This soul-shudd’ring vaccum

The mornings were always hectic; trodden-on toast underfoot, spilt orange juice slicked over the wood-look floors, kids wailing ceaselessly, and always the misplaced car keys. Having scoured every feasible pocket, Peter Harvey, after an epic bout of expletive-splangled ranting, had eventually found the keys down behind the microwave oven. Why hadn’t he thought of looking there before? Jill took the boys to school earlier on Tuesday mornings because Peter had to get to the showroom on the wrong side of town for nine, in time for the weekly consignment of family saloons to be sold to debt-soused families.

He crunched over the drizzle-silvered gravel to the car; the trees dripping dirty droplets down onto the bottox-smooth bonnet. He could see the neighbours’ dog, an overweight golden retriever called, non-cryptically, Goldy, barking repeatedly from behind the creosotted fence that separated the two front gardens. Peter opened the car door and was about to slide down into the seat when he noticed that the dog had got out onto the pavement and was now barking at him; the snout bouncing back softly after each bark like the nozzle of a shotgun. He looked over at the neighbours’ house, which made up the other half of the block containing the Harvey’s semi-detached, but could see no lights on or indication of anybody being there. The Ironstones were meticulously organised and would have already left for the combined school run/office dash.  Peter sighed exaggeratedly; he wasn’t going to re-insert the dog into the garden, not this morning at any rate.

He thought about the Ironstones as he fitted the delinquent key into the ignition and rested his left hand on the top of the steering wheel; they were pleasant enough as a family, but something about them irritated him. Ian Ironstone always insisted on talking to him about any sporting incident whenever they found themselves in their respective back gardens; he seemed to think that this was the kind of vernacular to which Peter Harvey respond, even though he, and so it happened Peter as well, had zero interest in sport. Their kids played together from time to time, and occasionally they invited each other over for optimistic barbeques under hungry clouds, standing around with bottles of lager talking about the fourth round of the Welsh Cup.  But still something about them rubbed Peter Harvey up the wrong way, everything was too nice; never any shouting at the kids in the garden for digging holes in the lawn or slamming the living-room door so hard that the handle left a dent in the plasterwork. Nothing like that.

Peter glanced suddenly at his wrist-watch; Jesus! A quarter to nine! He reversed with a lunge out of his narrow drive. He felt a soft, contained thud accompanied by some muffled yelping. He continued reversing but could feel something impeding the rear wheels, almost as if he were driving backwards through tyre high mud. He cut the engine and, swearing robustly, stepped out of his car and aimed himself towards the boot. Goldy, of course, was lying there, trapped and mangled, under the back end of the Volvo. Canine blood was smeared across the road like reluctant rainfall. Peter inspected the dog; it was dead, the eyes unseeing and fixed rigidly on the papier-maché sky, the fur pinkly tinged. Peter looked up and down the street; it was virtually empty except for some late, loitering school boys at the further end kicking at a can. They hadn’t noticed anything. Peter thought fast but fracturedly; he took two plastic carrier bags out of the back of the car and put them over his hands like outsized surgical gloves. He then lifted the dog into the boot and covered it with a tartan blanket that had been kept there for some forgotten reason, maybe that picnic that was rained off last Easter.

He took a bottle of long stagnant water from under the passenger seat and used the brackish liquid to rinse away any traces of Goldy’s blood.  Peter got back in the car and forced himself to focus; the clouds percolated quietly overhead and a skinny rain began to leak down onto the silent street. He could always just explain what had happened to the Ironestones, but he felt an incipient weariness weigh him down as he contemplated breaking the news to them:

“Goldy? Yes, what about her, Peter? We’ve been looking for her all day. Have you seen her? The kids’ll be so relieved …”

No, he couldn’t tell them; it would take too much administration, better to sidestep such a tedious encounter. He’d get rid of the dog somewhere, maybe in the woods behind the garage. Dig a hole in the undergrowth, a few feet deep, and tumble the dog into it. Nobody walked around out there, except for dubious men with hardcore pornographic magazines, and anyway, what did he care? It wasn’t as if he’d killed somebody, it was only a dog. No, he’d dump it in the woods and then commiserate with the Ironestones over their canine loss when the time came.

He drove off to the showroom with the cooling cadaver hidden snugly in the boot, past dogwalkers unaware that here was their antithesis; the dead dog driver. He planned to slip out at lunch, ostensibly to buy some shin pads for his son, and drive through the back lanes to the get to the rear of the underwood and then somehow hump the ex-retriever through the thick ferns to a convenient, overlooked spot. However, the consignement of family saloons turned up three hours late; a cattle-truck had jack-knifed on the dual carriageway, bovine parts strewn across the lanes, a tailback that reached all the way back to the service station. He then decided that he’d knock off a bit early and bury Goldy before heading home. A call from his wife put paid to that; she couldn’t get to the school in time so could he pick up the kids? And the nextdoor neighbours kids?

He got caught up in his work that rain-whitened afternoon; sorting through bales of invoices and typing data into the out-of-date pc they used in the office. The body of the dog mouldering quiety in the boot was shunted off into the unvisited suburbs of his mind. He collected the kids at 4.30 and threw their satchels and sports bags into the boot, on top of the blanket-shrouded Goldy. Nigel Ironstone sat next to him in the passenger seat, flicking through a copy of Scoop, whilst the others argued in the back seat. Later on, after the cheerless saga of the homework, they all ate microwaved fishfingers and peas together in the kitchen. The big discussion was the forthcoming sports’ day and the array of events that Peter Harvey would have to grin his way through.

The elaborate electronic buzzer rang out, and Jill got up to answer the door. She spoke to somebody for a moment or two, and then rummaged through Peter’s jacket before going back to the front door and slamming it shut. Peter looked up as she came back into the kitchen:

“Who was that then? The nefarious fishfinger thief?”

The kids laughed happily even though they didn’t know what “nefarious” meant. Jill sat down;

“It was Nigel Ironstone, that’s all.

“What did he want? Aren’t his parents feeding him?”

“No, he said his pencil case had fallen out of his satchel. So, I gave him your keys and told him to have a look in the boot”

Peter’s cutlery clattered down onto the mock-wood table, scattering fragments of fishfinger and sending rogue peas running along the floor. He shoved back his chair and lurched heavily down the hall to the front door, knocking over the low telephone table as he went. He tore open the door and looked over a the car. Ian Ironestone and his wife were positioned besides the opened boot, their son was shrieking, blood drooling down over his t-shirt and staining his upraised hands. They continued to stare at Peter, open-mouthed.


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