A Real Dog?

They lived in a house near the edge of a village where the broad plain began to merge with the foothills. They worked hard, and though they were poor, they had a generosity of spirit that only the poor can possess, and they liked nothing better than to share whatever good things came their way with neighbours, friends and strangers alike. So it was that every Saturday when they were feeling a bit flush, as they put it, they celebrated a quaint ritual. It came about like this. One year it had been a good harvest and they decided to celebrate by making pizza in their little brick oven. They ground the flour, but there was too much for one big pizza so they made a small one to go with it. Then they had an idea. We really don’t need both, let’s give the small one away. Let’s leave it on the doorstep overnight and see if it has gone by the morning. Then they thought, pizza makes you thirsty, we must put out some little beakers of milk or cream to go with it. So it happened that as they had some nice fresh cream, out it went. In the morning there was nothing left.

Now they had heard that in the olden days folk would leave out food and drink for the ‘little people’ as fairies were often called, and this was supposed to bring good luck. No one really believed this any more, but it was hard to dismiss it from the back of your mind, any more than it is possible to remove completely the childhood belief in Father Christmas. But they were sensible folk and although each believed that wild animals were doing the eating and drinking, this was reward enough to keep up the custom.

The strange thing was that in this case they were all wrong. For once it really was the fairies. A band of them lived nearby. In the ‘old days’ their Queen would be called Mab, but  these fairies were not, as they say, out of the top drawer and their leader was Meg, still a good classical fairy name right enough, and her friends were Milly, Minnie, Mona and Moona. They all liked a laugh and a good time and it should be remembered that fairies have two kinds of laughter that we would call silver and golden. Perhaps when we get near the end of our lives we will be able to look back and recall the silver sound of fairy laughter, despite not recognising it at the time. As for the golden laughter, that is another story.

Actually it was not all laughing and play even with our little group. Mona was what we would call a Party Pooper. She had vegetarian tendencies and made a lot of fuss about red meat and although she liked nothing better than a sip of Champagne, or a delicate Chablis, she also had a strongly vocal aversion to red wine. Moona was also a bit strange. The words deaf, dumb and daft had been applied to her because she never seemed to understand anything she was told, but if she did begin to reply it was so rambling that they couldn’t wait for her to stop; it was that kind of dumb!

To return to our family. They loved animals and what they really wanted was a pet of their own. Each week they looked in the piggy bank, but after counting the money, sadly realised that not only could they not afford a pet this week, but most likely that they would never be able to afford one. So they thought that feeding wild animals was probably the next best thing. The story really begins on they day they were out walking in the woods and saw what looked like a piece of dark felt lying under a tree. It was very strange material, maybe a bit of shaggy carpet that some rich person had thrown out. Anyway they took it home and tried to work out what to do with it, but were not getting very far when they remembered that it was pizza time. It had been a lucky week and this pizza was going to have pepperoni and bits of bacon on top and even better, there would be red wine to go with it. That night there on the doorstep was a nice pizza and some little beakers of a rather cheap merlot, and what should be lying there next to them but a strange piece of dark fabric and, by chance, a couple of acorns.

The fairies could not believe their luck and to return their good fortune they knew exactly what to do. With one wave of the wand it was accomplished, but there were still some details to be attended to, because lying on the step was not a piece of old carpet, but a nice little dog with acorn-coloured eyes, although the untrained eye might not have been able to tell the difference at that stage. Meg had done her bit, now it was up to the others. Milly said, He will learn to recognise his name, to sit, to stay and go, and to fetch and carry things. Minnie said, he will learn to sit up and beg, to do shake-a-paw and bring his lead for going out for walks. Then it was Mona’s turn, but she was in a really bad mood. The others had failed to notice her reaction to the pepperoni and bacon pizza and the merlot, and so were not prepared for what happened next. In a very sulky voice Mona said, He will sleep twenty two hours a day; he will only be able to shake one paw, and not very well at that, and he will never learn to die for his country and he will fetch, but not carry. Then she realised what she had done and was a bit ashamed of herself, but it was too late. By the rules of magic what she had done could not be undone. It was all up to Moona now, so the others knew that there was not much hope there. After a long silence Moona looked up and said, I see a wicked stranger. I see that something that was not there is there now. That was all. She could not explain it any further.

Next morning the family woke and on the doorstep, lying asleep next to the empty plate and the little beakers, was a little grey dog. They carried him into the house and after some time he woke up and they were able to persuade him to eat and drink. And so it all worked out. Two months later he was able to recognise his name and sometimes sit to order. Given some encouragement he could chase after things then take them a little way away and drop them. Nevertheless he was their pet and they loved him very much. He came in handy on cold days when he could be used as a kind of hot water bottle, which was very suitable because most of the time he lay sleeping somewhere.

Then one day it all changed. Somebody left the door open in that short time when he was awake. Nobody noticed that he had gone out on his own. If they had they would have been worried that he would not be able to find his way back, and they would have been right. Meanwhile he had wandered off and was just attending to some tall grass in that special way he had, when it all went dark. What had happened was this. Nearby there lived an evil vet. He had spent a lot of his lifetime cutting tails off puppies, but he was that strange kind of person who could not throw things away, so he kept them all in his deep-freeze. Now he had fallen on hard times and worked out a wicked scheme to restore his fortunes.

Times change and fashions with them. In this case the fashion for docking puppies tails had suddenly become ‘so last year’. In his evil mind he saw that there was a fortune to be made. He would advertise a ‘Tail on Return’ service and charge a very large fee for the operation, but he needed some practise and this was his opportunity.

The dog was in the bag. There was no escape. The next thing it knew, was waking from a deep sleep. After a while two strong hands placed it in a basket and took it to another room and that was when its luck turned. Thinking it had not yet recovered, the wicked man left the room and went to wash his hands and remove his white coat, but he had not bargained for the success of his procedure. Filled with unaccustomed vitality, the dog leapt out of the basket through one door, then another and in an instant was out in the street and running for home. How he knew the direction we do not understand, but he did not make a single wrong turn. Neither did he fail to sit at each kerbside and make sure it was safe before crossing each of the many roads on the way. In no time at all he was home.  Three short barks were enough to summon his master and thrilled by success he sat wagging his tail as if there was no tomorrow.  The missing part had been found and there he was, a real dog at last.

Nobody knows whether or not dogs have souls, but no-one doubts that they have spirit and that much of this spirit lies in the tail Some dogs, more big-hearted or high-spirited than others even seem to wag the whole body and that was what happened here. From now on it was all change. He sat up and begged, did shake a paw with both right and left. Chased his ball and brought it to his master’s feet and what wagging went on! Fetching his masters slippers seemed to give him the greatest pleasure. As for walking, he could not have enough and would bring his lead to any member of the family who happened to be idle and just sit with pleading eyes, a canine grin and, of course, a wagging tail.

There is a saying ‘too much of a good thing’ and that is what was happening now. You could say, not only was ‘the tail wagging the dog’, it was wagging the whole family and they began to yearn for the quiet times to return again and, as luck would have it, they did not have to wait too long. Within a month the first ominous sign was seen. As the tail wagged from side to side it seemed to change direction rather later than the original stump. It was quite obvious what was going on. The vet had not done his homework and his tissue-typing skills had let him down. The tail was being rejected. Immuno-suppressive drugs were required, but it was too late. Just three days on they woke to find the dog asleep in its basket with his tail beside him.

The old days had returned, but with a difference; they no longer wished for a real dog any more. Sleeping in the sunshine was all the dog they needed, but what they could never know was that sometimes, when it appeared to become more animated in its sleep, it was running across the fields to reach the source of that golden laughter.