Lost Dog 11-14
Before my father re-appeared in my life, and before my mother sent me to live with my gran, the man who lived opposite, Mr Rowe, offered to pay me five pounds to clear his front lawn. The trees that lined the road beyond the junction had shed their leaves. Strong winds had swept them in the direction of the cul-de-sac. "I'll have to ask my mom first" I said.
Mr Rowe nodded. "Perhaps I'll come over and have a word with her" he said "just to explain there won't be any funny business."
I didn't understand what he meant. Funny business ? What was that ? We walked to our house and I took him round to the kitchen entrance. Mom was sitting at the kitchen table smoking a cigarette.
Mr Rowe waved and said hello. He was a smooth talker alright. He introduced himself as Peter from number thirty four and before long he too was in the kitchen, sitting at the table with my mother drinking tea. My mother looked glad of the company, so glad that she suggested Peter set me to work straight away.
For an extra five pounds he asked me if I wanted to clear the back garden too. I said yes and Mr Rowe brought out black bags, a rake, and a broom. "There you are" he said. "If you do a good job perhaps we can arrange some other work for you to do."
Before he went back to sit with my mother he told me about Mrs Rowe. "You might see her in the house, sitting in her wheelchair. Mrs Rowe isn't very well at the moment so don't go inside, otherwise she might have a fit. Do you know what a fit is ?"
I said that I didn't and he explained. Finally he said: "If there are any problems, you know
where I am."
After clearing the smaller front garden I made my way to the rear of his house. The garden was very neat, not like the garden at our house, with a fountain and a paved area which included smart furniture. I could see into the living room. Mr Rowe's wife was sitting in her wheelchair watching television. It was a motorized wheelchair because at one point she reversed and drove into the kitchen. I couldn't see what she was doing - the glass in the door was frosted and the window blinds were closed. I began to get worried. What if something happened to her ? What if she had one of her fits ?
She returned to the living room and my worries eased. I wondered what it would be like to be confined to a wheelchair. I wondered if she was able to talk.
When I had finished I placed the bags of leaves, the rake and the broom in the corner of the garden just as Mr Rowe had asked me to do. I could hear Mr Rowe and my mother laughing as I neared the kitchen of our house. I stopped and listened for a moment.
My mother whispered something and Mr Rowe giggled like a schoolboy. I walked in to the kitchen and discovered my mother sitting on Mr Rowe's lap. She got up very quickly. Mr Rowe smiled and asked me how I'd got on. I said I'd got on very well. "Mrs Rowe didn't give you any problems did she ?" he asked. I said no. I told him I'd seen her drive her wheelchair into the kitchen.
Mr Rowe stood up and pulled two five pound notes from his wallet and handed them to
me. "Say thank you to Peter" said my mom. "Thank you Mr Rowe" I said.
After telling my mother that she'd raised a ‘good little worker’ he returned home. "Play your cards right and we'll both do alright out of him" mom said and took the money I'd earned to buy groceries for the rest of the week.
I continued to do odd jobs for Mr Rowe. He and my mother had exchanged
phone numbers. She would relay to me the details of what I had to do and I would make my way to Mr Rowe's house where the materials needed for whichever job was planned were left in their allotted place in the garden. The jobs were menial - cleaning, lifting, sorting, gathering - and I was left with the feeling that the work he gave me was merely an excuse for him to visit my mother. As soon as I left the house Mr Rowe would cross the street and make his way to our back kitchen door. When I was finished he would pay me and return home.
Sometimes, if the job entailed cleaning, I would be alone with Mrs Rowe. She would sit impassively in her wheelchair watching me as I swept the floor or polished the sideboard. I felt apprehensive with her watching me - but also felt sympathy. My mom told me that she was in a wheelchair because a terrorist bomb had exploded when she was on her way to catch a train. Now, because of her disabilities, Mr Rowe had to look after her. Peter was a decent man who sometimes needed help, she said. And if we were able to help,
she continued, then all well and good.
Sometimes during my visits Mrs Rowe screamed and writhed in her chair. It was a
terrifying noise and on each occasion I ran home and told Mr Rowe what was happening. He didn't seem very concerned - he would be sitting with my mother when I arrived. At first he accompanied me back to his house and gave Mrs Rowe medication to calm her down. "Sometimes she gets flashbacks" he said. "Do you know what flashbacks are ?" I shook my head. "Flashbacks are bad memories of things that happened in the past. Whenever she gets flashbacks she has medication to calm her down." I watched him
measure the correct amount of medicine in a plastic cup and he showed me how to make sure she drank it all up. "Next time it happens when you're here you can give Mrs Rowe her medication. Think you can do that ?" I said that I'd try.
Mrs Rowe screamed each time she saw me. Was she scared of me ? Or did I remind her of something or someone she had seen during or after the explosion ? The first time I gave her medication she resisted and knocked the plastic cup out of my hand. After that I began to approach her with caution, waiting, as Mr Rowe had showed me, until she relaxed for a moment between her bouts of frenzy and I was able to put the cup to her
lips. As soon as she relaxed and became aware of the cup she would greedily drink her medicine, like a child receiving their favorite sweet. And when she had drunk it down I was amazed at how quickly the medicine worked. Within a minute or two she’d be sitting contented in her chair, silent, unable or unwilling to move.
On the tenth day of my time in the wilderness my father prepared for our mission to capture the wild pups. I tried to reason with my father. Taking the pups was cruel - depriving them of their mother would mean certain death. Even if we tried to raise them ourselves we wouldn't be able to provide them with the nourishment they needed. My father laughed at this and I realized that he only wanted to use the pups as bait. “We’re not going to raise them. Do you think they’ll be grateful ? No, they’ll turn on us when they’ve grown. They’ll want revenge. Wild dogs like that aren’t stupid. We’re gonna kill
the adult dogs” he said. “And once that’s done we haven’t got a choice. We’ll have to drown the pups in the river.”
The next day we set off on our patrol. It was cool and dry - perfect for walking across the wilderness and into the forest. It was there my father believed he'd find the den. As we walked I yearned to try and change my father's mind but knew my efforts would be of little use.
It was mid-day when we reached the edge of the forest. My water bottle was almost empty. My father led me to a small stream - crisp, clear water which, he said, was good to drink.
He sat for a while listening to the forest's sounds and interpreting the tracks on the forest floor. I wandered off, scouring the forest for nuts or berries to eat. After the wide open space of the wilderness the lush forest, with the sun pouring through its canopy of trees,
seemed like a magical place, a place of strange unknown creatures and secret treasures.
My father stood up and took a long drink from his flask. "This way" he said and began to move quietly and stealthily through the trees.
He wanted us to spread out and yet keep within sight of one another. There was to be
no talk, only hand signs and bird call. When we reached a point where the forest became particularly dense we would close in and walk near each other. My father seemed sure he knew where the den was.
After an hour or so rain clouds converged and the weather changed. Soon the clouds opened and we took shelter. It rained heavily. I began to get cold, so cold my father placed his jacket around me to give extra warmth. He seemed not to care about the cold or about getting wet. He told me to stay where I was while he carried on with the search.
It was a long time before the rain stopped. Even then the high branches continued to drip water. I waited for my father to return but he didn't come. I got up and started to walk - wrong I know but I felt unable to remain where he'd told me to stay. I walked for an hour or so until the light started to fade. The forest became very dense with thick bushes that seemed to cling to the trees. As I walked I heard a myriad of different sounds, including the sound of what I took to be young birds. Suddenly the sound of the birds seemed to be very close to me. I knelt on the ground and pulled back a thick mound of wet bushes. There in the middle of a small clearing, resting on a soft bed of dry leaves and grass, were seven dog pups.
I couldn’t bring myself to call out to my father. The pups were sleeping peacefully, entwined, the bushes, branches and leaves acting as protection from the rain.
They were no older than a few weeks; even so their coats were thick and grey. They could easily have been mistaken as wolves but I knew they were dogs because of their tails and faces. I draped the bushes so the dogs remained hidden and walked away.
Just then I heard my father whistling and impersonating bird sounds. I returned his call and, once I had fixed on his position, realized he was not too far away.
Within a few minutes we were re-united. He looked angry. "Why didn't you remain beside the tree as I told you ?" I said that I was forced to move - I was so cold that I was frightened my body would succumb to the cold temperature. "Where did you go ?" he
asked. "I was trying to find you. Did you see the wild dogs' den ?" I shook my head. "No" I lied.
We began to walk back in the direction we had originally followed. My father made
a detour and I realized we were following the route I had taken after I left the tree. We continued until we were close to the bush where I had discovered the sleeping pups. "Can you hear anything ?" he said. I said all I could hear was the last of the rain falling from the high trees. My father stood for a while listening to the forest. "Over here" he said and moved to within a few inches of the bush. "Can you hear anything now ?" I shook
my head but he was already crouching down, parting the low branches. He had found them. "Here" he said "open this." He handed me the sack he'd strapped to his waist. "Quickly" he snapped seeing me hesitate. I did as I was told. "He grabbed six
of the pups and threw them into the sack. The seventh had its neck twisted." I cried out: "You've killed it! Why have you killed it ?"
My father slapped me across the face.
"You knew where they were" he spat. Tears poured down my cheeks. "I wasn't sure..." I stammered. "Don't lie to me" he shouted. "I was watching you. You knew where they were and you didn't tell me." I looked down at the sack. The pups were awake now, kicking and clawing to escape. "Don't ever lie to me again, understand ?" shouted my father.
We began to walk in the direction of the cabin. As we did so my father mutilated the body of the dead pup with his knife, leaving pieces of fur, skin and droplets of blood on the forest floor. This was the trail the adult dogs would follow until they walked into our trap.
We didn't speak as we made the long walk back to the cabin. When we arrived my father
placed the pups in a small cage outside the cabin entrance. Then he made his guns ready, resting them on the window sill. When the adult dogs arrived it would be easy work for him to pick them off one by one.
I went straight to my bed and slept. I woke numerous times, thinking that I could hear the crying of the pups, thinking that perhaps I could sneak out from my bed and set them free. But I knew it would be impossible - my father was a light sleeper, always on guard. It felt as if I too had been captured along with the dog pups and there was no way for me to escape. My days in the wilderness had turned into a nightmare.