Sunday, May 01, 2011


Shelley is lying in the hallway, groaning under a dirty brown blanket, her right arm crooked into a fleshy pillow and her head in the vee of it. Only her back-combed black hair shows over the top, like a fright wig tossed on a pile of earth after a day’s digging. She takes up most of the hallway, and Rae has to step over to get to the business end.
We’re caught in a crosswire of attention: her husband Dez, squatting like a hunter on the last step of the stairs, his massive, tattooed arms wrapped around his knees, leaning back against the wall; her three teenage children sitting in reverse age order on the top three steps, and behind a baby gate in the kitchen, two dogs – a husky with pale, psycho-alien eyes, and a mastiff, up on his haunches, violently still, like the activated bronze of a Greek monster. A low growl rumbles at the core of it.
‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
The mastiff slaps a tongue around his muzzle, narrows his eyes.
‘So what’s happened?’ says Rae.
‘I got a call from the club and they said Shell had passed out, which is so not like her. I mean, she can really hold her drink. Like, really. When I got there she was all over the place. It took five of us to carry her out. That’s not right. Why would it take five of us?’
‘Cos I’m a fat cunt,’ she says from beneath the blanket. ‘Leave me alone.’
‘So what is the problem tonight, Shelley? Why have we been called?’ says Rae. The mastiff ignores her, intensifying his watch on me. He growls again, and shifts his weight hungrily from paw to massive paw.
‘It’s cos you’re a man,’ says Dez. ‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
‘Come on Shelley,’ says Rae. ‘Let’s sit up and have a chat.’
‘I’ve never seen her like this before,’ says Dez. ‘Do you think her drink was spiked?’
‘Well she’d have to go to hospital to find that out. It’s unlikely, though. Come on, Shelley. Why don’t you sit up and talk to us? We just need to make sure you’re okay, then we’ll get out of your hair. Shelley?’
‘Come on. Open your eyes. I need to shine a light in them.’
‘Go away.’
‘She’s not right,’ says Dez.
‘Leave me alone.’
‘You can’t very well sleep here all night? Can you?’ adds Rae.
‘Why not?’
‘What about the children?’
‘I’m not moving.’
Rae straightens and looks up to the audience on the stairs.
‘Isn’t it past your bedtime?’ she says.
‘Why – what’s the time?’ says the first in line.
‘It’s three o’clock in the morning,’ I tell them. Sabre widens his eyes, outraged that I spoke. ‘It’s past my bedtime, I know that much.’
‘Is that all it is? Three o’clock?’ says the second in line.
‘I thought it was later,’ says the third. None of them moves. The only two who seem ready to sleep are Shelley, who pulls the blanket over her head, and the husky, who clicks off to its bed by the fridge. Sabre’s fury intensifies. His massive head drops an inch, and another, thunderous growl rumbles out a second later.
‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
‘Would it help if I turned sideways or something?’ I say. The kids laugh.
‘No, mate. He’s a guard dog, a trained killer. If it weren’t for that gate you’d be ripped to pieces. And me here, of course,’ he adds. ‘It won’t do a thing without me saying.’ The dog sneers.
‘Anyway,’ says Rae, pulling a tiny corner of the blanket clear of Shelley’s face. ‘What are we going to do with you?’
‘Nothing. Leave me alone.’
‘Well. She’s made it pretty clear she doesn’t want our help,’ says Rae, standing up. ‘There’s not much we can do. She sounds pretty coherent, though. I doubt it’s anything more than the drink.’
‘She can really drink, though. That’s the thing.’
Rae shrugs.
‘We’ll be on our way.’
‘Can you see yourself out? I’m a bit stuck here,’ says Dez. ‘Thanks for coming.’
‘No problem.’
I turn to open the door.
The growl that follows is like a tube train passing underneath.
‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
He doesn’t.


light208 said...

I can't imagine trying to work with that low rumble in the background. I don't think I'd have been able to turn away. It's never reassuring when someone says the dog obeys them and then it promptly doesn't.

BB said...

That is really sad that people brag about how much alcohol you can hold. Especially when you have a family. Great life for them I'm sure.

Susanne said...

'Violently still' - I've seen a few things that phrase would apply to. Hope not to see too many more - I am sure you are hoping the same! Nice turn of phrase.


Spence Kennedy said...

light208 - it was very intimidating! And I wasn't at all convinced he had a proper control of the dog. Thank god for baby gates, that's all I can say!

BB - I think in their case it was more that they were trying to justify calling out an ambulance for someone who was just drunk. We hear it a lot - 'it can't be the drink 'cos they normally have that much without a problem. It must have been spiked &c' Grr.

susanne - Yeah - it's a particular look... :/

Thanks for the comments! :)

saffy said...

i had to laugh at the discription of the husky , *clicking off to bed* , We have have huskies ...and yes they do click with their toes a bit like miniature high heels. They are also one of the most docile dogs about for the most of the time...unlike the dog sabre sounded ..what an unusual combination and an odd family.
thanks for the picture you have painted with your writing

jacksofbuxton said...

You would be safe enough with our dog Spence.

He'd lick you to death.....

Spence Kennedy said...

sabre - we've got wooden floorboards, so when our oldest dog wanders around (who knows why - I'm sure even he doesn't know) his clicking claws can drive you insane...

Huskies are such beautiful dogs. This one was a particular breed (can't remember which) and I think the weird eyes are a feature. You'd need a lot of space, though.

JoB - That's the kind of dog I like!

We've been watching re-runs of Frasier recently. The dog Eddie in that is so brilliant. I think it scored more fan mail than any of the actors.

Cheers for the comments

Chris said...

Really, a mastiff as a "trained guard dog?" That sounds......odd. We have a female mastiff, and lots of experience with the breed. They don't exactly have the "killer instinct," ha. Quite the opposite. Usually an agressive mastiff has been mistreated. But I believe you - if you do come across the rare mastiff with an attitude problem, it is a very BIG problem.

Spence Kennedy said...

It's always the owner. I mean, certain dogs are bred for certain duties, but essentially you train them to fit in with your life & be sociable at least. I must admit I wasn't all that impressed with their standard of animal care (or child care for that matter). :/