Fiction | Short Story

Don Coyote’s dog

Freedom Sancho, is the ability to hope for something better … no it’s not. That is habit.

At 50, Don has finally relinquished the
burden of immortality, that most endearing quality of youth. His consciousness
is now fully settled into his body. Pain has facilitated the descent. The
weight of discomfort displaces the emotions forcing reflection to the surface
of consciousness. Pain is a catalyst for enlightenment. The body he has
condescendingly inhabited has gained the upper hand; established its dominance.

are one and the same, you and I,
it says.

The body, which is his, now requires one
1500mg tablet of Glucosamine Forte (a bomb of a pill) each morning to relieve
osteoarthritis and 150mg of Desvenlafaxine to throw a veil of contentment over
his major depression. The former helps him perform his job of night-fill at the
local IGA; the latter generates the will to get there. Medicine delivers him of
most constraints that might otherwise hinder a contented life. He is for the
most part satisfied with his life. He would not, however, call himself happy (the
diagnosis and medication suggest otherwise). When he feels pleased there is
always the devil on his shoulder whispering ‘drugs
have made it so’.
Life is a matter of routine activities punctuated with
reading, walking the dog, talking to the dog and coffee. Reading is less a
pleasure than a declaration of willingness to sustain a measure of curiosity; a
cautious act of rebellion against suicidal thoughts. He feels that he will
ultimately survive life and die naturally. He wills it. However, on the matter
of ‘will’, Don is still troubled. Does
will not speak itself as desire? What is desire? The will to be pleased? What
is the will to have will called? I think it is called the working life.
smiles. Sancho my brother, we are free,
we have will, Praise be to God!
Sancho wags his tail but does not lift his
head.  He closes the weathered paperback
edition of “The Waves”, strokes the cigarette burn on the cover. He understands
Virginia Woolf and her stones. He, however, does not have pockets big enough
for rocks. He also has no river. There is the ocean but stepping into its
crashing waves with a pocket of rocks seems absurd. Besides, beaches are public
places. So, he resists that urge and also the urge to buy vodka and lights
another cigarette and squints against the blinding light of another dawn.
Despair will pass; again, into something else … he forgets what it is called.
This is his burden of hope. He must carry it for the children. It is not as bad
as it feels. Feelings are unreliable indicators of the value of life. There is
value, he has value, and even if he does not feel it now he must trust that he
will feel it again. He must trust that value exists without feeling it. He must
have faith, or at the very least, cultivate faith. Freedom Sancho, is the ability to hope for something better … no it’s
not. That is habit. But, we are free Sancho to walk in the park and poop where
we want? Well, you are anyway.


He sits down on their couch and shares a
biscuit while he sips his coffee. He brushes crumbs from his chest onto his lap
then the floor and by force of habit looks over his shoulder and experiences a
nip of guilt. These philosophical interludes with the dog sustain him. People will suspect I am mad to be talking
to you about such deep things Sancho. Forgive me when I exclude you in the
company of others, they would not understand. Five hundred years ago they would
have burnt the pair of us. What a barbie that would be mate
he chuckles as Sancho licks his hand and focuses his
attention on Don’s other hand, the hand with the biscuit.

must focus on lighter things Sancho that is our new project
he says you’re a bad
influence, far too dark … bad dog!
The dog puts his ears back. He gives the
dog a vigorous rub. He settles back into the chair, head back and studies the
wooden beams of the porch roof.  There
are ants everywhere, and spider webs. Another job put off. The porcupine stirs
in his abdomen, its quills extend deep into him from within. All of his energy
will be required to fight back with calming thoughts. The prospect of the fight
leaves him exhausted before he has begun. A wet and heavy hessian cloth is closing
in over him.

choose my life. I commit myself to the full extent of my life. My life is good.
I have all I need. I want for nothing. The past is done with. I will face a
bright future
he says softly.

He thinks of a pink and orange sunrise over a
turquoise sea. Sancho, let’s go for a
The dog knows the words, the tone of the words and is in a moment
running to the front door, wagging its tail, whimpering with excitement. Happiness comes easily to you he says to
the dog as he places the leash around his neck. The dog licks his face with abandon
and the man smiles, feeling loved. They walk through the winding paths of
Lighthouse Park. The dog seems to pee on every bush it finds. How do you do that Sancho? How do you will
yourself to pee like that?

They encounter several other dogs being walked.
Sancho’s man, Don, exchanges greetings and sometimes a few words with familiar people
he has been passing in this fashion for years. Suburban dog-walkers strolling for
fitness, a change of scenery, the company of passing people and … why do we walk Sancho? The dog wags his
tail every time Don talks. It stops to sniff the ground, slouches forward, pees
on cue. Oh yes, I forgot.

It is summer and at ten o’clock in the
morning the heat of the sun begins to burn Don’s forearms and shins. Cicada trills
reverberate through the air. There are too many flies and Don decides to take a
short cut home through an enclosed reserve that has a trail through thick
brush. Let’s call it a day Sancho, the
flies are getting on my tits
he says leading the dog through the turnstile
gate of the reserve. The trail is overgrown, branches of shrubs and long grass
brush against his arms and legs. Flies seem to multiply and he must keep his
mouth closed. Maybe this wasn’t worth it
he thinks. He is walking faster now and the dog sensing the increase in pace
begins to run. Don steps on a stick that jerks suddenly and the movement
terrifies him to release an involuntary aaah
Jesus snake
and he performs a panicked jig both dancing on the spot and
running away. A peripheral thought alerts him to how foolish he must look while
simultaneously another urges him to flee. He runs. The Dugite is long and brown
and the dog barks and chases after it, its front paws catching the snake’s
tail. In a flash the snake has turned, darted at the dog, bitten it on the
face, whipped away and gone with alarming speed. The dog yelps, backs into
Don’s legs, nosedives into the sand and with its paws attempts to wipe away the
pain. It howls an awful high-pitched wail that presses down on Don’s being. He
scoops the dog into his arms and cradles him tightly while inspecting the dog’s
face, which it attempts to burrow under his arm. The dog is shaking with shock.
The body calms, then trembles and begins to make involuntary kicks. It’s ok Sancho I’m here. You’re good, you’re
fine, we’ll get you sorted, it’s ok, stay with me Sancho.

The vet seems outrageously young to save
lives. She is petite and too delicate. He fears the dog is lost. Yet she takes
command with reassuring calm talking to the dog all of the time. I am not the only one who talks to animals
like this
Don thinks. He has the thought of buying her flowers, kissing her
on the hand, coffee … Her slender hands caress the dog’s flaccid limbs as she
delivers her prognosis. Sancho will live. Toxicity levels are low; anti-venom
is administered intravenously with anti-histamines and painkillers. After 48
hours he is home. Don carries the dog to his bed, forms a soft nest with a
blanket and pillows and lowers Sancho into it. He lies down on the bed folding
himself around the animal. You scared me
he says gently stroking its head and face. The dog licks his hand.
They both fall asleep. It is dark when Don wakes up. A jolt of dread subsides
when he sees the dog with its snout on his chest; its tail yields a slight wag.
I’m happy Sancho Coyote, I think we are
lucky, you and I.