SHADOW BY MY SIDE

 
 

Carmen called my name and suddenly they were all looking my way. I stood, took a deep breath, tuned out the view and tried to pretend this was just another boardroom, another presentation.

I remember ’ I began, booming it out, making sure I had their attention, making sure nobody could miss the message. I might have failed once, I was telling them, but just watch me now.

‘I remember my tenth birthday. There were flowers in front of the house, impatiens blooming everywhere. And balloons. There were balloons over the door and balloons at the front gate to tell everyone this was where the party was – as if they didn’t know. Just walk to the end of the road and if you hit the swamp you’ve gone too far.

‘I remember the dress my mother made for me, flowered like the impatiens, purples and pinks, and I had bows in my hair, and there was a cake that my mother and I made together, in the kitchen when that was still a good place to be; a blue and pink cake, iced in white. There was a drawing of me on the top, that I’d done myself, in icing. And it was my birthday, not Kate’s, not Garry’s. It was my last birthday party, although I didn’t know it then of course, and I remember every moment of it. It was just for me.

‘I remember Mr Wills, from down the far end of the street, carrying a heavy basket up the path, dorky Cynthia Wills clinging to his hand.

I didn’t want Cynthia there but Mum had insisted. “It’s a small town, Faith, you have to ask all the children,” she’d said.

‘But I wouldn’t have asked Cynthia. If I’d had my way there wouldn’t have been others there. It would have been just my best friend Amelia and me.

‘Mr Wills handed me the basket, and there was a mewling sound from inside and I thought it was a kitten. But it wasn’t – it was my every wish, my nightly prayer. It was a puppy, a real live dog of my very very own.

‘“Of course you can keep it, love,” my mother answered my look. “As long as you feed it and care for it you can keep it forever.”

‘I’m sure that’s what she said. But of course she never explained that forever isn’t forever at all.

‘I actually hugged Cynthia, I was so happy, and Mr Wills too, and that’s about the happiest moment I remember in my whole life.

‘“She’s not much,” Mr Wills apologised. “Old Fred Sawyer’s wolfhound got in with Bess, my best bitch, after I’d had her covered by Barry Sutherland’s new dog and this was the result. A perfect litter of greyhounds but for this one ugly duckling”.

‘“She’s not ugly,” I said. Indignant, I lifted the trembling bundle of long-legged fur from the basket. She was the colour of tree-dappled bitumen under a full moon, grey flecked with silver. “Shadow’s absolutely perfect,” I said, choosing her name then and there.

‘I knew she was a girl of course. I didn’t have to look to know. I’d always known I would get a dog one day in a distant dreamland, and that it would be a girl-dog, and that I would love her the minute I set eyes on her. But I’d never thought that the dreamland could be here and now, and that my dog would be delicate brown-eyed perfection.

‘I remember the rest of my party, or some of it anyway, but mostly I remember carrying Shadow around in my arms, and her widdling on my special party dress and me not being mad at all, and her going to sleep in my lap, her nose under my arm. And I remember the feel of her little pink tongue, and the fact Mum wouldn’t let her sleep in my room, and Shadow crying in the laundry until I took my blankets and curled up on the broken linoleum next to her.’

There was a tremor in my voice when I spoke of Shadow and I felt myself choking up, I don’t know why. So I paused, to get my emotions under control.

‘So you see I do remember,’ I concluded. ‘And there were good times, and those are the times that I choose to remember.’

My knees were shaking as I sat down. I felt emotional, on the verge of tears. It wasn’t like doing a design presentation at all.

As if from a distance I heard everyone clapping and cheering. They did it for the others too, after they had read their piece. Keith read last and he was the best of course. He read a chapter from his coming book; powerful, violent stuff about sex and suicide that I didn’t understand really, but I guess it’s not the sort of writing that’s easily understood. I want to read his book when it comes out but I don’t know that I’ll enjoy it much, if that’s a sample. It was like he was reading it to me. Me personally, and the others didn’t matter.

He wasn’t of course. I hardly knew the guy and why would he single me out anyway? But sometimes he looked right at me and it was scary; especially during the bit at the end about vultures picking mercilessly at the raveled sleeve of the mind. Weird. And I swear he had memorised it or something because he didn’t look at his computer once while he read that part. It just came out, spoken right at me, as if he’d written it for me. Me alone.

We had a few drinks afterwards and everyone was so excited after reading their pieces that we all got a bit sideways. I asked Keith about what he’d written, and what it meant, and he said forget it. He said he was bad for me and I should stay away from him, and that just because he understood what he was doing didn’t make him any better than the vultures.

Talk about a put-down! It wasn’t as if I was hitting on him or anything, or not really anyway. And suddenly he’s hiding behind these hard words, running away.


A longer extract from Shadow by my side is available free at

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/46396


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A hard-edged, contemporary look at friendship, love and overcoming adversity.

REVIEWS

Review by: Jane Stephens.


Wow! What a great read! Have just finished Shadow and loved it – gobbled it up for breakfast and couldn't put it down. Left me wanting to know more...

Fantastic book Ian, Congratulations! You should be on the bestseller lists, but don't let it go to your head! Great plot development and very powerful ending. Great character development too. Yes, it is very dark, but you don't get the full horror until the very end... Phew. It's got the lot. Now I want another!