Red-hot Dog Days

My brother Tommy was sweating underneath an optimistically tight t-shirt and a pair of light blue shorts. His sunglasses were flecked with perspiration and dirt, but he was too nervous to take them off and clean them. Heat rose in snaking tendrils from the battered old car at the front gate, the scent of burning leather from within wrapping itself around our nostril hairs.

I tapped on Tommy’s back then gestured to the brick wall next to us, hot to the touch, and slung the air rifle over my shoulder. With a small scramble of small feet, we were sitting atop the wall like scrapyard cowboys.

“Can you see anyone?” whispered Tommy. He licked his lips.

“Nuh-uh”

Turning to one side I slid down the wall and landed gracefully, rolling slightly  to counter balance the fall. Tommy fell from the wall and collapsed in the dust, sputtering and cursing under his breath. I repressed a small smile and started off into the scrapyard.

We were epic adventurers. The stacks of cars and washing machines were ruined temples, crashed spaceships and dense jungle trees. With shouts and hollering, we ran through the murky shadows cast by the towers, throwing up dust and shooting invisible foes. After a day of play, we would sit down in our favourite spot – the back of a pickup truck with a tarpaulin pulled over the top to protect us from the sun – and take gulps of water and smoke half torn cigarettes I’d stolen from my Dad.

Tommy couldn’t smoke properly. He couldn’t take the smoke back and I’d laugh when he came red-faced and coughing from behind a cloud of poorly inhaled smoke. It was on this particular day, mid cigarette, that we heard the shuffling and snuffling of a small, wheezy old dog pushing its nose through the tarpaulin.

We coaxed it in with a small piece of sausage from Tommy’s packed sandwiches and sat for a while, stroking the dog. We named it Chewy. It smelled awful, and its teeth were crumbling behind dry lips. It sat panting, tongue half out, and the stink of its breath drove us to the back of the truck.

When it was time to leave, and Tommy had finished the sandwiches, we hustled the dog out and entered back into the sun. It was later now and the light was failing, the shadows longer and the towers more frightening. This was the best part of the day.

“Can I use the gun now?” begged Tommy, his small sweaty hands outstretched.

“Please?” I replied, a smug smile on my face.

“PUR-LEASE!” he asked.

I handed him the gun and made my way across the small clearing near the truck. Around the corner of a rusting bus, I saw Chewy lying in the shade.

“Look, a wild beast! Shoot it now!” I cried, pointing towards Chewy.

Tommy stopped, looking at me with desperation in his eyes. The hesitancy was all I needed to play with.

“Shoot it Tommy, quick!”

I could see the sadness in his face.

“Oh come on Tommy, you idiot. It’s just a stupid dog!”

But he had lowered the rifle.

“CHICKEN, CHICKEN, CHICKEN.”

I snatched the rifle and Tommy covered his face with dusty hands. Training the sight on the dog, I shot a pellet and it struck the dog in the soft part between neck and body. It gave a whelp, stood and ran a short distance, before collapsing in the dust.

I turned to Tommy with a smile on my face, but his eyes were fixated on the collapsed body of the little old dog. He had bitten his lip so hard blood had begun to trickle down his chin.

“I think… I think you killed it,” he whimpered, pointing at the dog.

“Don’t be silly…” I muttered, walking towards the dog with a small pain in my stomach. I gave it a little nudge with my foot, but Chewy lay still.

I crouched to my knees and poked it in the stomach with the barrel of the rifle, but Chewy lay still.

I bent down closer, and leaned my head against its stomach, ear pressed into its fur, the scent of its body almost causing me to gag. Chewy lay still.

I heard Tommy’s crying in the background and there was wetness on my cheeks: before I knew it, we were both running, the tears streaming behind us, leaving small wet circlets on the dry ground.

 

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