Old Bess

by chris
(Barnsley)

I have and always will be what I call a "dog person". For as far back as I can remember we've always had a dog and for them who can relate to me will know all dogs are not the same and each individual dog has his or her own personality just like people.

Anyway as a young lad who had just left school my first job was to follow in my fathers and grandfathers footsteps and start at the local pit as a young miner. I was still living at home 2 up 2 down cottage that the back garden backed on to a subsidiary of the Dearne river. Not so deep you couldn't cross it and a shortcut on my way to work everyday.

Bess was a collie cross bitch we had owned since she was 4 weeks old. She was pick of a litter of my brothers mates dog, which had had a litter of pups after she happened to get out accidentally while in season. She had followed me since she was tiny and never had I known her to be on a lead.

Growing up over the years she was my constant companion; me and her went everywhere. At night she would lay behind my legs on the bed spinning 3 or 4 times before she settled down and fitted her self into the space like a jigsaw piece. Never had a boy and his dog being more close than Bess and me and there wasn't a trick of command she couldn't do.

The years passed and from the day I started work she'd wait for me to finish and my mother could time the clock by her barking to be let out to sit and wait for me crossing the river. Then she'd come bounding over to greet me.

Time passed, Bess grew old and I became a young man till the day there was a little less bound in her stride and 14 years had taken its toll on her.

"Come on love time for work" I heard my mother say. I got up and got dressed, made my way down stairs were my mother was sitting looking over at Bess's basket where she lay, her tail slightly wagging.

"She didn't come to bed last night" I said. My mother looked at me and I remember the tears rolling down her face and as she cleaned the wet marks from her glasses she tried her best to soften the inevitable that Bess was coming to the end of her life.

"She's old now Chris" my mother said. Bess came over and rested her head on my knee and I tried to force back the tears and the feeling of my heart breaking in two.

"I know," I replied "I'm going to miss her." I patted her and tried to keep my mother from seeing the tears rolling down my face. Picking up my snap I made my way up the garden, down the bank and onto work. 'Oh she has plenty of years left' I called trying to push the thought of her not being there out of my mind my every word just vanishing and silenced by the sound of the rain.

It was the longest shift I had ever done. I forced the hours on and recall every hour seemed like a week. I skipped the showers coming out of the pit and making my way home towards the Dearne as I had done a thousand times before. I didn't notice the rain as I hurried home but could recall the cage operator saying to one of the lads it had put down 6 months of rain in as many hours that day.

As I came to cross the river, gone had the small stream and in its place was a full flowing torrent. This wasn't going to stop me crossing and I recall jumping from stepping stone to stepping stone till I reached the point in the middle of the river where only a slight possibility of me jumping on to the next stone was probable.

I recall jumping and catching the end side of the stone and as if in slow motion hitting the water and going under. Looking up towards the surface as I sunk lower and it got farther and farther away as I sunk deeper. I tried to swim and paddle frantically to the surface but I seemed to be suspended, not able to get any nearer as if held by some invisible force.

SPLASH! A brown shape crashed the surface and I could make out four paws and the streamline and swiftness of Bess's head, her ears forced back by the water as she locked onto my coat and pulled me to the bank side. I gasped for air and crawled up the other side of the bank and managed to stumble down the garden.

Opening the door my mother managed to catch me as I nearly collapsed onto the kitchen floor. "My god you could have drowned!" she screamed.

"I thought that's what I was doing" I said. "I'm glad our Bess came." The look on my mothers face turned from thankfulness to empathy as the tears welled up in her eyes.

"You must be mistaken love" she said. "Bess passed away this afternoon. Two hours after you had gone to work love."

Then what? I looked around to see where Bess was only to see no sign of her. "She grabbed me by the coat... I was..." I stopped in mid sentence pointing towards the river.

"She couldn't have love. Come on now get them wet clothes off before you catch your death."

"But Mam she..."

That night as I cried myself to sleep. A warm feeling as if something had layed down behind my leg came over me and I knew Old Bess was still there in spirit. Out of all the senses which we feel as we go through life pure love really does conquer all. Even death.

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