Country matters

Issue 2/2001 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

A short story from Peili (‘Mirror’, Tammi, 2000). Introduction by Suvi Ahola

I’m getting so old, my Master and Mistress no longer take note of when I’m on Heat. They don’t even notice when some moisture comes dripping out of my innards, as a sign of it, like they did in the good old days. Anyway, this time I really boobed, I dirtied my Mistress’s Christmas slippers with my secretions. So what could I do? – if it drips it drips. I happened to be lying on my Mistress’s feet at the time, she’d invited me there herself. ‘Spot, Spot, come and warm my feet,’ she said. Of course I went, I always have done when I’m called, it’s rather nice. Your belly gets nice and warm there, and if you’re lucky your Mistress scratches your back now and then with her knitting needle. I sleep and snore a little – it amuses my Mistress and Master. But then the warming of my belly led to this boob – a big dose of this wetness slurped onto my Mistress’s feet. It caused a sudden departure. My Mistress yelled, and my Master flung me out into the yard. I’d scarcely managed a squeak before I found myself in the snow. I shan’t forgive them, no. It’s beyond my comprehension.

Fortunately, they don’t worry about tying me up any more, I can slope around in the yard as much as I like. I can’t be bothered to go beyond the fence, and the Gate’s pretty-well always shut. If the Master does leave it open, I contemplate going, but don’t. My Mistress hardly ever goes out of the Gate nowadays, she just stays in. Her legs have got so bad she walks slowly when she walks at all. But now everything’s upside down – she’s coming into the yard even though it’s so late, and I can see by the yard lamp that she’s carrying some stuff under her arm. ‘So what’s up now?’ I growl. My mistress gives me a ticking off, but then she starts soothing me and throws a cover over my kennel. Then she pushes some other stuff inside my kennel. I’ve no idea what it is, but my kennel feels warmer now. And from the smell of the rug she’s thrown over the kennel can tell its old Dobbin’s horse blanket. The smell makes me remember something else: Dobbin stabled for the night, me there with my master, Dobbin crunching oats, and Dobbin’s smell lingering in my coat for a long time after, even well into the night. At first I shrink back from what’s thrown inside, but when I sniff it I realise it’s Master’s old pullover. It’s the one he had when he was out chopping firewood in the forest and took off because he was toiling away like mad, and I went and slept on it while he was carrying wood. I felt like curling up on it right away, but first I had to go and do my business at the bottom of the yard. I never squat by the gatepost, I know better than that. Rover would be along and smell the signal, or worse, Rex, both bad lots, don’t want a brush with them. Not at this age. Of course I remember all that stuff, you know – remember it well, gave me puppies too – but at this age…. My hip joints ache and my teeth are rotten, no more of that now, no, no.

My Master comes into the yard. He always goes to the bottom of the yard in the evening, even though they have that inside lavatory now, a great blessing. As he goes past my kennel I catch a whiff of that terrible stuff, and I know why he put the boot in just now. When there’s that smell, my Master’s a different man – gets furious and nasty.

I can hear him farting. My Mistress would sigh in disapproval if he did that inside. She’d light matches and let out a squawk that gets in your ears like the shriek of a mechanical saw.

But when my Master’s taken a drop or two my Mistress doesn’t dare make a yelp. She’s like a mouse then, however many smells there are in her clean and tidy room. She keeps mum and does her best to be unseen and unheard.

My master pulls his trousers up, braces dangling. He takes a bottle out of his breast-pocket and swigs from it, then raises the bottle and looks at the sky through it. There’s a star or two, but no moon in sight. It’s funny, being on heat it his phase of the moon, nothing seems right or able to get me going. Even if a rat ran right into my mouth, would I bother to bite its neck, probably not.

My Mistress comes to the door, trying to peer out into the dark. She doesn’t shout as she does on ordinary evenings – hoo-hoo – where have you got to? On good evenings my Master will give a snort and let off another big fart as a sign of ‘I’m here’. Not now. Now he swears, seeing her at the door. No doubt this makes her realise he’s on his feet, he’s not flopped down, as he did that other time. The front door creaks and her bare feet slap along unevenly, one foot weaker than the other.

I hear my Mistress going towards the privy. It’ll be something for her to rattle on about to our neighbour, Sanelma: fine thing this, with these legs of mine, and the old man like he is, going down full length again on his way to the outhouse, and me, weak as I am, left to lug him in. Those women slurp huge doses of coffee, it’s dishwater, but they’ve a mighty craving for it, like mine for a juicy bone dug out of a midden. Of course I like a good chew on cowdung too, there are still some dry pieces behind the cowshed. I remember Daisy, she used to let out a good flow from her backside all the time. Long ago that was, many winters and summers. Sad memory I have of her. The last time I barked at Daisy was her being forced into the back of a lorry, them twisting her tail. But this great hankering for dung has come on me just now, it’s as if something alive in my belly was yelling out for half-rotten food. This food business has got into a bad way, what they do nowadays is soak some sort of biscuity stuff from the shop into a mush, and it tastes of nothing and smells of nothing. People don’t understand, they think cleanliness is everything and that cleanliness is good for a dog’s belly. Oh dear!

I go and curl up, breathe the warm air under my tail and snooze off into a dogsleep. The kennel warms up with my breathing, I’ve nothing to worry about. I hear that old acquaintance of mine, the hare, coming through the hole in the fence, going to gnaw the apple tree he’s gnawed before. It won’t do him any good, but it’s become a habit. I suppose I should chase him off or at least bark. But I don’t give a damn and I can’t be bothered. Do they expect me to pull myself out of a warm curl for a thing like that! Perhaps he’s been there again in the night, that hare, if she can manage to see with tomorrow my Mistress’ll notice her bloodshot eyes, and the dog hasn’t barked. Then, when my Master’s slept his drink off, she’ll tell him, and they’ll talk about me. They’ll say a good dog she has been, but now she’s got old, she’s no good for anything, can’t even be bothered to bark at a hare, let alone chase it away.

What could there be to make me leave my kennel and go out into the night? Here and now I can’t think of anything, so let it be, I’ll just press my nose into my tail-top and get some more sleep.

But then a bad noise wakes me up. I know that noise, it makes my hackles rise in dismay. My master’s swearing and my Mistress lets out a little sobbing cry as he throws her into the yard. She’s barefoot, but sets off at a great pace somehow – run she can’t. I’m guessing she’ll be going yet again to the neighbour’s, to knock on their door. But I set off after her and catch her up. She’s heard a panting behind her and turns to look, and looks right at me. I have to turn my eyes away, I can’t bear a look like that. She then starts off again and knocks on the neighbour’s door. There’s a long wait, and she keeps lifting her one foot after another on the step. Then Lempi comes to the door and hugs her and says dear oh dear and takes my Mistress inside.

As for me, I go back to my kennel and feel miserable, and I’ve got some listening to do. My Master’s raising hell inside and throwing stuff around. I’m scared of hearing the tinkle of broken windows and daren’t sleep for a longtime.

I wake up in the morning at the neighbour’s cock crowing – it’s flipped onto the dunghill, the bastard. The midden door is open and the man of the house is pushing a barrowload of fresh cowclap onto the midden. If I raise my muzzle that way, I catch a delicious smell in my nostrils. I have to come out of the kennel to stretch. My legs are stiff, but I go to the back our own cowshed to the remains of the old dunghill and dig out quite a sizeable piece of rotted dung to eat. Just then I hear my Mistress coming along. I can hear and smell her quite a bit away. She’s coming quietly and cautiously, but no worry. My Master’s been sleeping for quite a while, and he’ll probably sleep the whole day now. I don’t need to worry about my Mistress any more.

Oh, Spot, you poor dog, she cries when I go up to her. Then she promises to bring me food and tells me to go into my kennel to wait. Soon she’s back with a cup, I eat the stuff though I don’t like it and go back into my kennel. My full belly warms me and I start dreaming about the puppies I had when I was young. I still feel a tickling in my dugs when I remember their greedy mouths.

The day goes by somehow. In the afternoon I doze off and have a dream where my Mistress is driving my Master into the yard, threatening him with a broom, and shouting go out there and fart. He sniggers, goes to the stable door to relieve himself and lets off some smells into the yard. In my dream I can even smell the stink that must be his. But then I wake up to realise the smell isn’t a dream after all, my Master’s woken up and is truly relieving himself by the corner. Then he goes to the woodpile, gathers up some pieces of wood in his arms and takes them away. That’s odd, for he doesn’t usually lug firewood around, it’s women’s work. The men bring in the wood and split it, that’s what he says. But now he’s carrying some wood, and soon I smell smoke and smell coffee, and there he is now, brewing black strong coffee.

At night I dream it’s summer, I’m young, my coat’s shiny, and I’m on Heat like now. But not this sort of feeble heat, a true, proper Real Heat, with an itch for male dogs. In the village there’s Victor, a rather handsome chap, and I feel very much like giving him a visit. But I’ve been tied up tight, and there’s no way of getting free, and I haven’t a chance of getting a signal to Victor.

Then my Master frees me and tells me to jump into Dobbin’s cart, says we’re off for a spin, taking my Mistress with us. My Mistress is sitting in the cart with me and the Master and she pulls a piece of sausage out of the picnic bag for me. I’ve a great hankering for sausage, but now my really overwhelming hankering is for Victor. That’s occupying my mind and I just hold the sausage in my teeth. Oho, my Mistress says, are you sick? A human can’t understand this feeling. We go down to the lakeshore and I leave signals for Victor on every stone, every stump, every bank, and then my Mistress tumbles to what’s going on. Listen, she says, we’ll have to keep an eye on her. Yes, yes, my Master says and pulls off his clothes, and my Mistress does the same. They wade into the lake and splash about and laugh, and I slip away. They shout at me, and yell, but I’m running with Victor, and we’re having fun of our own.

My dream’s interrupted, I smell cat, and I know what it is. That layabout’s here, wanting to hang around my bowl. I growl at her, she hisses, and she’s off. I’m in such a rage I can’t get back into the dream at first.

Then I nod off and I’m dreaming again, this time that I have puppies at my nipples. They’re frisking about, swapping nipples, slurping, and I’m very happy.

The frost is pinching harder, and in the small hours I’m not up to imagining anything. I curl myself up into a tighter ball, and it still doesn’t stop me shivering. But in the morning my Mistress comes to the door and speaks to me sweetly. Spot, she says, come inside. I’ll put a rug for you to lie on, but then don’t go dripping all over the place. I crawl painfully out of the kennel, it looks as though I’m not going to be able to walk. My Mistress has to help me up the steps, she raises each back leg in turn and says tenderly, that’s the way, good dog. I forgive them for turning me out of the living room. I get onto the mat they’ve brought for me out of the attic, and I can smell a faint smell of a mouse on it.

At the stoveside it’s warm, and I feel content lying there. My Master’s polishing My Mistress’s best shoes, and I keep sneezing from the smell. My Master laughs, and my Mistress is talking to him, wondering how old a dog has to be before she stops getting on heat, and saying it’s weird this one is still dripping. At an age like this a human has dried up, has no more spring sap left, apart from a few memories, if those. I shut my eyes and the village dogs flit through my mind, but not one of them lingers long enough to disturb my Heat. I let out a little whine in my sleep, and my Master gives another guffaw. My Mistress is treading her sewing machine, and meat soup’s simmering on the stove.

I stretch myself out full length and snooze off properly.

Translated by Herbert Lomas

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