Man’s Best Friend
A man, not over eighty, sat in his tattered reclining chair, by the fireplace in his home. He strained to reach the radio, to turn it up, to hear more clearly the horse racing results. The house was cosy and small, enough for one person to live comfortably alone, which he very much was. His wife was memorialised in photo frames scattered among the house, and his daughter was busy, with her new promotion and an even newer child. His sight had declined over the years. Something about astigmatism, he’d mutter to anyone who asked, but he didn’t mind much, he had his own routine, around his home and around the village, things didn’t change very often there.
His old chair groaned with him when he lifted himself up, as he had remembered the dinner heating up on the aga. He had just found his feet when he heard a knock at the door. Unusual, he thought; as many did not visit him, not without calling, and not at this time of evening. He called out as he shuffled towards the door, to the person behind it, that he would be there soon.
He saw no one at first, when he opened the door. It was raining and the wind was strong; the newspaper had told him a storm with some name was coming tonight. He craned his neck right and left to see who had knocked before eventually looking down, where he saw a dog. A big thing, he noticed, scraggly and scruffy, with thick fur and long ears, almost covering his eyes. The dog sat patiently in the cold, on his doorstep, looking up at the elderly man.
“Who’s there?” the man called out, supposing the dog didn’t knock on the door himself. “This isn’t my dog! He’s not mine!”
The man looked back to the docile creature and thought he was so good to just sit there. He must have sheltered himself from the rain under his overhanging roof and someone presumed him the owner. He couldn’t leave the creature outside, sad and sodden on a night like this, so, he beckoned him inside, and he came in quietly, like a good dog.
The old man went to the kitchen and the dog followed him. He sat at the table, with his dinner, and by his leg the dog begged with his eyes. The man threw him bits of beef from his plate, and it would land on the floor, which he admitted needed a sweep, and the dog would lick it off the tiles, chewing it back in two bites. As he washed the dishes in the sink, with the soapy suds parching his hands, he supposed the dog thirsty, so he picked a chipped bowl from the cupboard and filled it with water. He placed it by the back door, and on all fours, the dog bounded towards the dish, and lapped it up happily until it was half empty, with most of it landing on the floor.
The man placed a ragged blanket on the couch and told the dog to sleep there for the night. The big mass of fur tried to hop its heavy form onto the couch, but it was not a graceful leap, and the couch creaked under his weight. The man stroked the mutt’s head and scratched his chin, which was prickly like a beard, and the dog leaned deeper into his palm, encouraging further affection. He’d never seen a dog enjoy his rubs as much as this big pup did. He gave his head a final scratch before entering the hallway to ring his daughter on the telephone, knowing he couldn’t search for the dog’s owner on his own, especially not in this ghastly weather. She picked up before the final trill ended.
“Hi Sarah, how are you today?”
She sounded stressed. She always did lately.
“Fine. Dad, why are you calling?”
“Yes, Sarah, I don’t mean to bother you, but I need you to drive me in the car tomorrow”.
“Drive you? Where?”
He could hear his young granddaughter fussing in the background as he explained the situation to Sarah. She was, understandably the man thought, confused when she heard this, but eventually her infant broke into a wail that got so bad that she had to agree, and hung up without saying goodbye.
Placing the phone down, the old man saw the dog’s head peeking through the sitting room door. He gave him one more goodnight pet before heading to bed and going to sleep.
He awoke with the dog on the duvet, by the adjacent post of his bed. He was almost certain he had closed his bedroom door last night, but he truthfully didn’t mind the company, and quite enjoyed the creature bounding by his feet down the stairs for breakfast. He shuffled by the coffee table, to make his way to the kitchen, when he noticed his right set of toes suddenly wet. He bent down with great effort to take off his soggy slipper and sniffed it. He immediately winced at the sulfureous scent of pee. He shoved the slipper by the dog’s nose and told him that he was a bold boy. The dog made not quite a whimper, a strange noise which he could not discern as anything he had heard before. The old man soon softened and patted the dog’s head, conceding that he probably should have let him out the back garden before bedtime.
A few days passed and Sarah had still not arrived. The man supposed his daughter forgot about their conversation, she was very busy after all, he noted. He didn’t mind the time spent with the dog; he fried him extra rashers at breakfast and heated up surplus stew for his dinner. At night, the storm would rattle the little house and the wind whistled through the walls. The two companions would curl up by the fireplace after the nine o’clock news and fall asleep together, as the ashes flickered red and turned cold.
It was midday Sunday when the old man suddenly heard a knock at his door.
He answered it, and there Sarah was, frowning at her feet, before looking up to see her father, and then relaxed into relief.
“Dad! You’re okay, I thought you fell or something!”.
“I’m quite alright, Sarah, don’t worry”.
“Your phone wasn’t picking up!”
“Oh, that’s the dog’s fault, he chewed through the wires. He can be a mischievous dote at times”.
Sarah shook her head “Oh yeah, that dog, I remember now. C’mon then, get in the car, I’ll go get the dog”.
His daughter skimmed past him into the house as the old man left into the biting air, pulling a coat onto himself.
“Are you sure you can lift him on your own? He’s quite big!”
She waved him off with a dismissing hand and disappeared into the sitting room, while the old man seated himself in the back seat of the car, so to keep the dog company on the drive. He had to admit he was going to miss the big mutt, if he in fact had an owner. He thought maybe to ask Sarah to get him a dog of his own, if this one had to go, to occupy the empty house, and to perhaps keep watch at night.
Suddenly, the man heard gravel hurriedly crunching in his driveway. It must be Sarah, he thought, as her blurred form fast approached. The closer she came to his sight, the more distressed she was revealed to be. She stumbled inside the car, to the front seat, slammed the door, and swore at the fumbling keys in the ignition. She sped onto the road and away from the house, without saying a word, and leaving the old man to watch the dog from a distance, who sat quietly outside his door. He seemed taller than usual, as if standing up on two feet, and with one paw on the handle.
“Sarah? What’s wrong? Why didn’t you bring the dog?”
“Dad stop it!” she screamed, banging the steering wheel over and over. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it”
The old man saw panicked tears pricking his daughter’s eyes and was so confused by her outburst, that he didn’t even know what to say. In all honesty, he was startled at the lack of coherency she was presenting. After a few minutes, he placed a hand on her shoulder and said “Sarah, I know he’s a big thing but don’t be frightened, he’s gentle”.
His daughter said nothing, staring intently out the windshield, puffing out a shrill breath. A few moments passed before the old man realised they had pulled in outside their local Garda station.
“Sarah, what on earth are we doing here? I don’t think the Gardai deal with missing pets. We should go back to the house; the dog shouldn’t be on his own.”.
She realised her grip from the steering wheel and looked at her father, up and down, taking him in tearfully. She helped him out of the car and brought him inside the station, ignoring any questions he asked. Together, they sat down at an officer’s desk, and Sarah reported a break-in.