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I Remember Ibiza
by Harold Liebow

Part Fourteen
Flipper Sleeps It Off


I Remember Ibiza

It is impossible to recreate the intensity of feeling generated in me by my reunion with Flipper. I crept silently into the dim interior of the rough stone shed where he lay. He was flat out on his side, fast asleep on an old potato sack. I could barely make him out at first, for the light which came from the one mini-glass window at the rear was heavily filtered by the age-old grime which covered it. But as my eyes adjusted to the gloom, I saw him clearly. At last! He had been gone just over 24 hours. Curled up beside him was a compact bundle of brown and white Podenco pulchritude…also fast asleep, and also on an old potato sack. The couple were clearly, well, a couple. There was that aura of trusting togetherness, of how shall I say, affectionate closeness, which was so like the same thing in humans that I was touched to tears.

Our hosts, Madame and the rest of the family, remained quietly just outside, anxious and supportive. They had a special problem, however. Baby Sandra’s affection for Flipper had grown from the seed planted at their first meeting in Paris into a full fledged love affair since being reunited with him in Ibiza. When he had gone lost she had been haunted by a conviction that he would never be found, and she had refused to be comforted. And now, despite that he had been found alive and in reasonable shape, she continued inconsolable, having become convinced that he would not survive the wounds of his ordeal. The family, even now as I had made my way inside the shed where he was lying, had tried to make her realize that Flipper was, in fact, alive and basically well. But logic it seemed had nothing whatever to do with her feelings. She was an extremely sensitive child and would become even more so as she grew up. Her distress during the past day over Flipper’s disappearance had been formidable, and her continuing fear for his future well being began to loom as a real problem for Catherine and her father. And for all of us, really. It wasn’t until she actually was able to hold him in her arms again and see for herself that he was in good spirits that she began to feel better about him….and that moment, alas, was to be delayed for some time.

The shed was cramped enough in feeling to be a claustrophobic nightmare to the sensitive. But it was just right for the two animals in winter time. It was so small and so nearly air tight that their body heat helped to keep it warm. And it was almost entirely countersunk into an earthen bank behind and around it, which also helped to keep the mid-winter chill well in check. This bode well for the two dogs. Our hostess was right; warmth was a critical healing element in their recovery.

Overhead were crude, open ceiling rafters, made from the trunks of only half-grown, hard-pine, Sabina trees. The wood from these trees was so hard it was insect and water proof and almost indestructible. The beams supported not only the heavily thatched roof, but also a, primitive collection of worn farm-life work sundries which hung from them. There were ancient mule harnesses, even crude mule saddles, saddle blankets, bridles with dried out leather fittings, odd coils of heavy rope, some antique agricultural tools, rusted saws and even a venerable butter churn. The walls, of hand laid stone, could not have been more uneven. They bulged from their centres as if about to collapse. But one knew that was a long way off. The floor was hard-packed dirt.

Most telling, to be sure, was the startling, if half expected, powerful smell of the place. It was a smell which had been developing for years. It was an individual, a very unique, a particularly indigenous smell. It was also a non-offensive smell, one that told of farmyard happenings a hundred musty years ago. And all of it, the roof, the walls, the hardened earthen floor, and even the deeply sleeping dogs, all of it was true. All of it had never known pretension, never made a false statement. The whole thing, like the main house in front of it, was perfect in all of its attributes: its function, its construction for that function, its proportions for that function and its long years of service in that function. It was an honest outhouse, indeed.

All of these tidings were passing through my mind as I stood there, a bit hunched over because of the low ceiling. But it was on Flipper that I focused. His breathing was regular, his body was relaxed. Every once in while one of his feet would move abruptly as he dreamed. It was an old story. Flipper dreamed endlessly and very often would seem to be running in his sleep. He seemed quite all right as I watched him and I was filled with unbounded relief. As to the bitch, she too seemed not to be too badly off. She also slept the sleep of the weary. She also told the silent story of lost dogs. Extreme exhaustion followed by deep slumber, buried in which were dreams of home. And so the two of them lay there.

It had been my intention to take Flipper to a Vet after we had all gone back to Madame’s house and had our lunch. Juanito would have by then decided whether he also wanted to have his bitch checked by a Vet. But standing there, looking at the two animals peacefully sleeping together on potato sacks, I was given pause. I decided to talk with our Ibicencan hosts, who would have canine savvy as country people do, and to Madame and the others as well, before I did anything. Backing out of the shed as silently as possible so as to leave the dogs undisturbed, I motioned for a return to the main house. On our way back we had to duck carefully beneath the extraordinarily low overhead of the back doorway, to avoid damaging our heads. This, I had discovered, was typical of all the old casas payesas. Only the main front doors of these old houses had been made a bit grander than the rest, and therefore were able to more easily accommodate taller people than the ones who had built them. Like their child-sized general purpose chairs, their general purpose doorways were made for very small people, indeed.

We gathered in the front room, the entrada, Seated on the kindergarten chairs, knees almost to our chins, we debated the next move while tea was being prepared in the kitchen. The question came down to this: should we waken the dogs and leave with them after tea? Or should we be off without them after tea, leaving them to sleep off their ordeal in a natural way? We could drive back to Madame’s place, have our lunch and a siesta and then return in the later afternoon to pick up the dogs, bringing Juanito with us.

Our kind hostess tried quite genuinely to persuade us to have our lunch with them, then and there. She insisted we could even siesta comfortably in her house. It had been, she said, built for large families. And were we not, at least for the day, her family? She had known us for years, she insisted, and had never been favoured by circumstance before in this way. She was about to go on with it, ramifications proliferating as she went, but her husband gravely interrupted and said it was not for her or for him to make the decision, but for us. We could be sure, he emphasized, that whatever seemed best to us, would be welcomed by them. And so it went for awhile, back and forth, until it became clear that we could afford to wait half an hour while we had our tea. If, in that time, the dogs awakened, we could be off, taking them with us. If not, we would go without them.

Then, suddenly, just as tea was being brought out, it was taken out of our hands. Flipper had slept it off, it seemed, for he began to bark in a way which I recognized at once. He wanted to be let out. And it was urgent. I rushed out to the shed, and, in my hurry and excitement, I smashed my forehead against the low overhead of the back door. It was painful and stunning but it wasn’t enough to stop me. I lurched on, not forgetting to duck this time, before bursting through the also low overhead of the outhouse door. Flipper tried valiantly to jump up when he saw me, but there was something missing in his motion and I knew with a sinking heart that all was not right with the little fellow. He fell back on his potato sack and began to whimper, so I gathered him up in my arms and, with the bitch following, severe limp and all, we made our way back into the entrada. The greeting given the two dogs was general and generous and they both responded as well as they could. Flipper yipped a little and the bitch wagged her tail furiously and licked hands widely. After a bit, I took both of them out to the back of the house and let them relieve themselves, which they seemed able to do in the normal way. But Flipper could hardly manage to walk. Nevertheless I was reassured, because it seemed that there had been no internal damage. And, indeed, as later examination proved, there was not.

Needless to say, there was not only tea for us before we left, but also….salsa.

Harold Liebow