Author Topic: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You  (Read 2173 times)

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Offline scrappy

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The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« on: June 24, 2013, 06:32:34 PM »

I was around four years old the first time my dog started talking to me.  He didn’t say anything particularly profound, probably because he realised I wouldn’t understand complex sentence structures, but at the same time he obviously considered the time was right to begin proper communication.  Maybe he was a bit sick of me tugging on his tail and using his silky fan-like ears as peg hangers.  Or perhaps, like me, he was bored with flopping around on the back step, examining ants.

As I recollect, he touched me ever so gently with a large paw and whispered “let’s go walk.”  As a four year old of course I found nothing odd in a canine companion who wanted to chat.  I already held long baby-talk conversations with my doll Kevin (long story) and sometimes hugged our gnarled old apple tree and told it stories.  Dog – that was his name – therefore was just an extension of my other friends.  The great thing about Dog though, was that I wasn’t talking to myself.

He raised one furry eyebrow quizzically, waiting to see if I was going to tell on him to mum, like I did when the boy over the road threw a brick at dad’s car.  He seemed really overjoyed however, when I flung my fat little arms round his neck and ran with him down the path and through into the orchard.  I’d like to say in retrospect that we spent a profoundly enlightening afternoon exchanging ideas about the universe, the merits of Pedigree Chum and whether or not fur balls could be recycled, but all I remember is the sunlight making patterns under dad’s fruit trees, the smell of fermenting apples and the warm comforting miasma of Dog enveloping me as we lay side by side against a tree trunk. 

It turned out that Dog – all dogs, apparently – was able to speak.  Well, I say speak; most dog owners will know that there’s a distinct and subtle language dogs use.  The whine of anxiety, the frantic bark when the door bell rings or a stranger approaches, the yip-yip of excitement at the sight of a treat and the awful keening when they’re in pain.  I was about ten by the time I fully understood about “real” speech, however.   During the intervening years we were almost inseparable. Dog would sleep on my bed (strictly against house rules, but, well) … and wake me at the precise moment my alarm was about to trill with a soft “come on poppet, time for school.”  He’d be there at the front gate waiting for me to turn the corner, staggering under the weight of my fluorescent shoulder bag, sports kit and lunch box.  Weekends we’d sit together, weather dependent, either under one of dad’s trees heavy with blossom or bent towards the peaty earth with its burden of apple, or else curled up on the easy chair by the fire.  Sometimes we’d prop ourselves up at a window and watch the rain sending silver javelins of rain across the garden and tracing patterns on the glass. 

When it snowed Dog and I would dash outside in a frenzy of joy and take turns sliding down the path.  I had a distinct advantage here, being more in control of two feet than he was with his four, but he loved to try, more often than not coming to an ungraceful halt all tangled up in his own tail and paws.  Have you ever heard a dog laugh?  It’s the most wonderfully gruff, heart felt, deep seated rumble of sheer delight.  It would echo round the whole garden and I swear I saw leaves shake with the giggles.

You may be wondering what my parents thought of Dog and his thus-far hidden talents.  The fact is, only I heard him.  It’s hard to explain, but dogs can, and do, only speak to people (I hesitate to say “owners”) they feel will appreciate them and not – well, freak out I guess. 

Being an only child whose parents were so preoccupied with careers, committees, coffee mornings, and in dad’s case, his nubile PA, I had formed a desperate and needy bond with Dog right from the moment mum brought him home, nine inches of smooth chocolate velvet with enormous white paws and creamy soft ears with a delicate tracery of rose pink veins.  I touched his chest with a tiny finger and felt his heart steadily pounding away, ready to give itself to me, and I fell in love with the certain knowledge that this exquisite living creature with its leathery button nose, milky unfocused eyes and soft mouth would be the lifelong friend I yearned for.

Dog didn’t always talk to me.  Like humans, there were times when he felt no need to fill the spaces, when I was immersed in a book or wrestling with arithmetic homework.  After all, what did he know about long division?  I always knew when he was ready, though.  He would place a gentle paw on my arm, leg or sometimes on my cheek if we were lying down, and when he had my attention up would come the eyebrow as if asking permission to interrupt.  One Sunday afternoon was such a time.  Mum and dad were both in for a change, mum flicking quickly and disinterestedly through a glossy magazine as though she was determined to find some vital article and was irritated that it had been stolen, dad with his thumb on his mobile, either deleting or accessing a message that mum mustn’t see.  Dog patted me softly.  “Do you ever wonder about those spots in the sky?”  he asked quietly.  “How do you mean, Dog?” I replied.  “Do you mean the stars?”  “Stars, yes” he murmured.  “So beautiful, stars.  Like pinholes that have a light behind them.  I wonder if other dogs live up there, you know, when we – when we’re not here any more.”  I was old enough to understand about death of course, but still child enough to consider the subject so distant to anyone in my own life as to be unimaginable.  “I don’t think so, Dog” I told him.  “Our Sunday School teacher says we all go to Heaven, and that’s way past the stars.  A sort of, well, palace, I think.  Kind of.” 

Dog considered this for a moment, his head on my lap, ears splayed out either side like the deflated sails of some grounded vessel.  “I don’t think I’d want to go to a star” he said thoughtfully.  “They look cold and unfriendly.  I’d want somewhere warm, somewhere that smells of good things like worms and biscuits and you.”  I caressed his long back, running his tail through my fingers and spreading out the fans of fur like angels wings over the sofa.  “That’s what I want too,” I declared.  “Only not the biscuits or worms.  Anyway, we’re friends for life, Dog.  Life means forever, right?”  “Right,” Dog replied, rolling onto his back for some serious tummy tickling.


The winter I turned fifteen, Dog had his birthday.  I wasn’t sure of his age because of course their years are different to ours, but the tips of his ears had grey flecks on them, like light snow flurries that had settled and forgotten to melt.  He walked more slowly now, and told me one day that although he could smell just as well as ever, his eyesight was less sharp, and shapes sometimes confused him.  We took him to the vet often, and were given various pills to feed him, which naturally he hated.  “Come on Dog, be a brave little soldier” I’d coax, when he steadfastly refused to open his mouth.  He would start to respond with some withering comment along the lines of “if they’re so nice, YOU take them” and the second his mouth opened, I’d pop the chalky pill in, smothered in Marmite which he loved.  All in all, he took it good naturedly.  After all, when I was laid up for weeks with ‘flu and feeling like hell, his soft touch on my arm at pill taking time let me know I wasn’t alone.  It’s what best friends did, support each other.

Then one morning, quite without warning, everything changed.  I woke groggily as usual, prompted by Dog’s delicate paw and his greeting along the lines of “time to sleep when you’re old, poppet” which was his idea of humour.  Except this particular morning I couldn’t swing my skinny legs over the side of the duvet – couldn’t move my arm to caress Dog’s ears.  My limbs had turned to lead overnight, there was a grinding ache in my joints and brilliant flashing lights behind my eyes.  Dog knew immediately something was wrong.  He brought his big head right up close to me, his soft wise eyes scanning my frightened face, his ears at half mast with anxiety.  “What is it, darling?” he murmured.  “Don’t try to move, I’ll be right back.”  He carefully climbed onto the floor and ran as quickly as he could down to where my mother was moving round the kitchen.  I could hear his frantic barking and whining, I could hear mother clattering up the stairs and her panicky high-pitched voice asking me what the matter was.  What I was unable to do was reply.  What I wanted to say was that above all I needed Dog with me, his soft loose skin, the way his petalled ears would tickle my face, the marvellous black cushions of his large paws, and his simple, loyal and loving words of comfort only I could hear.  “Get out of the way!”  Mother snapped distractedly, “The last thing we need is you lumbering about the room and getting in the way.”  Dog turned to me anxiously, placed his front paws on the side of the bed and tried to whisper something to me; mother grabbed him by his scruff and hauled him out of the door.


When I was around nine or ten I had the most frightening dream where I had somehow been hypnotised by an evil monster and, in a totally helpless state, was stuffed into a box and left in this tiny space, unable to breathe or move.  I awoke sweating and crying with fear, reaching out for Dog as a matter of course, and knowing that as long as I could touch his back, smooth down his sleep-ruffled spine and hear his none-too-delicate snoring, then I wasn’t really dead at all.  Now my nightmare had become reality.

During the next few months I gradually became stronger, the terrible ache in my limbs lessened and, with help, was at last able to raise myself up onto my pillows.  I’d had some sort of virus with a very long complicated name, and apparently had been very lucky to have recovered.  Mum fussed round me with unusual solicitousness and even dad took time away from his work – and his PA – to sit by my bed and read to me.  Of course, novel as all the attention was, the only pal I wanted was Dog.  He had spent the entire time lying outside the bedroom door which was as close as he’d been allowed.  I don’t know how I knew he’d been there, but I swear I heard his soft breathing and, once, in my delirium, a quiet sort of humming, as if he needed me to know he was communicating his love to me through the panelling.

Eventually he was allowed in to see me.  He approached me quietly and with dignity, with liquid eyes brimming over with relief and what looked suspiciously like tears, although he was pretty elderly and, like grandpa, perhaps his eyes were just watery.
“Hello, darling” he said, nuzzling his head against my thin hand and screwing his muzzle up like he always did when he smiled.  And so I grew in strength day by day, and Dog alongside me grew in love, although the more robust and energetic I became, the slower and more cautious was Dog.  We would still roll around on the grass together and play tag, and his ridiculous ears would fly round his head like wild feathers but he tired more easily and sometimes seemed not to want my company at all, and would just curl up quietly under the apple tree.  When I’d run up and try to tease him into some energetic game he would half open one rheumy eye and whisper “Not just now, poppet.  Not just now.”  I’d persevere for a few minutes, tug his ears, poke him or drag a leaf across his face, then rather huffily run off to start some other boyish game on my own.


I was back to full and noisy health by the summer of my sixteenth birthday, and after breakfast dashed outside feeling quite inexplicably joyous.  I was grown up – I had a great shiny bike that must have cost dad a fortune, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.  Dog was lying on the bottom step, half on and half off the grass, and the morning sun lay on his silky fur like a dusting of gold.  “Hello old chap!” I cried.  “It’s my birthday today, but you don’t seem to have bought me a card!”  This was our annual joke, and one year Dog actually attempted a muddy paw print on my exercise book.  We chuckled for hours about that.  I knelt down to stroke his back and caress his cheek.  He opened his eyes slowly, seemed to make a huge effort and breathed into my ear,
“Just worms, biscuits and you.”  And died, there on the step.  The day I grew up.




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Offline Outoftowner

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2013, 08:15:44 PM »
Quote
http://www.yours.co.uk/Community/Forums/Forum-Categories/Topic/?&topic-id=398552
What's it all about?

Offline scrappy

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2013, 07:03:51 AM »
And is there a reason people on this forum can't read it as well?
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Offline Mart

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2013, 08:19:30 PM »
Well, Rob is more a cut and paste type of chap.
Sometimes I think you have to march right in and demand your rights, even if you don’t know what your rights are, or who the person is you’re talking to. Then, on the way out, slam the door.

Offline Simon

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2013, 08:58:01 PM »
He opened his eyes slowly, seemed to make a huge effort and breathed into my ear,
“Just worms, biscuits and you.”  And died, there on the step.  The day I grew up.

 :'( 
We are all in this together, but some of us are more in it than others (with apologies to George Orwell)

Offline Muggins

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2013, 09:51:17 PM »
I never had one that did that, it's a damn sight sadder when you have to put the lead on and drag them into the back of the car for that last journey and then sit with them until the vets ready.   :'( :'( :'( :'(

That's I,  that's me finished for  the day.   :'( :'( :'( >:(
Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline Simon

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2013, 10:09:54 PM »
He opened his eyes slowly, seemed to make a huge effort and breathed into my ear,
“Just worms, biscuits and you.”  And died, there on the step.  The day I grew up.

 :'(


To expand on that rather terse post... I was shedding real tears (actual drops of H2O falling down my cheeks) by the time I'd read to the end of this story.
We are all in this together, but some of us are more in it than others (with apologies to George Orwell)

Offline scrappy

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2013, 07:24:36 AM »
Thank you Simon, I'm so glad you enjoyed the story.  Do you want a tissue?  I'll post some more probably - which,  to pre-empt further comments, have also been posted elsewhere - if anyone is interested to read them.
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Offline Muggins

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2013, 07:42:13 AM »
Sorry, Scrappy, I haven't had time to read the story yet and need to be in a better frame of mind before I do, t if it's that moving, enough to reduce Simon to tears, I might have to give it miss for some time.
Oi! Listen mush. Old eyes, remember? I’ve been around the block a few times. More than a few. They’ve knocked down the blocks I’ve been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks. And I’ve been round them as well.  The Doctor (Night Terrors)

Offline Martin Wicks

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2013, 10:40:53 AM »
Lovely piece of writing scrappy. Perhaps you have the talent fro writing short stories.

Offline Alex

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Re: The Things Dogs Don't Tell You
« Reply #10 on: June 30, 2013, 07:13:26 PM »
Managed not to shed tears but only just. Very touching and so sensitively observed.
Thank you.
A hard topic too, the death of anyone or any pet is nearly always devastating.
Looking forward to reading some more.  :clap:

Offline scrappy

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« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2013, 08:03:07 PM »
Well thank you, glad you enjoyed it.  How about something a bit darker?

It’s the noise of the carousel that’s so intoxicating.  Don’t you just love the wheezy grinding of the music, the cheesy, age-old melodies that shout out “enjoy!  This is as good as it’s going to get!  Hang on tight and pretend you’re a kid again!”  Well, that’s what it says to me anyway, even though it’s been so long since I was a kid I’ve forgotten it ever happened.

Fairgrounds – that chipped, garishly painted small cosmos full of desperate people flinging their cash around, sucking on poisonously coloured confections, yelling like maniacs and whooping into the night as if this false, manic half acre of muddy ground was heaven itself.  Or perhaps not heaven at all.  Perhaps the other place.

So many places to hide, here.  Flapping tent openings, tiny wooden booths decorated with signs of the zodiac where, for a price, the gullible learn the secrets of the universe (a pound coin in the slot, a mass produced laminated card with some generic nonsense on request).  There are the spaces under all the rides too, of course.  Plenty of room there, up close and personal with wet grass, slick mud, snaking cables.  Oh, and let’s not overlook behind the scenes of the Ghost Train.  There are long, dark tunnels there, damp and claustrophobic, overhung with wobbly witch cutouts and dusty spiders that wouldn’t fool a blind man in a bucket.  Still, it’s an interesting journey, bowling along in a mini carriage, clutching your partner, screaming unnecessarily loud and rocking the carriage side to side filled with bravado and testosterone.  Not that I ever partook, but I have eyes and ears.

Nobody notices me, naturally.  I mean, why would they?  This is predominantly a place for young folk, teenagers with money to spend and girls to impress.  Kids with parents who keep only half an eye on their charges, lured themselves by slot machines and the siren call of the carousel.  I’m just a bloke, quite ordinary, not so shabby that the crowds eye me with suspicion or distaste.  I’m spotlessly clean, I am.  I thought I’d mention that, as I wouldn’t want you to think me a weirdo or anything.  Sometimes I stand quite close to some woman or other, inhale her cheap perfume, and people must think we’re together.  I like that, the thought of having someone of my own.  I can’t stand there for long though, she always moves off or seeks out whoever she came with.  I smile casually before she goes, as if our chance meeting was just that.  Chance.

Here’s the thing though.  I’m lonely.  There, I confess it.  Don’t think I’ve never had a relationship, as it’s now called.  I have a cruder way of putting it, but you probably don’t want to hear that.  I spend all my waking hours at the fairground, and when it moves on after a few weeks, so do I.  I move onto wherever it turns up next.  It’s the lights and the music, you see.  And all the secret places it gives up.  The hidey holes, the booths, the other world behind the façade of curtains and jolly cardboard figures, pirates, clowns, ghosts.   It’s like a world within a world; there’s the night outside, with the real universe (no pound coin needed here, ha ha) and the jostling, over-the-top hysteria of the punters competing with the coarse cries of the stall holders and the mad, blaring cacophony of dozens of snatches of endlessly upbeat tunes. 

Then there’s the much more exciting world, the secret space behind the false lake where the wooden ducks slide past waiting to be shot, the narrow deep alley at the back of the coconut shy, just behind the terrifying scarecrow dummies with chips knocked out of their imbecilic heads.    The darkness, the feeling of invisibility is intoxicating back there.

She was about 15, couldn’t have been any older despite the make up slapped on inexpertly and the totally inappropriate high heels.  High heels!  At a fairground!  What was she thinking?  She tottered clumsily towards the waltzers, a can of some lager or other in one hand, a tiny glittery bag in the other, grinning at nobody in particular.  Her eyes were wide as a baby being shown a balloon for the first time, her ankles thin and white as sapling shoots.  I watched her for quite a while, dry mouthed and aching.  She was on her own, not pretty enough to attract the feral advances of the stall holders and too unsteady on her feet to perform the flirting dance – in to tease and taunt, back off to show indifference, closer in, move away.  I stood at the corner of one of the tents, half hidden by a washing line of grubby cloths and bided my time as she weaved her way towards me, pausing to slurp from her can and examine the heel of her shoe which had caught in something or other.

Really, it was no challenge at all.  Piece of cake, if I’m honest.  I can be surprisingly charming if pushed, and the uneven light and the late hour hides my face effectively enough.  She seemed rather flattered but unsurprised when I offered to help her to somewhere quiet, to fix her shoe.  She was wearing some sweet scent that reminded me for a minute of my mum, God rest her soul.  Jasmine, was it?  Perhaps violet?  I ended up with it on my sleeve anyway.

I took her to one of my favourite places.  I can’t tell you about it, but it’s the most secret place of all in the fairground.  She’s there still, what’s left of her.  I cherish the scent on my arm.

©  2011

Paddle faster - I hear banjos!