By Kieran Martin
When I tell people this story they wonder why I can pet a dog at all, much less act as if I like one.
The truth is, dogs are just animals and their needs are beyond their own understanding. Some of them just get greedy.
For about four years, between the ages of eight and twelve, I lived next to a kid whose dad was eaten alive. The weird thing was this: it started before we moved in to the street, and didn’t end till long after we moved out.
If you’ve seen a one-armed man playing ball games with children, you may think you know what R’s front yard looked like on a weeknight. But you’d be wrong. Mr K never seemed to miss his chewed off hands and feet until he tried to use them. When he reached to catch a ball, and saw it sail slowly past the stumps of his arms, surprise was painted on his face.
It didn’t happen all at once — that was the worst part. In fact, the dog spent the best part of four years chewing on the man. I was about to say ‘that poor man’ but stopped myself: we never talked about him that way. No one could stand the way he joked about it. He’d blame it on the weather, the wind had a bite, or the sun took a drink. Sometimes it was people he worked with — back biters and leeches. He smiled and joked about how he’d been offered to every parasite in god’s creation.
He never mentioned the dog.
I remember one summer evening when R and I sat at the train station, waiting to meet his dad from the train. Our mothers had decided to take dinner to the park and our job was to meet Mr K and lead him to the park. After the first two trains arrived and left without him, my Mum appeared at the station and told us both to give up and come play cricket before the light was all gone. R stayed till after dark: we picked him up on our way back home.
Ahead of us, in the half-light, we saw the dog, looking huge,
Mr K draped over him like a sack, hands and feet dragging along the path. Without saying a word, we all slowed our steps, giving the dog time to drag him on to the porch. By the time we arrived at the front door the dog was gone. “I got locked out,” he said, smiling weakly. “I’ve been waiting, but I don’t mind. Its a lovely night. Maybe I’ll poach a couple of eggs.” Mrs K was the only one to look at him.
She banged the gate and lead their kids inside.
Mr K wouldn’t shake your hand, like others kid’s dads. The only way to tell if fingers were missing was to concentrate very carefully as he patted you on the head. There was no easy way to count the size of the dog’s meal because Mr K would grow the limbs back. He ate huge meals and grew fat but seemed light like a sponge cake.
I stayed over with R some nights and often heard him wandering the house alone, turning on the TV or fiddling with the computer. The house was as rickety as their cheap lawn furniture and used to shake from one end to the other when the washing machine came to its spin cycle. Yet, Mr K could walk from one end to another without making a sound.
I heard cancer got him in the end. After all that he was eaten from the inside out. We’re all meals, he’d say, shrugging with a hopeful smile, as if he were waiting for someone to agree.
No one ever did. At least, no one that I could see. Back then.
Kieran Martin wrote a couple of short pieces 14 years ago when living in a very small town. He also writes lyrics, essays and code. His sons taught him how to narrate; one of the many gifts they came to him with.
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