Our beloved Riley had kind eyes and a forcefully-wagging tail. Whenever he heard laughter, he would join in with a thump-thump-thump.
Riley was our friend and companion. Our van-dog. We took him all over the United Kingdom in our bus-with-a-woodstove. His favourite location was the Outer Hebrides where he could run to infinity and beyond on the vast white beaches. He loved the sea. He loved woodland and he loved bare, wide plains.
Riley was a tall, long-legged black Labrador with a glossy coat. One time at his six-monthly health check the vet listened to his heart for so long I feared there was something wrong. Finally the vet lifted his head and removed the stethoscope from his ears. “That’s such a lovely heartbeat,” he told us. “I could listen to it all day.”
Riley came to us as a seven-week-old pup. Phil and I had been together for a year. I had my four children and my chocolate Lab, Lu. Phil had two children but had never had a dog. Riley was like the kid we might have had together. We all moved into a five-bedroomed house overlooking the common – a perfect location for dogs. Lu had never had a pup of her own but she soon became Riley’s mother. Our two Labs performed regular bin raids throughout the house, to the extent we had to confine them to one room. On the common they ate their fill of horse poo and chased rabbits. In the deep winter snow, Riley pulled my son down the slopes in a sled. He also went mountain climbing in the Lake District with Zak and slept with him in his tent.
Lu died when Riley was four and he became our only dog. We could take him anywhere. If we told him everything was fine, he stayed calm and relaxed, even at firework displays. He loved people and other dogs.
He accompanied us to many gatherings of family and friends.
“My memories of Riley,” wrote a friend when we announced his death. “Are of him surrounded by children, each waiting for a turn to hold his lead.”
His typical Labrador obsession with food and even items that were not food but could be easily consumed was the finish of him. That night the poisoning symptoms showed up too late. After 18 hours – he had to be put down the next evening.
Every time we’d left Riley, in the van, or at home – or occasionally in kennels if we absolutely couldn’t take him away with us – we’d promised him we would come back for him. On his last night we came back for him. I stroked his ears and my husband and son stroked his back. We all talked to him. Our Riley was wagging his tail when he left this world. Thump-thump-thump. Beautiful boy, RIP.
Riley Scott-Townsend 2009 -2016
Ellie can’t work out whether she’s running away from the past or towards a future she always felt she should have had. She left university and had baby after baby without even meaning to. But it was her third child she blamed for ruining her life.
Now her children have grown and Ellie is on her own. She shocks everybody by selling her home and moving into a converted van to travel the country selling handmade dolls at craft fairs.
It can be lonely on the road. Ellie has two companions: her dog, Jack, and the mysterious
Eliza who turns up in the most unexpected places. At every encounter with Eliza, Ellie feels as if she’s standing again in the aching cold of a waterfall in Iceland, the sound of crashing water filling her with dread.
Ellie can’t change the past. But is it really too late to rectify the bad thing she did when Eliza was a baby?