A Shaggy Dog Story
It was 1973.
Two small boys, no older than 8 years old sat silently and together on the pavement of an inner city council estate.
It was summertime, entering the final week of their six week holiday and the disease of boredom had become terminal. The swimming baths were swam dry and their plastic football sat popped and imploding in the blooming rose bush. Their bikes were buckled, punctured and dying after the miles clocked up by the previous months explorations and endeavors to Blue Bell Woods, Conker Paradise, the Airport and every adventure playground in the city.
The sun pounded down on their thick layer of new hair that had grown two or three inches since their first ceremonial crew cut of the summer. They’d both been dragged, kicking and screaming by elder brothers to the local barbershop to be sheared like reluctant, frightened sheep.
The pavement was sun bleached white and only a feint chalked hopscotch remained, dull and faded like the imaginations of two eight year old boys in the final week of the summer holidays.
Wearing black nylon shorts and battered plimsolls pumps they sat like dying flowers, under watered, prematurely bloomed and over exposed to the sun. Their demeanor reflected their melancholy and like the plastic ball and their bicycle tyres, they were deflated.
“Fancy a kick about?” Snapped Michael, the smaller and more enthusiastic of the two.
“Naa, can’t be bothered” came the lazy lackluster reply from Johnny, the taller of the two boys.
And the boys fell silent again, staring and still, moving occasionally to glance or to pop pitch bubbles at the cobbled join in pavement and road with ice-lolly sticks dropped soon after the twice-daily visit by the much scorned and taunted Ice Cream Man.
“KEEP THAT BLOODY BALL AWAY FROM THIS VAN.” He’d say the same thing everyday and everyday the gangs of boys and girls would take pot shots at headlamps, windscreens and serving hatch with celebratory cheers ringing out every time the ball would land inside the van.
The first week of the holidays, Johnny chipped the ball directly through the hatch and into the enormous refrigerator that chilled the ice cream.
‘YOU LITTLE BASTARDS. IF I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THIS VAN, THERE’LL BE TROUBLE” he screamed.
Eventually he threw the ball out covered in large chunks of white vanilla and causing the local street dogs to chase and fight for a lick of the ice cream ball.
This joviality seemed an aged away to the two boys who continued their silent vigil. They were confused and bored and secretly wished that the holidays were over and they were back at school. Johnny never could have envisaged wanting to go back to school. He never could have imagined wanting to return to dark mornings, battling through howling wind and driving rain in short grey trousers and hand-me-down heavy woolen pullover that sagged when wet and chaffed any skin it happened to touch. He was confused by his desire to be running round and round the playground during morning break kicking a ball, pretending to be Georgie Best or sneaking a game of pitch and toss out of sight of the teachers. Peer pressure meant you “had” to hate school. No one could admit to liking school.
They continued to sit and stare in silence in the tree-lined avenue where the flora had passed their peak of blossom and once bright green lawns were now yellowing and dry. Despite this, a collage of colors could still be seen when eyes were squinted for long periods in the midday summer sun. Brilliant yellows and violets mixed with whites and blues dancing in sequence. The carnival of color was heighted by the occasion cool breeze that sleeked in and out of gardens like a burglar that had come to steal the summer again.
At one end of the avenue, a drunken father had extended a hosepipe through the kitchen window and out into the garden. By squeezing the end of the hose he created thin, white, high-powered jets of water to spray at the young innocent bystanders.
He chased and they ran.
He would spin the hose from hand to hand sending thin jets great distances and spraying three or four children at once. Then, he would concentrate on one child, hunting him down and finally pouncing on him like a cat on a bird and spraying freezing cold water onto a baked body. The face of the young child would contort, twist and tighten as the cold water connected with skin. Immature hearts pounded and lungs search for breath as the child stood winded and abused by the drunken man.
The children knew this joviality would soon cease. They knew he would soon stagger, fall and moan about the mess they’d made, demand his dinner then fall asleep on the damp grass in the back garden. Only then would they be safe.
“He better hadn’t come down here with that hose” barked Johnny as he watched the whole affair from a distance.
“Why, what are you going to do if he does?” asked Michael inquisitively.
“I’ll get my dad out, he’ll get his hose out and there’ll be a war of the hoses. Ha ha, do you get it war of the hoses”
“What’s the war of the hoses?” asked Michael, ignorant of his local history
“It was a battle between Yorkshire and Lancashire or summat like that. We did it with Miss McCoomb in Junior One, Remember? Anyway forget the war, what’s wrong with you? You’re in a right mood. What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just don’t feel good.” The sorrowful answer quivered in the back of his throat as if he were about to cry but he swallowed deeply, fighting back the tears and stared into the distance ensuring that Johnny did not see his watery eyes.
Two mongrel dogs suddenly wandered by. The taller of the two was black and stockier than the other with bits of dried encrusted mud on one side of his shaggy coat. The other dog was smaller, brown with white flashes on her chest. Her coat was shiny, her face petite and her whole demeanor emitted a strange dog-like femininity. The boys called the dogs.
“Scooby, here boy” He called and the two dogs stopped in their tracks. Their ears pricked up, their eyes searched and damp nostrils sniffed the air as the cries rang out again. “Scooby, here boy”. The calls were followed by whistles and clicking sounds form both Michael and Johnny and the two dogs spotted their callers and raced over.
Michael and Johnny greeted the dogs like long lost friends. Hugging, patting and stroking the dogs for some time before the playful mongrels calmed down and sat next to the boys on the pavement.
“It’s a great life for a dog isn’t it Mike?” Perked Johnny whilst stroking the brown mongrel.
“A dogs life…………….Great? How do you mean?”
“Well, a dog is never questioned about where they’re going and what they’re doing. They’re never told to be in by eight o’clock or to brush their teeth or have a bath or read a book or anything. They can stay out all hours, eat what they want and when they want it and they can sleep anywhere they want. Even in the pissing rain if they want.
“No way, a dog wouldn’t sleep in the rain,” said Michael, shaking his head with disbelief.
“I’ve seen Scooby asleep in our back garden in a snowstorm and she just lay there, unmoved, snowflakes resting on her long eyelashes and ears.”
“Did she not wake up at all?”
“Not a flicker, she didn’t give a shit,” said Johnny, imitating his Dad.
“Stop swearing. It’s a sin you know” Snapped Michael
“Shit isn’t swearing”
“Course it is and so is the P word you used before” Said Michael, adamantly.
“Piss is not swearing Mike, I heard the priest say it to my Dad and if a priest says it, it can’t be a sin” said Johnny defending his right to free speech.
“I don’t care what the priest said but P, S, F, B and C are all swearwords. Sister Elizabeth is my Auntie and she’s a Nun and my Mams sister. I overheard her listing to my Dad the swear words recognized by the church and I’ve never met anyone who knew more about God than my Aunt, Sister Elizabeth.” Michael spoke with confidence and authority while Johnny bowed his head and listened quietly.
“Sorry for swearing Mike but I want you to understand what I mean about the dog and their freedom.
“But I do understand. Dogs don’t have to go back to school next Monday in shoes too big for them, shorts too tight for them with a daft crew cut hair cut. Dogs don’t have to wear old fashion rounded toe muddy football boots stuffed with paper at the toe, they don’t have to carry horrible plastic sports bags on muddy football pitches where your screamed at by a sergeant major bullying teacher but you can’t hear him, you can’t hear anyone because the sound of the pounding rain and driving wind is so strong and loud your head spins and all you can hear is your blood, rushing around your body.” Michael finished abruptly, let out a sigh and the silence returned.
The shadows of the boys slowly grew longer and thinner on the baked, dry pavement as the lazy clock slowly ticked towards early evening. Neighbors and friends slow walked home from work looking exhausted by their daylong labor in the hot sun.
The occasional cyclist who dared to cross the path of the two resting dogs were chased frantically, snarling and snapping at the ankles of innocent dare devil attempts to kick out and be free from the chase. But this was Scooby’s idea of fun. She had learned at an early age that cars were heavy and that the back wheels hurt when they roll over you. So chasing a bike was less dangerous and she had to protect her territory. Her honor was at stake.
After frenzied chases of bicycles, cats and birds, the two dogs would return, puffing and panting to sit beside their companions to be affectionately stroked and patted in a congratulatory manner.
Johnny began humming quietly to himself. Then, he slowly started nodding his head. “Hmm Hmmm Hmmmmmm”
His humming grew louder and Michael began to stare at him. “What you humming? And the humming grew louder.
“What is it? He repeated
“Have a guess,” said Johnny in-between hums.
Michael stared and listened and softly hummed along. He knew the tune but he couldn’t put a name to it.
“Oooh, I can’t remember. Give us a clue” he said squinting his eyes and tapping his temples. Then, Johnny hums changed to the imitated sound of an electric guitar. He was pretending to play a guitar in time to the screeching, scratching sounds coming from his mouth. “It’s number one in the charts. Come on, Come on, Come on Come on, Come on Come on Come on” Johnny shouted. But no matter how much Johnny danced and sang and strummed, Michael could not find a name so Johnny began to sing it……………..
D’YA WANNA BE IN MY GANG
D’YA WANNA BE IN MY GANG
D’YA WANNA BE IN MY GANG
D’YA WANNA BE IN MY GANG
Michael’s eyes lit up and he screamed – “Gary Glitter and Leader of the Gang”……………….. I love it. Did you see him on Top of the Pops last night? Amazing” and Michael joined in with Johnny’s song. Dancing and singing and occasionally punching his fist in the air while Johnny nodded, played his guitar and sang the words, loud and proud as if they were on stage performing to thousands of fans
Together they sang the words introducing drums and a microphone to their street performance.
I’m the Leader
I’m the Leader
I’m the Leader of the gang I am
I’m the Leader
I’m the Leader
I’m the Leader of the Gang I am
The dogs, excited by the singing and dancing began to join in the musical extravaganza but the boys ignored them and continued their own musical frenzy. Undeterred, the dogs began to jump up at the boys as if they were joining in the dance, front paws high and back paws jigging.
Then, suddenly, the larger of the two dogs mounted the smaller one from behind and began thrusting its pelvis copulatively. The smaller of the two, Scooby, stood still, cold and indifferent to the intrusion preferring to watch the boys singing and dancing for all their worth.
The larger dog began to pant heavily as it pumped and thrusted its mud encrusted backside backwards and forwards excited. His long red tongue hung limply out of one side of his mouth dripping thin white tendrils of saliva onto the back of Scobby as he pumped and pumped and pumped.
Michael, distracted by the dogs, had stopped dancing and stared in puzzled disbelief.
“Ooooh,” he said in a long drawn out disgusted tone. “What are they doing Johnny?”
“They’re just shagging.” He said casually, still dancing.
“What’s “shagging” Johnny?” Inquired Michael, sternly but in spite of determined efforts to get an answer, he was ignored as Johnny continued to sing and dance.
Four, younger boys strolled by to watch the dogs frolicking. They laughed aloud and pointed at the bizarre sight of “Two dogs playing piggy back”
One of the boys shouted to a group of children playing in a nearby garden to come and look. “Hey, you lot. Ever seen two dogs shagging?”
The three girls and two boys sprinted from the garden out onto the avenue where a small crowd had started to gather. They giggled, cheered and pointed at the two dogs “Stuck together”.
An old woman walked past pushing a battle-ship of a pram with two toddlers and a pile of washing. She tutted loudly and said “Disgusting” while the toddlers roared with laughter at the sight of the two dogs.
The larger of the dogs attempted to dismount but struggled and ended up tail to tail and stuck together. The children fell around the street laughing at the surreal sight of the two Siamese twin dogs, joined at the backsides.
Some children ran and knocked on the doors of friend, dragging them onto the street to watch the dogs. Mums and Dads followed the children outside to see what the disturbance was. Some parents watched and laughed along with the children while others mumbled “Dirty, disgusting dogs”.
Some of the other street dogs had heard the barks and howls from the stuck dogs and joined the gathering of Mums, Dads and children.
Tommy Bowers, the local dustbin man and all round good egg, arrived on the scene with 2 mop buckets full of water and shouting “ Clear the way, make room for the vet”
The children liked Tommy. He regularly amused them with tales, stories and jokes about the things he’d find in dustbins. They children enjoyed chatting to an adult who wasn’t bullying them or handing out orders.
“What you gonna do Tommy?” shouted Michael, nervously and disturbed by the whole performance.
“I’m going to perform some major vet nary surgery and separate the two dogs,” he said as the two dogs wiggled, howled and pulled in an effort to free themselves.
Tommy slowly began to pour the cold water into the thin crack where the two animals were joined while the children stroked and calmed the dog with reassuring words ……”Calm down now, calm down.”
The first bucket emptied, he quickly grabbed the second one and commenced pouring and talking softly to the dogs. “Calm down, calm down now and we’ll have you free in no time……..good dog”
Half way through the second bucket the dogs slowly eased themselves apart and the group of men women and children cheered triumphantly as the two dogs ran off in opposite direction, howling. Some children chased the dogs cheering while the adults and other children slowly drifted back to where they come from.
Michael and Johnny were the only children that remained. Michael turned to Johnny and said bluntly and in a state of shock, “What’s shagging Johnny?”
Johnny, shocked by his friends ignorance replied, “Don’t you know what shagging is?”
“No, I don’t. That’s why I keep asking you,” slightly embarrassed but mainly annoyed.
“Well…………shagging………………..it’s like………….you know………..shagging…………it’s erm……erm…….
Then, from nowhere, a call,
The boys stared at each other and the call rang out again.
“JOHNNY, YOUR TEA’S READY”
It was his Mum, stood at the front door in an apron.
“I’m coming Mum,” came the unusual reply. Usually when called for his tea, Johnny would sneak off down the alley or hide behind someone’s hedge in an effort to avoid his mothers cooking and continue playing with his mates. But today was different.
Michael pleaded with Johnny, “Quick Johnny, tell us before you go in.”
“No, I can’t, it’ll take too long and my tea’s ready. I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
“No tell me now, I can’t wait for tomorrow, I’ve got to know now” replied Michael desperately searching for an answer.
“I can’t Mike, I’ve got to go. I’ll see you in the morning, first thing and I’ll tell you then, alright?”
Johnny walked quickly as he spoke. He did not turn to wave; he simply walked straight into his garden and through the front door closing it quickly behind him.
As Michael heard the distant clicking of Johnny’s front door he closed his eyes and held in his tears of loneliness and confusion, tight and insecure.