The park in Notting Hill I’ve been frequenting on my lunch breaks is lovely. For its location, (just off of Portobello Road, which is usually buzzing with street vendors and tourists bumbling down the sidewalk) it’s incredibly quiet. I found it by accident yesterday; I’d just gotten lunch at Greggs and I was determined not to go back into work when the wonderful spring weather was beckoning me to stay and enjoy. I traced my steps back toward work down Portobello Road and looked up one of the side streets. I’d walked down this street before, but only a very short way before turning around. Yesterday, I turned up the road and walked further than before. Just out of sight from the main road, I saw a small green space in the middle of the urban landscape.
The park is shaped like a square, with the end closest to Portobello Road more narrow than the far end, and it’s bordered by streets lined with town homes. I walked along the path on the left side of the park and got a better look around. Most of the park is just grass, trees and randomly scattered daffodils with a playground and benches. There’s a brick wall separating the park from the sidewalk, and there are four brown, wooden, backless benches evenly spaced along the left perimeter of the park just outside the brick wall.
Today when I was at the park, I sat on the second bench I came to from the street. With my Greggs sandwich in hand, I sat on the bench, shaded from the sun by the barren but full trees and read my book. There was a slight, occasional breeze and not a cloud in the sky. Two other women joined me on my bench to eat their lunch together, and I tuned them out as I was absorbed into Tim Butcher’s story of his travels through Africa.
After I finished eating, I noticed a woman walking by with her dog off leash, following behind her. It was none other than the black greyhound I’d seen around the building at work. As I watched them walk by, I noticed how grey the dog’s face was, and how it almost limped with each step, favoring its right hind leg. My thoughts turned to Rainy as I watched them disappear up the street.
Just before I left for London, we’d been visiting family in Virginia and had left the dogs at the kennel. Rainy and Rusty, neither of whose names we’d picked, mind you, were always together once we got Rusty, a mini pinscher, two summers ago. Rainy was old enough and calm enough to balance out Rusty’s energetic, bouncy, demeanor and Rusty’s youthful charisma was contagious enough to rub off on Rainy once in a while. They played nicely together, only getting into scuffles when Rusty scared Rainy; she was always jumpy, as most greyhounds can be.
Rusty and Rainy were at the kennel while we were in Virginia for New Years just a few months ago, and on the day we got home we couldn’t pick them up since the kennel was closed by the time our six hour drive home came to an end. We got a call that same day from the kennel; Rainy had died. It took me by surprise even though it shouldn’t have. She’d become incontinent, increasingly tired after walks and the bumps that had sprouted up on her shoulder blades were a form of non-aggressive cancer, though the vet said she’d die of old age before cancer. I spent a week crying at random intervals when I was reminded of her, which was often. There were reminders of her all over the place; her collar and leash, her food bowl, her numerous blankets and pet beds, her favorite toy strewn on the family room floor where she’d last tossed it, and the tumble weeds of blonde fur all over the house. It was difficult, and it still is.
Back at the park today, I was about to pack up and leave the park when I saw the woman and her greyhound approaching once again. I glanced up at them as they got closer, and went back to reading the last few paragraphs of the page I was on. I looked up again a moment later as something caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. Lo and behold, this greyhound was not only stopped in front of me, but was staring up at me with its black, glittering greyhound eyes that could make your heart melt in a split second. I glanced at its collar and saw a dog tag. The first line read ‘Jessie.’ I smiled down at her as she continued to look at me, unsure if I should pet her. I was about to set down my book and free up a hand when Jessie’s owner realized that that she was no longer following along behind her. She stopped, turned around and said, “Jessie, come on.” Jessie didn’t budge. Again, she called Jessie. “Jessie come on, love.” She wasn’t impatient or frustrated; when you have an older dog you tend to go easy on them. Jessie stood rooted to the earth in front of me. I smiled at the woman as she walked over to Jessie and I. She smiled back and grabbed Jessie’s collar to bring her attention back to the task at hand.
Jessie finally went on her way with her owner, and I looked back down at my book. Fighting tears, I looked back up to watch them disappear once again. Jessie didn’t stop again, and took no notice of any of the other people seated on the benches in the park. She hadn’t noticed them on their first walk through the park either. I gathered my belongings, took a deep breath and headed back to work.