A Dog’s Life

A town like this, population of ten thousand, it’s impossible for everyone to know everyone. But we all know the crazy folk. It’s just the way it is.
+++++They don’t have names the crazy ones. Not real ones, anyway. It’s a kind of common knowledge, like the things the starlings share in murmurations or ants discuss in their tunnels.
+++++Take Mad-guy-with-the-bike-and-the-dog. He’s probably got something written on a birth certificate like David or Mark or Peter but the nickname works, so why change it?
+++++When I was a little kid, he freaked me out. He pedalled around town, a loop of string around the bottom of his trousers, his little black dog running alongside him on the pavement. Mum let me pet the dog when it was tied outside the supermarket. It was a mutt. Sort of like a black Labrador only with the wrong shaped face and sticking out feet. He was the gentle and soft and loved being stroked.
+++++Now we’ve all got older and wiser. I get to fetch the groceries by myself, which is good because I get to spend the change when I’m done. A pack of ciggies, a bar of chocolate or whatever I fancy.
+++++Sometimes Mad-guy-with-the-bike-and-the-dog is there. You should see the space around him when he’s on the aisles. Like he’s the penicillin in the middle of a petri dish. He chunters on, shouting at the tins and moaning at the frozen goods like they’re his sworn enemies. His dark eyebrows weave together to form an enormous storm cloud above his eyes. Gobs of saliva shoot from his mouth like tiny missiles in all sorts of unpredictable directions. It’s a wonder they let him in really, health and safety being what it is. And when he gets to the checkout, his throat rumbles and the ladies on the till do their best to smile and talk about the weather even though they’re obviously cowering.
+++++I first noticed the dog wasn’t doing so well a couple of years back. A swelling around the stomach that made him look pregnant, only I knew he couldn’t be on account of the testicles. Before long he looked like a cow ready to be milked, that big pink belly swinging around like a pair of udders. And it wasn’t just a physical thing. His mouth curled down at the sides like he was unhappy and he was struggling to keep up with his owner and the bike.
+++++I tried to ignore the swelling best I could, but my eyes were drawn to it every time. Even had nightmares about it.
+++++Asked my dad what he thought. He told me I shouldn’t worry. That the vet wouldn’t let an animal live if it was in pain. Which made sense until the swelling got so big that it was scraping along the ground. There was no way the dog wasn’t feeling that. And if the vet wasn’t going to do anything, somebody had to.
+++++I decided that somebody had to be me.
+++++Only thing I cared about was that it was humane. I’d give the old mutt a treat to help soften the blow. Like the last meal for the condemned man and all that. I bought him a bag of special biscuits and carried them everywhere I went until everything fell into place.
+++++When I finally saw the opportunity, the dog knew. I took his lead from the hook outside the shop and he came along as though I’d been his secret owner all along.
+++++We went around the back where the alkies drink when it’s warm. I stroked his neck and gave his side a pat and fed him.
+++++He savoured those biscuits, each and every one of them. While he chewed it up I whipped out the plastic tie, popped it over the muzzle like a cowboy and pulled tight.
+++++He didn’t fight it. “Good boy,” I told him. “That’s a good boy,” and I put a bag over his head and held it tight around his neck so no air could get in or out.
+++++It didn’t go as smoothly as planned. The dog had more fight in him than I expected. Didn’t seem to welcome my efforts at ending the years of pain. He thrashed his head from side-to-side and kicked out with his paws so it looked like he was running in the air.
+++++I focussed on the job. Held tight and ignored the cries until everything stopped. Then I counted to twenty. When I was sure he was done, I took the bag off, cut the tie and threw it into the bushes.
+++++He looked kind of peaceful lying there among the weeds. The smile was back on his face and I knew I’d done the right thing. Was why I felt good about it when it was over, not that I hung around to appreciate it.
+++++I pulled out a cigarette. Sparked up and took in a lungful and waited for Mad-guy-with-the-bike-and-the-dog to come out.
+++++When he did, he was muttering away like usual and wiping his nose on the back of the sleeve of his brown jacket.
+++++Took him a while to realise something was up. He stood on the spot and looked all around. First time I’ve ever seen the old man completely quiet like that. It was kind of hard to take. Sort of painful.
+++++I couldn’t stand it. Not even when I knew I’d done a good thing. I dropped my cigarette to the floor, kicked it under a car and went inside.
+++++Mad-guy-with-the-bike-and-the-dog was still there when I got out, only now I suppose he was only Mad-guy-with-the-bike. He wasn’t quiet anymore. Was swearing under his breath and walking in tiny circles, stamping his feet like he was putting out fires.
+++++I lit up another cigarette and watched him again. Saw the tears drip down his cheeks and onto the concrete while he took out scraps of bread from his pocket and waved them about like they were magic wands.
+++++It was then that I saw it. The pain in his face. The loneliness of it all. Wondered just how long it would be before someone had to put the old-timer out of his misery. Asked myself which of the ten-thousand in town would be the one to step up and do the job. Knew the answer as soon as the question popped into my head.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
The following two tabs change content below.
Nigel Bird
Nigel Bird is the author of a number of short story collections and longer works including Dirty Old Town, Smoke and Southsiders.
Nigel Bird

Latest posts by Nigel Bird (see all)

2 thoughts on “A Dog’s Life”

  1. Great story, Nigel. A sad one, but I suppose that’s what makes it great.

    Thanks for writing it.

  2. Joseph, that’s great to hear. It is sad. When I wrote it I felt really unsettled for a good while and considered not unleashing it on the public. A comment like this and acceptance at such a great site make me glad I took the chance.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read and to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *