Finding daddy’s soft Spot

(Short story broadcast on Tramore Community Radio, July 2016)

patchI was only eight years old and deep in the fretless days of an untroubled boyhood – but copped on enough not to be completely taken in when old Pop Linnane asked if I wanted to keep his dog Spot. 

Granted this little wiry white-haired terrier mix with the black patch over his right eye had been practically living at our place, but I knew Pop’s generosity had more to do with the fact that Spot had a penchant for going at adults, especially ones dressed in black. 

And our town was full of nuns, priests and Christian Brothers. 

Pop – Mr Linnane to his face – was probably in his late Seventies then, but to me he was just vaguely ancient. Like Methuselah without the long beard. He always wore a grey gentleman’s hat, and was only bald every Sunday during 9.30 Mass. 

The Linnanes lived opposite us in a fine old place with a veranda out front above the river that paralleled the main road. The house and undulating front lawn were parenthesised by two rows off beautiful tall trees. Behind it lay a hedged-in jungle of fruit trees, bushes and tight rows of potatoes, rhubarb and the usual seasonal stuff. 

We all feared Pop, but would still form giddy raiding parties on his gooseberry bushes and apple trees when the time was ripe.

Desire soon overruled my misgivings now and I thanked Pop profusely and would swear his bottom lip curled up into a smile. I wound myself up for a joyous sprint across the road to home and suddenly, like a cartoon character, I stopped dead. What would Dad say?

Home I pondered and told Mam first.

 “We’ll see what your father says when he comes in,” she said. 

The heart-beaten minutes crawled by and the butterflies in my tummy were a circling frenzy by the time Mam eventually started laying out the table for tea.

The familiar heavy thread grew louder around the back. I tried to give him time to take off his Garda sergeant’s  overcoat, but it all came blurting out: 

“Guess what, Dad, Pop Linnane says we can keep Spot!”

“What?”, he thundered, back arched and arms frozen in the act of taking off his coat. 

The words followed thick and fast: 

“A bleddy legacy is what he is, a bleddy legacy … Linnane didn’t want him, sure he’s vicious …

“Ah please, Dad, we’ll look after him … he’ll be no bother …” I pleaded and whined.

I turned to Mam for support, but with silent eyes averted, she went from plate to plate doling out the fry. 

“A bleddy legacy,” Dad continued, with slightly less venom, I felt.

He put his coat in the hall, sat down and took a vigorous slug of tea. “Sure, he’s no bleddy good that dog … you know he ran after Father Flynn the other day …”

“I know Dad, but Flynner … Father Flynn … tried to hit him with his umbrella … please, Dad, please …”

“Who’s going to feed him?”

“Sure he doesn’t eat that much … look at the little size of him … we can get scraps from Shea’s butchers … he’ll be no trouble …”

Dad hacked at a large sausage and jabbed a piece into this mouth and chewed. Silent now at least, as I fixed him with the full beam of my imploring eyes.

The next few days Spot stayed as far away as possible from Dad, even standing up to one side beside his blanket in the porch to let him by at night time.

Eamonn and I stuck well to our feeding duties early on, and sure even Dad would add to the scraps of meat from the dinner table that would be put into Spot’s red bowl outside. 

So Spot became part of the family, and like all family members, we came to take him for granted. Mam was doing more and more of the feeding and dad would leave out a saucer of milk at night.

One night, just before bedtime, Dad went out to the porch to fetch the turf. There was a startled yelp, followed by a low rumbled, “Sorry, dog!”. As Dad went by the sink with an armful of turf, Mam had her back to us, but the rapid undulations of her torso and the stifling hand at her mouth told us she was literally biting back the laughter.

One particularly miserable, windy night I couldn’t sleep and came down for a glass of water. 

Dad was in his armchair beside the range and Spot had one paw on his shoe. Dad saw me and hooshed Spot’s paw away and told me to bleddy well hurry up with that water and get back upstairs. 

Things started to go wrong, however, as Spot, increasingly left on his own, began wandering off more and more, and the complaints from angry neighbours were filing in. 

We would make all the promises about looking after him better, and we even got a chain to tie him in at night.

One evening, after tea, a flushed Father Ryan stormed up the front drive to inform Mam that Spot had bitten Father Flynn on the shin. 

Dad and mum sat us down the next day and told us we would have to give Spot away. We beseeched and implored but the die was cast. The next day all that remained of Spot was a slinking chain and a ragged navy blanket.

Dad told us he had given Spot to a very nice farmer who needed a good watch dog and it was only a few years later I found out he had taken him to the vet to be put down. 

When I look back now I feel Dad’s tact and kindness far outweighed his deception. Back then a sergeant had to maintain law and order. Even when it came to errant mutts. Unfortunately, Spot’s bite had proved to be worse than his bark.

— Enda Sheppard

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