Marv lived in a world of darkness. He did not know the meaning of colours, light, or vision. Beauty to Marv was the pretty sound of birdsong, the smell of freshly cut grass, the feeling of warm tea running down his throat like a hot bath in his belly. He knew what a bruise felt like after bumping into furniture, his garden gate, the cold, hard, tarmac on his skin from falling over a child’s misplaced tricycle, but not the red pimples on his thin, wrinkled skin or how it looked as it changed from yellow, to blue, to purple before fading away.
Marv wore sunglasses, not to shade his eyes from the sun, but to send a message to the world. He swung a white stick from left to right, to avoid the inevitable collisions, to prevent the grazes that healed so slowly. Every day was a challenge, every day he embarked on a voyage of discovery, every day he went out into the noisy world prepared for the worst. Yet Marv was a man of optimism. He refused to live as a hermit, he refused to be labelled disabled, he refused to let his one life slip away, to let Mrs Hibbert do everything for him, as much as she might want to.
Marv reached down and ran his fingers through the thick texture of Davey’s fur, patted the strong, solid body of his dog. Davey’s coat was golden and glossy, not that Marv had ever seen it. Mrs Hibbert bathed his dog weekly, even though Marv insisted he could do it, insisted he could, at least, help, rubbing soapy bubbles alongside her, relishing the mixture of smells; of wet dog, of clean chemicals, of his neighbour’s overpowering floral perfume.
With Davey, he felt safe, protected, loved. With Davey, Marv felt capable of anything. With Davey, he would never have to be alone and helpless, again. He had been trained to meet his owner’s needs, to put Marv’s desires above his own.
He was a working dog; a support system during his waking hours, a guard dog through the night. He did not understand the concept of ‘pet’ and it often confused them both when strangers stopped Davey in the street to stroke his fur. Marv was not greeted by these people, Davey was. Marv had no way of knowing why Davey had stopped them in their tracks, panicked at the possibility of danger, while his dog was mollycoddled without a word.
Marv and Davey relied on each other for their survival. It was an equal partnership, a strong friendship, a bond of mutual respect. They grew together, learned together, solving problems as a team, a dynamic duo. It was Marv and Davey against the world.
On Fridays the two friends followed their noses to the chip shop for a treat. Battered sausage and chips for two, wolfed down in the park.
Marv opened his wallet, unaware that the rent was bursting out, a bundle of twenties. Davey didn’t know the importance of the purple piece of paper that floated to the floor, catching the eye of a dishevelled young man, counting silver coins in his hand. The youth picked up the note, and pocketed it, while the man and his dog collected their lunch.
That night while Davey slept, Marv worried about the future. The heavy, living, breathing, hot water bottle slumbering on his feet was young and full of life. Despite the seven dog years for every one of Marv’s, Davey had plenty of time yet, he would probably outlive his owner. Marv wasn’t afraid to die. He felt the looming presence of death around every corner, quickly catching up with him, but he wondered what might happen to his friend when he was gone, and the fear of the unknown shook him. When he woke from the horror of a nightmare, Davey was there to comfort him, with a wet lick and a snuffle that said ‘I will always be here for you’. Marv wished he could say the same.
In the early hours of the morning, Marv woke to the terrifying sound of a wild animal. It was snarling, growling, thrashing around downstairs. He whispered for Davey, not wanting to alert the beast to their presence, but Davey didn’t come to his outstretched hand as he usually did.
Marv fumbled for his stick, but it was nowhere to be found. He and Davey moved around his home with ease, the stick wasn’t usually needed. His fingers traced the furniture across the room to the door, where he stubbed his toe on the wood. He bit his lip, mumbling blue murder inside his mouth. The scratching of claws could be heard on the kitchen floor, followed by a clout, then a yelp.
‘Davey,’ Marv called down the stairs, ‘Where are you?’
He heard the unmistakable tone of his friend’s voice, barking in response.
‘What is it, boy?’
A rush of wind whistled towards Marv’s ears, another door on the landing opened. He turned to hear the soft tread of another person’s footsteps approaching him, reached out for the banister but, before he could steady himself, the stranger had knocked into him and Marv tumbled down the stairs.
‘Stop playing with that dog and let’s go,’ a man’s voice said.
‘He’s bitten me, Curt, real bad,’ his accomplice replied, from the kitchen.
Marv heard the latch of the front door click, felt the cold night air engulf him. Davey’s snarling and growling moved from the kitchen to the front door, a limping rhythm of footsteps before him.
‘He won’t let go, I’m never gonna walk again.’
‘Do I have to do everything myself?’
There was a swish through the air, Davey cried out in pain, the front door slammed and the two men were gone. Marv listened as his friend dragged himself across the floor towards the stairs, licked Marv’s face where it lay on the carpet, then shuffled into the warmth under the radiator.
Marv ignored the pain that seared through his own body and crawled to where Davey had stopped. He couldn’t see the body of his guide dog lying still under the radiator, but he knew Davey’s presence had left his side, leaving an indelible mark on Marv’s life.
The dog had truly lived up to his title of man’s best friend by curing loneliness, promoting independence, and eventually saving Marv’s life.
Marv was his pack leader and Davey’s loyalty had never wavered. They worked as a team until the very end, supporting, depending and leaning on one another for their mutual survival. The boundaries of human and animal in Marv’s house were unnecessary, non-existent.
He lay down beside Davey, putting an arm over him. His fingers were met with the warm sticky liquid, which he knew was his friend’s blood. For the first time in years Marv felt alone, vulnerable, helpless. There was nothing to be done, nowhere to go, no life to go on with, without Davey. Marv wished he wasn’t blind, wasn’t disabled, wished he could have been able to protect his friend, to fight for Davey, as Davey had fought for him. But wishing wouldn’t change anything. He took a deep breath, relaxed into the thick soft fur of his best friend’s shoulders and made one last hopeless wish. He wished he would die, right there, beside him.