I am holding a small mammal against my chest. When it cries, I try my best to sway like a tree. When it speaks, the words come from a great distance & I can’t make them out. We are hiding in abandoned tunnels under the streets of a city that has engulfed the earth. Our skin has turned pale blue in the absence of sky & our minds are grim reapers: drift nets set to catch rare flashes of joy. A twitch travels from muscle to muscle before lodging permanently in my left eyelid. It’s a lucky thing I’ve still got sunglasses on. The motherless creature in my arms has imprinted on its own reflection & would wail if I ever took them off. With cars above & trains below, the ground never stops trembling, even in its sleep.

16 Replies to “Motherless”

  1. Like something from a terrible future, but also primeval or atavistic. I was particularly affected by the creature’s imprinting on its own reflection. Marvellous, Dave.

  2. Your piece really hit a chord for me yesterday. On Friday my Jack Russell terrier’s mother, the stately Daisy, came for an overnight stay with us while our friend Pippi and her son Gideon went off to a special showing of his film ‘Sleep Furiously’. Daisy is elderly and stately, but unlike her son Jack, who I’ve trained to be gentle with other creatures… not difficult as sweetness is in his nature… Daisy is an inveterate killer. She toddles about the place looking as though butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, but that masks a nature steeped in the tradition of ‘strike first and ask questions later.’ On Friday afternoon there was a terrible racket from the shrubbery bordering the drive, and I rushed down to find Daisy standing over a baby hedgehog about the size of a tennis ball. The poor little thing was panting hard, its little face screwed up in pain. Daisy had thoroughly eviscerated it, and mercifully in the time it took for me to haul her off, it died. Jack was standing by looking worried. I could see he knew this was all wrong, confusion and wariness in his eyes. In the bushes a scuffling sound retreated, the mother hedgehog making her escape I suspect. I chastised Daisy, but she just sauntered away nonchalantly. She is not my dog, and her ways are not ones I can do anything about. A few feet away, curled in a tight ball was another unharmed baby that I was able to put away safely from Daisy. She’s gone home now, and the small creatures in our garden can go in peace.

    The mother hedgehog has been nesting here for a couple of years. She over-wintered in a flower border just feet away from our boot-room door, and gentle Jack regularly stuck his nose into her pile of leaves to check that she was still present. (He’s fascinated by her, and from time to time last Autumn I found him at nights sitting companionably in the dark with her while she feasted on windfall apples.)

    This little garden tragedy filled me with despair, and it’s making me go cold with sweat in the re-telling. I don’t think those hedgehogs will ever be comfortable in Jack’s presence again, and that makes me very sad. Safer for them not to trust of course, but I loved the sight of dog and hedgehog together, and I felt that it was a sign of her ease that she gave birth and was rearing her young in Jack’s realm.

    So your piece above made me weep Dave, which was probably not what you intended at all. Beautiful writing.

  3. Clive – I’m sorry to hear about that. Hedgehogs do seem like appealing creatures — but then you know of my fondness for porcupines, which, though unrelated, do represent sort of the same concept. (When dogs try to bite porcupines, though, things don’t go nearly as well for them.)

    I think we grappled with some of these same small tragedies when I was a kid and we had a succession of dogs around the place. They made good companions for us kids and were great from keeping deer away from the gardens, but otherwise dogs aren’t always such a good idea if one wants to see wildlife. That depends on the dog, of course. But once my mother’s writing career began to focus in on nature, keeping dogs on the mountain was out of the question. Anyway, thanks for the heartfelt comment, Clive.

    Thanks also to everyone who took the time to comment on this piece. I should make an effort to remember my dreams more often, I guess.

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