By Philip Brennan
There were eight legs between the two of them, and I could see in years gone by they would have swung down the street together or sprinted off down roadways or parks together, leaping through the sun to sweat and pant by the lake. But, as it was, they moved slowly, inching like the light of a disappearing sun towards the shops.
It was the click of crutches on the pavement that I counted as legs three and four. His ankle-high dog brought the tally to eight.
His dog was an old dog. You could see it in the doormat fur and the wobble of his weak back leg, which slipped every now and then beneath him. His right ear was missing a bit, and the red of his collar had been bleached by the suns of many summers. But it was in the way he looked at his owner; it was in his eyes when he stopped and turned that you saw it most.
He spent his little tank of energy sprinting ahead a meter or two. Then he’d turn and sit with his pink tongue hanging out like a stamp and wait while the crutches caught up to him. Then he’d sprint off again. And so the cycle would repeat. And each time he turned and sat, you could see in the depth and the shimmer of his old, dark eyes a spark of youthful energy. The most devoted friend, scouting every meter ahead, but going nowhere without me.
His collar rests atop the fireplace now and at Christmas, we hang it on the top of the tree with a picture of Grandad.
The same day, a kind syringe put an end to it all; Mum had him stuffed. He sat stiff with permanent pride in the hall by the following day, next to the umbrella stand—that’s where she kept Grandad’s crutches.
Grandad had called him Charlie. Charlie looked waxen placed in the hall. His new glass eyes didn’t have the depth of his old. All you saw in them was the glare of the hall light. He might have been a footrest in someone else’s home. It wasn’t right, a dog still and sterile like that. He’d loved careening through the brambles and scattering the birds.
That’s why I threw Charlie on the bonfire, a week before my birthday. So he could be free and smoke up between the treetops. It wasn’t really Charlie, but Charlie’s shell went up pretty quick. Flames leapt around his treated fur, and he was disguised in a furious orange as it peeled away to ash. When Mum came looking for him, I told her it was a piñata I’d found burning there in front of her. She scolded me for spoiling my birthday surprise.
Next day she learnt the truth. I thought her words would be louder, harsher. I thought she would make another bonfire and throw me atop it when she found two melted glass eyes amongst the ashes of the original. But all she did was collapse to her knees and sob.
“Your Grandad, I promised, I promised—I promised him.”
That was all she could say between gasps.
I started crying with her. Just because she was crying. She hadn’t explained it yet, Grandad’s last wish. Charlie as he was, in the hall.