I must stress upon the reader the fact that no animals were harmed in any way during the writing and re-telling of this story. It is true though, that the star of the tale was definitely shocked, awed and mesmerized not to mention puzzled, bewildered and befuddled. As you read, I am sure you will agree that the unruly canine brought it upon himself with his dogged actions towards my hapless father.
A sharp whack, delivered gently but firmly, to his snout stopped him instantly and with startled yelps he ran for the garden of his owners’ house, cleared the fence with an Olympian leap then crouched whimpering, under the hedge. That was the last time Spot, a neighbors’ dog, ever feasted upon my fathers’ ankles. Spot was a black and white border collie who dwelt with his owners in the house on the corner at the end of our row. Every day for a week my father Mal had to run the gauntlet as he steered his new red motorbike past the crouching canine. Spot lurked and would wait patiently for the distinctive vroom vroom sound that told him his quarry was near. As his victim approached the corner, the stealthy cur would pounce and grab my father’s leg. No amount of shaking could get him to loosen his grip, kicking and shaking just seemed to spur him on. Only when they got near to our house would he release his fangs and saunter back to his lair and wait for tomorrow when the fun would begin once more.
“Look what that savage did again,” my father exclaimed, red faced and angry, as he dismounted and bared his chewed ankle and torn trousers. He had, on several occasions, diplomatically approached the mutts’ owners, seeking a fair resolution to the dilemma. A half-hearted attempt was made to curtail his movements but this only entailed a feeble, bad dog admonition and an even feebler attempt to keep their gate closed and hope for the best. He quickly found an escape hatch and continued his assaults with unbridled passion. As there was only one way in and out of the housing complex and realizing that he would encounter Spot every day my father decided that it was him or the dog.
Something had to be done.
Later that evening as I came around the corner into our back yard I found my father sitting on an upturned milk crate whistling. He had the bottom half of an old broken fishing rod in his hands and was removing the reel that was attached to it. The motorbike was on its kickstand and sat along the low garden wall. He sent me to the garage to get his saw that hung on a hook inside the door. He had tools everywhere but I could only use them when he was around.
“Too dangerous,” he often warned.
“Can I have the reel, dad?”
“Yes you can, it’s still a good one.”
“Are we going fishing?” I asked, hopefully.
”Nope, no fishing today.”
“Aww.” I said disappointed.
“Are you making something?”
“Oh yes!” He laughed, “I’m making a present for Spotty boy.”
He took the saw and like a professional, held it up and with one eye closed, looked down its length making certain it was straight. Then he held the tip with his left hand, grasped the handle in his right one, bent the blade slightly and brought his thumb down sharply. As he did this a clear note rang out loudly, sounding like a bell. By bending and flexing the blade he could produce several different notes. I was amazed every time he did this and couldn’t wait until I was older to try it for myself. As he made the notes ring out he sang a little rhyme,
“Spotty boy. Oh. Spotty boy
I have made a brand new toy.
It’s not for fishing, no siree.
It’s for your long snout, as you will see.”
We both laughed heartily at this and he sang it again, louder this time.
“What are you two laughing at?” asked my mother as she poked her head out of the kitchen window. She was cooking and the delicious aroma of frying bacon wafted out over the back yard and made me lick my lips. I sang the song for her and she started laughing too.
“Promise you won’t hurt him, Mal,” she pleaded.
“Ellen, I’m only going to scare him, don’t worry,” he promised and winked at me.
He cut the rod and inspected his handiwork, waving it like a baton.
“Perfect,” he said and gave it to me to see it up close.
Then, he held both of his hands out, waved them and enquired,
“Who will I leave these hands to when I am gone?”
I always laughed when he said this and could hear my mother laugh too, through the open window. It was the bottom end of the fishing rod with the soft, spongy, cork covered handle. He had shortened it to about a foot and a half in length and when I handed it back to him he gave it a few practice swings. Satisfied with his creation he announced,
“We will test it out tomorrow.”
Whistling, he then went inside the house.
The next afternoon I raced out of the school yard and ran to the park opposite Spots house. Sure enough he was there asleep on the step as usual. As I sat on the grass waiting for the familiar sound of the motorbike, he sat up, yawned, scratched himself thoroughly, settled back down on the step and went back to sleep. I waited listening intently and after what seemed like hours, it happened. Spot heard it before I did. Suddenly, as if he was poked in the rear with a sharp object, he bolted upright, began howling and started chasing around in circles. Then I heard it, vrrrooom. The sound was getting closer vrrrrrooooom. Louder now.
Spot stopped spinning and lay flat on his stomach just inside the gate, his tongue hanging, his ears fully erect and his eyes fixed. He was ready! Around the corner came Mal and out of the gate charged Spot, gnashing and snarling. As he lunged towards my father’s leg the shortened fishing rod slid down from my father’s sleeve as if by magic, and with one swift move he tapped Spot gently but firmly directly on the nose, just between his eyes. As he did this I heard my father say,
“I’m sorry Spot but it’s either you or me.”
For what seemed an eternity, the dog was transfixed and seemed to be frozen in midair. He had a strange glassy, faraway look in his eyes and his hanging tongue flopped around wildly. It reminded me of the expression on Wily Coyote’s face in the roadrunner cartoons, just before the anvil hit him. His once erect ears now hung limply on either side of his mesmerized head. Dazed and befuddled he looked all around as if thinking,
“How did that happen?”
He was in shock and in that instant his canine personality altered, forever. When realization finally dawned on him he turned and ran yelping back across the road, leaped the fence and scampered under the hedge. Since the day of that fateful encounter with Mal, every time Spot heard the horrible sound made by my father’s demonic machine he would freeze in his tracks and a haunted, worried look would appear on his doggie countenance. No matter where he was, he would scamper wildly for the shelter of his garden, jump the fence and race for refuge and safety, under the hedge.
Every day for good measure, as my father passed the neighbors’ gate he would open the throttle wide and with several loud vroooms remind Spot to be a good doggie. Sometimes he would slow down as he passed and sing that little song in his mellow, tenor voice, just for Spot.
From "Don't Die with Regrets: Ireland and the Lessons my Father Taught Me."
For Sale at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615975860
Also for Sale:
The Journey: A Nomad Reflects.