Northwords Now Issue 39

The FREE literary magazine of the North


by Carey Coombs

'The dog's a bitch.' I said.
Derek, I think, heard me. The windows of his pick-up probably wouldn't open more than the inch at which they already sat. If the well-used exterior was an indication of a well-used electrical system then I knew that the wiring looms within the vehicle would be in a similar state to the door handles, bodywork, lights and bumpers- tied up and stuck up with twine and tape. Roadworthiness in these parts is a subjective assessment. Roseanne, his wife, waved cheerily from the passenger seat, probably flushed with world domination from within the industrial tent. Her world.  Derek himself mouthed words that were probably meant to indicate that he couldn't stop now, but really he wasn't running away, just hastily exiting a showground ready to head home. North and then east.
I pondered my own imminent departure. I had studied with interest the Blackface sheep judging, briefly taken in the suckler cow and calf competition and neatly sidestepped the bar. An afternoon of slow and unsteadily increasing inebriation had been an attractive proposition. But only if the immediate euphoria of the loosened inhibitions entwined with the camaraderie and bonhomie of newfound intimacies and confessions, could outweigh the dark, painful,  morbidity and paralysis of being, that would surely unfold over the ensuing 24 hours. Once it could have. Yesterday it might have. But today it didn't.
That's the blessing of being on one's own. I could deliberate on my own departure, or otherwise. No friend or partner to ask, or consider. No-one to negotiate with over meals or mealtimes. No human partner that is, because I had the dog who is a bitch to consider, as well as another bitch who is a bitch and another dog who is a dog. The dog who is a bitch is only four months old so does deserve some consideration. The other two deserve a little also. A sense of responsibility has not suddenly materialised within me. I've always cared, other facets of my character usually got in first though.
I needed another dog, but when I said dog, I meant dog. If I'd wanted a bitch I'd have said bitch. I prefer dogs. I need the power and strength of a rough-around-the-edges kind of hill dog. Derek had always had good hill dogs. None of your sleekit, creeping, shy little triallers that wouldn't say boo to a goose, should they have the misfortune to meet one, never mind a five-year-old blackie tup. So the pup got dropped off at my house. Partly then my own fault. I wouldn't swap her now anyway. Part of the family. I can't imagine me saying that!
I like it up here. I like the solitude. I like the wind. I like the rain. I like the cold. I like that spring's a bastard. I like the grass not growing when it should because it's too bloody cold. I like that my ewes want to die, and if I'm not on their case day after day after day, they do die. I like it because I have to deal with it and I like that I have to swim against the tide. I like the fight here better than the fights I have won and lost that have banged me up for weeks or months. Coke highs and petty theft, temper-driven fists, drink and drive. I like a clean fight.
The dog and the bitch and the dog who is a bitch greet me. Great to be greeted.
We'll watch the mist roll in, the rain beat across the glen, clouds scud, the sun break through, night fall, dawn break, mist rise, sun shimmer, snow turn to slush.
“One life,” I say to the pup.