THIS ( USURPED) LIFE

DEB STE­WART

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Viewpoints -

MAG­GIE and I have been through a lot to­gether. Nights can be long and un­set­tled at the end of a 20- year mar­riage; the new rental house has its own creaks in the night that are quite dif­fer­ent to the sounds of our old home.

They al­ways seem louder, too, when the chil­dren are stay­ing with their fa­ther, but Mag­gie’s rest­ful sleep calms me and tells me that the sounds are just pass­ing creaks, not creeps, in the night. I turn and sleep again.

How long ago did an 11- week- old salt- and­pep­per sch­nauzer with an over­bite be­come the adored new fam­ily mem­ber? This trusted con­fi­dant of my young sons is now my trusted, un­flinch­ing pro­tec­tor.

There have been times when I didn’t al­ways do the right thing by her. Walks were missed, words were spo­ken more sharply than nec­es­sary, but she would just go back to her bean­bag, and with an un­der­stand­ing sigh watch me and my ev­ery move, watch­ing over me, al­ways watch­ing for us.

For a while she only ever barked when males came to the door. I un­der­stood her con­cerns.

Is it true peo­ple be­come like their dogs? Or is it more that the dogs start to take over their own­ers’ iden­tity? Who ex­actly is the queen of the pack in our house? I sense an over­throw is loom­ing, with a claim to the throne from my age­ing sch­nauzer.

Def­i­nitely more con­fi­dent with age, she’s not seek­ing ap­proval any more; she has carved her place in this well- worn fam­ily.

Once she would have driven me mad in the car, try­ing to get on to my lap as I drove; now she waits to get into the back seat, where she spreads out, al­low­ing me to be her chauf­feur. In ap­ply­ing the guilt she has taken over where my mother left off.

She no longer even both­ers to keep up the pre­tence of sleep­ing in her bean­bag. No, she sleeps on the couch, my couch, not the other couch or even the other end of my couch. No, she prefers my ex­act spot. She hears me get slowly out of bed in the morn­ing and I hear her slowly get off the couch, nails hit­ting the floor­boards, no sense of ur­gency. She knows ex­actly how long it will take me to get down the hall­way. She knows she has time for a stretch be­fore walk­ing to the bean­bag and nestling in.

It’s all so blind­ingly ob­vi­ous that I don’t know why it took me so long to see it. She’s vy­ing for the po­si­tion of ma­tri­arch and it’s me she wants to over­throw.

Jerry Se­in­feld said that if aliens ar­rived from an­other planet and watched us walk­ing be­hind our dogs, feed­ing them tid­bits and pick­ing up their crap along the way, they would think the dogs were the rul­ing class, lead­ing us with a lead, al­low­ing us to stop and care­fully col­lect their turds.

Could it be Mag­gie thinks she’s me when I’m not home? If she can, she’ll get on my bed and sleep in ex­actly the same spot and po­si­tion as me, ly­ing on her left side, head on pil­low.

I know this be­cause she leaves a per­fect in­den­ta­tion of her body on the bed, right down to her snout on the pil­low. Rogue dog hairs com­plete the ev­i­dence.

I used to think she did this to stay close to me when I was gone. Now I’m not so sure. To date, there have been no signs of dog hairs on my clothes, but I’m look­ing.

this­life@ theaus­tralian. com. au

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