New Dog

By Andy Goss

‘We need a dog,’ she said.

‘There will never be another Suki, you know that.’

‘Yes. But it was so good, having that other person, that animal person in our lives. It just seems right to me. Suki has left such a hole.’

Joe fiddled with his teacup, turning it round and round, peering into it as if the answer lay within. But you can’t tell fortunes with a teabag.

‘Right. So where do we look? The RSPCA?’ Joe knew there was no point in arguing, once Kate had her teeth into an idea she wasn’t going to leave it alone for long. Somehow it would sneak into any conversation, however irrelevant, until he gave in.

‘Jodie knows some people on a farm who have a litter of Collie Kelpie crosses,’ said Kate. ‘I’ll ask tomorrow.’

Foregone conclusion, thought Joe. Never stood a chance. Not that he minded, exactly, it was the way she always set him up to lose, even when it wasn’t an argument, that saddened him. But when you love someone you just love them, if you thought you knew why you loved them then it wasn’t love, it was something else, good maybe, but less. Not what you take heavy vows about.

Dogs had never been a part of Joe’s life, or Kate’s come to that, until eight years ago when she took on Suki. Kate had been living in a caravan on a farm, writing a book, and the farm sheepdog had produced a litter of pups that got everywhere, including the kitchen. One of them, the runt, had a drop of boiling water fall on her back, leaving a long scar, making her unsaleable. So the farmer gave her to Kate. That’s the sort of thing that happened to Kate.

Suki and Kate made a team. Suki was unusually intelligent, even for a Collie cross, and loyal to a degree that made her seem more than human. By the time the book was finished, and Kate had come back to the city, Suki had grown into a handsome, lively, well-behaved real person of a dog. The scar was buried under lustrous fur, and she would trot along next to Kate, alert to the world around her, ready for whatever came up.

Joe was delighted to see Kate again. Theirs had been an oddly disjointed relationship, as one or the other of them had needed to move away for a while. Always there was an unspoken certainty that they would come back, and no sense that when they did that it had to be for keeps.

Suki, though, was a poser for Joe. His flat was on the top floor, and although the landlord raised no objections Joe was not at first ready to share Kate with anyone, even Suki.

‘We can go to the farm on Saturday,’ Kate said as soon as she came home next day. ‘It’s about an hour and a half, I think.’

‘Saturday’s OK, as along as I’m back by six, the month end run starts then and it crashes every time.’

‘Why do you do that stupid job? Why not work for a bank or whatever?’

‘Because I quite like turning out at three on a Sunday morning to fix someone else’s rubbish code. And I adore the money.’

Kate sighed. She had never compromised for money. Other people had though, she knew that, even if she didn’t admit it. She suspected Joe did this work so she didn’t have to. He was investing in her, with no prospect of any return. Well, she was his return, she supposed, I do this job and I get a bit of Kate in my life. That made Kate uneasy, she didn’t like to be dependent on anyone, even Joe. Or maybe especially Joe.

Suki had lived eight good years and had then been put down when what had been diagnosed as arthritis turned out to be spinal cancer. That had been at the animal hospital on the other side of town. Kate had not been able to say goodbye. Kate missed Suki. Joe was part sad, he had come to appreciate Suki’s depth of character, her mute wisdom and love. But he also felt liberated, a complication had gone from his life, no need to go on walks in all weathers, no need to stop by the roadside at inconvenient intervals. No-one to stand between him and Kate.

Suki used to love her walks in the bush, or on the winter beaches, chasing seagulls and sending up plumes of salt spray along the tide line. No more smell of wet dog in the car, no more throwing damp sticks until his arm ached. Suki’s bowls were wrapped in her blanket, and put in her basket on top of the cupboard. Neither Kate nor Joe had suggested getting rid of them.

‘What’s the address?’ said Joe, taking down the battered indoors Melways. ‘More like two hours I reckon, and it’s going to be hot. Aircon would have been worth the extra.’

‘What are window winders for, softie,’ said Kate. ‘Let the breeze do the cooling.’

Which kind of worked. Joe liked the Kingswood wagon for that reason if for no other, the HX was the only car he had ever known that didn’t buffet with the windows down at 80 k’s or more. But today was going to be a test. Not just hot but Hot hot. The sooner they started the sooner they could be back, re-dogged.

Barrelling along country roads was what Joe felt he was made for, should have been a book rep like he’d always wanted, or a travelling accountant like Kate’s dad. Today the sunnies brought out the colours in the landscape, well browned by now, another month and the even the brown would fade in the crackling heat.

The radio signal died not far out of town, and Kate twirled the knob trying to find another, but there was nothing worth hearing, so they listened to the world going by and tried to agree on a name for the new dog. In the end all they agreed that they should wait until they met the mutt.

‘I’ll know a Henry when I see one,’ said Kate.

‘Juno for me,’ said Joe. ‘Or Scylla, or . . .’


‘No, my love, a dog with snakes in it’s hair, won’t do.’

‘We turn right quite soon. It’ll say Cartwright.’

And it did, marking a long dusty corrugated track leading to a house on a hillside surrounded by old white gums. Joe parked in the shade and they walked up to the house.

‘Hi, I’m Kate and this is Joe, we’ve come about the puppies.’

Mrs Cartwright was a tall, lean woman, not young but not old either. Timeless, weathered and glowing, moving with a muscular grace that Joe admired, silently, and Kate resented, just a little.

The pups were in an outhouse, a tumbling scrum of tiny, soft, dark, floppy-eared bodies. At first they all looked the same, but gradually individual characters stood out.

‘That one’s little but looks bright,’ said Kate. ‘It’s looking at us, it’s interested in what’s happening.’

‘Yes, we want a friend, not a guard dog. That one then?’

‘Yup,’ said Kate, ‘that one.’

A small wad of money was handed over, and Mrs Cartwright offered tea, which couldn’t be refused. She and Kate talked, Joe’s mind wandered, and through the window he could see the wind getting up, tree branches lashing wildly.

‘We should go, Kate, before the weather gets worse.’

‘Of course. Thanks for the tea Mrs Cartwright.’

Outside the hot wind hit them. It was two o’clock, and they had a three hour drive ahead, into the hottest hours of the day. The car was baking and stuffy, but it was good to be on the move, hot air is better when it blows. Not much though.

As they drove the air got hotter, too hot to have the windows down, so they sat and suffered, even with the fan on high.

‘Perhaps,’ said Joe, ‘if I turn the fan off, we will get really sweaty. Then if I turn it back on again, the air will evaporate the sweat and cool us down. Like a Coolgardie safe. Sort of.’

‘Try it.’

So he did, and it worked. Sort of.

‘What do we call her, Joe?’


‘No! You and your bloody Greeks! A proper name we can call out.’

‘Cyn – thi – AHHHH!’

‘Seriously. Poor little thing.’


‘Muffet? Can’t we do better than that?’

But they couldn’t, so Muffet it was.

Muffet panted.

‘Can’t we cool her down, Joe? We should have brought water.’

‘We should keep a can of water in the back anyway, in case. I’ll have to get one. Try and spot a dam or a creek.’

They did find a creek, and dunked Muffet in it. She began to shiver, so they wrapped her in a rug and put her back in the car with a damp towel to sit on later.

With the mercury topping fifty C they got home, turned on the fan and sat down with a beer and a small dog. Muffet began to explore, sniffing and making little pouncing jumps, bright eyes taking everything in. Kate reached down the basket and bowls. Bowls big enough for Muffet to swim in.

Suki’s bowls. Suki’s rug. Suki’s basket. Kate looked at Muffet, Joe looked at Kate. Kate looked at Joe.

‘So little, Joe.’

‘Yes,’ said Joe, ‘I know.’


Image by Jairo Alzate.