Sunday. Phone rings. "Hullo?" Pause (for dramatic purposes.) "It's Neil. It's Sunday. I'm in my shed. The sun is shining. The sky is blue. AND" (loudly, for even more dramatic purposes) "OLD ALEC IS DIGGING ON HIS PLOT AND 'HEY YOU' IS WATCHING HIM!"
The import of this news might have been lost on anyone else. But I knew exactly what it meant. And, as it happens, so would the D.P. ("Distant Poet"), even though she lives 3,000 miles away.
Neil's plot adjoins Old Alec's. Normally, Alec is a permanent fixture. If you arrive just after breakfast, you often meet him leaving. The significance of this did not immediately dawn on me. Eventually I grasped the fact that Alec often sleeps in his shed overnight. Not only Alec, but his dog, too.
This summer, though, Old Alec's plot has not been inhabited as usual. He was in the hospital.
I came across Alec before I had a plot. He'd be scratching up leaf mold in the woods when I walked the dog. At first I thought he was hyperbolic in his dog discipline. He'd growl fiercely at that docile creature of his: "Hey You! Come here! HEY YOU!" But the dog would take this gruffness without resentment. Then Alec would say, with a tooth-gap grin, " 'Hey You' is 'is name, see." Chuckle. "Hey You!"
It was only after I, too, was a plotter, adding our dog to the already interesting and varied fraternity of plot dogs, that I got to know Hey You better. I'd say he is definitely Plot Dog No. 1.
He has a history. Monty told me: "When it was a pup, a car hit it. Alec rescued it. He gave it mouth-to-mouth! It's been devoted to him ever since." Then Monty, who is quite evidently not a "dog person," added: "Not everyone would have done that."
The two of them have been missed. But now they're back. And now, in consequence, Neil's longtime role as Guardian of the Parcel has finally ended.
The big parcel came all the way from the United States. It was sent by the D.P. She had fallen in love with a photo of Hey You I had sent to her. When she heard Alec and Hey You were unable to visit the plot for a while, she orchestrated an elaborate care package.
But it was not for the man. It was for the dog. It contained five different kinds of dog treats and a ball, with individual messages attached. Sausagelike snacks, ersatz pork chops, cheese-and-bacon-flavored dog snacks, and a four-pound box of bone-shaped dog biscuits. Each had been recommended by one of the sender's close friends.
One, for instance, read: "Buster across the street likes these. He's handsome but stupid." Another carried the commendation of her mother's cat.
It was weeks ago that the parcel arrived. But Alec and his dog were still away. So the parcel waited in Neil's shed, and Neil waited for Alec and Hey You, and the D.P. began to wonder if Neil hadn't, in a hungry moment, eaten the treats himself.
He hadn't. And on Sunday afternoon, in the sun, it was ceremoniously opened. Neil acted as cameraman. Each message was scrupulously read out. Alec and his dog, who have star quality, both grinned from head to foot and back again. Hey You obligingly grabbed his new ball.
"He loves balls," said Alec. He also loves dog biscuits and attention: Both were gobbled up. Alec announced that he would take the box home to show his friends. Treats from the USA!
It was the greatest of homecomings. Almost poetical, I'd say.
*A weekly series about a municipal garden in Glasgow, Scotland.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society