A Rose by Any Other Name

by Faye Robertson

Email: apf.robertson@btopenworld.com


“I can’t afford the treatment.” 

The woman raised her chin and met my frown defiantly, daring me to say what I had been thinking: that she thought more about her bank balance than she did about the dog lying on the table.  She was thin and tired looking, with bleached hair scraped off her face, no make-up, and three boys all under seven fiddling with the instruments on my tray. 

Before one of them could slice open his finger leading her to sue for damages, I slid the tray away from them smoothly and placed one hand on the basset hound lying in front of me.  “The thing is,” I tried to explain, “dogs can continue to live quite happily without their eyesight…”

“I understand,” she said sharply.  To my surprise I saw her eyes fill with tears. So she does care for the dog, I thought, and felt a stab of guilt.  “I just can’t do it any more.”  Her voice was hoarse, tight with controlled emotion.  “I’ve got so much on my plate, I just can’t cope with this as well…”

I hated this part about being a vet.  “It’s okay,” I said awkwardly, “we can work something out.”

“Jasper was my husband’s, you see, he used to look after him but when he left there was no room in his new flat.  It’s not that I don’t love him…”  A tear rolled down her cheek.  I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the dog or her husband.

I reached out and touched her arm briefly.  “Don’t worry.  I can see whether we can find another home for Jasper, if that’s what you want?”

Relief washed over her visibly.  “Oh really?  You can do that?”

“I can try.”  Actually I wasn’t sure that I would be able to find someone willing to foot the bill for the dog’s treatment.  He had severe, advanced glaucoma in his left eye and early signs of it in the other, and it was not going to be cheap to treat him.  And of course he was going to be nearly blind after his operation.  But I had to try.

“Yes, please.  I don’t want him put down unless it’s unavoidable…”

“Why don’t we take you out to the front desk and sort out the paperwork,” I suggested, leaving my assistant to look after Jasper as I steered the woman neatly out of the door, her kids following behind her like ribbons on a kite tail.  None of them gave a last look to the poor dog left lying on the table, and I swallowed the lump that had suddenly appeared in my throat, concentrating on telling our receptionist the problem so that she could find the appropriate form for the owner to sign over responsibility to us.

When that was sorted, I said goodbye to the family and watched them scatter out to their car.  The woman looked as relieved as a weightlifter whose dumbbells had been suddenly taken away.  I sighed and returned to my room.  Jasper was still lying on the table, Freya stroking his flank gently.

“How’s he doing?”

“He seems sad.”

“Bassets always look sad.”  I smiled.  “But I know what you mean.  He’s in a lot of pain.  He probably feels like he’s got one hell of a migraine.”

At that moment the connecting door to the offices behind our surgery opened and my best pal and oldest colleague, Neil, entered.  “They’ve gone?”

“Yes.  She signed the papers.”

“You’re not going to find anyone to foot the bill, you know.”

“I know.”

“What are you going to do?”

I sighed.  “I was thinking about paying for the operation myself.  Then the Home might take him and find him another family.”

For a moment he said nothing.  He looked at Jasper’s cloudy, bluish-white left eye, touching with gentle fingers.  Finally he straightened.  I thought he was going to say something about the dog’s condition, but instead he surprised me by saying: “I think you should have him.”

“Me?  I can’t have a dog.”

“Of course you can.  And you said you’re going to pay for the medication anyway, you might as well reap the benefits.”

“I work long hours, Neil, it wouldn’t be fair to him.”

He looked at me over the top of his glasses.  “The dog will have to be fed and walked, Ruth, it will give you a reason to go home.  It will do you good to have someone else in the house again.”

He had obviously realised that the reason I worked late most evenings was because of the quietness and the space in the house that had spread like a disease after Dan’s death.  I flushed.  “What are you, my father now?”

“No, just a very concerned friend.  Think about it.  I’ve got to go back to surgery.”

I stared at his disappearing back, then looked over at Freya.  She shrugged.  “You could do worse.  He’s a lovely dog.”

Of course he was a lovely dog – all dogs are lovely, I thought, coming closer and watching his chest rise and fall slowly like a pair of bellows.  But no, that wasn’t strictly true.  I knew from experience that dogs have personalities as much as humans, and I had met plenty of both that I didn’t like.

I gave him my hand to sniff.  Dan had liked bassets.  He had loved the Fred Basset comic strip and had collected all the Alex Graham books when he was younger.

Jasper raised his head to lick my fingers.  Then he carefully lowered it again until it rested on my palm.  I felt the weight of it in my hand like a large, furry melon.  He blinked slowly, painfully.  I sighed.  “Okay, let’s move him out the back.  I’ll operate tonight.”

“Are you going to keep him?”

“Let’s get him through the surgery first, then I’ll decide.”


Jasper did make it through the operation.  I removed his left eye and implanted a silicone ball to keep the shape, and stitched his eyelid shut.  For two weeks he looked like a boxer (the sportsman, not the dog) after a prize fight, but I kept reminding myself what we were taught at veterinary college: that all they miss is the pain.

Gradually, that maxim began to be true.  As the swelling went down, Jasper began to perk up.  Within two weeks he was well enough to leave the surgery.  By then, I had fallen in love with him and I knew I was going to take him home.


The first few days were difficult.  At first he constantly bumped into things, so eventually I put my coffee table, plant stand and other bits of furniture that I didn’t really need into my spare room.  Gradually he began to settle down.  And after a few months, when Neil and his wife Julie came over to dinner, Jasper seemed as if he’d been there forever.

We sat watching the telly, eating fish and chips out of the paper.  I no longer set the table when they came over, as the spare seat next to mine gave me an almost physical ache, like an amputated leg.  Anyway, they didn’t visit that often.  But that night Neil had insisted I not be alone.  It would have been my and Dan’s twenty-seventh wedding anniversary.

Julie looked down at Jasper.  “Does he always sit in front of Dan’s chair?”

I looked at where he was stretched out in front of the recliner that I still couldn’t bring myself to sit in.

“Yes, he picked that spot the day he arrived here.”

“How weird.”

Neil shoved a forkful of chips into his mouth.  “Not really, he can probably smell him.”

“I have cleaned since then.”

“Yes, but his other senses will have improved since he lost his sight.”

“Including his sixth sense?”  Julie smiled.  “You’ll have to watch out, Ruth, and see if he spots Dan anywhere.”

I laughed.  “I don’t think that will happen.”

“Why not?”

I shrugged.  “Because I think that when we die, that’s it.  Finito.”

She looked shocked.  “Really?  I didn’t know you felt like that.”

I looked down at my dinner.  I’d suddenly lost my appetite.  “I didn’t use to.  I used to have quite a strong faith.  But Dan and I always promised each other that if one of us died, we would do our utmost to contact the other one.  And I’ve had no sign yet.”

“Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence,” she observed.

“Very profound.”

“I mean that just because you haven’t had a sign doesn’t mean there isn’t an afterlife.”

“If he could have found a way to contact me,” I said flatly, “he would have.”

Neil folded up his empty newspaper.  “Yes, but the trouble is that if you really wanted to, you could interpret anything as a sign.  That doesn’t prove there’s an afterlife.”

Julie scowled at him.  “Way to comfort her, Neil.”

“I’m just saying…”

“Well, I don’t agree,” she stated.  “I think when the sign comes, Ruth will be in no doubt that that’s what it is.”


That evening after they had left, I sat on the floor next to Jasper in front of the fire.  I stroked his ears tenderly.  Having the dog had been a good move – Neil had been right, it was nice to have someone to come home to, and he did make the place feel less empty. 

But I knew Jasper hadn’t been as much of a comfort as Neil had hoped.  Dan’s death just six months before had pushed me off the raft of life, and I was drowning in grief’s black sea.  Jasper just wasn’t enough to keep me afloat.  That evening, with the winter wind howling outside, I felt so low that I kept glancing over to the cupboard where I kept my sleeping pills, and I thought about getting out the bottle, and downing them all.

But of course, that’s what Neil had known I’d eventually want to do, and that’s why he’d suggested I have Jasper, because even as I dissolved into tears, Jasper got to his feet and shuffled to the door and I sighed, wiped my face and went over and let him out.

It was a cold, cold February night.  It had been snowing, and Jasper’s paws made scrunchy noises as he snuffled around, investigating this strange white stuff.

I left him to explore, pouring myself another glass of wine from the fridge and wandering for a moment along the bookshelves, trying to find something that might take my mind off my misery.  Then I found it: an old Alex Graham book.  I pulled it out, running my hand over the familiar cover of Fred chasing a cat.  I didn’t know I still had one of those.  I brought it over to the armchair and sat for a while sipping my wine as I flicked through it and reminded myself of the old jokes.

It was only after about ten minutes had passed that I suddenly remembered that Jasper was still outside.  Alarmed, I put down my wine and went hurriedly into the garden.  There were doggie footprints all over the lawn, but no sign of Jasper.

I called his name, but he didn’t appear.  Suddenly I felt myself go cold, and this time it wasn’t from the freezing February wind that blew across the lawn.  At the bottom of the garden was a gate to the river down the hill.  I couldn’t see properly, but in the dark it looked like the gate was open.

Quickly I fetched my torch and coat.  I hurried across the lawn.  At the bottom I felt my heart sink: I had been right, the gate was open.

I continued to call his name as I walked down to the river, my heart thudding in my chest.  He couldn’t have made it through his operation only to die like this.  I forgot that I didn’t believe in an afterlife and begged Dan to help him.  “Look after him,” I whispered.  “Don’t let any harm come to him, not now.”

Suddenly, there was a loud bark to my right.  I stumbled through the grass and then it parted and there was Jasper, sitting facing the river.  He looked over his shoulder as he heard me come closer, but didn’t come bounding up.  He was sitting in a small, flattened area of grass, as if he had done that strange dog thing where they go round and round in circles in their basket.  The flattened grass was completely devoid of snow.

And in the middle of it, at Jasper’s feet, lay a single red rose.

I gasped.  Jasper barked once more.  Then he sneezed, picked himself up and began to trot back towards the house.

I continued to stare at the rose.  Snow fell gently onto it, making it look as if it was dusted in icing sugar.  I went closer and picked it up gingerly.  It was a real red rose.  By the river.  In the middle of winter.

I stood holding the flower, and looked around.  He must have found it in one of the neighbour’s gardens, I thought.  It must have come from a delivery of cut flowers to someone.  It must have been in a Valentine’s bouquet.  It must, it must…

Tears filled my eyes.  Red roses were my favourite flowers.  Of course they were a lot of other people’s favourite too, but they had always been mine, ever since I was a little girl.

I thought about the conversation we had had that evening, Neil, Julie and me.  Julie would have said that everything happens for a reason; that I had been meant to have Jasper from the beginning, and this was a sign from Dan, the sign I had been waiting for.

Neil would have said that it was natural to take it as a sign, but that there was a logical answer to why this rose had appeared at Jasper’s feet, and that it was just a coincidence that it happened to be my favourite flower, and my wedding anniversary. 

I knew it didn’t prove that there was an afterlife.  I wasn’t stupid.  It was just a rose after all, not Dan’s ghost, not a miracle.

But I did know that I had been drowning, and someone, somewhere, had just offered me a life belt.

Holding the rose against my cheek, I sniffed it gently.  Its soft, sweet scent filled my nostrils.  Slowly I followed Jasper back into the garden towards the light streaming from the house.


©2006 Faye Robertson

Faye would love to hear what you think of her writing - email her now