The last car owned and driven by my paternal grandmother, Nancy, was a white Nissan Micra.
I can't remember the cars that predated that one, or predated our move back to Ireland in 1997. But I can remember the Micra's sweet smell, its velour seats, and the packets of Trebor Softmints (blue) Nancy kept in the dash and in the doors.
I remember the driver's seat having one of those wooden covers knotted around the headrest: fat, varnished beads on semi-elasticated cord. I can also very clearly remember the final journey I took in that car.
My grandmother, widowed for years, had lately retired from her job as a shopkeeper in a small village on the banks of a river. She lived alone, and began to feel the need for something that would fill gaps made more evident by her change in situation. Or, we began to feel it on her behalf. I'm not sure.
In any case, a dog seemed to all like a good idea, and Nancy declared herself game. Game enough, in fact, that that she arranged and managed the adoption of a dog by herself, taking my younger sister and I along for the selection. We drove to a nearby village and parked outside a chip shop.
It was high summer, late afternoon, we waited impatiently by the counter while the young man behind it fetched the chipper's owner, the owner of the Jack Russell, the owner of the new litter. We were then ushered through a door at the side and into the kitchen of the household adjoining the establishment.
There, on a scattering of damp regional newspaper bound by a number of hinged wire fireguards, seven or eight fat puppies milled around one another. In my life, to that point, I had rarely felt so fortunate or excited.
We surveyed the group, which was very young, clamping practically toothless mouths around each other's ears and pushing pads into each other's sides. One by one, we petted them, cradled them in our arms, gazed into their eyes. I can't remember the characteristics that led to our selection, which was swift.
Nancy asked the chip shop/dog owner, a gruff and harried woman, if we could also see the dogs' father. No, we were told, in no uncertain terms. He tends to be exceedingly jealous, the owner said, and generally has a bad temperament, so has to be tied up in a shed when there are visitors. This was emphatically backed up by a wide-eyed, tracksuit-clad teenage daughter who had appeared at the back door.
I remember being eager to communicate my own complete understanding and acceptance of this allegedly charged dynamic. It was obviously a quite stupid and low-effort piece of fiction, but I was a child, and what was Nancy going to do? Insist on being be taken to a locked outhouse to inspect a Jack Russell terrier who fathered another Jack Russell terrier that she was about to pay £10 for? (The Euro had not yet been introduced.)
She may have sensed that there was no such compound, and, almost certainly, no such father. But to pursue the point and have it borne out would have led to additional decision-making, brought an uncomfortable rigidity to bear on an otherwise ultra-casual business deal, and, one suspects, entirely tarnished the occasion and upset several parties to the contract.
Nancy watched her crazed grandchildren falling around in a state of vicarious drunkenness and completed the transaction. We climbed back into the Micra and took Russ home.
The name "Russ" took weeks, if not months, of solemn workshopping. Not even nearly 20 years of an interval has diminished in me the embarrassment latterly felt about some of the first drafts. "Scramble" was once proposed and trialled, the name obliquely tied to Nancy's occasionally preparing eggs for the dog's breakfast.
Our obsession with Russ, in many ways a very unusual dog, was total. As the years passed, it became more and more clear that the dog's father could not have remotely resembled a Jack Russell.
Russ, every day evolving further from the root of his name, shed so heavily that all black surfaces became gray, and all gray surfaces became white, and everybody walked around ineffectually dusting themselves of the coarse, sticky pine needles of his coat. He grew east and west, becoming longer and longer until he looked like his image had been tugged apart in Photoshop.
At the same time, his legs remained troublingly short. The top of his back and his neck was so muscular and rose so high that he couldn't really raise his head to meet us in the eye.
In any case, Russ never really stood still for long enough to regard anything at all. He ran in rapid, repeated rings in Nancy's backyard, adhering with such precision to a single route that he dug highly defined dirt tracks in the lawn. Russ was good-natured, but he also had no real nature at all.
Despite all of this, my sister and I were wild about him. We had tried for a very long time to bring a dog into our life in other ways: baiting locals to our back door with ham slices, photographing these dogs with a Polaroid we owned, and hanging the pictures in our room as though it somehow suggested custody.
Once or twice, we welcomed into the utility room or closed the garage door on a "visiting" dog, creating, for a few minutes, an illusion of ownership. Happily, Russ would spend Christmases with us, and so it was in the year 2000, when we spent weeks preparing for his annual stay.
Despite behaving like a missile most of the time, Russ was somehow still small enough to travel in a wicker hamper. Indeed, he was so physically frenzied that no other method would do. That year, when my dad lifted the hamper containing him onto the tarmac of our drive, we ran to release Russ.
The hamper should have been moving across the pavement with his thrashing, but it wasn't, but we didn't really notice, but when we eventually undid the buckles and lifted the lid, we found a very small Pomeranian puppy, blinking in the light. Bijou.
Bijou turns 16 this year. I worshipped her as a child, and I worship her now. If you haven't had the privilege of crying teenage tears into the scruff of dog's neck, well.
It's 2017, and Bijou's trachea is collapsing and she coughs almost all the time. It is she who likely needs a neck to cry in. Prescription steroids, designed to lessen the caving in, have made her stocky and very round.
The last child in an otherwise empty nest, Bijou, a small Pomeranian, is also fed exorbitant quantities of food she simply should not be eating. "Toast time" is an awaited event (the variety served by my mom is liberally buttered). Cheese is a staple. To her credit, she is also interested in carrot sticks, julienned bell peppers, and steamed broccoli, but none of these things elicit a response like parmesan-dijon chicken, or pizza crusts.
A couple of years ago, Bijou started losing teeth. One, on the lower row, spent a few weeks protruding out of the front of her closed mouth, a reminder of her mortality, somehow, funny and sad.
On funny and sad, she is a cancer survivor, having once had a tumor excised from her little round chest. The variety of surgery once manageable is now not at all, and because distinguishing between benign lumps and malignant tumors on her furry, spherical body is therefore futile, we have not bothered to for awhile now.
Each time I leave home, I leave with a pronounced understanding that I may never see Bijou again. What? What's that house like? I can't remember, and I don't want to know.
For many consecutive years, Bijou delighted and consoled me. These days, living apart, I find myself seeking the same delight and consolation in other dogs I fleetingly meet, embarrassingly, with varying degrees of success. In 2015, I started a secondary Instagram for the dogs I photographed in New York.
I revived it shortly before the inauguration, one of many frivolous, non-essential coping reflexes. I photograph a dog and I get its name. I find the record oddly calming. But better than the record or the project (this designation is a stretch), is the group of Pomeranians I now follow with this account.
Previously I would have mocked anybody who followed dog accounts that posted in the first person, sometimes multiple times a day. What could be more lame, more tedious? Reader, I was wrong.
I watch the travails of Gizmo, a Pomeranian in Dublin who has a plush toy beaver named Justin Beaver and spends weekends in Donegal. I relish in footage of Chloe, @pomerachka_chloe, a self-professed "professional scamp" who lives in Sochi, Russia, occasionally wears a beaded necklace, and is getting ready for a show.
On necklaces, Tom, from Istanbul, was once photographed wearing one with a polymer clay pendant made in his image. Penny, local to me in Brooklyn, was videoed in a Shaker bowl alongside a dachshund named Gordon. Enzo Ferrari, the product of zealous grooming, posts portraits from Brazil.
Lilly is in Bayern, and regularly walked in a bandanna. Gaston Principe, one of my favorites, is overbrushed outside Barcelona. Penny Lane is in Colorado, with British aspirations, and captions like "Sitting here on the lovely Saturday morning thinking about my next move. Have a great weekend!"
Mishka is Euro trash. Cupcake is US west coast anxiety. Alma is a basic bitch. Glory is a beast with three siblings. Poppy uses "mum". Poom, in Manila, is an insecure, gratuitous oversharer. Russ (who, last we heard, was getting by on an pig farm in Tipperary) could have had one hell of an account.
Sedative, balm, salve, distraction, whatever. I absolve myself from reality by scrolling the canine feed, opening it after watching a bad news report, or to still hyperventilation about the near-missing of a flight given to me as a gift, or after sending 37 e-mails to a property management company.
The contrivance does not nearly approach the enrichment of one's actual dog, of any actual dog, but I can still wholeheartedly and unreservedly recommend it.