The True Story of Sir Eli Bellman – A Most Noble Dog of the Highest Breeding
As a dog of noble breeding and belonging to a most distinguished family of some considerable repute, I have always taken my duties very seriously. Although worryingly, using my excellent sense of smell and trusty instincts, I had known for some time that Keith was not well and he showed no signs of getting any better. I knew he was really grateful when I climbed onto his bed each night to sleep next to him. I heard him tell Master Tom that I made an excellent hot water bottle, so I know my services were appreciated and I took them very seriously. I loved living in that all male, testosterone charged household in Northport. Tom, his father Keith, indeed anyone that needed a roof over their head at any given time were all untidy in the way that men living alone are and the house was pretty disheveled. The washing up in the bowl had passed through a long period of maturation, grease forming a virtually impenetrable layer on the surface. There would be a variety of detritus on the floor and the reassuringly intermingled man and dog aroma deeply embedded within the long unwashed sheets. But any shortcomings due to the lack of conventional housewifery were more than compensated for – because our house in Northport was a place full of love, cuddles and walks. According to Lao Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, the only certainty in life is change. (I’m quite well read for a dog, you know). And change came soon enough. One cold, wintry evening in February, around 9 o’ clock, I was snoozing languidly on the bed next to Keith, keeping him warm, when he took a turn for the worse. He groaned and reached over to the phone on the bedside table that was both dusty and sticky at the same time and anxiously called one of his friends. The next thing I knew, they came and took him away in a noisy white truck with flashing lights. I couldn’t sleep a wink that night; I had a very bad feeling about it. I never saw Keith again. I couldn’t eat a thing for days and I noticed that Tom couldn’t either. I heard the people that came and went in a swirling sea of sympathy over those next few days say that this was something called ‘grief’. I did not want to leave Tom, but nevertheless I was despatched to stay with some friends of Keith’s for a few days. They were kind and loving, but I was downcast. I must admit, I did cry a little those first few nights. At one time Keith had enjoyed a successful life, a senior post in Manhattan, a wife, kids, a nice house with a pool and a half decent handicap. Not even Tom knew much about his background before that, but I’d overheard talk in the past that he’d come from a top drawer English family, been to the best schools and had friends in high places. But other than some peculiar eccentricities there was no evidence of that now. Through some bad luck, an unfortunate marriage and some hot headed mistakes, he’d ended up living hand to mouth, although there was always enough food for me and Tom. Naturally, I wanted all this this speculation about him being aristocratic to be true, but from the corner of the kitchen floor where I laid, eyes shut, pretending to be asleep – but listening intently – it did all seem a little improbable. A few difficult and confusing weeks passed and we left our home in Northport and Tom took me to show me my new home in a faceless and forgettable urban mass on the wrong side of Bellport. Sir Eli Bellman of Bellport I thought cynically to myself. We walked into the tiny one bedroom, largely windowless basement apartment and I looked around. Holy gofers, there was not enough space to swing a squealing cat, let alone anywhere for me to stretch out! I’m a Pit Bull you see and I need a little space as I’m quite big. We moved in and our new daily pattern started to emerge. Tom went off each morning to his desk job in a part of the island where architecturally bereft office blocks dictated the landscape. He punched way below his intellectual weight, but the people there were nice and there was a level of stability that we now both craved. He returned at lunchtime to take me out for a ‘comfort break’ and I tried to be understanding when he had to leave 30 minutes later. It was hard. I spent the day in that office a few times, lying complacently under the desk and I was reminded of the first few stanzas in the British poet Sir John Betjeman’s famous work: ‘Slough’. I’m not allowed to quote it here but suffice to say, it’s a poem about an ugly town in Keith’s home country, England, where the author felt the best thing for the town would be to bomb it to smithereens. Well, that’s how I felt about Tom’s office, the town and the people in it. And don’t be surprised that I have these thoughts, I told you I’d read a bit in my time. The rest of the time I lay on the sofa and I could sense that both of us were slipping into a deep and dark depression. There were times neither of us could even be bothered to go out for a walk. I could feel my joints getting heavy and stiff and I was aware that we had both lost our joie de vivre. But time is a great healer and eventually a new girlfriend or two came on the scene. I put on a brave face and tried to be friends, but I could tell neither was very interested in me and I was terrified that Tom might let them move in – or worse, I’d be sent away. Luckily, nothing has come of any of his relationships so far. Indeed, if it is a relationship with a lady he is looking for, I think there are much better ways to skin a cat. I’m quite shrewd you know. In the summer, I’d encourage him to drive out to Westhampton, Bridgehampton, or even Southampton as there was a butcher who gave me excellent marrowy, juicy bones. We’d sit outside on the sidewalk. Tom would make a coffee last an hour while I lapped up water the café owner had put out specifically for us dogs. I’d be ultra-friendly and charming to all the pretty young women walking by (yep – and some not so pretty or young, but one must do what one must do). They invariably came over exclaiming “hey puppy” (I’m not that young either, but I didn’t say anything), or crying out “hey Petey” (I’ve been told many times that look like a well-known canine actor) and I’d get a stroke or a cuddle. I hoped and prayed that if they found me irresistible, they might also find Tom irresistible. My dream was that my flirtations might result in us going to live in a lovely house belonging to a beautiful, kind lady with a giant garden, right on the beach, who would love us both. Equally. I’m not sure if this makes me a bit of a bounder or a kind of canine cad, but I hope I can make something happen for both our sake’s before I lose my good looks. I’m always trying to sniff out any opportunities. It’s been a couple of years now since Keith died, so how have we fared? Naturally, I’d like to give you a happy ending, but I can’t yet. It has come home to bite me that life on Long Island isn’t always a walk in the park. However aristocratic young Tom might be, opportunities for bright young men and noble dogs like me to further ourselves are pretty thin on the ground. The same old question goes round in my head every night. Will our lives ever be carefree again or are we to be confined to our tiny basement for ever. We are the invisible people and noble dogs you never hear about. But on the up side, I have come to realize that whatever the future does hold for me and Tom, I know he loves me and I really love him. I guess with that we can get through anything. *A portrait of Tom’s great grandfather, Sir Harold Bellman, (1886-1963) author and Chairman of the Abbey National Bank, can be seen hanging in the National Portrait Gallery, London, juxtaposed between paintings of Baroness Margaret Thatcher and Madonna). The True Story of Sir Eli Bellman written on behalf of Eli, by Caroline Hunt. July 9th 2013.