Just a heads up to avoid confusion this is a short story which I plain on slotting into the novel at a later stage .
‘Will I tell you a bedtime story?’ Whisper asked Jason shyly, sweetly, a child offering their latest crayon masterpiece up for adult scrutiny.
‘Sure why not?’ He answered casually.
‘It’s a story that my brother Billy wrote. I used to beg him to read it to me over and over. For the first couple of months after he died I used to read it every night before I went to sleep, I’d cry so hard when I got to the end that the words on the page all got smudged and blurry. Then one night I’d just had enough and I screwed up those pages and I threw them into the fire.’
Jason put his arm around her thin shoulders as if he could shield her from the pain of the past.
Whisper started and as she told her tale her voice got deeper, darker, older her county accident grew stronger. For a moment Jason was overcome by the image of a white haired crone telling her campfire tale, a tale as ancient and unsympathetic as time. He ran his hand across her hair and lifted a few strands as if to make sure that the red was still there.
‘So there's this dog, it’s no longer a cute little puppy but it’s not yet full grown. The dog’s owned by an old dirt farmer who’s poor and mean and a drunk to boot. His wife ran away from him years ago. His only son was killed by a drunk driver when he was just fifteen.
The man sits all day on his rundown porch drinking cheap liquor, smoking cigarettes and weed, hating the world while the house and the farm fall into decay around him. But sure enough this story aint about him.
The dog was never given a name besides useless mutt and dumb flea bitten hound, but it always came when the old man whistled. Even if most of the time it knew it was just going to a beating. It might not have been a smart dog or a pretty dog but it always did what it was told and it knew how to survive.
Most days the man didn’t bother to feed the dog and he never bothered to tie it up either, so the dog at least had it’s freedom and when the man passed out drunk in his chair it was want to use it.
The dog would take it’s time walking along the meandering dirt track, which was usually more mud and puddles than road. Occasionally it stopped along the way to drink the dirty water or to hunt a rabbit or a squirrel. It knew better than to take on a skunk or a raccoon and if it came across a snake it would stay well away. If the dog found the path of a bore or a sow and her babies it would follow the trail just for something to do. It liked nothing better then a good roll around in a big old pile of pig manure? It could have been a great hunting dog if only it had been given the chance.
There was so much to do along the road that the dog often didn’t even make it as far as town before it was time to turn around and pad for home again. The dog knew to be back by the time the master woke or there would be hell to pay.
On the days that the dog made it into town it would stay out of folks way and head for the alley behind Fenton’s general store and Noah's dinner where there were often overflowing trash cans. It didn’t matter how much the dog could scrounge up his belly always felt empty. The dog never really felt happy or sad it just went on living the life it was borne to.
Then one day the dog made it to town early and was heading for the alleyway behind Fenton’s when it heard Lindy Parsons a calling. At first the dog was confused because it wasn’t used to being called by anyone but it’s master. But then Lindy whistles which is something it knows so it wags it’s tail and trots on over.
Lindy Parsons was a church going lady who liked to think of herself as a kind hearted soul. Folks in town knew her to be as willing to put her nose in the affairs of others as she was to help with any needful cause. But sure enough this story ain't about her either but our friend the dog.
So the dog walks up to her expecting something bad, because that’s all it’s ever known. But Lindy’s just dropped off a basket of fresh biscuits and an apple pie to old Mrs Collins and she’s feeling full of goodness and charity. She pats the dog on the head and tells it what a good dog it is. Then she gives the dog some pet meat that she usually keeps for her fussy cat Miss Tilly. The dog has never been treated this well before and is not too sure what to make of it. But it thumps it’s tail hard and rolls on it’s back and she scratches it's belly. For the first time in it’s life it’s belly feels full.
After a time Lindy’s telephone rings and she wanders inside. The dog heads on home before it’s master can notice it missing. As it’s trotting on home the dog keeps thinking about the confusing kindness it’s received. It starts to think that maybe it’s not just a dumb useless mutt after all. Didn’t the lady say it was a good dog? It had never been called that before, but the nice lady had patted its head and given it good food so didn’t that mean it must be true.
The next day the dog walked eagerly into town. It was a lovely day, the sun warmed it’s back and the breeze ruffled it’s greasy fur. Every now and then the dog waged it’s tail as it trotted along and it’s tongue lolled freely out the left side of it’s happy mouth.
When it reached Lindy’s house the dog went trotting down her garden path like an invited guest. Instead of being greeted with ‘good dogs’ and head pats the dog got the kind of greeting it was used to. Lindy’s friend Janice Little was paying a call and she figured that Lindy wouldn’t take to kindly to mangy stray dogs slinking around her yard like a black man with rights. She grabbed a yard broom that was leaning by the front door and took a swing at the startled dog. As it turned and ran she gave it a nasty whack across it’s scarred back.
The dog whimpered quietly to itself and tramped away with it’s head down and it’s tail tight between it’s legs. The dog had been confused before by the unaccustomed kindness, but now it was completely baffled. Until yesterday it hadn't known human kindness and that kindness had lit a little ember down inside it’s canine heart, for the first time in it’s life the dog had known something like hope and now that hope was gone. Stolen away by that cruel women and her cruel sick. In the past the dog had never really felt happy but it had never really been unhappy either, until now that was. The dog headed into Fenton's ally to scavenge for food, it had never felt so hungry and it’s back ached.
The dog had it’s nose buried deep in a pile of trash bags and it didn’t notice the boy sneak up from behind.
“Get out a there, ya dirty old hound.” The boy bellowed and he kicked the dog hard in it’s thin side.
The dog did something it had never done before in it’s life. It turned and snarled, baring it’s teeth in warning. It had had enough of humans and their crazy ways, leave me alone it growled. But the boy was either too dense or too mean to heed the warning and he kicked out at the dog again.
Before he could blink the dog had him by the leg. The boy let out a shriek like he was being brutally slaughtered and his Pa came busting out the back door of his shop with a gun in his hand, figuring his son was being killed. When he saw the dog there and saw how his son’s leg was all bloody and his trousers torn. He shot the dog then and there.
That night the old man whistled and called, but of course his faithful friend never came. He wandered around the yard a cursing and a hollering till his throat was dry. Then he quenched his thirst with a good bottle of whiskey he’d been saving for a rainy day. The dog had always been so loyal and he knew that it would come if it could. He’d thought he’d hit rock bottom a long long time ago but losing the dog made all the pain come back. The pain he thought he’d let go of. In that moment he was sorry he hadn’t treated the dog and his wife and son a little better while they were still alive. Then he took all his pain and his regret and he hung himself from a beam in the rundown barn.’
A heavy silence fell between them like a memorial shrine.
‘Shee-it,’ said Jason with a sigh, ‘that story is more depressing than Bambi's mother dying, Stephen Hawking's life story and that movie about the boy and his pelican combined.Your brother must have been one dark dude.’
He felt her stiffen at his words. She pulled away from him and turned her face away. It seemed he had hit a nerve. She didn’t say anything but her silence was explosive.
‘Shee-it’ Jason said again.