Every evening we would walk the same way, Pablo leaning into the gentle rise of the street until the roundabout at the Fountain of The Early Pioneers where we would turn left and continue down towards the harbour.
We walked in the late sun that was only along one side of the street and on the way Pablo would talk to whoever was loitering in the warmth of their front yard. He was well known in his later life. Around the world he was famous but in our town he was known mostly for having lived here for so long. As I think about it now I realise he was probably stopping as much to catch his breath as for the conversation. After all, how many times can you discuss roses with the Widow Peron and find new things to say, or after a lifetime of words with Gabon, or Arturio, not realise that the weather and politicians will continue to do what they will do? Or maybe he stopped to talk with them for my benefit. I was always wanting to look around, investigate, the walk itself and all that was along the way of more interest to me than the destination. There was always something new.
At the tavern I preferred to remain in the courtyard while Pablo would disappear into the back room with Eva, his friend who served drinks and took orders for food from the customers. She always wore a black apron and smelled delicious, of chicken broth and garlic, spicy salsa or fresh bread. And of course, the rough red wine she served.
In the courtyard I’d move from table to table just to see what was happening. At that time of evening there would always be half a crowd and I knew everyone, and everyone knew me, although mostly by association with Pablo. I preferred to remain outside as the air inside was stuffy, filled with tobacco smoke and stale food. Even later when the rules changed and you could only smoke outside I would prefer to move to a table on the upwind side where the air was fresher and the smells sharper. The breeze was usually from the harbour and there was the smell of fishing boats, of fuel and fish and ice and rope and seagulls and the pungent sweat of men.
After a while, about the same time that the crowd was beginning to grumble about the lack of service and making comments that I didn’t understand about how Pablo had slowed down over the years, Pablo would reappear and we’d sit together in the courtyard listening to the cries of gulls and men at the fishing boats. Eva would bring him a wine and slip me a snack, her fingers smelling of stale wine and the days work, then we’d walk together, he again leaning into the slope and the street now in shadows from the street lamps.
Those walks were always the highlight of any day for me but of course now he’s gone and although sometimes I go by myself it is just not the same without him. I believe I loved him at least as much as he loved Eva in those days.
Early on, when I first came to live in the house, he’d be closed in his study and I’d wait near the front door where I could be helpful to him if he needed me, if he came out of the study for any reason, and also where I could see the front gate and watch what was going on up and down the street. Sometimes I’d have to warn him of an intruder but mostly we led a quite domestic life until late in the day when there would be the creak of his leather chair, the echo of its wheels on the boards as he pushed back, a groan as he stretched, and then the gentle squeak of the hinges as he opened the door. We’d greet each other at the door and he’s say ‘Let’s go for a walk.’
Sometimes as we went he’d tell me about a poem he was working on, or about something he had read, or about how he couldn’t decide what word to use in a particular place and he’d walk along mouthing and saying a word or a group of words just for the sounds they made. But mostly we’d walk in silence and I preferred it that way because then I could run ahead and look at things that interested me without feeling I was letting him down.
The Fountain of The Early Pioneers was always one of the most interesting places. Behind the damp smell there was the unmistakable smell of rats. I am sure there was a whole nest of them somewhere nearby, but I could never find where it was. Their sharp smell criss-crossed all over the concrete of the fountain, across the street, into the garden beds and shrubbery and in and out of houses. As well as the rats there was the rotting food they dragged, the chlorine in the water, the chemicals on the garden, the fertilizer and sometimes fresh paint. The council men were always doing some sort of work on the fountain or the gardens but now that is all gone. They pulled up the fountain when they took away the roundabout and replaced it with traffic lights.
I remember the first time he let me run ahead without the leash and I ran straight to the fountain. I think it was the only time he ever got angry with me and for several weeks after that he would only let me off the leash after we had passed the fountain.
In the early days he would slip the leather leash around me and we’d walk close, me leaning into his leg unless I wanted to pull him over to the fountain or something interesting. Sometimes now I gaze up at the pegs in the hallway. His hat and coat are gone, but the leather leash is still there and I long for those days again, for the feel of the collar and the warmth of his closeness, his leg, the pull as we disagreed on the route to follow, and his idle chatter that was like poetry for me.
I even miss, dare I admit it, the dull times standing by the widow Peron’s yard with the nauseating smell of cats and roses, or the long discussions that I never understood by the wall at Arturio’s Villa. They have all gone too. They, and Gabon, all left before Pablo, one at a time that left him tut-tutting and sad.
Eva is still here. I don’t get down to the tavern very often but she comes up to say hello, brings me a snack. I look forward to her visits although she never seems to have much time to stay. Her visits and snacks will never replace Pablo and our walks together in the late afternoon. Except for the lack of walks my days now are mostly the same as they ever were. I lie by the front door watching the street, ready to warn of intruders. If I don’t look at the open door to his study sometimes I can even forget he is not here, but I soon find myself wandering into his study and checking his chair, his desk. The leather chair still smells of him, although it is fainter now.
Other people visit too. There is a man in a suit who smells of flowers and chemicals who often brings strangers. They walk from room to room talking in muted voices. Sometimes they measure things or bang the walls and sometimes they call me old and pat me as though I am going to bite them and usually I feel like I want to, but I know Pablo wouldn’t approve.