"Im five," said Jake the Dog. "Im five. Im a big boy now. Im five!"
"Yes, you are," I said. Perhaps we should have a party to celebrate the occasion."
"Thats a good idea," said Jake. He thought about it for a moment, then he asked, "Whats a party?"
"All your friends come round and play games," I said. "And they eat and drink far too much."
"Sounds good," said Jake. "How do we go about arranging it?"
"The first thing to do is to leave an invitation for everyone," I said.
"OK," agreed Jake. "Lets go for a walk and Ill get the invitations ready."
I got Jakes lead out of the cupboard, put on my hat and coat, and we went out into the wild, wet afternoon. Jake left a party invitation for his two best friends on every tree and lampost. With so many invitations left in so many places, they'd be certain to receive the message very quickly. By the time we got back home he was exhausted and completely drained. "There," he said, "that ought to do it. Ill check for an RSVP tomorrow."
The next day we retraced our previous route and Jake checked each tree and lampost very carefully. "Maggie isnt coming," said Jake, looking disappointed. Hes known Maggie since they were both puppies. They first met when they were students together at the Doggy Disobedience class. They passed disobedience with flying colours and theyve been best friends ever since.
"Thats surprising," I said. "Its not like Maggie to miss a party."
"Shes got to go to the vet," said Jake. "Shes got a little bit of an upset tummy. She ate someone who disagreed with her."
We carried on with our walk and Jake made another disappointing discovery. "Booki cant come either," he said after sniffing carefully at a favourite tree.
"Thats a shame," I said. "Did he say why?"
"No, he was a bit vague," said Jake. "He just said that he had a previous engagement. But there was something very strange about the message."
"What was strange about it?" I asked.
"The reply was definitely from Booki," said Jake. "You simply cant be anonymous when youre a dog. But oddly, the message was in Taras handwriting!"
"That is peculiar," I agreed.
"Sometimes I wonder about Tara," said Jake thoughtfully. "Sniff at her bottom and shell follow you anywhere."
"I know a lot of people like that," I said.
"It looks like its going to be a small party," said Jake. "Just you and me and Robin. And Gilbert the Cat."
"Small," I agreed, "but perfectly formed."
* * * *
The day of the party dawned warm and clear. "Happy birthday, Jake," I said and gave him a bone.
"Oh boy!" said Jake, "A bone! Just what Ive always wanted. How did you know?" His voice was a bit muffled because he had a bone in his mouth. He took the bone to the middle of the lawn and flopped down to start licking it. Then he chewed it a bit, making noises that sounded just like teeth breaking. I worried about that for a moment, but then Gilbert the Cat got a bit too close to the bone and Jake growled at him to warn him away. Both Gilbert and I could clearly see that all Jakes teeth were still firmly in place. Gilbert counted them, one by one, just to make sure they were all there. I stopped worrying and left Jake to his bone.
"Can I have a lick?" Gilbert asked Jake. "Pretty please, with knobs on."
"No," said Jake. "Go away."
"You know," said Gilbert thoughtfully, "you might find that it would go down more smoothly if you inhumed it for a while. Inhuming adds flavour and texture."
"Inhume?" asked Jake. "How do you inhume a bone?"
"Dont you know anything?" asked Gilbert scornfully. "When you dig a bone up, you exhume it. So when you bury it, you inhume it. Simple!"
"Ah! I know how to do that," said Jake. "I was planning on doing it later so that I could have the bone for dessert. And maybe for breakfast tomorrow as well. But now that youve put the idea into my head..." He carried his bone over to the patch of garden that Robin had carefully mulched and composted the day before. It was beautifully soft, moist and squishy there, very easy to dig. So much of our garden is covered in decoratively laid rocks, and just underneath them is solid, dry clay. When Jake digs there it tends to break his toenails, and he is very vain about his toenails. He spends ages trimming and shaping them so as to get them just right. I always shout at him whenever he gives himself a pedicure, because he makes such disgusting slobber-sucking, grinding noises while hes shaping and polishing his nails. So these days he tends to do it when Im not around.
The chance to dig in soft soil was just too good for Jake to resist and it wasnt long before Robins carefully prepared flowerbed was scattered to the four corners of the garden. Jake placed his birthday bone carefully in the hole hed dug and then he shovelled as much soil as he could back into the hole. The final touches involved him scooping up mountains of mulch with his nose and piling it artistically on top of the inhumation site. Then he came to tell me all about what hed done and how clever he felt hed been. He seemed quite hurt when I proved to be less than impressed.
"Whats the matter?" he asked, honestly puzzled.
"Look at the carpet," I said.
We both looked at the carpet. Muddy paw prints criss-crossed it and there were several piles of black dirt placed in carefully chosen strategic positions where Jake had sneezed, thereby causing the mounds of mud on his snout to fall off. "I think thats a rather pretty effect," said Jake. "Quite artistic. However, if you really want to remove it, just let it dry and then you can vacuum it up, easy peasy. But wait until Im not around before you do it. Im scared of the vacuum cleaner."
"Ill do it tomorrow," I said. "I dont want to spoil your birthday party."
Jake glanced out of the window. "Excuse me," he said, "Gilberts getting a bit too close to my inhumed bone. I need to go and stare at him until he goes away." He went outside and did just that. Eventually Gilbert washed himself nonchalantly in order to show that he didnt feel at all threatened, and then he wandered away to deal with important cat business. Jake exhumed his bone. He felt that it had been underground long enough now to have enhanced both its flavour and its texture. He was eager to return to it.
He spent the rest of the afternoon tending to his bone. First he licked off the dirt, then he chewed the bone for a while. Next he picked it up and walked round the garden with it, pausing every now and then to see if this new garden spot was any better for bone chewing than the last one had been. Rinse, lather, repeat.
As the sun went down and darkness spread itself over the garden, he came back into the house, a tired and happy dog. He walked towards me across the carpet carefully avoiding the patches of dirt that hed left there earlier and depositing new ones in all the clean spaces. "That was a great party," he said.
"Im glad you enjoyed it," I said. "But its been a pretty exhausting day. Its probably time for bed. Say goodnight, Jake."
"Goodnight, Jake," said Jake obediently.
* * * *
The next day Jake and I went for our usual morning walk. As we so often do, we met Maggie. "Hello Maggie," said Jake. "Are you feeling better?"
"Yes, thanks," said Maggie. "Do you want to play chase?"
"Yes, please," said Jake, and they both dashed off towards the horizon. The sound of frantic barking echoed faintly back to me as it bounced off the houses, waking all the sleepyheads who were still tucked up snug and warm in their beds at 6.30am. Serves them right for being such lazybones, I thought to myself.
Eventually Jake came back. He had a huge grin on his face and several yards of tongue hung dripping out of the side of his mouth. "Ive left a message for Booki," he said "Ive told him what a great party he missed."
"Im sure hell be sorry he couldnt make it," I said.
"Maggie wrote the note for me," said Jake. "I hadnt realised just how much fun that could be until she did it. Now I know why Booki got Tara to write his RSVP. Clever boy, that Booki."
Then he winked at me.