One very windy day when I was eleven, my mother came to pick my brothers and me up from primary school with a small plastic bag in her hand. When I asked her what she was holding, she said ?Nothing,? rather shortly, and put her hand behind her back. We got home that afternoon to find a tiny black-and-tan kelpie puppy hiding under the kitchen table, next to a small yellow puddle and my father?s shoes. When I picked her up to give her a pat, she peed on my school dress.
We had owned dogs before?blind, deaf and grumpy when I knew them, which wasn?t very well as they were already old and faded quickly?but it had been a couple of years since Jody had finally gone and the house had been pet-free. My mother wasn?t consulted about Mocha; Dad picked her up on impulse from one of our Tolmie neighbours. She was the runt of the litter?smaller than my school shoes at 6 weeks?but that didn’t matter in the city. My brothers complained for awhile that she was annoying, that we didn?t need her, or that she had chewed through their socks and was clearly uncontrollable. But I caught one of them saying a heartfelt goodnight to her late one Saturday. I considered paying him out at the time but thought better of it.
When I started high school, my mother would come upstairs every morning at 6:45am to wake me up. Mocha would bound in after her and lick me on the hand or the face or whichever part of me was closest to the edge of the bed?if she could make it through the mess on my bedroom floor. When I was living in Poland she?d still come upstairs while Mum woke up my brothers, and would run down to the end of the corridor where my bedroom was just to see (Mum used to say) if I had come back in the night and she hadn?t noticed. On her birthday and Christmas day we?d give her toast with Vegemite for breakfast. She loved it so much that on the few occasions when she escaped into the street and refused to come back, all we needed to do was flick the spring on the toaster and she?d be back at our feet within seconds.
She had been getting old for awhile but had only started to show it in the last few years. When I took her for a walk on Christmas Eve (two blocks, that?s all she could manage) I wondered how I would feel when she died. She was 14. We all knew it was inevitable, but it?s hard to know how you?ll react to something until it actually happens. I had been preparing myself for awhile?making sure I said goodbye to her properly every time I left the house in case it was the last time I saw her. I?ve been living out of home for years, but still the thought choked me up, and I realised then how much weight our pets carry in our lives, and how much just knowing she was still around was a source of comfort and support even from the other side of the country.
Mocha always knew damn well when we were going travelling, no matter how much we tried to pretend otherwise, and would race out the front door and jump into the front seat of the car at the first opportunity. She would sit in the car, sometimes for hours, while we packed. ?You?re not going anywhere without me.? On Tuesday morning, it was no different. I was headed to Moulamein, my father out bush with our cousins, and Mocha was already sitting up in the back of the Land Cruiser with her tongue hanging out and a giant grin on her face. I didn?t get a chance to give her a goodbye pat?I was running late and too busy wondering if I?d forgotten to pack something myself. That was the last time I saw her, because six hours later, in a beautiful piece of bush called Limestone, my stupid, careless second-cousin drove off without looking and caught her under the front wheel. She was so badly hurt, they shot her. I didn?t find out until Friday afternoon when I turned my phone back on and found voicemail messages from my 23-year-old brother, drunk and distraught and mostly incomprehensible at half past midnight, pleading with me to call him, please, just call him.
You know your childhood is over when your childhood pets die. 2009 ended with a tempest. My childhood ended last Tuesday with a gunshot and a whimper. Part of me feels like we ought to qualify our sadness and anger with ?It?s just a dog, but?? but the truth is, it?s never ?just a dog?. And if the lumps on her chest had turned to cancer and we?d been forced to take her to the vet to have her put down, I probably wouldn?t have felt so angry. We were prepared for something like that and it would have given the whole family some kind of closure, not to mention saving that beautiful, trusting animal such acute stress and trauma. But instead she was killed by someone else?s hard black skidding tyre and a bullet to the brain. It wasn?t the way it should have been?it never is. But she damn well didn?t deserve to have it end like that.
I miss her.