2 a.m.. The grass is heavy with dew. Stars wheel overhead in an eternal dance, laughing at my inability to understand their pattern. An owl hoots, eerie in the inky silence and a strange, whimpering cry haunts the night… Is it my fault if I can’t find the damned tennis ball?
She’s lost it again. Well, not ‘lost’ exactly… I know where it is. She knows where it is. It is somewhere in the lawn, hidden by grass that is desperate for another cut. The lawnmower is unwell and unsafe and mowing is ineffective and will only done by absolute necessity until a replacement can be acquired.
And I do not fancy trudging through the deep, wet grass at this ungodly hour in the darkness, with the possibility of sleek, fat slugs meeting a squidgy end beneath my lace slippers.
It is not as if Ani does not have several other balls in play. There must be half a dozen in her plant pot and she also has a toy box full of toys, bones and treats that have been ‘saved for later’. Every so often she takes one outside, leaving it there overnight. Especially the large dental chews that I invested in, thinking she would enjoy them. Next morning, they are gone. The local foxes must have excellent teeth.
But as far as tennis balls are concerned, for Ani, there can be only One.
When that One is lost, she is bereft. Her distress is palpable. She will not play with any other toy nor accept any other ball. You can throw ten at once and she will just stand there and look at you reproachfully, knowing that her ball is not amongst them.
When a ball is lost beyond recall…and there have been a few… she mourns, crying and whimpering, ‘pointing’ to where she believes it went… which is usually accurate but doesn’t always help.
She may bring you a selection of balls, though she will not ‘fetch’ them if throw, watching their trajectory and turning to look back at you with utter sadness. These are just visual reminders of a problem she expects you to address. Her great brown eyes are effective… I have seen two grown men working together to retrieve a tennis ball that had cleared the fence and was out of reach, her joy at its return unmistakable. She will, if ball throwers are available, then play until she drops… which never happens…or bring it back to the sofa for careful grooming. The most disgusting ball will be clean by the time she is finished. If a little soggy.
Should all efforts fail and a ball be irretrievable, she will grieve for a while and eventually adopt a new ball… but not until she is absolutely certain that the old One will not reappear. Meanwhile, she makes you feel incredibly guilty…
I can’t help wondering about her fixation. She is seldom alone for long and enjoys human company. She is walked, has loads of toys… including me and any bird, postman, visitor or cat daft enough to come within barking/ball throwing range. She is well fed (though she won’t even eat until you have thrown the ball…) much-loved and well looked after. So what is this quirk that means it has to be just the One ball?
I know that part of the whole ball thing is communication. Without words, there is a laughing complicity when she brings you the special ball. Maybe, given the grooming, it is her pup-substitute or security blanket? There are all kinds of rituals she has devised that have to be observed involving the ball… and all kinds of games. The latest is hide and seek involving me getting flat on my belly or shifting furniture. So I understand that part of it is her way of getting my undivided attention. But that still doesn’t explain the Only One.
Still, all these unanswered questions do not alter the one inescapable fact. Slugs or not, I’m going to have to rescue the damned ball…