Dog Story, by pd lyons


Maybe the boy is six years old when his father takes him. They walk behind the houses through a maze of added on structures. They stop at one. His father opens one of the splintered doors part way and slips in. ” Stay by the door,” his father tells him, ” don’t let it close.” Then his father goes all the way into the dark. He can hear the footsteps of his father. Then there are other sounds, other things moving in there. He can make out the shape of his father. See him bend down and reach into a cornered mass of moving whimpering things. Now there is another sound, a rising yelp and yap. Dogs. His father keeps dogs in the shed.

His father backs into the daylight, hauling with both hands the lead and then the dog. The dog is black with golden tan on its underside. Its long black tail curls down between its legs up along its belly. Its low diamond shaped head moves side to side like a great snake .

They walk. His father’s boots crunch the hard ground. The dog skids, pulled against its own trembling legs. The boy’s soft small steps follow. Around the corner, against the far wall his father leads them.

The boy watches. His father attaches the lead from the dog to a cable. The cable runs up a series of supports to the top of the wall, and then angles back down the same wall to the ground. There is an almost echo snap as his father secures the end of the lead to the cable and walks away. The dog whines and tries to follow, but the cable pulls up short. There are more dog sounds as it turns, tries another direction, comes up short again. Suddenly the dog stiffens. Its head begins to rise. Its front legs come off the ground. At last it shows some canine aggression. It snaps and snarls wildly. Tries to turn in such a way so as to tear its attacker apart. But the dogs attacker is a thin braided cable steadily tightening. It gets harder and harder for the dog to do anything. Finally his father anchors the cable.
On its tiptoes, the dog stretches taller than the boy now. Quickly his father returns to the dog, stretches out his arm, jabs at that golden inner thigh. The dog makes sounds like screaming. It takes a few seconds for the boy to notice. There is blood on the dog’s leg. It pulses from the place his father touched. His father goes and slackens the cable. Lowers the dog back to the ground. The dog at first a frenzy of licking and yelping gives way to a slow motion pitter patter of paws. Eventually, it curls itself up on the hard wet ground and moans.

He no longer hears these things. He does not remember how old he really was that first time, that moment when at the point of happiness he realised, “This dog is no gift to me from my father.” He does remember how to treat them so they stay afraid, how to clean them and how to strike the artery deep enough but keep the hole small. He does not remember if it was his ninth or tenth birthday when his father first handed him the blade.

He is walking down the street. Notices a group of strangers. Someone he knows is with them and calls out, saying “Come, join us.”The strangers speak a language he does not know. They are two men and a young child. The child is wearing a brilliant pink fur coat. Someone he knows explains, ” These are the buyers of skins. This child, the daughter of one of them. They want you to know about this child’s coat. That it is made from your skins.” Not sure if he understood this last part he asks if this is so. “Yes. Yes. This little girl’s coat is made of skins from you.” He looks again at the child. He squats down before her, extends his hand and stops. He looks up to them and from one of the men receives a silent nod of permission. He reaches out to her, she is not afraid of him. He touches her coat, pinches it, rolls it back and forth between his thumb and fore finger. He opens his hands. Runs his palms along her shoulders and down the sleeves. “ It is a wonderful coat. An amazing colour. A lovely gift for a child. But,” shaking his head he stands up. “No.” he says and shakes his head again, “ Tell them no. I have never dogs the colour of this.”

He does not remember the names of those buyers or why they laugh when he tells them the truth. He does remember the little girl. The look of her at him squatting there as if they shared some secret then. As if he had told her how he could no longer see the face of his father, or hear the voice of his mother, even though he had promised never to forget.

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