MAX'S VINTAGE - part4 - end.

Liam unlocks his knees and slowly unfurls himself from his Arab squat, and while he hears only notional creaking, Max actually picks up the very real sound of bone grinding on too-thin cartilage, and sees a shadow of a grimace pass briefly. Hands firmly placed just above his buttocks, Liam is finally unfolded and arches his spine gently backwards before straightening completely. Liam's second sacroiliac joint cracks loudly - to Max - and he catches a whiff of stale sweat: a familiar smell and a particular favourite; a friendly smell and all Liam's. Ann does not wear perfume but her own scent is always masked by something else, whereas Liam always, and reassuringly, smells of Liam. Max licks his testicles and checks his own scent, but does not get up. He is enjoying his family.

Ann drinks the last of her tea and watches Liam, waiting for him to speak. But he stays stubbornly silent. She stretches her hand out to stroke Max behind the ears once more and he almost purrs: a deep and satisfied grunt escapes him. His hind paw comes up to rake behind his ear slowly. Sorry old boy. We shan't be going to the beach today. We're going back to the orchard. Those fruits are just right for winemaking and we're going to make hay while the sun shines - or at least collect berries while we have light left. And this one is going to be for you. Liam sidesteps to where Ann is sitting. I've made up my mind, love. I want to memorialise Max and we can't know whether we shall all do this again. He is getting on, you know. I'm going to have some labels made up to mark this vintage. I know it'll be a great one. And it's going to be Max's vintage, so that when he's gone (a tear breaks loose and dampens his cheek) ... and we both know it's got to happen some day ... then we can raise a glass of Max's vintage to the wonderful memories we shall have. And this is going to be one of them. Despite his aching thighs he squats and pats Max's head. Come on lad. I'll grab the sack. You get the lead, and then let's get cracking. Max is up and ready before him. Lead in mouth, he nudges Ann into action and heads to the gate, looking back and moving forward.

Ann waves them off at the gate and watches, until they reach the bend, through eyes that stream. She recalls a film she saw just after the war, before she even met Liam: A Boy and His Dog. Yes that's them. In this moment they both seem strangely young again. She turns and retraces her steps, drying her eyes on her apron as she goes.