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The International Writers Magazine Dreamscapes Stories

Stuart Parker

It was bright enough to give you a headache on that Sunday morning. We were off to spend the day with my least favourite aunt; going from one seaside town to another. My father was driving as usual and Mum was getting through the sucky sweets; the crinkly plastic wrappers crammed into the ashtray. My sister and I were belted up in the back teasing the labrador, Major, who was resting his jowls on the back seat quite indignant at being penned in.

We were driving along in our big white whale of an estate. The road was quiet. I wrenched my seatbelt from its socket so I could look directly ahead and saw a rather squat, tubby man topped with a flat cap who was waiting to cross the road. He had, sitting by his side, a golden retriever. Both of them were looking straight ahead.

I saw first my mother’s fingers, nails cherry red, splay out with all the veins and ligaments raised as if reaching out to grab. She went to say my Dad’s name but it never came. Her hand clasped the side of her chair. There was a muted stamp as Dad squashed the brake pedal into the carpet. My small frame was thrown forward in free fall. The car shrieked to a halt slamming into the dog that had just trotted out. The noise was sickening like a low punch in the chest, a dull thud. Time stopped and all noise ceased. It was like a frozen film with life on the pause button that was only reanimated by my hysterical mother screaming the obvious that we had hit the dog. My father was still forcing the steering wheel away from him as if driving at 1000 miles an hour.

"What could I do?" he said. "If I had swerved we could have crashed into the other car. Or hit the man. What could I do?"
Desperate questions and Mum answered them all with a gentle touch on my Dad’s arm.
They both then craned around to see if we were safe. I could say nothing. My memory is all very haphazard, visual scraps now, only remembering with microscopic detail the moment of impact.

There was a dog under our car. Both Mum and Dad had unbuckled and left us. Dad hadn’t completely shut the door so the inside light was left on. They were both talking to the plump man who now had his head in his hands weeping. I caught the odd muffled word on the wind. My mother had initially started to berate the man in her usual tornado fashion but she soon put her arms around him. He had had punishment enough. My Dad, ever practical, thought to phone the police but there were no phone boxes anywhere. Another car came along and stopped just past ours. Mum came and brought us out to sit in the back of this stranger’s car whilst ours was dealt with.

"Don’t look, don’t look," she said, dragging us along, and until she said it it hadn’t occurred to me to look at all. I glanced back and saw adults crowded around the prostrate dog. We sat in the back of this car, strange leather seats, a radio glowing orange pumping out tedious pop. I wanted to turn it down but felt unable to. I would be told off I’m sure. My sister and I just kept looking through the back window for what seemed to be forever.

The bright sun had all but disappeared and spots of rain fell onto the glass until the crowd, huddling under coats and a hastily produced spindly umbrella, started to disperse. Our car, with the dog underneath it, was jacked up and the dog, lifeless, was removed and placed onto the grass verge. The radio droned on and through the blur I saw shoulders being patted and hands shaken. Our car, now deemed safe to drive, was turned around and pointed towards home.

Remarkably Dad told us that the dog was still alive and was being taken to a nearby vets for X-rays. The rest of the journey was in silence. At home Mum made the phone call to the unloved sister to say that we had had an accident. No-one to blame but as I overheard this call I realised it was the start of another story, its details starting to be distorted and embroidered as it was sewn into our family’s tapestry. I felt guilty. Guilty as I hadn’t wanted to go to my Aunt’s that Sunday and had asked any omnipresent being for something to get in the way. I hadn’t asked for a dog sacrifice but then I was none too specific.

Later on that day the owner of the dog phoned to say that, although the dog was being kept in for observation, it had sustained no injuries. I breathed a secret sigh of relief as my guilt dissolved.

The dog died three days later. Shock.

© Stuart Parker November 2008

Stuart is studing for his Creative Writing Masters at the University of Portsmouth

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