Tall grass, stinging nettles and wind-whispering wheat. These were Black Dog’s favoured haunts when out walking. Invariably he interspersed these with suitably muddy puddles or streams. Catherine, his owner, had called him Black Dog in honour of her hero, Ernest Hemingway, who had had a dog of the same name. Today, they were waiting for Izzy, a frequent companion on their walks. She was, unusually for her, late.
Although they’d know each other scarcely a year, Catherine and Izzy’s friendship was tight as the lid of an unopened jam jar. Different as could be, each had so much to offer the other. Catherine’s relentless optimism and joie de vivre provided a welcome foil for Izzy’s blacker moods and world weary cynicism. Similarly, the latter’s ready scepticism and firm rooting in reality had rescued Catherine from eternal oblivion in the clouds of her imagination on more than one occasion. Thus the one felt inspired and uplifted, whilst the other felt grounded and pulled back in touch with the real world. It was a good match.
Catherine sat in her garden and marvelled at the wonderful countryside around her. She felt lucky to be living here in Dorset, so beautiful and unspoilt. A short walk up from the village, her cottage enjoyed uninterrupted views of rolling hills dotted here and there with small woods and checkered with verdant hedgerows. Early summer buttercups and poppies broke the green canvas of the fields, splashing them with shocks of yellow and red. The sea was less than an hour’s walk southwards and to the north were pine woods, small lakes and sand quarries. Following meandering footpaths and overgrown bridleways, Catherine liked to pretend she was in Michigan, the wild country of Hemingway’s youth. He described it in his letters, a selection of which she was currently reading.
Black Dog sprang to his feet at the sound of Izzy’s car. Tail wagging madly, he ran to greet Izzy as her car scrunched up the gravel track to the cottage.
‘God it’s hot, isn’t it?’ she gasped as she got out of the car.
‘Wonderful’, replied Catherine, ‘but how come you’re late? I thought that was my speciality?’
‘Damn car wouldn’t start. Heap of junk can’t cope with this heat! Anyway, where are we off to today?’
‘I thought we might go down to Burning Cliff and have a swim. You can borrow one of my swimsuits. It’ll be so lovely to jump into the cool water…’ Catherine was already there in her head.
‘Burning Cliff? Not a bad idea. I haven’t been there for years.’
‘Great. Let’s get ready.’ Catherine led the way into the small cottage. Izzy followed and prepared for the usual long wait while Catherine went in to her bedroom where she would doubtless try on all her swimsuits before deciding on the first. Catherine’s constant prevarications didn’t bother Izzy anymore. This was simply how she was.
‘I see you’re reading your stolen letters again.’ she called to Catherine from the lounge.
‘I wish you wouldn’t call them that. I feel guilty enough as it is.’
‘Doesn’t stop you reading them though, does it?’
The letters had been published after Hemingway’s death, ignoring his instructions that they should never see print. He was worried they might offend of be deemed libellous. His letters, in sharp contrast to the economic and direct style of his novels and short stories, were loose and rambling things. They gave reign to his emotions and impressions of the world and people around him. He didn’t trouble to disguise feeling of animosity towards those he disliked, and painted many cruel and vicious character sketches in them. Catherine felt unconformable reading them, in open defiance of his wishes, and yet, like a disobedient child, relished uncovering their secrets.
‘I can’t see what you find so fascinating about them anyway.’ Izzy continued.
‘No, I don’t suppose you can’. Catherine agreed.
Finally, Catherine emerged from the bedroom wearing, as Izzy had corrected predicted, the first swimsuit she had tried on. Around her waist a loosely tied scarf served as a skirt and above her tangle of chestnut hair an old, wide-brimmed straw hat shaded her eyes.
The going was hot and heavy up the long hill. The girls trudged silently through the long, as yet still green wheat. All that could be seen of Black Dog was the tip of his tail, showing every now and then through the sea of crops. The chestnuts at Half Moon Copse brought welcome relief from the burning sun, rendering the girls half blind as their eyes adjusted to the shade. Izzy picked up a piece of wood and threw it for Black Dog who never tired of running and fetching. With his to’s and fro’s he probably covered four times the distance of his guides. Crickets chirped in the bushes while birds chattered up above. A lone deer darted through the trees in the distance, disturbed by the intruders. Reaching the crest of the hill, Catherine and Izzy paused to take in the spread of blue below them. There were a good three miles to go yet, but with the sea in sight and the breeze cutting up from the cliffs, their pace quickened and their steps grew lighter.
‘Mi piece qui in Italia’ Catherine enthused as they tripped down the poppy strewn meadow to the cliffs.
‘I like it here in Italy’ she translated.
‘What are you on about?!’ Izzy puzzled.
‘Don’t you ever pretend we’re somewhere else?’
‘No. Why would I do that?’ She really is a bit nuts this girl!
‘Oh I do. I do it all the time. We’re headed for the Greek Islands now. Catherine waved her hand towards the sea and rocks below them by way of explanation. ‘I love having all these countries to explore.’
Izzy put Catherine’s flights of fancy down to her Italian origins. You never could tell what strange ideas foreigners were likely to come up with next.
‘Or maybe it’ Spain. Yes, that’s it! The beach where Hemmy spent so many summer days.’
Izzy let her friend ramble on while she turned her thoughts to more practical concerns. Would Safeways still be open when they got back? She didn’t have much in the fridge.