Why young boys scream expletives at middle-aged women
FIFTYSOMETHING:I was walking the dog when an outraged voice shook the air, writes HILARY FANNIN
I FOUND MYSELF temporarily in possession of a dog, a golden spaniel with long ears and a short attention span.
She was a sweet, boisterous dog, with specific, if alarming, skills: she knew how to find dead bodies on the cliffs, knew to lie down beside them and bark until someone came along in a rescue vest. But she hadn’t quite mastered the word “sit”.
I liked her, I liked her unorthodox talents, but I’m wary of liking dogs. I had a dog when I was 12; he was run over by a single-decker bus.
Can’t blame the bus – the dog thought the bus was a big, squat dog to be chased and barked at and played with. He was an extravagant, recklessly sociable dog, but he wasn’t tyre-proof.
When he heard about the dog, my father wept. This was startling. I’d watched my father evade sentiment all my life, watched him elude capture like a thief in shadow when there was occasion for emotion. But when the dog was run over by the bus, Christ, he was broken. It didn’t last, mind you, his flirtation with displays of grief. His mother died not long after; there wasn’t a wet eye in the house.
I had taken the spaniel for a walk – to be honest, she had taken me for a walk – but we both seemed to enjoy the experience. Putting her back into the boot of the car I felt vaguely content. I felt like one of those women you see in advertisements for bladder-control medication: satisfied. Not ecstatic, not writhing in an orgy of bliss, but pleased I hadn’t lost her, pleased she hadn’t rolled in the dead seagull, pleased my borrowed waterproofs hadn’t leaked. That was when the train hurtled past.
“FUUUUCCCKKK YOOOOUUUU. . . ”
The voice tore through the air, bellowing from the open window of the moving train. The boy from whom the call emerged must have been pinned to the window, his mouth kissing the open space between his carriage above me and the leafy road below, where I was clearly visible, in my shaky contentment and my wet oilskin, shepherding the pretty little borrowed dog into the open boot of the estate.
We must have provoked a powerful rage, because his shout shook the air and made the dog whimper. I was grateful that the train was unstoppable, eating up the tracks to its final destination, and that by the time he reached the last station, a pretty seaside town, I would be gunning in the opposite direction.
I understood, I got the message, I empathised. I didn’t really have a leg to stand on. I don’t actually live here, I could have roared back, I don’t own the dog, hell, I don’t even own the raincoat but that would have been a futile, disingenuous little speech and, anyway, it would have all been eaten up by the breeze.
The boy’s two-word oratory was far more eloquent. And essentially the kid was right. I am steeped in privilege, even though, like the little dog, I struggle with adhering to basic commands: live here, work there, educate your children this way, sit, roll over, give me the paw.
Appearances can be deceptive. In the seaside town, the train’s final destination, people crouch in their pretty houses, ignoring the post and wondering if they could sell the Nespresso machine to pay for the schoolbooks. There are people watching the tide roll in and out again, watching their footprint being erased and their fortress crumble. The tragedy is that some have been overcome with anxiety and fear and despair, and some have even needed the little dog to bark at their side.
And then there are those who seem unscathed, blithely tootling around the sun-dappled lanes in their leather-upholstered seats, untouched from glossy tip to booted toe by the kinds of things that make young boys scream expletives at middle-aged women with middle-sized dogs from the windows of moving trains.
And perhaps that strata, sealed in a cowl of entitlement, would need a chorus of expletives to permeate their reveries. But who knows what goes on behind closed doors, no matter how elegant they appear.
The dog went home with her kit and caboodle; just in time, I’d say. She had learned to stand up on her back legs when I opened the fridge, she was starting to look almost balletic. Not exactly “sit”, but then again, you can’t have it all, can you?
I felt like one of those women you see in advertisements for bladder-control medication: satisfied