The dog is sniffing a brown paper bag on the floor, his coat is shiny from the good food he’s been eating, he picks the paper bag up with his mouth and drops it at Pat’s feet. Pat laughs and rubs his head, satisfied with the adulation he’s received for bringing a piece of rubbish to his master he lies down on the floor, resting his head on his paw and closing his eyes. The money in Pat’s pocket is growing ever smaller, it’s not all gone but he’s going to have to be a bit more careful. He twists his lip, a decision needs to be made but misplaced nostalgia is holding him back.
Looking back on life a person prefers to remember the good things. The old flat. He remembers sitting in there with friends, acquaintances, drinking the night away and laughing and joking. Those nights were few and far between, usually it was cold and damp, noises in the night waking him from an already restless sleep. Checking the door before he went inside to make sure it was safe and there wasn’t someone with evil motives lurking in the dark room he called home. He remembered the good nights though and it was those good nights he’s clinging on to, stopping him from leaving in the hope they’ll happen again. Just the once would be good enough.
He stands up, Socrates follows, his lead has now been dispensed with, he won’t leave Pat’s side, not even for the small bird which is chirping and teasing him from the canal side tree. Instead of taking the path towards home they carry on walking straight ahead, under the graffiti covered bridges, past canal boats which have been converted into homes, their owners lovingly tending to the floral arangements adorning the tops of the boats. The sun is still high in the sky, a beautiful evening, one for a good walk.
Tommy’s promise to see him had never come about. He doesn’t know what happened, if he’s still at home with his mother or if he went off again. The day he handed him the money and the lead to the dog Pat had changed his mind about killing himself. He’d also changed his mind about giving up the drink too, but he needed something. He often thought of Tommy and what had become of him, there was a large part of him who didn’t want to see him again because he was scared he’d resent his friend. He didn’t want to resent a kid who’d finally had a break.
Socrates barking breaks his thoughts, the dog is standing in the middle of the path and barking at the bushes, his eyes flicking back and forward between Pat and the unseen threat.
‘It’s just a bird, mate. He’s not going to bother you.’
He walks past the dog, expecting him to follow on but he remains still, a low growl coming from deep in his throat. Pat sighs, turning around to see what has startled him. There’s a gap in the bushes, through the gap he can see a small child sitting down playing with a plastic bag.
‘Where’s your mum, little man?’
‘I’m hiding from her.’
‘Why are you hiding from her?’
‘She didn’t buy me some sweets.’
‘You need to go and find her, mate. She’ll be worried about you!’
‘I don’t know where she is.’
Pat looks both ways along the canal path, hoping to see a distressed woman looking for a child. There is no one except for a couple of kids smoking a cigarette. There’s a bridge a hundred metres in front of him, a path from the canal up to the road to the side of it. Either he goes up to the road and tries to find the mother and risking the child disappearing or he brings the child with him and most likely be suspected of abducting him.
‘Come on, mate. Let’s try and find your mum.’
The boy emerges from the bushes and follows Pat and the dog, Pat tries to keep his distance not wanting to get to close to the child. At the top of the pathway to the bridge a woman is talking frantically on her phone, she sees the child and rushes towards him, first hugging him and then shouting at him.
‘Where did you go!?’
‘I was hiding, you were supposed to find me.’
‘Don’t ever do that again!’
Pat crosses the road, and walks down the path to the canal trying to look nonchalant, not wanting confrontation or praise.
‘Good boy!’ he rubs the dogs head, the dog looks pleased with himself. From his pocket he pulls a can of lager, opens it and takes a long swig. They sit down underneath the bridge, the sky is beginning to darken.
‘Where are we going to go, boy?’ The dog licks his hand. ‘We’re not going to go back to the flat, I’ve had enough of that place. I’m not sure where the canal even goes. It might go all the way up to Scotland. Fancy a trip to Scotland?’
A group of kids appear at the far end of the bridge, laughing and shouting loudly. One of them smashes a bottle against the ground. The dog growls, Pat puts one hand on his neck and shushes him. Socrates can sense his owner’s nervousness however and continues to growl. If Pat gets up now the kids will pay more attention to him, if he just sits here then they might just walk past. He stares straight across the canal, pretending to be lost in some unseen thing on the wall. They slow down as they approach, he can hear them whispering.
He feels a blow in his left side, one of the kids has launched a kick at him, one of his friends is now holding him back while the others laugh. Pat looks up at them, another approaches but the dog begins to bark loudly, he backs off.
‘Calm your dog down or we’ll hurt it.’ Pat pulls Socrates closer to him, holding him tightly by the fur, hoping he doesn’t manage to wiggle free and bite one of them. He’d like him too, but that could be end of the dog and the end of him. The kids edge past them, when they are far enough away one of them throws another bottle towards Pat but it smashes on the edge of the canal, the glass falling into the water. They make fun of the boy for missing, this angers him and he begins to walk back towards Pat. The dog breaks free, the boy turns and runs, the dog following.
‘Come here boy! It’s okay! Come back!’
The dog turns a corner in pursuit of the kids and out of sight. Pat jumps up and runs after them, reaching the main road he looks both ways but can see neither the dog or the kids. Not knowing which way to go he decides left, passing a parade of shops. Still no sign of the dog, he opens the door to one of the shops and asks the man if he’s seen any kids running past but the man waves him away dismissively.
‘I just want to find my dog, mate! Have you seen any kids?’
‘You think I care about your dog? Go on, fuck off, you’re not welcome in here.’
Pat continues to walk the streets, trying not to wander too far from the canal. Eventually he gives up, losing all hope he’d see the dog again. He’s a nice looking dog, someone might have picked him up and taken him in. That’s the best he can hope for, the worst he doesn’t want to think about. He searches in his pocket for the bundle of notes and pulls out a twenty pound note. The only shop open is the one where the owner told him to ‘fuck off’. He won’t serve him. A woman is outside the shop, just out of view of the owner.
‘Excuse me, could you do me a favour and get me a bottle of vodka? I have the money but the owner don’t like me. I’ve lost my dog and I want to get drunk.’
She looks him up and down and then smiles and takes the note. ‘Be two minutes.’ She reappears with the bottle in a bag and hands it to him, handing him the change too he tries to stop her but she shakes her head. ‘I hope you find your dog.’
A few hours ago him and the dog were going to go off on an adventure along the canal and now he’s sitting here despondent, already drunk and contemplating jumping in the canal. No one would know, they’d find him tomorrow and that’d be it. He can’t go back to the flat. He puts his head between his knees and begins to cry, wondering how it’s all ended up like this. How is his life dependent on a dog? He lies on his side, trying to fight his closing eyes, he hears the bottle of vodka tip over but he’s too tired to right it. His eyes close, falling into a sleep haunted by ghosts of the past and the torments of the present.