Long ago Natasha was a beautiful young girl. I had been with her since the day I left my mom and my litter. I have some memories of Mom, her milk-smelling body, her warm nose nudging me, and her brown eyes, shining with love. My siblings I recall as a rowdy collection of teeth and nails and fur. I can’t say I objected to becoming Natasha’s only child.
Natasha’s eyes were like my mom’s, but with more flecks of gold. Natasha was my puppy playmate, she was my new mother. She was my best friend. Her heart was overflowing. So was mine. We flowed right into each other.
Natasha was wiser than most of the older humans around her, who were so busy, they forgot how to communicate at all. She was diligent when she was fifteen and dedicated by the time she stepped out into the big world after school.
I was no longer a puppy. I didn’t mind the extra hours I spent under her desk while she studied. She still brushed me every day. We still went walking every day; in fact, we walked for longer as the years went by.
This was a source of conflict in the family. Natasha’s mother worried about a girl so young, out walking “alone”. Natasha said it gave her time to think. She loved the time with me. I do admit that I felt deeply insulted when these arguments first started.
I would have done anything to protect her. And I could have; I was perfectly capable. It’s something you understand deep inside: the ancient dog, the wolf within, still knows what to do. I loved her so much I would have defended her with my life. I would have killed for her if I had to. But I wasn’t there when she needed me. If only I had been with her . . . Things would have been different now.
One cold morning Natasha was getting ready to leave for classes at the university. I went out with her to her little blue car. There was steam coming from her mouth. She wore gloves, a hat and a scarf. Straggly bits of her sand-coloured hair blew against her cheeks. I waited next to the driver’s side of the car, as I did every day.
The car wouldn’t start. She opened the door and pulled her keys out of their little slot, then pushed them in again. Then she climbed out and opened the front of the car and stared inside.
Her father came out. He was always in a hurry, his attention usually far away from wherever his body found itself. And so he was reversing his car down the driveway, and nearly reached the gate before he noticed Natasha standing with her arms wrapped around her body, shivering next to her car.
“I’m late,” her father said. He grabbed those big wires he keeps in his car, jump leads he called them. With them, he joined his battery to hers. “Get in, Tash, and if the car starts, keep going.”
“And if it stops again?” That’s what I asked. But of course, he didn’t answer me.
In fact, he said, “Out of the way, Bobby.”
Out of the way?
Then her father said, “Phone me if it doesn’t start after class. I’ll come and get you.”
In the end he had to go and get her, oh yes, but not in the way he could ever have imagined.
She didn’t come home for our walk before the sun set. I lay at the front door, waiting for her. I knew something was wrong. She didn’t come home for supper. I paced the entrance hall, up and down, up and down. I knew something was terribly wrong.
Her mother phoned every friend, every number she could find. After supper, food that no-one could eat, her father and her brother went out to look for her. I was with her mom when her father phoned. “He’s standing next to her car, Bobby. The windscreen is shattered.” Her mother started to shake. “Her phone is lying under the driver’s seat . . .”
Days are short in winter, and so it was already nearly dark after Natasha’s last class. Her car hadn’t started. That was one part of the problem. But there were two other parts: she’d had to park outside the safe parking at the university, under the flyover – I’m not sure exactly what that is, but it’s for cars – because she’d been late, and also she’d run out of airtime.
Natasha’s father and brother found her just a few metres from that car that would not start. I can’t tell you much more because the ancient dog, the wolf within, takes over: he throws his head back and he howls. He howls into the empty whiteness, he howls out the blizzard, he howls blood.
I would have defended her with my life. I could have killed for her if I had needed to. I loved her so much. If I had been with her, things would have been different now.
Her mother had worried about a girl so young, out walking with me, but she hadn’t worried about a girl so young walking amongst other humans. Within days they found those who took her life for no purpose other than evil, out of a strange boredom, just because they could. It is my opinion that humans are capable of evil more intense than anything my kind can ever imagine.
After she was murdered her family packed up their belongings, sold their house and fled across the big water. I don’t blame them. They could do nothing except run. In dream time, I still do it: the wolf in me runs across the empty whiteness; he runs and he runs and he runs.
There was a dog barking outside. He sounded like Dash. I closed the window. I could still hear him. I put music on. I turned it up. I couldn’t hear the dog any more. But the music was so loud that it just reminded me how much Dash didn’t like loud music.
He’d slink close to the bed, his ears flat, paws pushed close to his ears. So I switched the music off. The dog was still barking. Every dog sounded like Dash. I started to cry.
Every dog, even dogs with only the slightest bit of similarity, reminded me of Dash. And lately, everywhere I went, I seemed to see white Alsatians. But Dash was unusual. So unusual I only once, ever, saw another dog like him . . .
I saw the white Alsatian streaking across the open parkland. We were still at the top of the hill, just getting out of the car, but I was so excited, I ran straight down to see this dog. Perhaps he even came from the same litter as Dash, I thought; they might be related.
The owner was a dark-haired guy, sort of youngish, but older than my brother. He wasn’t interested in what I had to say. I think he assumed I was trying to pick him up or something, because the more I talked, the more he grinned and looked me up and down, and he even asked me if I wanted to come over to his place. I absolutely couldn’t make him understand I was interested in his dog. Gross!
I was grateful when my father showed up on the crest of the hill, yelling “Jessica! Catch!” He was holding Dash’s two balls and his favourite Tuffy toys. Then the red Tuffy came arcing down the hill and Dash appeared behind Dad, and a second later he was flying down the hill to me, and this other white dog was also a male, and I was sure there was going to be blood.
I honestly think my feet left the ground, and I sprinted so hard up towards Dash, even though you should never turn your back and run from a strange dog, it’s an invitation to become quarry. But Dash was all alpha male; we’d had enough vet bills for flying Maltese poodles who’d messed with his toys, and so I panicked. But he rushed on past me anyway, straight for the white Alsatian. And next thing they were sniffing and wagging tails and being awfully polite to each other. The red toy lay between them on the grass.
“Please!” I yelled as I bent carefully to pick up the toy. “Just don’t throw any balls.” The other dog’s owner looked on, stroking his chin that had stubble on, and gave me a really creepy smile.
And that was the only time in Dash’s whole life that I saw another dog like him.