Beneath Our Winter Stars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
In which a dog and a boy become a boy and his dog.

Submitted: January 29, 2019

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Submitted: January 29, 2019

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Thick and sporadic, the droplets pounded against a big black nose as it poked its way out of a missing chain link. A broad head followed, grey-white littered with uneven splodges of pale brown; front legs, a torso, back legs, a stumpy brown tail. The dog made a sort of wheezing growl, muzzle jerking backwards from a dirty splash of puddle-water before she seemed to reconsider, and the coarse tongue went lolloping into the unknown depths. 

Streetlamps penetrated the hazy gloom in dim, periodic rings. Quenched, the dog raised her head and jounced down the pavement, avoiding the UFO-reminiscent circles of whiteness. A man with a bottle of drink tutted and swerved as she ran, tongue hanging out. A mother directed her two kids to the other side of the street.

A dog didn't understand nor care; she buried her nose in the gravel and scoured. Then she raised her head clumsily and snorted tiny cobble grains from her nose. Some instinctive feeling caused her to bark, so she did, and it echoed loudly through the near-empty street but went unheard in the familial homes blaring Christmas songs and excited human chatter. She cocked her head, briefly, at a window display of turkey and warm gravy, a clan of parents and children gallivanting around a prickly-looking tree, and gilded boxes lying momentarily vacant. A confused noise, a bit of a whine but not quite there, left her throat. Then she barked again to prove some kind of point and pattered purposelessly down the rainy road.

She entered the centre of this small town, crossed the park opposite a proud line of shops and restaurants, all closed for holidays. The grass was muddy, almost a bog of dark sludgy rainwater. It didn't seem to dampen many spirits, although it had plastered her thin fur against her skin, and she puffed as pinpricks of rain gripped her spine in a chill.

Fortunately, there was a bench on the pavement, and the bench was perfect for laying under. She shook herself off, splattering mucky water in an elliptical spiral before lumbering out of the grass, pawsteps squelching. The rain hit her tongue and she tasted it and the smells of petrichor and metal flooded her nostrils. 

Bench, her nose hummed. She stopped and crawled under it. There was a lovely newspaper on the floor for her to lay on, only dampened by the water that spilled between the cracks in the bench. She curled up on it and stared out panting into the rain, still catching droplets with her tongue, ears brushing the underside of rusted green. Cars whipped past. Their lights illuminated the gloom momentarily each time.

A dark, looming monster ripped a whir through the air and seconds later she was drenched by the backsplash of a lorry's thick wheels. She wiggled backwards, back into the onpour and away from the safety of shelter. Her newspaper disintegrated in the mud. 

Then there was a soft cry, a sharp onslaught of human emotion that tugged her head to the left. 

A boy was standing next to the road. She snorted at him, to get his attention. He had a hat on and a puffy red coat that was soaked with grimy water, the same stuff sticking her fur flat. The rain on his face trickled alongside watery pathways from his eyes, the tears tracking clean strands down his dirtied cheeks. He didn't notice her.

She barked at him and the boy startled, looked at her, and started sobbing harder. 

She cocked her head. Strode over to his side, muscles stiff with wetness, ears pricked intently at the sound of his odd wails. Her head was at his waist. She nudged her muzzle against his hand and the tiny fingers clenched softly around her ear and tugged comfortingly through her fur. 

With his free hand he pointed back down the empty street and said something she didn't really understand, but she wagged her stump of a tail anyway, recognising the place. She barked happily.

"Um," the boy said shyly. "Woof."

She shook herself off again and the boy exclaimed: "Hey!" as desultory raindrops flurried against his coat. Then she wandered back down towards the road, throwing spasmodic glances across her shoulder to ensure the boy was following. He was.

"You look like you're smilin' all the time," he said, resting a hand on her back. When she looked up at him he said: "Woof, boy."

Her tongue was still hanging out of her mouth. The boy briefly retracted his hand to fumble for his hood, zipping it right up to his chin so the fur burst around his face like a mane. 

"Not real fur, don'worry." He patted her.

It was very dark now, winter's cloak weighing heavily over the street. The boy's walk had reduced to a shuffling gait, sheepish and hesitant. Beneath the cold, orbular glow of the streetlights danced gentle curls of snow, whipped into pretty frenzy by the wind. The dog stopped and looked at him, sneezing ivory-coloured dust off her nose.

"I left home," he pouted, verging on tears again. "'Cause I had an argument."

She barked. Unsure, oblivious, but comforting all the same. 

He gave a watery smile. "Yeah, woof. Mum's gonna kill me, boy."

She just wagged her tail and he sighed and patted her head again and they wandered down a road sparkling with Christmas lights. 

"Here," he said, finally. The dog stopped, looked up at him with soulful brown eyes.

They were stood outside a house with fewer lights than the rest, a yellow string of tree-lights thrown haphazardly over the porch, a tiny reindeer glowing on the patch of grass outside. The boy planted his feet by the door, took a steadying breath and raised his knuckles to knock. Warm light was flooding out from the window, but there was no music, only argumentative chatter.

He grimaced back at the dog, and then the door was flung open and two heavy arms tucked around his shoulders. An older woman sobbed against the muddied coat, choking noises of "Harry, oh, Harry," stark and loud in the frigid night. Alarmed, the dog pulsed forwards and licked at the back of Harry's jeans. The mother pulled him away and the door was slammed and she remained solitary on the porch, head tilted at the faded oak.

The music swelled again lightly, the conversational tones made indistinguishable. The dog whined. A small turkey made its way onto the table, the crown jewel beyond the window. 

She turned away and headed clumsily down the steps. Snowflakes melted onto her tongue, burrowed below her fur, stung at the ice-hardened pads of her paws. The little tail ceased its fruitless shimmy and stilled, as motionless as the reindeer statue on the white-flecked grass.

Then the door creaked. 

"Woof, boy," Harry whispered. He extended a silver dish with a slice of turkey.

The dog yapped playfully and rushed back up the steps. The boy laughed and ruffled the fur between her ears as she ate, lights twinkling in his eyes, a towel strewn hastily over his damp shoulders. His mother's grip on his arm tightened.

"Can we keep him?"

"It's a pitbull, Harry," the mother frowned. "It's dangerous. Come on inside now."

Harry looked at the stubby tail, at the open mouth constantly stretched into a dopey smile, at the ears that kept flopping over those imploring eyes. He frowned. 

"But he helped me get home, mum."

"You're grounded as it is," she said. "And you're certainly not getting a dog." 

She gestured him back inside. He sighed, patting the dog's muzzle. 

"Sorry, boy," he said. "Come visit soon, OK?"

The dog, of course, had no understanding of the words that were being spoken. But the defeated tone, the way the voice lilted with an almost harmonious sadness, the way his fingers tapped a slow rhythm of the background's music onto her flank, encouraged another quiet whimper. She licked the grease off the rim of the bowl and then licked the boy's fingers, too, but only to comfort him. 

"Good boy," he said, splaying his fingers against her nose. 

The mother looked out into the empty street. The snow swirled and danced violently, falling thickly against gravel. Gold and red lights illuminated it; it looked like an auric liquid, something so irrevocably alive in a season so devoid of it. 

The same lights shone in the dog's eyes, a glint so subtly emotive it caved her, gnawed at her mind like a dog at a bone. The creature barked. 

"What will you name him?" she asked, quietly, into the night. 

The boy grinned and buried his face into her midriff, tears in his eyes, laughter in his throat. The dog jumped up and barked loudly, spinning wildly between their legs. 

"Thank you," he said, tiptoeing to plant a sloppy kiss on her cheek. 

"What a terrible name for a dog," the mother grinned, ruffling his hair. She widened the crack in the door and gestured inside, and both boy and dog obeyed. 

The lights outside brightened the snow. It was pretty to look at, but the dog much preferred laying by the fire than to sit in the resulting sleet. 

Luckily, that's where she was, and exactly where she was staying.


© Copyright 2019 Jadi. All rights reserved.

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