When we got home from mass there was a farmer waiting outside our house.
‘Is that your dog?’
Nelson was in his usual place on the doorstep. He wagged his tail weakly in greeting.
I nodded shyly.
‘He was chasing sheep. I had to put a shot in him.’
I looked again and saw that our pet’s neck was hanging open. Where his black coat met his white chest there was a glaring open wound. It wasn’t red like the spots on the doorstep under him but a lurid pink with bluish purple bits showing through it. I didn’t know a gunshot wound could be so big, so bright. On TV all you see is a litle bullet-hole and a speck of blood.
‘Where are your parents?’
‘In the shop.’
Our parents had a grocery shop in the village. It would be busy now with The Mass Crowd forming a queue down the little aisle, stopping in town on the way home for a pint of milk, or some forgotten ingredient for the dinner. In a few years we’d be working there too.
My little sister started to cry. The farmer explained again that he’d had to shoot our dog and went away to find our parents.
Nelson looked up at us pitifully. His big brown eyes just showed pain and confusion. He had made it home. How lucky, I thought, that he wasn’t killed. The farmer mustn’t have got a good shot. He must have seen him run home and given chase. At least he didn’t finish him off.
My child’s brain didn’t understand about wounding the animal so you can follow it home and claim damages from the owner. My child’s brain was certain that there had been some mistake.
He whimpered at us, but his voice was stifled and wheezing. I petted him to calm him and make him stop, the exertion of each pathetic little noise was clearly causing further pain. His breathing was desperate and laboured, made worse when he tried to move towards me. By now his imploring eyes had become bloodshot, as if the bleeding was somehow spreading across his body.
When my parents came home the vet was called and the suffering ended. I don’t remember much else but I had some of his blood on my clothes from when I hugged him.