Second book in the Gift Trilogy

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Friday, 15 August 2008

Breath from Hell.

The early seventies could be seen as the Indian summer of the sixties, an over ripe period, which withered into autumn – winter - then punk. The seeds, had I known it then, were evident as I bounced down rickety steps beneath a bedraggled Union Jack. From two crackly speakers, music played: vaguely martial, too faint to tell. The Seventies were a shabby period, but I was glad to be home.

I arrived back in Liverpool late and decided to stay the night at Dave’s and Carol’s – my absurdly young uncle and aunt. Uncles then wore cardigans and smoked pipes, but not those two. They still don’t. I remember some hesitation as to where to put me. I could see their minds working…Tangier doss houses…probably hasn’t washed for weeks….bed-bugs…, but I think they were pleased with my gift of two stuffed camels.

I slept on the couch below a window under attack from a dangerously close tree. On the floor opposite me slept their incredibly ancient dog, Towser – a mongrel old English sheepdog - all hair and nose and sharp black eyes. Every time I woke up and turned he was watching me, occasionally sighing.

Outside the wind picked up, agitating the tree. With every gust the window banged and giant spider-like shadows played across the room. Towser stared reproachfully and pulled himself across the floor. With something between a leap and a scrabble he hauled himself onto the couch and positioned himself on my chest. Two black eyes stared down into mine, and breath that smelled of decomposing rat enveloped me.

I lay there trapped, aware of my debt. The effort had nearly killed him but he was bent on protecting a friend. I closed my mouth and nose, and breathed through my ears, remembering when Towser had been an excitable ball of fluff on a bright red lead…

I may have been eleven, and Dave had called round with this dog. Uncle John (he was someone else who didn’t wear cardigans, or smoke a pipe) had once brought us rabbits. I convinced myself that the dog, too was such a gift, and fell at once in love. We went on a long walk to the canal bridge, separating Aintree from Maghull, him tugging and me thinking of names. I had to have him…why else had Dave brought him…? The dog was mine.

I’ve had bigger disappointments.

Now here he was, breathing like a bad-breathed old man and protecting me from lay outside. Neither of us slept that night.

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