Rae has recently moved to a house on the outskirts of town. Her dog, Jack, a black Springer spaniel crossed with something else, something intensely bright and loose and quick - a chimp? - lies planning something in his basket in the hallway. I can see him frowning at me as I peer through the letterbox and Rae fishes around for her key. As she opens the door, suddenly he’s up and running, turning crazy circuits of the place, a stunt dog on a motorbike riding a domestic Wall of Death.
‘Jack! Jack! Slow down mate!’
He shakes off his helmet, big ears slapping, sits for a biscuit.
‘Good boy! Good boy! Come on! Outside for a wee wee.’
Normally Rae’s shifts work out so either she or her husband Pete are around. But tonight Pete’s away for the kind of cricket meeting that won’t end until the pub is forced to close for maintenance, so Rae has to pop back through the night to say hello to Jack and let him out a couple of times.
‘Good boy Jack. Who’s a clever boy?’
Now he’s off rummaging around in the shadows at the back of the garden, building something.
‘Come on Jack. We’ve got to go.’
Putting a wheel on.
When finally we leave, he flumps down in the basket and licks his chops. Surrounded by stuff: chew toys, blanket, water, laptop. He watches us retreat, an expression of disappointed resignation, a school teacher who expected better.
A busy weekend night. There are plenty of ambulances working, but we hardly see each other. We run from job to job, passing over the city like shuttles on a loom, working out the pattern of the night: a teenager sprawled on a park bench; an elderly woman sprawled on a bathroom floor; a man clutching his stomach on a staircase; a man with his bloodied arm in the air on the steps of the Town Hall; a man shivering in the cab of a fire truck; a bloodied man in handcuffs – the material of the shift piling up and up on the board in the front of the cab.
He’s not in his basket.
We whisper on into the hallway.
I expect to feel the whack of a chew toy on the back of my neck, paws patting me down for the keys of the truck.
‘Where is he?’
Then we hear it. A sonorous rattle, like a tube train passing somewhere underneath.
Rae pushes open the sitting room door, and the light from the hallway spills through onto the sofa: Pete asleep where he landed, Jack curled up amongst the wreckage. He looks across at us. In the half-light, is that a nod? By which I think what he probably means is: I’ve got this one. You two crazy kids stand down.