Shortlisted for the Elyne Mitchell Award 2017
Bob Reynolds bought himself a dog. Bob was a farmer and the type of guy who preferred to work alone, but he’d always enjoyed the mateship of his dogs. His last dog was a blue heeler named Plod on account of his heavy feet when he was a pup, but he grew to be the best dog Bob ever owned. Bob never showedPlod but everyone said he should have because he was a beautiful looking dog. He had to put the old bugger down himself when the arthritis got so bad that he was in pain just getting up to walk. It was the hardest day of Bob’s life.
After losing his best mate, Bob couldn’t bring himself to get another heeler, so he researched the best dog to suit his needs and bought a Doberman Pinscher, the son of a State Champion from a respected breeder in Wilson Flat. It was an unusual choice of breed for a farmer, but Bob had never really needed a working dog. He wanted an animal that would behave in accordance with his breeding- predictable and loyal- and he began training him from a very young pup.
Bob named his new pup Lydig, the Swedish word for obedient. Lydig was black with rust markings; perfect and sleek like his father. He grew to be a very intelligent dog who learned the basic commands quickly; capable of great aggression on cue and able to switch it off on Bob’s command. From the day he bought him, Bob insisted that no one else was to touch his dog. Not even his wife, Mary.
Mary decided that the only solution for her lonely days at the farmhouse was to buy a dog of her own. With Bob’s permission, she bought a one-year old bitch from the local animal shelter described as a Labrador cross Cocker Spaniel, and she really did have a beautiful nature. Her coat was deep gold with a gentle curl all over and she had the biggest brown eyes that melted Mary’s heart from the day they met. Mary named her dog Shinko which is the Japanese word for faith. Bob wasn’t impressed that his perfectly trained creature would be subjected to the stupidity of Mary’s mutt, as he called it, but marriage is about compromise, so there it was.
And the arrangement worked perfectly because Lydig spent his days with Bob at work on the farm while Shinko stayed back at the house with Mary. At night, the dogs would sit beside their respective owners near the fireplace or in front of the television. Lydig generally sat attentively at Bob’s side with his ears pricked upright, wary of any unusual sounds outside the house. That was part of Lydig’s nature because he was born to protect his family. Shinko would curl up on the floor by Mary’s feet. Whenever Lydig reacted to outside activity with a bark or growl, she lifted her head to look at Mary who would laugh quietly and pat her reassuringly. They both knew they were safe with Lydig on patrol. He would never let his guard down.
That was, of course, until Bob and Mary went to bed. Night time opened the door to a world of freedom for Lydig who undeniably enjoyed having a female dog in the house. When he was around the one-year old mark, his natural instincts kicked in and the two dogs began to attempt the mating process. Lydig took some time to get the hang of things, but by spring the following year, the telltale signs were obvious that Shinko was pregnant. Mary was absolutely delighted and could not have been prouder of her little girl.
Bob and Mary were unable to have children of their own, but Bob refused to be subjected to the degradation of any medical intervention, arguing that nature had its reasons and that was that. Mary had long thought that he was secretly relieved that there were no children to interfere with his perfect solitude. He was furious when Mary informed him of an upcoming litter of mongrels and vowed to destroy them as soon as they arrived. He wouldn’t even consider giving them away. He’d be a laughing stock for allowing his champion to be breed with a mongrel, so as soon as the puppies were born, he was true to his word and destroyed them.
Mary, whilst deeply saddened, had become hardened to the realities of life and death after many years of living on the farm. And there was no time for her to grieve. An emergency forecast had been issued on the radio for one of the fiercest storms they’d ever encountered in the district. Heavy rains were expected which they badly needed, but Bob was struggling to prepare for the onslaught because the old farmhouse was starting to show its age. Several loose roof sheets had to be nailed down and the gutters needed cleaning.
By the time Bob and Mary went to bed, the storm was bearing its teeth, prompting Bob to lock the dogs in the kitchen so they wouldn’t keep him awake. Curled up in her box beneath the table, Shinko had been pining all day for the missing pups. Lydig paced around her, irritated by the constant sounds outside of banging fence sheets and tree branches knocking against the house. A gust of wind suddenly threw open the back door as lightning flashed and lit up the whole farmhouse. The thunderous Boomthat followed shook the floorboards.
Lydig panicked and charged straight through the fly screen door. Terrified and confused, he hurtled himself from one side of the yard to another, barking wildly at anything that moved. Amidst the frenzy, Shinko emerge through the tear in the screen door, shaken with fear and too weak to run. Lydig raced to her side and nuzzled forcefully against her neck, encouraging her to follow him away from the farmhouse. The two dogs made their way to a group of trees beyond the truck shed, when another flash of lightning lit up the paddocks. Lydig dove into an old firewood shelter beneath the low hanging branches of a stunted gum tree, and Shinko followed.
There, dumped and forgotten, lay the cold, dead bodies of their litter. Bob had been so busy preparing for the storm that he neglected to bury the remains. Both dogs were grief stricken by what they’d found. Shinko was confused, sniffing and nudging her puppies to no response. Bob’s scent lingered on their fur, and Lydig couldn’t control his anguish. Howling into the savage winds like a wild dog, his heart ruptured. The deranged manipulation of his human master had taken its toll.
Awoken by the distant sound of howling, Bob got out of bed and walked to the gun safe to grab his rifle. Obviously, some bastard hadn’t locked their dog up properly and he would have to destroy the bloody thing before it got to any of his animals. Bursting into the kitchen to get his coat and boots, he discovered that Lydig and Shinko were gone. And then he noticed a gaping tear in the screen door.
“Mary!” he cursed toward the bedroom. “I told you to lock the bloody back door. That damn mutt of yours got out, and Lydig’s gone as well.”
“I’m sure I closed it, Bob.”
“I said lock it!Listen to the bloody words.”
Bob grabbed a torch from the shelf and ventured furiously out into the growing storm. He turned on the back porch light and scanned the yard from chicken hutch to garden shed, but the dogs were nowhere to be seen. Howling started up again from further out on the property, and this time Bob knew it was Lydig. He grimaced and stepped off the porch. Gusts of wind thrashed at his jacket, tossing him about as he crossed the dirt courtyard toward the truck shed. He waved his torch past a cluster of low trees by the wood shelter and caught a glint of animal eyes. Bob honed his light on the dogs. Lydig stared back menacingly with his chest puffed and teeth bared in a viscous rage. Shinko lay beside him with barely enough energy to look up.
Bob needed to take charge. Light rain was beginning to drift across the fields and he wanted to get back inside before the heavy rain came.
Lydig flared his gums and snarled ferociously.
“I said, heel!”
Bob continued moving closer, shouting the same commands more aggressively with each step, but his dog was out of control, growing more enraged the nearer his master came. Lightning flash behind Bob’s head and Lydig could no longer hold his ground. He leaped forward with the full power of his rear haunches and ran straight at Bob. With no time to think, the skilled hunter raised his gun at an unwitting Lydig and took him down with a single, explosive shot, straight to the head. The sound muffled into the trees and the echoes disappeared into the wind like nothing had happened. Lydig collapsed to the ground with a thud and lay motionless in the grass.
Looking down at Lydig’s limp, bloodied body, Bob was not so much remorseful as annoyed. It was such a pointless waste of training and money, all because Mary couldn’t follow one simple instruction. He spat at Mary’s stupid mutt, but the wind blew it back in his face. Saliva ran down his cheek and swung uncontrollably from his jaw until he wiped it off furiously against his shoulder. Bob raised his gun once again and pointing it at Shinko, knowing that if Mary hadn’t bought her, none of this would have happened. Their eyes momentarily connected. One was an innocent and powerless hostage. The other, a controlling and unforgiving master who preferred to end the whole miserable arrangement so he could start again with a clean slate. Moments later, Lydig, Shinko and their entire family lay lifeless in the old wood shelter beneath a stunted gum tree, as the rain clouds burst open.
Bob returned to the farmhouse as wet as a drowned rat and found Mary waiting nervously in the kitchen.
“What were you shooting at?”
All Bob wanted to do was get himself dry and go back to bed, so he didn’t answer. He closed the door behind him, placed his gun on the counter and took off his coat.
“Bob? I asked you a question. Where are the dogs?”
“I had to shoot ‘em, Mary . . . Shit! Lydig turned on me and I won’t have it. What a waste. If you’d shut the door like I asked . . .”
“Don’t you dareblame me. If you left them out there, I’m sure they would have survived until tomorrow.”
“I told you, he turned on me! Don’t you ever bloody listen, Mary?”
“Shinko wouldn’t hurt a fly, Bob. You had no right to kill her.” Tears rolled down Mary’s cheeks. Her soul was shattered, broken by a man who threw life into the wind like it was dirt.
“She was a stupid mutt. And don’t think you’re getting’ another one, either. Dogs aren’t bloody children.”
The back door flung open again.
“For Christ sake! What’s with that bloody door?” Bob slammed it shut and wedged a chair beneath the handle. “I’m going to bed. There’ll be a huge bloody mess to clean up in the morning.”
And for once in his life, Bob was right. The morning left him with a bigger mess than he ever could have expected. Mary was gone. She took her most treasured possessions, packed them in the car and drove away, because a life without promise was better than anything her husband could offer. Whatever hopes and dreams Mary held for their future had slipped through Bob’s fingers and blown away into the storm. Thirty-five years of marriage had taken more than its share of her life, and there was no love left to stay for. It was time for Mary to find herself again.
Ironically, Lydig and Shinko would lie together with their pups, holding the truth of love eternally in their hearts. Because love is not measured in days. Neither is life.