Mr. Jackson was recovering from neck surgery at a modern restorative hospital bordering the DVP and encompassing part of a former penitentiary on the east side of Toronto. His days were long, arduous and somewhat painful, actually very painful, but he did not admit more than that on most days, depending with whom he was speaking. He passed the time by writing Emails, sketching and reading. The one redeeming element was that he had a single room and did not have to share with any of those prying sorts or the needlessly talkative ones, or even ones that snored loudly in sleep or whenever and did not give a cat’s arse about anyone but themselves.
He was a cat lover and not a dog fancier. The hospital, he was told, didn’t allow cats because they were unpredictable-the very reason that he was so attached to cats and their antics. In their stead, the inmates were to be served up dogs and their irrepressible panting and tail wagging and whatever else dog fanciers preferred about the various breeds they owned and were used to and thus promoted. Dogs would be on show on this morning. It was somehow supposed to be therapeutic, which he doubted very much. Indeed. Most probably, annoying.
A bevy of dogs duly arrived and were paraded through the lobby and around to the various lounges where some expectant and some reluctant people awaited, or feared, their arrival. Few knew what to expect so mostly they just waited, yawned and distractedly looked out the windows at the city beyond. Or fell asleep. He was most assuredly not one of those!
Without a shred of encouragement, a reddish coloured poodle bounded toward Mr. Jackson, did a pirouette and, at a sharp whistle from its owner, sat down obediently at his feet. To say Mr. Jackson was taken aback would be an understatement. Weren’t poodles supposed to be white?
“Good, God, what is this?” he said aloud, preparing to be mauled, or worse.
“Allow me to introduce, Henry. He is exuberant but not fractious, and certainly not dangerous. A very good dog, indeed. Best of the breed,” said Henry’s enthusiastic owner, knowledgeable about all things poodle.
“Well, hello, Henry. What have you been up to today?”
Henry released a low but un-threatening growl. He edged a little closer for a good sniff around the pant legs. Seemingly pleased, or at least accepting, of whatever his nose had detected, Henry leapt into the lap of a very surprised Mr. Jackson.
“Henry doesn’t usually take to anyone on first dates. You must be very special,” said a rather pleased owner, Henry being an exceptional judge of character, among his many other fine attributes.
Mr. Jackson was chatting away to Henry as old mates do, giving him cuddles and pats on the head, at least that’s what he thought ought to be done. If Pugsy, his beloved cat, only knew what he was up to, she would abhorred. Pissed off and ignoring for days, more like!
And so it went for the allotted time and then it was all over, dogs were shepherded away, with promises of further visits, and the rooms were once again reduced to light murmurs and a gentle, settling, quietude bordering on depression onset.
Mr. Jackson went back to his room and sat by the window overlooking the main entrance where he witnessed Henry tugging his owner along toward an awaiting car, whereupon he was whisked off to home. He felt a twinge of sadness at seeing his new pal removed so suddenly from his presence. He checked his Email. Nothing new. He sent out a probing Email to a few friends. No quick and telling responses. He read part of a chapter of a novel and then put the book down and stared out the window for a while. He did a quick sketch of a dog, a poodle, and then let his mind drift until he was interrupted by the arrival of food under lids on a tray. And then all was revealed, a salty tomato soup, a few crackers in a packet, a cellophane wrapped lump of orange cheese, tea and something sugar coated and sweet, which must have been the dessert component of the meal. He nibbled on the cheese, drank the tea and forgot about the rest.
Therapy walks in the morning took his mind off Henry, at least temporarily, or until he returned to his empty room. And there was Henry staring back at him from the page, all generous and needy in a heartbeat.
And then came good news and bad news rolled into one sharp statement from the attending physician.
“Mr. Jackson, you are to be discharged tomorrow at 10 AM.”
By Robert Hughey