
Then I go home and wash my hands while singing Happy Birthday twice.