True Love

True love came to me one crisp, autumn morning as I sat beside a creek at the back of our farm house. Mum was hanging out the washing on a line suspended between two trees. Because I was only six years old, I knew that Mum would be on my case if I ventured into the water. But venture in I had to as I saw what appeared to be a corn bag floating down the stream.

The water was freezing cold with a steady current. The stream was not at all deep and I had no difficulty in snagging the bag and drawing it into the creek bank. Mum left the washing to see for herself what I had found.

“Here, Benny, pull it over to me,” she said, “and I’ll help you get it out. Right over now, I don’t want to get wet. There we are. Now, let’s see what’s inside.” She began pulling at a knot that was holding the bag closed. Having released the knot, she upended the bag on the bank, and then stepped back in horror.

“Oh my God! The poor things!” she exclaimed. Five puppies lay on the river bank. I burst into tears.

Mum patted my shoulder. “Some people are just downright cruel,” she said. “Come on, son. We’ll dig a hole and give them a proper burial.” She began to return the bodies to the sack.

Then I saw one move, ever so weakly.

“Mum!” I shouted. “This one’s alive!”

Mum grabbed the puppy and pressed firmly on its rib cage. The puppy vomited a lot of water. Mum pressed again and once more the puppy vomited. The little creature began to whimper and lick its lips.

“Quick, son!” Mum said. “Run to the ice-chest and bring me a glass of milk.”

I ran as though a pack of dogs were after me and soon returned with the milk. Mum showed me how to dip my fingers into the bowl and feed the puppy from them. She took the other puppies away. I spent most of the morning feeding that little body. I saw that what we had rescued was a tiny, male, Fox Terrier. Soon, he whimpered and I held him close to my chest. He licked my face, and I knew that this one was mine. While he rested, I tried to think of a suitable name. Somehow, ‘Trickle’ seemed to be the name that suited him best, and so Trickle became my dog.

I had no brothers or sisters and Trickle soon took their place. I would run and he would follow, more often than not, tripping his little body on my heels. Dad taught me how to make him obey my orders and, as we both grew older, he stayed at my side whenever I was home from school. My teacher in Grade 3 was a cranky woman who handed out lots of punishments. I’d tell Trickle about her as I re-did the work she claimed was not good enough. It was not long before the mention of her name was enough to cause Trickle to growl. Of course, this sent me into paroxysms of laughter and I did it more often. Trickle always obliged.

I became convinced that Trickle could help me with my maths homework. He would curl up at the foot of the bed and I would ask him the multiplication questions I had to do for homework. While I knew most of them, I would occasionally ‘get stumped’, and I would say to Trickle, “Three times eight, Trickle? Is that 22?” He would remain silent. “Maybe 24?” and he would immediately bark. I had the answer I needed. That he was as often wrong as right made no difference.

Trickle soon learned to become an expert ratcatcher. A farm has more than its share of rats and, despite Trickle’s efforts, the rat population continued to grow. Dad was forced to pen the neighbour’s cat into the barn to help Trickle sort the problem. Together they kept the rat population within manageable limits. A cat was always available when we needed it as our neighbour, Mrs. Stepcott, had long given up work. She kept seventeen cats in a four bedroom home with her and was always willing to lend one out when we needed her help. Dad rotated her cats through our barn and, aided by Trickle, they saved us from being overrun with vermin.

Because I lived on a farm, I became used to living with life and death. Cows would bog in a dam during times of drought where their eyes would be attacked by crows. Then, we would have to shoot them and tow their dead bodies from the mud with the farm tractor. We would pile the wood high about their sometimes bloated corpses and burn their remains to ash. But it never occurred to my young mind that all of us, Trickle included, had a used-up date. He and I formed a friendship that held no room for other than endless fun.

When Trickle and I were both older, I went to high school in a nearby town. I was not able to come home more often than at weekends. Trickle was now well on in years but always welcomed me in the same way when I came home. He would jump up, and then roll on his back as he waited for me to rub his stomach with my hand. He would lie at my feet and listen to the conversation around him. He continued to find ways to express what he was thinking.

One Friday evening I arrived home to find Mum bursting with news. It eventuated that Mrs. Stepcott, unknown to anybody, had taken a fall down her back steps. It was Trickle who had found her and run home to grab Dad by his trousers leg. Dad had become quite angry with the dog’s antics until Mum realised that Trickle was trying to lead my father somewhere. Dad followed and found the old lady, who had to be taken off to hospital.

I was in the habit of bringing girls home to the farm. Dad had built it up to be a very profitable venture and had appointed a family to help him with the heavier tasks. The girl of the moment, Trickle and I would stroll beside the stream and swim in the waterholes. Often, a girl and I would engage in some heavy petting. Trickle could always tell if a relationship was meant to last. He would lie beside us, as the latest conquest and I nuzzled each other and, then, if he did not approve of the girl, he would ease highly putrid gas from his bowel. No degree of ardour could withstand his opinion. If he liked my friend, he would lick her ear and behave, while we went about our business.

One day I quarrelled with a girl I particularly liked. As usual, I had been trying to get inside her shirt and she had rebuffed my advances. Frustrated and angry, I had walked away, leaving her seated with Trickle beside a waterhole. I found out later that she had decided to go for a walk beside the creek. Not watching where she was going, she had pushed through some stands of long grass, only to be confronted by our stud bull. She stopped, but the bull, registering anger at being confronted without warning by another being, pawed the ground preparatory to charging. The girl froze in fright. Trickle charged the bull, barking and snapping, and then biting its nose. The bull attempted to butt its pursuer but Trickle was too quick and dodged all the bull’s frantic rushes. Finally, the bull turned and ran away, while Trickle saw him off.

It was in my last year of high school that I lost my friend. He had been ailing but always made the effort to greet me as I entered the house. One day, he did not rise but merely licked my hand. I glanced in alarm at my mother. She informed me that the vet had visited at her request and had reported that the old dog’s heart was ready to stop pumping. His days were almost over. I stayed at his side for much of that night but next morning, he gave a little ‘Yip’ and was still.

Trickle is buried now alongside his brothers and sisters.