Out at Night

by Miriam English

A couple of days before, I'd tripped over while trying some new choreography, and slammed my arm against a chair. My wrist was only bruised, but my phone was smashed, so I'd unfastened it and left it in a sunny place to self-repair on the verandah. And now, a couple of days later, my blasted car had started playing up. One of its legs was having trouble. Dammit! I knew I should have got a six legged one. So I parked it when I got to what was left of Woombye town and used the car phone to call Mum.

Nobody answered. I didn't know at the time that I'd misdialled the number, but I'm glad it happened. If I'd got through to Mum she would have come and picked me up and I might never have met Bob.

It was late at night, but the full moon was out, and I figured it wasn't really that far to walk. But about five minutes down the road heavy clouds had blown in from the mountains and it was getting hard to see my way between the potholes. With an important gig coming up, the last thing I needed was a twisted ankle.

It's really quiet out here. It used to be lightly populated, but most people moved down to the coast when the oil ran out. Normally the quiet is wonderful, but tonight I was beginning to wish I hadn't spent the last several hours laughing over old horror flicks with my best friend Tiarna and her husband Marcus.

Suddenly, "Hi." I jumped at the hard male voice a few meters behind me and whirled. At first I couldn't see anybody, but then I saw a large grey dog trotting toward me. "Me Bob. Sorry, scare you." He had a SilverTongue device on his wide collar.

"Oh, you didn't scare me." I tried to calm myself with the fib.

Bob gave that huhh-huhh-huhh whispered laugh that dogs do when amused.

"Okay, you did. Normally I wouldn't be worried -- I've walked this road lots -- but I'm just a little jumpy tonight."

He walked past me and said, "Road gooder here. Walk here." So I followed him to the other side of the road. He was right. It was gravel, but without the many holes of the remaining tar surface. He walked alongside me. It was comforting. It had been some years since I had a doggie friend.

"You live around here, Bob?"

"Yeh." He looked to his right. "Hill, hill, bridge, hill."

Wow. He must be kilometers from home. "How come you're so far from home?"

He wuffed gently and wagged his tail. "Not far. This home."

Not sure I understood that, so tried a different tack. "What brings you here?"

He looked up at me with an odd expression and answered, "Feet. Me walk."

I keep forgetting dogs' problems with speech. The SilverTongue can do some of the work, but the dog brain just has no place for many concepts. "I mean, why are you here."

He wuffed again and wagged that bushy tail. "Me walk. Like to walk. Few nights walk. Night, night night. Walk here, here. See, smell, listen. Nice." He looked ahead. "Hill," he looked left, "hill, hill," he cast a look back over his shoulder, "hill, long valley, hill," he looked right, "hill, hill, river, hill, hill. All home. Me home." He looked up at me and gave a doggie grin, tongue lolling.

I smiled back. Did he just say he felt he owned about a hundred square kilometers? Maybe dogs have a different kind of ownership.

He continued, "Hear you walk. Step bad. Heart too fast. Trouble. Bob help."

I grinned. There was no mistaking that. "Thanks Bob. I was having trouble. The moon was bright when I started, but it's a bit too cloudy for me to see properly now."

"Yeh. Dog eyes gooder."

I chuckled. "Yeah, at night. Definitely." Then, puzzled, I asked, "What did you mean, 'heart too fast'?"

"Me hear you heart. B-bup b-bup b-bup. Very fast. You scared. Me help."

I was surprised. "You heard my heart?"

"Yeh. Dog ears gooder. And nose. Humans no nose."

"Hey! I can smell."

"Not like dog." He barked and the sound rang off the trees. He put his nose down and quickly ran back and forth over the road. "Man... turkey... lady... man and dog... wallaby... dog Jake."

"Busy day." I must have looked skeptical.

Bob said, "Nuh. Not this day. Wallaby this day. Man and dog, day-day. Man day-day-day. Lady day-day-day. Turkey all days. Dog Jake day-day."

"I'm impressed. You can tell all that?"

Bob wuffed. His head was a little higher and his step more springy, clearly proud of himself.

I smiled, visualising what it must be like for him. With his eyes this must be like daylight, and his nose would reveal brightly scented trails everywhere, identifying everything that had happened over the last several days. If he could hear my heart from meters away then the 'quiet' countryside around us must be raucous with life and creakings and rustlings of trees in the light breeze. Beside him I was slow, half-blind, stumbling, and handicapped.

He escorted me all the way home. We became great friends after that and I came to be more than close to his human.

You know, my Grandma used to say I was very lucky. Funny how a series of accidents can really be good luck in disguise.


2006-05-21