Murdoch’s Tale

I never had a proper name.

The Old Man, the farmer that took me, he called me Murdoch. I never liked it all that much.  I always fancied myself as something more traditional, like Blue or Jake.  It could be worse though, that’s what my friend Pickles says.

The old man, he did okay I suppose. He kept me fed alright, gave me plenty of time to myself so long as I kept crows and no good folks away. All and all he wasn’t half bad, neither was the Missus, she was just fine.  It’s just a shame what happened is all.  I’ll tell you about it.  I’ll tell you because I know no one will believe you, just like no one believes me. But it’s the truth, the honest to God truth.

It all started years ago, two or three I’d say, but keep in mind that’s somewhere between fourteen and twenty years for me. The old man wasn’t so bad back then.

Those days were most normal, I just kept to myself like a good dog should. Things tend to blend together a bit, more and more as I get older, but I remember one particular day when things began to change.  I remember the old man took me into town that morning.  I got to put my head out the side of the truck. It sure felt good the wind blowin’ through my fur. When it got cold I brought it in, and the Old Man scratched me behind the ears the way I liked.  He could be a good man when he wanted to.

When we got back, the Old Man went inside the house and I stayed outside to go look for crows.  I hate crows and I was beginning to suspect they hated me as it had been a while since I’d seen any around.  At some point, word probably got out amongst the crow community that a crow should stay away from the McNamara place on account of old Murdoch. Anyhow, that’s when I noticed one of those fancy city cars pull up.

I know that’s what it was now but I was just a pup back then, so I took to barkin’ at it, as I‘d never to my knowledge seen one before.  A man in a suit got out.  I was more energetic in those days, and boy did I give him a scare.  I was never gonna hurt him none, but he jumped back against the car and held his suitcase up in front of him like I was gonna try to tear at his throat or somethin’ like. I didn’t though, I just barked.  I barked until the old man came out of the house with his shotgun.  That’s when I believe the city fellow nearly marked his own trousers.  The Old Man, he yelled at me.

“Murdoch! Murdoch, down!”

I left the fella alone for the time being. It wouldn’t do me no good to not listen when the Old Man spoke.

“Mr. McNamara,” he said, “I’m from the bank, I need a moment of your time.”

“Alright, but you better be quick about it,” the Old Man shouted.  “That’s enough Murdoch. You sit down now.”

The old man went back inside, so I kept an eye on the city fellow.  When I saw him relax and drop his suitcase to his side I gave him a look and growled, but I stayed sitting, just like the old man told me.  I set right there in place ‘til The Old Man came back, without his shotgun.

“He’s not going to bite me, is he,” the fellow asked.

“Nah, ole Murdoch wouldn’t hurt a fly, would you boy?”

“Well, if it’s all the same sir, I think we should go inside,” the city fellow said to the old man.

The rotting wood steps rattled as the two men stepped up to the porch and went into the farmhouse.  I followed them the whole way, sniffing at the stranger’s heels. He smelled like perfume.  The Old Man and the City Fellow let the screen door close behind them but I pawed it back open and slid through.

When I got inside they were all sitting around the coffee table in front of the furnace, and the Missus was servin’ up some coffee.  We rarely got visitors, and the old man seemed a bit agitated.  I’m not too sure he much enjoyed company.

The Missus brought me a steak bone just like I was part of the family. The Missus was real nice like that. Sometimes she’d give me some bacon or sausage from the breakfast table when the Old Man wasn’t lookin’. He wouldn’t have liked me getting food off the table like that.

I nestled down in front of the Old Man’s chair right by his feet, where I could watch over things.  Sometimes he’d scratch me a bit on the head if I lay there real still, but he was a bit distracted. He and the City Fellow had some important issues to discuss, I suppose.  I overheard but didn’t quite understand them.  I am, after all, just a simple country dog, not one of those fancy, pure bred, collared city dogs.

“Mr. McNamara, you know why I’m here,” the city fellow started. “You’ve had problems with your loan.  Now, we at the bank have been very patient with you, and we understand the circumstances of your situation, but the fact is you simply haven’t been able to keep up with your payments.  To be frank sir, we can no longer let this continue.  If you do not assemble $20,000 dollars by the end of the month, the bank will have no choice but to foreclose on your farm.”

The old man, took quite a look.

“What? You know I can’t possibly get that much money in a month.  We’re just simple country folk out here, we ain’t got that kinda money just lyin around.  You… you city folk are all the same.  You don’t care about us simple folk out here trying to make a living.  You just care about your dollars and cents, and that’s all. Well, this ain’t right. This ain’t right and you gotta know it. You just don’t care is all. Mister you gotta give me more time. I just need more time.”

“I’m sorry Mr. McNamara, but the bank is out of time,” the fellow said standing up. “Thank you for the coffee Mrs. McNamara, and good luck to the both of you. I’ll be going now.”

The old man just stood right there starin’ at the city fellow, didn’t move at all.  I thought he might be fixin’ to go get his shotgun again, but he didn’t.  The Missus saw the city fellow to the door.  They both retired to their room and left me all alone.  After I was done chewin’ on my bone, I went outside to look for some crows.

I didn’t see neither the Old Man or the Missus for quite some while.  With me spending so much time outside I guess I just missed ’em, but they were upstairs an awful lot and I wasn’t allowed up there.

Then one night, I was all curled up on the rug as it had gotten a good deal colder out recently, and I heard the Old Man goin’ out.  It’d been a while since he’d gone out at night.  I thought it was strange, not just the Old Man leaving, but he usually took me along wherever he was goin.’  It bothered me a bit, I would have liked to go for a ride.  It had been too long since my ears had had a good scratchin. I didn’t pay no mind though, I just went to sleep under the chair where I liked.

When I woke up a little while later, I had business to tend to.  So I went outside to lay claim to some of the land as they say.  I came back up to the porch and drank some water from my bowl.  It was plenty late in the night now.  That’s when I saw the Old Man’s truck coming down the road.  It didn’t seem quite right though, how it kept speeding up and slowin’ down and slidin’ back and forth all over the road, kicking up clouds of dust.

Funny thing was, though, he didn’t park in the driveway.  He drove his truck right up on the lawn. First it slowed down, then it stopped right in between two tall oak trees.   I thought it a bit unusual, but I suppose it proved to be a bit more practical for what he was fixin’ to do.

The door swung open kinda wildly and hit one of them oaks directly.  That’s when I saw the Old Man squeeze himself out and stagger towards another tree.  I reckon the he was fixin’ to lay claim to some of the land too.  Didn’t bother me none, so long as he stayed away from my spot.  When he was finished, I walked over and met him half way.  He didn’t smell like himself, like dirt or leaves at all.  He smelled bitter and pungent. I drew back a little from the smell and took a step back, that’s when he said something.

“What? You don’t want to say hello and help your master to the door? Some dog you are.  Man’s best friend my ass.”

He took a step towards me, lost his balance, and leaned against the truck.

“You think this is funny? You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know anything.  You’re just a dumb dog.”

Then he lunged forward and struck me clean across the face.  I yelped and tried to turn away but the grass was wet and I stumbled.  I got back to my feet as quick as I could and I saw the Old Man coming toward me. He raised his fist like he was going to bring it down on my nose.  Then I felt a hard kick into my chest.  I turned again and backed further away.  I’d always known the Old Man had something of a temper, but never anything like this.  I turned and ran across the lawn to the trees.  He started to look for me, but then I heard the screen door on the porch swing open. I could always hear those rusty hinges no matter where I was.

“Shamus,” I heard the Missus yell from the house.  “Is that you out there doing all that yelling?”

The Old Man gave one last look in my direction and began to make his way towards the house.

“Yeah, it’s me you shrew! Who in the hell else would it be?”  The Old Man’s voice trailed off.  I followed him slowly through the trees and caught up to him and the Missus by the porch.

“Well, what on earth are you doing out so late,” the Missus asked.

“You know damn well where I was and what I been doing,” the Old Man replied.

“You promised you’d stop drinking, Shamus, ever since that night you hit me.  I told you I wasn’t going to stick around here for that.  I still won’t. I don’t care how long we’ve been together.  I told you then, that if you ever came home like this again I’d leave,” she said.

The Old Man looked at her.

“Well what do you expect?  We’re losing everything.  We’re not going to have a pot to piss in when this is all over.  You heard the… the banker.  We don’t have anything.”

“We have each other,” the Missus said, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

“And a hell of a lot of good that does us,” the Old Man replied quickly.  “I’m going to bed.  Don’t even bother to wake me up tomorrow.”

The Old Man walked by the Missus without even lookin’ at her and disappeared into the house.  The Missus on the other hand, she just stood there.  I never seen anyone look so bad.  The Missus looked vacant, like she was dead inside, like the last petal had withered from a flower leaving only the stem.  I myself didn’t want to go back inside either, so I just settled down to sleep out in the bushes and trees.

I woke up and brought the paper in the next morning. I’m not sure why, habit I guess.  But when I got inside, I didn’t smell any bacon, egg, sausage, or even any toast.  I didn’t hear any clamoring in the kitchen at all.  I thought maybe the Missus had taken to sleepin’ in, or maybe she’d become distracted elsewhere.  Whatever the case I decided to go upstairs and look, but the Missus wasn’t there either, it was just the Old Man.  He was sitting on his bed, and boy did he seem out of sorts.  He had the same look the Missus did the night before, like some awful spell had come over him.   It looked as though he’d seen a ghost.  I walked over to him and put my head up on his lap.  Sometimes, scratching my head the way I liked was good for the both of us, but he didn’t want any part of that.  He just pushed me off and said, “Get out of here mut! You know you’re not supposed to be up here.”  The Old Man had a desperate look in his eye, and I didn’t quite trust him after the events of the night previous, so I just left.

I reckon I chased a lot of crows that day, just trying to keep my distance from the Old Man.  He’s not a man to tamper with, not when he’s put afoul like he was.  I spent a lot of time outside from that point on.  Every now and then, I’d hear the Old Man’s truck start up and pull away, that’s when I’d go up on the porch to look and see if there was any food in my bowl. There never was though.

I’d get mighty hungry, so I’d have to eat whatever I could scrounge up out in the woods or there in the house.  It seemed like every day there was less and less food around.  Less food, but more trash, more bottles.  Bottles were everywhere, inside the house, outside the house, in on the porch, out in the woods, they’d even fall out of the Old Man’s truck when he opened the door.  Bottles may satisfy an old man but they don’t do much for a poor country dog like me.

If I was hungry enough, which I often was, I would nose through the Old Man’s trash in the kitchen.  There was never much food in there, but every now and then there’d be some table scraps or something close enough to edible.  I’d made something of a habit of this and I reckon the Old Man was starting to get sore about having to clean up all the trash I’d rummaged through.  I’d always hear his truck coming though, and I’d be sure to get out of there as fast as I could.  Naturally, I worried about what the Old Man might do if he ever caught me, but I didn’t have much of a choice really.

The fact is though, that one day he did catch me.  I don’t remember hearing his truck, maybe I was too busy making a mess of everything, or maybe I did hear it and I was just too darned hungry to stop what I was doing.  No matter the reason, the Old Man caught me, and I took a beating.  You’ll have to forgive my not going into detail but I’d much rather not discuss the specifics.  It’s plenty to say I took quite a beating, and I wasn’t sure that it’d ever stop.  I stayed out in the woods for quite a while after that.  I didn’t move an inch out there, no matter how hungry I was.  It was lying out there in the bushes and trees that I realized things couldn’t go on this way, they just couldn’t.  That’s when I had a funny notion.

I was tired, I was sore, I was starving, and I was certainly afraid, the young pup that I was, but I went back to the house and waited by the driveway.  I waited by the trees for the Old Man.  I listened for his truck, and when I heard him climb inside and start it up, I went back inside the house and I made an awful mess of things.  I tore through the garbage, I gnawed on the Old Man’s chair, I even went upstairs and laid my own particular claim to his bed.  That’s about when I heard the Old Man’s truck pull back into the driveway.  As soon as I heard it, I trotted on over into the Old Man’s closet and hid myself as best I could.  I heard the screen door swing open and slam shut.  Then I listened as the Old Man saw all that I had done.  He was God awful mad, and he started screamin.’

“That damn dog has crossed me for the last time! I’m going to put an end to this right now,” he said.

Then I heard him coming up the stairs, just as I expected him to.  That old man didn’t often stray from routine, neither do I myself, ‘cept when I’m starvin’.

He went towards his bed, and I heard him grow even angrier when he seen what I done.  Then the Old Man picked up his shotgun, and loaded both barrels, and he started towards the doorway at quite a pace.  Just as soon as he had left the room, I climbed out of the closet as fast as I could, and I ran towards the Old Man.  He was just beginning to take his first step down the stairs.  That’s when I jumped up and threw all of my weight into him.  I fell back down and landed hard on my ribs, which were all but bare due to my lack of nourishment, and yelped as it hurt quite a bit.  The Old Man, he fell down the steps.  I heard him strike each one as he rolled and tumbled awkwardly down all the way to the bottom.  Then I heard a loud blast from the shotgun.

It was awfully loud, ’specially indoors the way we were.  I pulled myself as best I could to the edge of the steps and I saw him lying there lifeless, bones broken from the fall, and flesh torn from the shotgun blast.  It was a terrible mess we were in.

I musta fallen asleep right there, cause next thing I know, I felt like flying.  Then I felt a hand on my head. I opened my eyes, and I was moving.  It felt like the Old Man’s truck, but it wasn’t.  It was softer, roomier, and smelled like perfume.

“Hey boy, you coming around now? Don’t worry I’ll get you to a vet in no time.  Just sit tight, and don’t try to bite me.”

It was the City Fellow.

“It’s a shame what happened,” he said, “I guess you two were planning on going out hunting and the old guy took a spill huh? Is that it boy?  Well, no matter, I’ll take care of you.”

I couldn’t have bitten him if I wanted to, I was too darn exhausted. No, I just laid there and fell back asleep as the City Fellow scratched me behind my ears the way I like.

It’s like I said, the Old Man, he was alright, even with the beatings.  He just got stuck in a rut is all.  I suppose I did love him. But sometimes, even though it hurts, the most humane thing to do is what’s best for everyone, to just put’em down.

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