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Published: 13 March 2024.

by Gerry Gaffney

Line drawing of a hand patting a dog's head

Vera was walking the dog around the park. She looked at the young woman coming towards her. She had a young boy with her, probably her son. Vera saw the boy was holding tightly to his mother's dress and chattering away to her. He looked very cute and Vera smiled at the woman. She smiled back.

They're so nice at that age, she thought. So dependent and compliant. And then one day you turn around and there's a stranger living in your house. One who is disobedient, scornful and monosyllabic. Who has to be cajoled or forced to go to school or tidy his room and who seems intent on following a bad life trajectory. She sighed.

Other parents complained about their teenagers, too. But they always seemed well-behaved to her in comparison with Jake. Their kids were studying, playing sports, planning their further studies when high school finished. That reminded her that Marianne was coming over with her boy Charlie. He was a good kid, head of the class. He went rowing with his school team at 6am a few times a week. Apparently he was going to study Law, follow in his father's footsteps. Marianne's instagrams showed Charlie dressed up for a formal party, Charlie playing football, Charlie making a year-end speech at school assembly.

Maybe if Jake hung around with Charlie a bit more often some of that polish would rub onto him. Some enthusiasm and ambition. She looked at her watch. Time to go home and get organised for the visitors. She looked around for the dog. "Axle," she called. "Home!" Axle came reluctantly.


Vera knocked on Jake's bedroom door. "Jake."

There was no response or sound of movement. She knocked again.


A grunt, something unintelligible.

"Charlie and his mum are coming over in less than an hour. You have to get up, have a shower."

Another grunt.

"What time did you go to bed?"

No response. Why did I even ask that, she wondered.

She knocked again.

"Are you getting up?"

"Yes!" he yelled. "Leave me alone."

By the time Marianne and Charlie arrived, Jake had surfaced and had a shower. At least he looked clean.

Vera set out a platter on the garden table. Her daughter Amy had helped her prepare. Not yet a teenager. Thank God. One is enough. More than enough.

Her husband Mark joined them for a few minutes and then excused himself to do something in the garage.

Jake led Charlie into his room. Axle the dog padded along behind them.

"Take your sister with you," said Vera.

In Jake's room Amy sat on a beanbag with a book. Jake sat on his bed and Charlie on a chair by the desk. The dog flopped down on a rug in a patch of sunlight, nudging the cat out of his way.

Charlie said, "What are you in trouble for this week?"


Charlie laughed. "Bullshit. I can tell. Your problem is you don't know how to handle your parents."

He looked around the room.

"Hey, mum told me your dog had epilepsy. That's cool, I didn't know dogs could get it."

"Not cool," said Jake. "If he has another seizure he'll probably have to go on medication."

"Was he drooling and frothing and speaking in tongues?"

Despite himself, Jake laughed.

"No, just twitching and shaking. He pissed himself too."

"Can you make him do it again?"

"Don't be stupid. Why would I do that?"

"So I can see it of course, dummy."

Charlie looked at the dog.

"Here Axle, good dog."

Axle looked at him but didn't move.

"Maybe he needs a cat scan," said Charlie. He tried to grab the cat but the cat arched its back and hissed at him.

"Maybe not. Got any good games?"

Jake said, "I was playing 'LiteSword' but that's what set off the dog's epilepsy we think. It's got lots of strobe effects. So obviously we can't play that while the dog is here."

Charlie started to look through Jake's collection of games.

"The other controller is in the lounge room, I'll go and get it," said Jake.

When he came back, he saw that Charlie had put LiteSword in the console and started it up.

He was holding the dog's head trying to force it to look at the screen.

"Hey, what hell are you doing?"

Suddenly the dog started to twitch. Charlie dropped Axle's head and the dog lay on the floor, twitching spasmodically.

Amy ran from the room. "Mum! The dog is having another seizure."

Vera rushed in from the garden.

She saw LiteSword running on the console.

"Jesus Christ, Jake, I've had it with you!" She pushed him aside and yanked the power cord from the console.

The dog's twitching was causing its head to hit against a metal table leg. Vera bent down to move it.

"Don't go near its head," yelled Amy.

As she gently tried to move its head, the dog bit Vera's hand convulsively, then abruptly stopped shaking.

Vera screamed. There was blood coming from her hand. Two finger-tips lay on the floor beside the dog.

Jake raced from the room and came back with a bowl of water and a roll of gauze.

His mother was sitting on the bed staring at her injured hand. Marianne had come into the room and was standing around uselessly with a glass of wine in her hand. Her other hand was on Charlie's shoulder.

Jake turned to Amy. "Get Dad. Quick."

He held his mother's hand and rinsed it in the bowl of water, then wrapped the gauze around her injured fingers.

"Bend your elbow and keep your hand up," he told her.

Amy arrived back with their father.

"Dad, dial emergency. The dog bit off two of Mum's fingers."

His father looked flustered but did as he was asked.

Jake was scrolling on his phone, looking for guidance on severed fingers.

"Okay," he said, "we have to clean them and put them on ice."

Suddenly the cat pounced on the fingers.

Jake kicked at it it, and it dropped the fingers and stared at him malevolently.

"Amy, take the cat and dog into the garden."

He picked up the fingertips and took them to the kitchen. He rinsed them carefully and put them on a tea-towel.

He dampened some gauze and wrapped it around each finger individually.

He ran back into his room and got some small plastic bags that he'd normally use for weed. He put each gauze-wrapped fingertip in a bag, and then put them together in another bag.

He got a plastic Tupperware container, and added some ice. He covered the ice with more gauze to make a cold bed for the fingertips. He clipped the lid on firmly and examined the container. It looked okay.

Back in his room his father was still talking to emergency services. He was very pale. His mother was moaning quietly.

Jake said to Amy, "Get a couple of paracetamol tablets and a couple of ibuprofens and a glass of water and give them to Mum. No aspirin."

"It's going to be half-an-hour for an ambulance," said his Dad. He was still on the phone. "They say it'd be quicker if I drove her. What did you do with the fingers?"

"I'll tell them."

Jake took the phone and spoke to the dispatcher. He described what he'd done.

"Good," she said. "Bring them with you to the hospital. Try to keep them cushioned as much as you can."

Charlie and his mother were still in the room, dithering. Jake spoke to Charlie's mother. "We'll manage this from here. No need for your guys to hang around. We'll call you later."

Marianne was reluctant in case she could help, but Charlie seemed keen to leave.

"Let's go," he said, pulling his mother's sleeve, "they've got it under control."

Jake's father drove carefully to the hospital, trying to avoid bumps. It was a short trip along city roads, so there was some stopping and starting. His father swore whenever they had to stop for a red light.

Jake's mother said in a weak voice, "I can't believe you put on that game in front of the dog again. How can you be so irresponsible?"

Amy spoke up from the back. "It wasn't Jake, it was Charlie. He wanted to see what would happen."

"I can't believe Charlie would do that," said her mother. "He's a good kid."

Amy snorted. "He's a bully and a liar," she said. "And a dickhead."

"Don't swear," Vera said automatically. She looked at her husband, who shrugged.

Jake sat next to Amy in the back seat, looking out the window as they approached the hospital, his mother's severed fingers cradled on his lap.


Copyright © Gerry Gaffney 2024