Walking the Dog 1
Martin loved the sound of Miles in the morning, his pagan wail as dawn was breaking. It was a solitary pleasure, enjoyed in a cocoon of earphones in the dark, cool air, disturbing no one. Or so he thought..
Later, while lying on a trolly in the A&E waiting for attention, it occurred to Martin to wonder whether it was the music that had upset the dogs. It is said that they have super-sensitive hearing. Could they, in the early morning stillness, have heard the sonic leakage from his headphones, and decided to engage in some vigorous musical criticism?
He had exited his dark and silent house that morning just after seven, quietly clicking the door behind him so as not to disturb Kate. Their new home being only ten minutes drive from the school where she worked, she could afford to lie on for another hour or so.
Tuesday morning was dustbin day. All down the street refuse sacks lolled against each other and against gate pillars, like drunks in the aftermath of the world’s wildest party. Martin hefted his to the front gate, two by two. The green ones, Kate’s garden rubbish, were surprisingly heavy. Then off, a shortcut through the park, fitting his earphones as he walked. ‘Bitches’ Brew’ was already loaded in the player. The tie was in his pocket, he would don it in the office. His bag, a freebie given out at last year’s conference, held his book, various bills, a rain hat, sundry other rubbish. Dart-man’s handbag.
Emerging from the park, he crossed into Hillcrest Road, which sloped gradually towards sea level. In this part of leafy South Dublin, the social contours rose according as the altitude fell. Already he had climbed thousands in average incomes. Many of the houses, it was true, had a slightly dingy air, their elderly occupants no longer able to maintain them. But dotted here and there along the route was the new universal symbol of upward mobility, the garage conversion stroke extension.
Kate had fallen in love with a house down here last year, but it had been well beyond their price range. Their present home, which they had been lucky to get, she had tearfully condemned as a ‘pokey little kip’ shortly after they moved in, when the hidden signs of past neglect had become apparent. Still, now that the windows were done and the garden was coming together, she seemed to be settling a bit. All that was needed now was the elusive baby.
The morning was cold and crisp. To the east daylight was building. The streetlights were still on, their amber glow shrinking into localised balls of light. A woman emerged from a gate on the opposite side of the street, her two dogs dancing excitedly around her.
He kept the volume loud, the percussion dictating the rhythm of his walk. If his timing was right, he should have just have a minute or two on the platform for the heartstopping close of Pharoah’s Dance before the train arrived. That would get him in for eight, giving him two hours to finish his report.
Today was the day for the weekly team meeting. To an outsider, the term ‘team meeting’ might convey an image of co-operation and professionalism, of like minded colleagues pooling their knowledge and skills for the greater good of the organisation and its aims. Martin knew better. ‘Tuesday Torture’ was his name for the two hour orgy of back-biting, double dealing and buck passing, presided over by Thomas J Irwin, reptillian sadist-in-chief. Irwin had been (for him) relatively benign of late - only small numbers killed - but one never knew when he would turn, or who he would turn upon. You might imagine that you had covered your arse so comprehensively that depleted uranium shells would not pierce the armour. But let his prehensile snout get the faintest whiff of your fear, and within seconds you could be clamped between his jaws and dragged, thrashing and drowning to the bottom of the swamp. The others would look on with the impassiveness of sheep in a slaughterhouse, sympathetic no doubt, but mainly grateful that it was you and not them.
Martin involuntarily quickened his step as Irwin’s image intruded, fancying he heard him snarl behind him. Gradually, it seemed, though it could only have been a matter of seconds, he became aware that the sound was real, and building. Something struck him from behind, spinning him towards the road. A sharp pain clamped his left wrist, another his right thigh, as he fell in a tangle of bag strap and earphone wires, glasses flying. He was aware now of the noise, the feral growls of his attackers and somewhere off, a woman shrieking. A black dog attached to his wrist dug in and dragged while another spun around to snatch at the arm covering his face, its claws lacerating his cheek as it skittered over him. It bit at his side, buttocks, thigh, seeking purchase.
Now the woman was dragging at the black one, shouting. ‘Down, Sheba, Down’. At a gateway across the road a man in a dressing gown, carrying a refuse sack, uncombed white hair sticking up, stared in sleepy disbelief. Martin wanted to shout out ‘Help me’, but shock had struck him dumb. The woman hauled the black dog off but it immediately launched back at him, snapping, tearing at his leg, his thigh, his side. The piebald was lunging at his face and he fended it off with his arm, offering that in sacrifice.
More people were there now. The woman got the black dog off again. Someone with a stick struck the piebald tentatively. It was dragging at him, surprisingly strong. He tried to beat it off, blood whipping from his hand. Four pairs of legs were around him. The stick struck the piebald again, increasing its anger and determination. Someone kicked at it. The head snapped towards the swinging foot, then clamped back on his arm almost before he had registered its freedom
Then, a torrent of water, and the dog yelped and let go, slinking off behind the legs of the crowd, returning to its still struggling mistress. A man with a basin crouched down.
“Are you all right? Jesus, man! Are you alright?”
Martin tried to raise himself. Arms hooked under his armpits to help him. His feet slipped a little in the slimy blood and he sat heavily. A powerful wave of nausea washed through him. He was vaguely embarrassed, surrounded by spectators, sitting in a mess of blood and mud and puke.
He leant back against the wall, too tired to talk. Then he became aware that he was shaking, and the awareness increased its violence. At the far side of the street the dog owner was crying, while a smartly-suited woman and a man in a cycling helmet were trying to calm her. The animals themselves cowered against the wall, a study in guilt.
“There’s an ambulance on its way” said the basin man. A woman pushed a mug of tea towards him, for the shock, but his hands were shaking too much, his arms weak from the ravaging.
The woman with the dogs was louder now, becoming hysterical. The businesswoman ushered her towards her house while the cyclist gingerly attached dog leads and led them after her.