One second the spaniel was sitting in the window seat, looking out of the third-floor attic window at the dogs playing in the garden below. The next second she was gone.
Time slows down when things like this happen. I remember looking and her being there, and I remember looking back and wondering where she was. And I remember hearing the yelp as she landed 30 foot down.
In truth, the space between me looking and her not being there and the sound of the yelp can only have been half a second but it felt like a lifetime.
After the yelp, time speeded back up again but I wanted it to slow down. I didn’t ever want to get to that patio. I wandered around the attic room in a daze checking that the door had really been shut and that I hadn’t imagined Cydney being there with me. I thought about how I had left the window ajar because of the heat, and how I had told myself that even in the unlikely event of her deciding to jump all that way she surely wouldn’t get through such a small gap.
And I thought about how much I loved that wriggly little black cocker spaniel and how empty my life was going to be now that she was gone.
As I ran down to the garden, I put my hands instinctively to my face to shield me from the awful sight I was about to see. I called out for help. ‘Cydney’s jumped out the window!’ I wailed, to alert the rest of the people in the house so that they might come running and find her so that I didn’t have to.
My friend’s daughter was on the patio when I reached the French windows. I have been staying in this big old country house all week while my friend is away so that I can escape the Olympic traffic chaos in London.
Another thing that went through my head in the seconds that followed the yelp: ‘If you hadn’t been such a cynic and had joined in with the greatest show on earth like a normal person maybe Cydney would be alive today.’
But something about the scene as I now peeked between my fingers in terror was not as it should be.
My friend’s daughter was running around the patio searching. When she saw me she said: ‘Where? Where is she?’
‘There,’ I said, still shielding my face while pointing to the spot beneath the window.
‘She’s not there,’ she said.
She’s not there. I took my hand away and looked at the patio. Nothing. And then…Cydney appeared around the corner of the house and bounded up to us, wriggling ecstatically and wagging her tail madly as usual.
I grabbed hold of her, swept her into my arms and held her, sobbing. Then I ran my hands over every inch of her. I poked her tummy and flexed her legs. Nothing. Not a mark, except for a small cut above her left eye.
We looked up to the attic. And then down to the patio. Directly beneath the window, a wrought iron patio chair was lying on the ground. Evidently she had skidded down a short, slanting bit of roof, then flown through the air for about 25 feet, then landed on the chair which had cut her eye.
When I had breath enough to speak, I rang Long John, the spaniel breeder. ‘You are never going to guess what that spaniel you sold me has done now.’
‘Go on,’ said Long John, who is rarely surprised by the escapades of his offspring. He has been in the gundog business for 20 years and has seen a thing or two when it comes to a miraculously agile cocker.
I told him about the skydive. I asked him how she could possibly be alive. Was this some sort of record? Long John laughed: ‘What you’ve got to remember is that these dogs are like athletes. Sounds like she did her own Olympic long jump. You and I wouldn’t survive it, we’re not fit or supple enough.’
Also, he explained, Cydney has no fear. She hit the ground relaxed. It’s a bit like those drunk people you hear about falling out of windows. They don’t break their legs either.
On balance, however, I would rather she didn’t do any more base-jumping. I went around shutting every window of my friend’s country house but with children and staff milling about it is going to be impossible to keep the place flying-spaniel-proof.
As such, Cydney and I are going to have to go back home to London, to our ground- floor flat, and to the Olympics.
I guess we can curl up in front of the TV and watch the long jump.