‘How is she?’
Only in the last hour of the long journey did Spud let herself fall asleep. She lay on the back seat of the car, squeezed between suitcases, bags, boxes and other bits and pieces that the woman and the girl had hurriedly packed. Several times she had almost drifted off, but something had always woken her. Once the car had stopped with a loud blackbird screech. Once some boxes had fallen on her. And then her pup had yelped awake for some reason, sharp squeals shuddering its body. But she’d licked the squeals away and let the pup suckle itself back to sleep.
Now, as the heeler stared down at the sandy-grey pup curled into her body, her eyes slowly closed, her head drooped, and her body gave out a long deep sigh as it sank into sleep.
Spud had almost forgotten how to sleep. Over the past year she’d learned to stay awake because that was the only way to stay alive. Running in the mountains with the sandy coloured dog, hunting, surviving, chased by the men, hiding with her pup, always alert, no time for sleep.
Look what had happened when she hadn’t been alert. They’d caught her. Shoot the mongrel! The whole nightmare was still there, shouting in her head. Shoot her! Dogs barking, men yelling, horses trampling. Cringing in the dark hole as the men dug closer. We’ve got her. Staring up into the cruel light. Pulling the pup closer and growling at the faces that growled in at her.
‘How is she?’
As she lay on the back seat of the car Spud heard the woman’s voice, even though her mind was a sleepy swirl of sounds, faces and fear. This was the woman who’d saved her from the men.
‘She’s asleep, Mum.’ She also heard the voice of the girl, and saw her reaching down into the hole, picking up her pup and hugging it close.
‘Good’, the woman’s voice continued above the sound of the car. ‘What about the pup?’
The girl reached into the back of the car and stroked the pup. Although asleep, he felt the hand well before it touched him, and flinched. He knew about hands. They meant hurt. Rough hands, grabbing hands. And even though the girl’s hands were soft, as safe as hands could be, the pup still flinched at first.
‘He’s such a nervous little thing, Mum.’
‘Hardly surprising, after what he’s been through.’
‘S’pose so. What’ll we call him?’ the girl asked. For a while the woman said nothing.
‘What about Chips?’
‘Chips?’ The girl screwed up her face.
‘Oh I see,’ the girl laughed. ‘You get chips from spuds, don’t you?’
‘You do, that’s right. But I was thinking more of the old block.’
‘It’s a saying’, the woman continued. ‘He’s a chip off the old block.’
‘Hear that?’ The girl’s hand rubbed the pup. ‘You’re a chip off the old block.’ The pup opened its eyes and stared at the girl, unblinking, watching her carefully.
‘Which old block, though?, I wonder,’ the woman added, more to herself than anything. The question hung in the air for a moment before being swallowed by the rhythmic rocking of the ride and the long low growl of the car.
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