Liam is sitting and crouching. He is pulling on his shoes while his back complains. He is getting old now but the day is bright and this lightens his heart. Autumn is on them all - a gentle, Cornish autumn - and the hedgerows are full. A mellow fruitfulness. A richness.
Tying his laces carefully, he pulls the lace once more around his ankle and feels the cold, damp nose on his wrist. Max boy, yes we're off out this morning. It's a beautiful day. We'll be off soon. Give me a few minutes. Max is getting old now too. They have grown together over the last ten years, closer than most humans ever get.
Liam is eighty two years old and Max a mere ten, but Max is a dog, a black and tan Dobermann dog, of a physical elegance that Liam has not had for many a year. And so, they are probably each as close to their natural ends as twins might be, contemporaries at last. You have aged more gracefully than I old boy. We have converged at last. You knew we would. And so did I.
Liam's hand seeks out Max's muzzle and caresses it lovingly. Max presses his whole head firmly but slowly into Liam's hand and senses a frailty there, a slight weakness that he has become familiar with in the last year or so, a hint that he recognises in his own traitorous body. The hand moves slowly up over his head and pauses on his stop before continuing, as he knew it would, to the sweet spots behind his ears. They both luxuriate in this closeness for a while until Max shakes his head free and cocks it to the left. Liam listens too. Ah, Max boy, that's the blackbird. Isn't that a beautiful sound? Fair makes you glad to be alive, huh? Come on, lets be on our way. No beach today boy. We're off up the lane today. The other way. You'll get your swim later. Promise. But Max has gone skittering across the kitchen by now.
With his front paws on the closed lower half of the stable door he is looking out at the buddleia bush, where the blackbirds nest each year and where they have raised at least three broods to his knowledge. He draws a huge volume of air in through his powerful and sensitive nose: buddleia, blackbird, compost, rabbit, fox, grass, rose, bramble. He discerns each separate aroma distinctly but simultaneously. His mind is placing each of the ingredients of this cocktail to its location in the space before him, when he smells Liam coming up behind him. Now that's a smell all its own: warmth, love, respect - so well known now, a smell that goes all the way back to his smallest days - maybe the first smell he was aware of after his mother's. Liam clips the lead to his three row collar.
Out in the lane they are both assailed and overwhelmed by the sight and smells of the rhododendrons, blown now and looking dowdy, frazzled; frayed but fragrant: fragrant to Max at least, though Liam's nose is failing him now. You'll have to be careful Max, the flail will be along for those weeds soon. Next few days. One hand in his pocket he wrinkles the sack that sits there. Max picks up the scent and raises his noble head to turn those gentle brown eyes on him quizzically. Liam laughs. You know boy, don't you? Elderberries it is. You clever thing you. He checks the lane ahead, knowing that Max now knows where they are going, and, assured that they have it to themselves, he unclips his lead.