For the second day in a row, after I had officially finished my daily blog, I find myself at the keyboard again.
Normally on a Friday night, I pop in to see my parents, but as they had seen quite enough of me over Xmas, I thought I would sit this Friday out. I walked the dogs down to the park with no other thought than whether or not to join my husband for a drink in the pub for once.
I ran into another regular dog walker who was with his wife.
‘Have you heard the news?’ He asked – and then continued to talk, clearly unaware that I could not hear was he was saying.
I pulled the ear buds out of my ears to catch the end of it, ‘…about 10 this morning.’
‘Sorry. What happened at ten this morning?’ I asked.
‘Fred,’ he said, ‘he had a heart attack. We met his wife and she had just come back from the hospital. She said he fell and had a heart attack. There was nothing they could do to save him.’
I found this almost impossible to take in. I have already been to one funeral this week and although Fred was not young, this was equally unexpected.
Fred was practically a permanent feature in the dog park. He was the first person I met when we moved here in 2010. His life was entirely ruled by a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel that he owned, called Rufus. He was a Blenheim (white and liver fur), a wilful dog and Fred adored him. Every morning, Fred would get up and walk the dog to the park, and stay in the park until Rufus decided it was time to go home. He would then repeat the exercise six or seven times over the course of the day. For this reason, it was almost impossible to take the dogs for a walk without running into him. He would introduce himself, and Rufus, then ask your name and your dog’s name and so pretty much became the social fulcrum around all the dog walkers in the park.
If I met someone and did not know their name, I just had to say to Fred, ‘short- ish lady, brown hair, two white dogs – Charles and Lucky.’
‘Oh that is Rebecca,’ he would reply, ‘married to Matt.’
He was not a healthy man – he had diabetes and did not look after his diet – and seemed to be resigned to being a permanent bachelor, but then one year went on holiday to Thailand.
‘How was your holiday?’ I asked.
‘Very good,’ he replied, ‘I got married.’
It was not quite as clinical as it sounded. Fred knew the owners of a local Thai restaurant near his house and had met the lady – sister of the owner – when she had visited a few times. This holiday had been a final trip over to see if they thought could make it as a couple – and they had decided that maybe they could.
We were invited to the wedding, held at his home with catering from the restaurant. His elderly parents, with whom he lived, attended and Fred was dressed in traditional Thai wedding garb – a gold suit, no less, for the ceremony.
‘You look like a Bond villain,’ I said, and he laughed.
Fred loved being married. It had taken him such a long time that he had probably given up on the idea. He insisted on referring to his new bride as, ‘my wife’ at every opportunity, absolutely revelling in the status of having one to refer to. No, ‘ball and chain’ for Fred, he loved being married and being able to declare his love.
His wife, too took on the challenges of learning English and helping Fred to care for his aging parents. She was welcomed by everyone and it seemed that each had found a solution and companionship. Then tragedy struck.
Fred was walking Rufus home one evening across the very busy road to where he lived when Rufus somehow managed to slip his lead and ended up under the wheels of a car. He was killed instantly. Like many dogs owners who lose their pooches, Fred continued to come down to the park, though, sometimes with his wife and her two young nieces.
A year later, he announced they were getting another dog. A breeder he knew had a litter and he was picking up his new pup.
It was a King Charles Cavelier Spaniel, Blenheim. He named him … Rufus.
Not even Rufus 2, just Rufus.
Still, this Rufus was a lot less skittish that his previous namesake and could be let off the lead without wanting to dash across the road.
Yesterday, I sat on the grass with Fred and Rufus and chatted as the evening breeze cooled away the heat from the sun. I told him about the funeral I had been to earlier in the week. He talked about his mum and dad: his dad had died towards the end of last year and his mum had died three weeks later.
‘She did not want to live without him,’ he said.
‘Are you staying in the house?’ I asked.
‘Yes, that is all sorted,’ he replied. ‘We can stay there as long as we want.’
‘And are you still enjoying married life?’ I asked.
‘Loving it,’ he replied.
Neither of us knew that he had less than 24 hours to live.
Tonight his wife, still in shock, is being comforted by her sister and Rufus will be wondering why he has missed out on six walks – Fred never quite did break that habit –
I am sitting at home and contemplating for the second time in five days how all the things we take for granted can be snuffed out in seconds. I don’t think Fred had a fall, I think he collapsed as a result of the heart attack, but that was lost in translation. I hope it happened so quickly that he did not realise what was happening, but even if he did, I am pretty sure that in short time I knew him – only six years – that his marriage provided him with unexpected and huge happiness and opened up his world further than he had probably thought possible.
And I think of his wife, who will be grieving tonight, with the soft head of a Blenheim King Charles Cavelier Spaniel in her lap.