the reluctant pub-goer

In Verulamium Park I lie in the shadows of lime and sycamore with my T-shirt flung aside. It’s baking. The atmosphere out in the open is like spending summer inside a tent.

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My chin doubles up as I squint at the dog; at point blank he’s out of focus and heaving. There is deep expectation in his chestnut eyes for nothing in particular – optimism for its own sake. He’s panting and I’m conscious of the rapidity. For him, it’s like running around the blazing park in a duffle coat. I massage his barrel torso and bid him stay in the shade, hooking a finger inside his collar to ensure he does. His body deflates like a flag with the wind abated until he’s flush to the turf.

I feel the movement of breeze across my chest and armpits. Goosebumps. Tingling. Refreshment. On my back, I watch the motes in my vision tumble vertiginously across the backlit clouds. Wisps and cotton tufts convolute slowly. There are white contrail slashes from the flightpaths of both Luton and Stansted. They’re cleaved like lacerations but mature to trackways. The glare’s too much and causes me to weep.

I shut my eyes to witness a paused explosion as I peer into the visceral depths of my eyelids: there’s the electricity radiating out like shrapnel and the foetuses that revolve in the safety of hot wombs; they glow, embolden, and fade. A nebulous ghost gives a dismissive hand gesture and turns away.

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Red kites reply to movements in the blue laconically – unhurried, elsewhere focussed. Their shoulders move grudgingly against the current. Underwing, air insignia are bared in scolloped flame. Jointed and bronze, patrolling but idling, majestic and aloof. They’re the prefects of the Thames Valley sky.

I turn on my side. Bearing down on the grassy microcosm creates a zoom-in from granulation to canopies to toppled boughs. Lifeforms clutch, shelter, scamper over and guard in its hollows. Close up, my blanched forearm is like a pocked cliff up which gimlet seeds with glittering wings clamber. A tiny spider scrambles up my wrist expending far more energy than necessary. I blow on it and it vanishes into the ether.

There’s crashing in the undergrowth around the lime. I sit up and crane around to see a blonde tail quivering above the grass line and call him back out. Food scraps, exotic woodbines, camp fire remains and junk get left by teens under these trees. I never know what he’s going to fetch out.

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The boy’s heart rate has slowed, the engine-sucking of ozone slackens and he gazes into the horizon. His ears prong up into erect receivers from tiny details in the distance. I don’t know whether the trigger is visual or aural. Dogs are at their most handsome in watchful profile, but most human face-on.

He knows the doorway of every pub in central St Albans that allows dogs (to my knowledge, only two out of fifty two don’t) and pulls me through them. This is something I don’t understand as he will then regard staying inside as an activity ended and sulk forlornly until we leave again. He has the power to guilt-trip and will give an oscar performance of defeated acceptance in a single sigh.

In the pub, I see in the dog’s wist the young child I was growing up in Snowdonia in a land much different to this. I couldn’t see the appeal of a pub interior and why we were in there when the marshy pastures were outside. The walls serve just to suffocate – the downhill rollicking occurs without them. He harbours this megrim down in the gloom of the floor. If I look away for too long, he utters a whimper on the brink of hearing and makes no sign it was him – his bloodshot gaze will be theatrically averted.

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He will acknowledge my pint by sniffing the air. The combined aroma of malt, hops and alcohol is perceived roughly forty thousand times stronger to him and yet the poor Lab will only ever drink water. I cross my legs, alternating the limbs. His tail beats the floor like a piston in the hope we’re leaving.

The occipital groove of his skull is like the cleavage of a walnut and I kiss it three times. Eyes contracted to slits, he throws his neck back and a salmon tongue licks the air three times in return.

When he does settle, he places his head on his paws and makes a big-eyed look like a Dickens orphan; it has the power to blackmail attractive young women from the opposite ends of pub gardens to rush to him, and I ask myself this simple question: which one of us is the master race?

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