Old Dog

Ross opens the circular vent on the bottom of the coal burning Rayburn stove and gives the grate shaker a couple of hard rattles until the white ash and glowing embers fall into the steel pan below. Taking the aluminium kettle from the side hob of the stove he places it on the hot plate and waits until it begins to steam

 

Dressed in a white singlet vest and black trousers his vinyl slippers slap on the Linoleum council house sitting room floor 

 

He dunks a tea bag in to a mug filled with water from the steaming kettle, milks the tea and stirs in a desert spoon of sugar

 

He cuts a thick slice of white bread from the knife scarred bread board and spreads himself a generous smear of margarine from a plastic tub. He folds the bread in half and settles back into his worn arm chair parked close to the heat of the coal burning oven. He eats steadily and sups his mug of tea. Ross hand rolls a fat cigarette from a polished tobacco tin and smokes 

 

White stubble matches his short cut hair, black coal embedded scars on his hands, old blue tattoos are faded into his forearms

 

Outside the thin cold misty rain sweeps across the empty green pathways of the long closed railway, the sheep dotted moorlands are just half a mile away. A roman trackway separates the camouflage green pine pine trees planted in their serried dark forestry commission ranks. The rain dribbles down parked cars and trickles down the downpipes of the ranks of tired identikit council houses

 

The collieries are closed, the redundant old miners sit at home drinking tea while the open cast pit gives up it’s black Welsh coal to the draglines of the monstrous digger that claws the prehistoric carbon from below the sheep nibbled hills 

 

The old dog sleeps by the stove, milky white eyes closed, twitching dog dreams, it’s grey muzzle on it’s paws

 

The Rayburn stove draws air and burns warm as Ross rises from his chair, opens the kitchen door. In the outside shed he shovels small coal into a galvanised bucket

 

The back door is slammed by a wet gust of wind and the dog briefly opens her blind eyes. Ross places a work worn steel shovel by the back door and positions the bucket of coal by the side of the Rayburn stove.

 

He walks across the room and treads slowly upstairs, returning after a few ponderous minutes with socks and a pullover. He perches on the arm of the chair, easing woollen socks onto his feet and the pullover over his head. He closes the top and bottom damper vents on the coal burning stove and slowly eases into a yellow waterproof jacket. The waterproof jacket has WIMPEY stencilled across it’s wide back and has a National Coal Board woollen working man’s button up jacket nestled inside  

 

He takes a keyring from his jacket and reaches under the sofa. A long, grey oblong steel box is unlocked and with his forefinger placed deliberately outside of the trigger guard, he carefully lifts and breaks open a double barrelled shotgun. He quints down the barrels, closes the gun with an oily click and, putting his spectacles inside his coal board jacket pocket he returns to the steel box and carefully inserts a single red bodied and brass capped twelve bore cartridge into each of his two trouser side pockets

 

The gun slides into a dark green PVC waterproof case, the top fold over flap is secured with a large press stud

 

Sitting again and bending one foot up on to his knee he laces on a pair of work worn black leather steel toe capped boots. He buttons up the black NCB issued jacket under his raincoat and ties a red and white hand knitted scarf under his chin 

 

From a hook on the back door he places a flat cap on his head and collects a dog’s lead. The leather of the lead is black with use, the chrome on the is clip worn away. He tugs his cap on firmly, his fat fingers exactly matching a broad stain on the peak

 

He clicks the lead onto the dogs collar and gently lifts the old dog onto it's feet. Milky eyes open and blink slowly, Slipping the gun case over his shoulder he leads the dog slowly to the backdoor, collecting the shovel as he opens and closes the back door. They leave the house

 

The dog walks with stiff abrupt steps

 

Together they pace painfully slowly to the end of the street. Drops of water gleam on the toe caps of his boots. He carefully lifts the dog over a wooden stile and they walk away into the seeping moorland mist

 

A little later the wind sweeps a single muffled bang of the shotgun gun off and away into the forestry

 

Ross returns the shovel to the coal shed, hangs the dogs lead onto the hook on the back of the door. He takes the small key out of his trouser pocket, opens the oblong case, wipes the gun stock and carefully pulls a weighted rag through a single barrel. He takes an unused red cartridge case from his left pocket and returns it to the manufacturers box. The gun lies in the box, the box is locked. He slides it under the sofa

 

He sits down, opens his shiny cigarette tin. He slowly rolls and lights a fat cigarette

 

Steam rises from the kettle, he unfolds his newspaper and puts on his glasses

 

A single tear rolls down his face and lands with a gentle soft slap on the front page of the newspaper