Lost Dog 1-3
On the fifth day we received word, by pigeon mail, from Old Man Judge
that one of his animals had been killed. My father read the tiny
strip of paper that was attached to the bird's leg carefully, turning
over the words several times. He said, if it was true, that we, as
well as Judge, were in great danger. And so, that morning, we hiked
the ten miles across North Hill to Judge's shack, so as to see for
ourselves the carnage.
Old Man Judge was already standing outside waiting for us as we trekked the final half mile across open ground. I asked my father how the old man had known the precise time of our arrival, known even that we were on our way ? "He just knows" my father said, as if Old Judge possessed some sort of
sixth sense. "He's been living out here since he was a young man."
Judge greeted us by raising his walking stick. He was a thin man with long white hair and a white beard. My father said Judge was seventy five but I said he looked much older. Judge's shack was self-built. A couple of wooden barns and an old caravan acted as storage and shelter for his animals.
My father and Judge clasped hands. "You know I don't get easily spooked" said
Judge "but this is something different."
We walked towards the rear of one of the flimsy outhouses. Judge ruffled my
hair. "You enjoying spendin' quality time with your father ?" he asked. I nodded and said "Yes, sir".
He walked with a limp, my father beside him. I looked at the surrounding
countryside and began to wonder how Judge had survived so long. It
was a remote, harsh, lonely existence. Each season brought its own
dangers and beauty. My father told me that many men came to this part
of the country - this wilderness - to live and hunt alone. They did
so for all kinds of reasons - disappointment, adventure, because of
something bad they'd done in their lives. One day, my father said,
when I was older, I’d understand.
Judge led us to a wooden pen that stood behind the outhouse. Lying in the middle of the pen was the mutilated carcass of an animal.
"My goat" said Judge. "Look at it. The neck, the head...what does it tell
Judge let slip a piece of knotted rope and pushed open the gate. My father knelt beside the carcass, examining each part, prodding the remains with a short stick he'd fashioned as we walked the long miles to Judge's shack.
"What does it tell you ?" Judge said again. "The damn throat's been
ripped out, the ass, the guts..." My father turned his attention away from the mutilated animal to a place in the far distance, a place beyond the flatlands and hills to where the land gave up a dense, dark forest. "It tells me one thing, Judge: the animal that did this has to be hunted down - hunted down and
Judge nodded. "That's right. That's what this abomination told me too."
We moved away from the pen towards the wooden shack. And as we did so I was suddenly overcome by nausea, nausea so strong that I began to puke, much to my father's displeasure.
Judge laughed. “That’s right, son. Purge your system. I’ve done it, your father’s done it. It’s good for the soul.”
“Come on” said my father to Judge. “Let’s go inside. Leave the kid to it.”
The wooden shack that my father had built was larger than Old Man Judge's shack. It was, in effect, a single room although hanging sheets
divided the rear into two sleeping areas. The corner opposite my area was designated as the kitchen, consisting of a high table for
chopping and preparing food and a plastic washing up bowl which we
filled with water from the well. The central area of the shack
contained a wood burning stove. The stove's hot plate was where our
water was boiled, our food was cooked, and our bathing water warmed.
It was also where we sat at the end of the day and attempted to
My father built the shack when he left the army. He
found a good patch of land and, with a thousand pounds set aside for
timber and materials, spent his first summer out on civvy street
constructing a place where he could hide away from the world. I
didn't know him then - it was only much later that he decided to walk
back in to my life. And when he did walk in I was disappointed. I'd
waited a long time for it to happen and I suppose the image I created
of him in my head was of something far greater than what I finally
How can I describe the place where he lived ? A wilderness ? An outback ?
I was a city boy, unused to great swathes of grassland and hills,
rivers and forest. The place where I lived was a slice of suburbia, a
quiet corner that was a short bus ride away from the city. My mom had
her own problems so I spent a lot of time with my gran. Together we'd
take a weekly trip to the city's indoor market and I remember I used
to look in wonder at the fresh seafood on sale - doey-eyed fish,
crabs the size of frisbees, and tiny clams that opened up their
shells to reveal strange, alien forms. We went there to shop for
bargains, the kind of bargains that reflected our low income - off
cuts of meat, the 'scrag-ends', that would be stewed or added to a
casserole which would last us for a week. My gran had been shopping
at the indoor market for years and was on first name terms with many
of the traders. She drove a hard bargain, occasionally berating a
trader in front of other customers when he refused to accede to her
demands. "Shame on you" was her favorite refrain. "I
knew your father, God rest his soul. He always used to see me right.
I reckon your business has suffered now that he's gone." Her
insistence usually won out and the embarrassed trader would
invariably offer her an extra cut or two so as to remove her presence
from his stall. "Your Grandma's done it again!" she'd say,
triumphant that she’d saved a few shillings. "Now, let's go
and see what we can get you, little scamp, from the sweet seller."
I liked it when she called me little scamp. It was only later I found
out that in other cultures the word scamp carried a deeper meaning -
devil, rogue, someone who is not particularly trusted or wanted.
My father and Old Man Judge spent the afternoon laying traps around
Judge's land. Then, when the light began to fade, my father decided
we should stay the night in the old man's shack.
We ate a meal of cold fish and corn balls. Judge kept a saucepan of mead on his
stove and my father allowed me to take half a cup, thinning it down with water.
After the food and mead I became drowsy. Judge gave me a blanket and I lay on the cold wooden floor. I wrapped myself as best I could and fell asleep.
My father and Judge continued talking late into the night. My sleep was occasionally broken by their laughter and I remember hearing familiar words -
dogs, wild, feral, eradicate. My father and Judge, it seemed, came to
some sort of an agreement although I wasn't sure what it was. The
following morning, after another meal of fish and corn, we said
goodbye to Judge and began the long trek to our own dwelling.
I remember the first time I asked my mother about my father.
I was nine years old and we were living in a shared rented house in a
cul-de-sac. We pupils had been asked by our school teacher to tell
the class about our families and their different kinds of work. My
class mates recounted their fathers' numerous occupations - engineer,
carpenter, builder, salesman. When my turn came all I could tell them
was that my gran worked part time as a cleaner at a local
Mom's depression prevented her from working. Mom didn't
say much to me about it but gran tried to explain to me once, after
Mom had been shouting and crying, that she got a 'bit down' about
things and that she loved me really. Sometimes I found that difficult
to believe. And the more she justified how much she loved me, by
telling me about all the things she did for me, the more sceptical I
"You want to know about my work ?" she said the day I came home and
told her about our class discussion. "You see those socks you're
wearing ? Who washes and dries them ? Who washes and dries all your
clothes ? And not only that, but who cooks your meals, prepares your
lunch box for school ? Who cleans and dusts the house ? Who do you
run to when you cut your lip or scrape your arm ? Do you think all of
those things get done by themselves ? Huh ? You ungrateful boy!"
I asked her why she was shouting at me. I said that I was only
telling her about what had been happening at school. But still she
continued, accusing me of not appreciating that all the things she
did for me could be classed as work.
It was at this point that I asked about my father, told her that
everyone knew where their fathers worked, even the boys and girls
whose parents were no longer together. "Your father left"
she screamed "your father walked out. That's how much he cared.
But I'll never walk out. Never! That's why I don't want to hear
anything about him. D'you understand ? I don't want to even
acknowledge his existence."