Lost Dog 7-10
He was smaller than I imagined - skinnier too. His face was lined, his skin pale. He bared little resemblance to the image portrayed in the photos.
There was a tension, of course - more from him than from me. I entered the kitchen from the garden and we stood facing one another. My mother was smoking a cigarette near the doorway. My father looked at me and nodded his head. "Hello Kyle" he said. I said hello and we shared a moment of silence.
He bought a holdall with him - military green. He bent down and unzipped it, pulled out a plastic bag and offered it to me. "I didn't have chance to wrap it properly" he said. "A present - take it."
I did as he said and peered into the bag. Inside was a Swiss army knife, a small torch and a military issue water bottle. The knife and torch were each contained within their own individual pouches. "You can attach them to your belt" my father said. "That way you keep your hands free."
My mother took a long draw on her cigarette and said: "He hasn't got a belt" to which my father answered: "We'll have to get him one then, isn't that right Kyle ?"
My grandmother, who had been upstairs, came into the kitchen. "There you are, you little
scamp. I thought you were in your room. Has your dad given you your presents ?" I nodded. "I reckon he's going to follow his dad into the army, what do you think Carly ?"
My mother stubbed out her cigarette. "Maybe."
My gran started to cook dinner. After my father had filled my water bottle and shown
me all the different functions of my Swiss army knife I went out into the garden. I used the knife to sharpen the end of a stick and tried out my torch in the decrepit shed. Occasionally I took a mouthful of water from the bottle.
After a while my father joined me. He looked around the garden and didn't seem too impressed. "I don't know why they've paved so much of it" he said. "Now all the
grass has gone and that's a shame."
I said it was OK and that Mom said she liked not having a garden to worry about.
My father continued to look around the garden. He was dressed in combat trousers and boots and I wondered if he still did some work for the army. He had two tattoos, one on each arm, and I wanted to ask him what they meant.
Just then I heard the Jack Russell dog from next door scampering about. He must have sensed my presence because he started pawing the wood, demanding that the loose panel be removed so he could move between the two gardens. I heard the woman, Tamsin,
tell him to stop but Dog continued, whining as he did so.
My father, standing on the wheelbarrow to gain extra height, looked over and introduced himself. My father and Tamsin spoke for quite a while. Then I saw her lift the dog over the fence into my father's hands. "Look Kyle, the lady has said you can play with her dog before dinner. That’s nice of her, isn’t it ?"
I ran over and took hold of Dog. He began to pant and lick my face like before. I heard the woman say to my father: "My name's Tamsin, by the way" and saw them shake hands over the fence.
I remained at my grandmother's for another two months. When I asked her why I wasn't allowed to return to the house, she said my mother wasn't well. "The doctor's given her some stronger pills" she said "She needs to be on her own for a while. Then she’ll
We visited each weekend. During these visits I noticed that the house was becoming a mess. Dirty dishes were noticeable in the sink and empty bottles of alcohol had been
placed by the dustbin. My gran tried her best to tidy up but it was clear my mother was on a downward spiral. My father also visited. It was as if my mother’s mental and physical health deteriorated just as my father and I began to build something resembling a
relationship. Soon he was taking me in his car to the supermarket. When I asked him if my mom was OK he just shrugged and said she was suffering from women's problems.
Mom was becoming good friends with Tamsin, the woman who lived next door. I liked it when Tamsin was at the house because Dog would be there too. Sometimes mom asked
her to stay for dinner. Tamsin seemed to like talking with my father, wanting to know all about his time in the army and he’d tell her about the different places he'd been. He'd been all over the world – seen deserts, spent time in the arctic, even lived in the jungle. Tamsin said he was very brave to go to those places. My mom stayed silent during these conversations. Nobody asked what life had been like for her.
Where did my father live during this time ? I asked him if he was staying at the house with mom. He said he wasn't - he was staying at an army buddy's house, 'house-sitting' while his buddy was away. He told me about the cabin he'd built - his real home
- and how quiet it was living out in the wilderness. "What do you do there all day ?" I asked. "All kinds of things" he said "there's always a lot of stuff to do." "Like what ?" "All the things you take for granted - the washing machine to wash your clothes, the kettle to boil your water, the supermarket to buy your food, the electricity to heat your house -
there's none of that in the wilderness. You have to find new ways to survive."
I thought about this – thought about what would happen if everything was taken away. "Do you have to kill things so you can eat ?"
My father nodded. "You have to hunt in order to eat. That's how people used to live. They used to hunt animals for their meat, use pelts to make clothes, use fat for
heat and light. But not only animals - people used to know which plants they could eat and which ones would make them sick. People don’t know that stuff anymore."
The way he spoke about the wilderness was exciting but also scary. Could I kill an animal in order to eat it ? I doubted it. I liked animals. The thought of killing an animal filled me with despair.
"Maybe you can come and stay at the cabin for a while. I could use some help. Then
you could learn how to survive. Would you like to do that ?"
I hesitated, then said yes, I would.
The days I spent in the wilderness with my father followed a similar pattern. He would be the first to wake. He got by on only a few hourssleep. What's more it seemed he was able to sleep or stay awake at any time. This was a legacy of his army years when he was required to be on duty day and night. During my time with him in the wilderness we sometimes went walking at night time. Restricting the body of sleep and learning to stay awake at night hardened the soul, he said.
We ate simply: biscuits or oat porridge for breakfast, dried fish and vegetable balls as a snack when we were out. Because there was no fridge we went without a regular intake of
milk. And I noticed my sense of taste became more heightened. This was due to the fact my sugar intake had dropped dramatically, said my dad. Over the weeks I became aware of how my body was changing. I lost weight and the daily chores my father set aside for me - chopping and carrying wood, hauling fresh water from the deep well, walking miles each day - began to hone my limbs and develop my muscles. I began to appreciate nature - the trees, their colours, the sounds of the forest. The harsh noise of the city was replaced by the more sensual atmosphere of nature. At night I fell exhausted into my bed and the sounds continued to echo in my dreams.
I didn't know if my father was somehow in contact with my mother and my gran
while we were there. I didn't speak with either of them for the full six weeks I was away. And yet time seemed to slow down, exist only as periods, periods denoted by the quality of light. First, daylight came and was superseded by the afternoon's fading light, which in
turn was devoured by night, the sequences becoming in my mind personifications of animals and monsters.
In the afternoons my father and I went into the forest and hunted. He knew that I was
apprehensive, that I felt the killing and eating of animals to be morally wrong. And so we began gradually, laying traps and casting nets for fish in the river. The species of fish we caught were cat fish and trout. My father would reel them in and throw them to me. I
was expected to kill them with a blow to the head. Then I was expected to slice them, take out the internal organs and wash the cavities before rubbing the flesh with salt.
We spent the first week catching and preparing fish in this manner. In the evening
we cooked our day's catch over a fire. The fish tasted sweet. But it was nourishing and delicious. The soft white flesh melted in my mouth. "This is real food" my father said as we ate "food as nature intended."
Our eating habits were primitive. We ate mostly with our hands. There were no dishes to serve the food on; instead my father used the large leaves from an exotic plant growing
near the river's edge, the river that we bathed in and washed through our clothes.
My father showed me how to make an axe using the smooth, grey flint from the nearby rocks. He showed me how to tie knots, how to recognize the berries and mushrooms that contained poisons and other substances that were dangerous to eat. I cut wood for our fires; I filled in the ditch that was our latrine.
What else did my father teach me ? He taught me how important it was to patrol our surroundings. We regularly covered a wide area around the cabin, venturing together at
different times of the day and night. Unlike Old Man Judge we kept no animals so I was unsure who or what might cause us danger. "You saw what the wild dogs did to Judge's goat" he said. "They could easily do the same to us. If a pack of dogs attacked you, do
you think you'd survive without weapons, without being prepared ?"
If there was one thing I learned about my father, it was that he was prepared. Not only did we make regular sweeps of the immediate area, we also placed emergency supplies beneath ground. These parcels, as my father called them, contained basic survival
equipment - a knife, a rope, a catapult, a compass and survival blanket. The idea was that if we ever came under attack or needed to escape, we would be able to lay our hands on these basic items to help us survive.
Each parcel was placed near a landmark that only my father and I knew. He kept telling me that the 'enemy' could be anyone or anything. "Never let down your guard" he told
me. "Only that way can you survive."
I began to wonder if my father had enemies that he didn't want me to know about
- enemies who might one day seek him out.
Our focus now, though, was on the pack of wild dogs. At night the howling of the
pack would start close to midnight. My father had an idea of the area where the pack was located. His plan was to find their den and attack when the main bulk of the pack was elsewhere hunting.
"Old Man Judge has offered me money if I can stop the dogs attacking his animals and land."
"How will you do that ?"
"We’ll need to set a trap. I want to make the pack come here, to us."
I didn't understand. "But we go on patrol in order to try and keep them out."
"Yes" said my father. "We only want them to come here on our terms. That way we can neutralise them when they least expect it."
His plan was this: we would find the den and capture the pups. The pups would be kept near the cabin in a secure area. When the pack came to claim them my father would be waiting.
"What will you do ?"
"Kill them of course" he said.
He opened a wooden chest and told me to look inside. Lying in the chest were two rifles and packs of ammunition. "Get some sleep. At first light we head off to find the den."