Joe Tinsley’s dad finds his dog
It was my second Saturday morning job. Dad had bought a car from a dealer who also reared pigs just around the corner in Lodge Lane. I was about ten, and mad keen on farming; Joe Tinsley needed someone to help feed and clean out the pigs at the weekend. What could be better?
Five minutes on my bike and I was there, past the pre-war houses and the rows of pebble-dashed bungalows, and then the lane became a track, one with which I would become very familiar a few years later when there was a small herd of cows to milk at the end of the lane, every morning, before cycling to high school.
But for now, for three or four hours every Saturday morning there was the feeding of swill, waste food collected from schools, hospitals, factory canteens, boiled for an hour and relished by the pigs. As soon as they heard the rattle of the metal buckets they grunted and squealed gleefully before burying their snouts in the hideous brown mess. Then, all that could be heard was the slopping up of their long-awaited breakfast. This was re-cycling nineteen-fifties style; later there would be the mucking out.
Serving breakfast was smelly work and we wrapped ourselves in large aprons to cope with spillage. At junior school my class-mates teased me and pretended that the stink of the pig food was with me still on weekday mornings. I soon learnt to ignore them and anyway, I had the consolation of serious pocket money.
One Saturday I arrived at the yard to find Joe’s father already there. He was busy with something and, unusually, took no notice of me. There was something else that was not right, and then I realised that the Alsatian dog that was usually chained loosely in the yard as a guard dog was not barking noisily at me. Then I saw it, lying quite still, just beyond Joe’s dad, quivering and whimpering to itself. I had never seen it like this before and knew that something was wrong.
Joe’s dad meantime had found an empty swill bin, a wide, open, circular container that stood about three feet tall. I remember standing very still, wondering what was going on. Normally if I was in the way someone would send me off to fetch something or get something done. Now Joe’s dad simply glanced at me, as if he could not be bothered with me for the moment. He turned and walked round a corner, out of my sight. Although I was curious about the dog’s lying to one side and ignoring me, I did not move and waited, as if obliged to see out whatever was going on. There was a spell on me; if I followed Joe’s dad he would speak to me sharply or in temper, yet I could not go back, up to the road and home. I had come here for my Saturday job and my work lay beyond the top end of the yard here, down the slope and among the pig sties and the huge tanks of bubbling swill.
Suddenly I could hear the sound of water spattering onto the ground. Joe’s dad appeared around the corner, dragging a hose which he thrust into the bin. The hose was stiff and unwieldy and Joe’s dad had to stand there holding it in place as the level of the water rose slowly. He glanced up at me, but still said nothing, as if wondering why I was standing there, unsure about what to say.
It was not until the water was about to lip over the edge of the bin that he let go. The hose rolled itself back and fell limp onto the ground while the water continued to flow. Joe’s dad took two steps away from me, away from the bin, turned and stooped over the dog. Still he did not look over to me, but concentrated on the dog, hesitant, unsure. With his hands he grasped the dog’s coat either side of its shoulders. Then he struggled to lift it clear of the ground for its hind legs dangled awkwardly and he had to drag it towards the bin. For a moment he paused with the effort then lowered the dog back to the ground. Briefly he looked up at me. I expected him to shout at me to clear off, as if I were disturbing him at some private moment.
Again he strained to lift the dog and took another unsteady step towards the bin, as if once he reached the bin his struggles would be over.
Two things dawned on me. Firstly, he was going to kill the dog. Something had happened to the dog to render it helpless; this familiar resident of the yard could no longer leap and bark at the end of its chain and had allowed the man to pick it up and manhandle it in a way that I would never have believed possible. It was not a dog that I had ever stroked or scratched behind the ears and something terrible was about to happen to it. As the man heaved the dog upwards, over the lip of the bin, he glanced my way, as if wondering what I was making of all this. Then I saw that it was not annoyance with my child’s horrid fascination that clouded his face, but the pain of what he was having to do.
He held the dog’s head under the water and the dog tried to kick with its back legs. Soon they were still and Joe’s dad lifted the dog to one side and set off again around the corner. Out of my eye I noticed the water stop flowing from the hose. He returned with a large sack, picked up the dog’s head with one hand and began inserting it into the sack. It was not easy for him and I stepped forward to help. He glared at me and I stopped where I was. When he had finished he picked up the sack and retreated again around the corner, freeing me to walk down the yard and rattle the first bucket.
Soon I heard Joe’s van pull into the yard. I could hear him talking to his dad and then it was my turn and he explained how his dad had found the dog, run over by a delivery lorry and abandoned. He didn’t need to explain that what his father had done was the best thing for the dog and we carried on with the morning’s tasks. Later I went home quieter but strangely untroubled by what I had learnt since arriving for work.
What alerted the writer to the fact that there was something wrong?
What was Joe’s dad doing?
Why was the writer untroubled by what he learnt at work this morning?