The Verge of Despair

Contributor: Jackie Macintosh

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“This’ll do, there’s no-none about. Slow down but don’t bother stopping. Serves the little bugger right”

The shabby, rusty old Ford pulled into the lay-by, the rear nearside door swung open, and a brown object was hastily tossed into the hedgerow. The car gathered speed as the door was slammed shut from the inside, and it sped off into the night.

A small brown dog, ragged and unkempt with feet two sizes too big for his body, leapt to his feet and started to race after the car. He ran, barking, for a couple of miles before realising that there was no further scent trail or sound to follow. He slowed to a trot, his feet sore from the tarmac and the unaccustomed exercise. His stomach groaned even more than usual. He lapped eagerly from a roadside puddle and stood, whimpering and scared.

He heard the sound of an approaching vehicle and his ears pricked eagerly, but it rushed past, alarmingly close. He retreated to the verge bushes and curled up, tucking his nose under his tail and slept.

He awoke with the dawn, stood up and stretched his aching limbs and looked about. The lane beside him was little used now that a bypass had opened. However, it was still a fast road and he was nervous after the previous evening’s close encounter. He sniffed along the verge hoping to find something to ease the ache in his stomach. He was eventually rewarded with a couple of soggy chips which he tore from a polystyrene box. They had a sharp, unpleasant tang but he was past caring; it was food. He licked out some crumbs from a triangular carton which had a magical fish scent still lingering on the cellophane.

He spent that day and the following one mooching along the lane sniffing for cast out leftovers but finding little. Several cars swept past and he soon learnt to cower into the hedgerow but, even so, was often subjected to a prolonged blast from a horn and the occasional shout. That was normal; in his short life he was used to being shouted at.

On the fourth day, his energy levels waning, he was lucky enough to find the squashed remains of a young rabbit. It had been mostly picked clean by crows but provided some sustenance for his frail frame.

That night, however, menacing blue-black clouds gathered and the winds increased to become a gale which brought in the storm. Terrified by the unknown rumbling enemy and the streaks of yellow light flashing across the dark sky, he tried to find shelter in the undergrowth but the rain soaked through and his matted, wispy fur gave him little protection from the cold. He lay curled up all night and throughout the next day; a bundle of misery and despair, his will to live gone. He could fight no more.

+ + + +

“Has Grandma made us a chocolate cake?”

Eddie looked across at his daughter in the passenger seat. He detected some enthusiasm and anticipation in her voice, which was a rarity nowadays.

“Yes,” he replied, “she knows how much you like them.”

“It won’t be the same without Mummy or Abbie to share it.”

“No, it won’t but Grandma will want you to enjoy it for them as well.”

Eddie gripped the wheel, his knuckles were white and he took several deep breaths to help maintain his composure. For months he had had to contain his own grief to help Susie – well both of them – come to terms with the consequences of a hit and run driver. They only had each other now; the days had been and still were long, lonely and dark. They wept together, held each other for comfort and struggled in the gaping void left by the loss of his wife and daughter; Susie’s mother, her twin and not forgetting their dog, Coffee.

Eddie reached across and squeezed Susie’s hand. She was so brave; he knew how she felt uneasy in the car now but a change of scene would do them both good.

He reached into his jacket pocket and passed her his mobile.

“Have a go at Angry Birds,” he said, “see if you can beat my score.”

He pushed play on his IPod and drove on.

“Dad, I’m hungry. Are we there yet?”

“No, open the glove compartment; there is a drink and some sweets in there, but put away my phone first.”

Susie munched contentedly and even fed her Father an occasional Harribo.

“Dad, I need a pee.”

“Oh Susie, we’ve just passed the services. I should have stopped. Never mind, I’ll come off at the next exit and we’ll stop in a quiet lay-by. Can you hold on?”

+ + + +

Near to death, the dog was awoken by the rattle of tyres on gravel as a car swung unexpectedly to a halt. The doors opened and footsteps crunched towards him. The man turned away and stood for a few moments facing the hedge but the small girl came towards him and crouched down. He lifted his head slightly and whimpered quietly.

“Daddy, Daddy, come here. I’ve found something.”

Zipping up his trousers, Eddie turned and went across to Susie. She stood pointing into the overhanging branches and tangled wayside grass. He peered in and just made out the partly covered form of the puppy.

“He’s alive Daddy, I heard him cry.”

She reached forward.

“Get back, he may bite. Let me see.”

Eddie bent down to assess the animal.

“He’s very weak, he may not live.”

“Please help, Daddy, please. He’s alone and scared. Don’t let him die too.”

It was a plea from the heart.

“Get the car rug,” he said.

Eddie spread out the rug and gently lifted the unresisting animal onto it and wrapped him up. He could see no obvious injuries.

“He must be hungry. Do you think that he would like my chocolate milk shake?”

Eddie fashioned a saucer out of a discarded polythene bag and placed some milk by the dog’s nose. A dry tongue tested the offering cautiously then greedily lapped up the rest.

“That’s enough for now; let’s get him into the car.”

“On my lap, Daddy, he’s so cold,” said Susie, scrambling back into her seat.

Eddie put the bundled dog on his daughter’s lap and got back in himself.

“We’ll need to find a vet quickly,” he said, pushing speed dial for his parents and passing the phone to Susie. “Tell Grandma or Granddad what’s happened and ask them to make an emergency appointment.”

They drove on, Susie cradling the dog and stroking his head gently. He looked up at her from mournful brown eyes, quiet and accepting.

“I’m going to call him Rolo because he likes chocolate and he will be my best friend.” She said determinedly.

Eddie had no doubt that she was right. He listened as Susie chatted animatedly about what they would need to buy for Rolo to help him recover. The list was extensive and grew as she excitedly envisaged their future: she started with essentials such as food, bedding and a lead, then progressed to various toys and treats which she thought he might like. Her world had a new focal point.

They neared his parents’ house, their journey almost over, but the road to recovery had just crested a major hill and was starting to look like an easier ride for all three of them. Eddie sighed with relief: for the first time in months he, too, had something to look forward to.

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I live in Bere Regis, Dorset and have been with our local writing group since it was formed last autumn. I am 60 years of age and enjoy this new challenge.
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