MAX'S VINTAGE - part2.


Max bounds stiffly off nosing the hedges either side as he goes and now and then turning back to check that Liam is OK. This is his only true freedom of movement these days - this, and his capers at the beach. He misses the free stretching, back bending bounding of yesteryear: the onset of arthritis has put paid to those carefree days and on the lead he is all decorum now. No mad headlong dashes. It would not be kind to remind Liam of just how much mobility he has lost himself. More even than he.

They wander along in silent communion, Max leading, until he spies the elder trees and notes that the fruit clusters have turned. He backtracks and comes behind and around to Liam's left. Liam bends only slightly, and from the waist - Max is a tall dog - and Liam reattaches his lead. Here we are boy. You know don't you? He lets them into the orchard. The winds of the last few days have blown apples down and the distinctive smell of proto-cider reeks: Max wrinkles his nose in distaste while Liam has a madeleine moment that transports him back to days of his youth and just-brewed Calvados in the Normandy countryside .

I dreamt last night of elder, Maxy boy, and, in this superstitious county, that is supposed to presage sickness. Not yours or mine, I hope. But then the addle-pated folk hereabouts seriously believe that elder branches can keep vampires at bay. Claim it goes back further than garlic. Fuckwits all. The very same sheep who bend their knee every sabbath, to a god who is so mean that he denies you a soul - or a place in their much vaunted afterlife. Flockwits more like. OK then Max. Let's get to it.

Free to roam again, Max is soon investigating every hedge and shrub (traces of rabbit here and there - a hare was through here last night) checking back on Liam assiduously. But Liam is fine, picking the low-hanging bunches of fruits and plopping them gently into the unrolled sack. The odd purplish, blackish stain seeps damply, darkly through the hessian. The sun is warming their bones and easing the aches in their joints. Is making them feel, momentarily, young again. Max has flushed a pair of wasps from one of the rotting apples and gaily chases them, as they dance just beyond his tender nose. Liam has settled himself beneath an old Pearmain tree and is tucking into a firm, white-fleshed apple, with a relish normally seen only in the flushes of scrumping youth. He is watching Max's game with a smile playing across his face; a smile of pure enchantment. The sack is full and leaking sweetly, stickily, beside him. Max leaps and neatly bites one of the wasps in half.

Come here boy. That's it. Sit beside me. No - the other side, lemon. That's it. Now Maxy, why did you kill that wasp? That wasn't very nice, was it? He wasn't doing you any harm - was he? Max turns a pair of sad eyes on him. They burn like lasers. Max is contrite, and lays his head in Liam's lap, sniffing the sack surreptitiously. Liam regrets the reprimand and leans slowly back against the tree trunk. He savours the moment. Are we having fun Max? I think so, don't you? Now I'm going to close my eyes for a while. You stay here - alright? Nudge me in a few minutes and we'll go back.