The pet I’ll never forget: Chocolate and Smudge, the guinea pigs I hoped would be my for ever friends

<span>‘I had only a few weeks with Chocolate and Smudge, but they were bliss.’</span><span>Photograph: Alexandra Jursova/Getty Images</span>
‘I had only a few weeks with Chocolate and Smudge, but they were bliss.’Photograph: Alexandra Jursova/Getty Images

They say losing a pet is a good way for a child to learn about grief, but boy did I get the lesson quickly. Less than six months after my parents brought the guinea pigs home, they had the tough task of delivering me the news. “But they were here when I left,” I said after I arrived home from a school trip to France when I was 11. “How could it have happened so fast?”

It turned out that poor, sweet Chocolate and Smudge had been left outside too long on a blisteringly hot day and suffered a serious case of heatstroke. I was furious: with my mum and dad; with myself, for abandoning them in favour of my own enjoyment abroad; and even with them, for being too weak to enjoy an afternoon of nice weather. “I don’t understand,” I repeated, again and again. Just a week before, they had been so healthy.

It had been hard work getting my parents to agree to the guinea pigs. I spent hours sitting at the house computer, Googling images of “nice”, “furry” and “friendly” guinea pigs, arranging them neatly in a Word document to print out and pin on the walls. One look at this work of art and my parents would fall for their charm, I told myself.

There were months of “no” before finally a long wooden hutch arrived in the garden. Together we went to the pet shop, where I reached into a pen full of tiny scurrying fluffballs and clung on to the only one that couldn’t get away fast enough. “He’s perfect,” I said. “But he needs a brother.”

And so my two companions sat on the car seat next to me, ready for their new life. I spent hours staring into their hutch, feeding them hay through the wires. My room became their shrine. I stuck up photographs and drawings, writing their names in swirling gel pens. They needed to be walked, I insisted, so we bought tiny leads that could be attached to their collars. They pulled me round the garden in circles, never seeming to tire.

I had too short a time with Chocolate and Smudge, but it was bliss. Not once did I think about a life without them. These two were my for ever friends. And then, suddenly, they weren’t there.

By the time I returned from France, they had already been buried. It was as if they had just disappeared, leaving only their leads behind. I almost couldn’t believe it: I thought I would see them scurrying through the garden. I hoped, if I shouted their names loud enough, they might come home. I asked Mum over and over if she was sure they had died. Could it have been a mistake? The world didn’t work like that, she said. Their deaths may have crept up on them when they least expected it, but they were final. Eventually, I stopped calling for them.