It seems like the day I recently lost was not the only thing that Salies caused me to overlook and even though that misplacement caused quite a bit of mental confusion, there was no guilt involved. Guilt is another thing, something to be avoided at all costs, something insidious that creeps into the stomach and liver making life quite miserable as long as it lasts. I hate guilt, I will do anything –except vomit, which I hate doing even more- to get rid of guilt when it creeps into my life or when it hits me smack in the face as it did this morning… well, better said towards afternoon.
I really was very pleased with my day, it had been productive. I had written the story about THE LOST DAY and liked it at least while I was at it. Even though I had not been able to recoup the day, or even decide which one was the lost one, writing about it gave me a sense of achievement that seemed to fill the void left by the wayward day, so I was in high spirits. My day, Friday, of that I was more than sure and had checked several times, reminding myself mentally that it WAS Friday and I had the appointment with the osteopath in Navarrenx, the one that Charles had recommended, a man called Lederman. I was looking forward to several things: driving to Navarrenx through the smaller back highway that Charles had pointed out on my previous visit and which offered lovely views of the valleys and hills leading up to the Pyrenees, being able to visit the town without the pressing event of having to get to Ettie’s house at a certain hour, and enjoy and photograph the surrounding wall, Navarrenx being the first walled and fortified town in France, eating a pleasant lunch at the Hotel du Commerce that puts tables under the trees in the “Place de Casernes” where one can view something called Saint Anthony’s Barracks (which turn out to be long nondescript buildings painted a pale yellow). I climb into the car, place Salomé on the seat beside me after getting her to pee in the park (she has been pestering for a while to go out, I surmised) and start off for Navarrenx. The day is beautiful, the sky a bright blue, spotted with fluffy white clouds, not a whisper of rain or cold… the perfect day. I slide a CD into the slot and listen to Carla Bruñí singing Qu’el qu’on m’a dit.
I could have sworn that nothing could go wrong on what looked in every way like the perfect day. And it seemed that way. I was so pleased with everything that I turned to smile at Salomé. She was staring at me, I mean really staring and something in her demeanour was trying to tell me something; she cocked her head slightly and continued, unblinkingly to stare. I smiled at her; she cocked her head the other way and suddenly I knew: I had forgotten to feed her. I looked at the clock: it was going on to 1:30. Her breakfast-lunch hour is 12 noon: it hadn’t been to say she wanted to go out to the park to wee that she had been pestering me for the last half hour of my writing, but to remind me that she was hungry and wanted to eat. She hadn’t eaten since 6 pm the day before. The realization of the number of hours that she had gone without food hit me like a boulder in the stomach: guilt. I had forgotten to feed my little dog!!!
It was too late to turn back, I was more than half way to Navarrenx and the appointment was at 4, I would just have time to eat lunch, walk a bit and get to the osteopath’s. Guilt is a strange feeling. There is a sinking in the stomach, as if it wanted to join the intestines and perhaps strangle itself with them; the throat grows tight and the chest caves in heavily towards the heart exerting uncomfortable pressure. The worst, perhaps, is the mind: it begins its rant. “How could you?” “What kind of a human being forgets to feed her little dog, her ‘child’?” “Imagine what the poor little thing is feeling in her stomach!” There is no forgiveness, there is no excuse, there can only be a hope of prompt reparation to alleviate the torture of guilt. I speed towards Navarranx knowing that I will arrive promptly at the restaurant, order the biggest dish of meat and share it with Salomé before even considering photographing or visiting anything of the town.
Fortunately there is a parking place in the “Place” and a table in the restaurant. I locate “viande” on the menu and order the fillet of beef with béarnaise sauce, and a side of green salad. We wait. When the bread arrives I immediately offer Salomé a piece as a gesture of appeasement. She is not exactly appeased: bread is not her thing, specially not today! I wait, the guilt weighing heavily –along with a certain amount of hunger which I feel I don’t justly deserve, I who forgot to feed my darling dog while having my own breakfast right on time- in my stomach and finally the meat arrives: the portion is closer to nouvelle cuisine than what the Béarnaise people usually serve you. I can see we are both going to eat communist style: doling out the poverty. To be absolutely honest, I am not willing to give her more than half even though she has had no breakfast and I have; as a matter of fact, I am not willing to give her half even, but I do slice off the more cooked pieces (for me the more unsavoury) and pass them under the table along with pieces of bread that I try to disguise by sopping up some of the juice from the meat (she detects immediately that it is only bread and proceeds to lick off the juice as best she can before accepting the unsavoury token). The plate is soon clean, I have not completely assuaged my guilt, but I have killed my hunger. I order desert (another injustice, no doubt, because sugar is very bad for dogs so Salomé won’t get any of that either, but I did give her as much bread as I dared). And then the miracle happens, Life comes to the rescue. The waitress brings a plate from another table and places it on the side board very close to the table where we are sitting, me in the chair, Salomé underneath. The plate, on its way to the kitchen without a doubt, is still full: four whole slices of smoked salmon about to go into the garbage can. Guilt is definitely of a heavier and more viscose substance than shame, so I bravely ask the waitress if I may have the unwanted salmon for my little dog. To my delight she immediately puts it on another plate and places that one on my table with a smile: oh what a feast, oh what a dissolver of guilt is that pink and juicy salmon as it disappears rapidly into Salomé’s waiting jaws. Four whole slices of salmon, a perfect guilt-tenderizer, a perfect pink amends maker, a retribution, a solution… Now I can eat my desert with all the pleasure that a raspberry sherbet deserves.