When Nutmeg was tiny, Uncle said we should put a ticking clock in his bed, wrapped in an old towel so he didn’t miss his mama so much. The problem with living with Uncle was that we were poor and there were no spare ticking clocks or even broken clocks: just the kitchen clock and my digital alarm that got me up for school.
What we did have, as Uncle was a jazz composer, was a morgue of metronomes. He’d start a metronome swinging from the moment he got up in the morning (so he could ‘tum-ti-tum-bow-bow-chicka-boom’ in time as he boiled up coffee on the stove) until the witching hours, when he and his sax would retire to bed. And so I retrieved an old metronome from the pile under the stairs. It had a bent pin but reliable swing.
“Here’s a heartbeat for you, Nutmeg,” I said, tickling his chin. He’d been whimpering a little and I was keen to show him he was safe. I placed it on the kitchen table.
That was the start of Nutmeg’s odd relationship with metronomes. I’d find him transfixed sometimes when I came home from school, tilting his head this way and that, and Uncle in his own world too, tap-tap-tapping on saxophone keys.
“He’s like a nodding dog,” said my first girlfriend, when she came over some five years later. Left, and right, and left, and right, as Uncle played his jazz. When my next girlfriend came to meet Uncle and Nutmeg, she saw the commercialism in our furry friend’s trick and uploaded a video to YouTube: the faster the beat, the quicker his tilts. Someone remixed it to dance music, which Uncle thought was horrific.
One day, as is the way with pets, Nutmeg died, and we buried him with a metronome in the garden. My son patted the Earth down with a plastic spade, and I slept with a bag of flour on my feet at the end of my bed, because I missed my dog so.
Thank you, Alley Cat, for the title.