‘Honey, you know we’ve talked about getting a puppy for you to play with? We talk about that every day when you get home from school, right?’ Shelly began tentatively. ‘You’ve been reading books about it, haven’t you?’
‘When you get your pug puppy it will require four small meals a day. Feed your pug puppy one ounce of food for every pound that he weighs. For example, if your pug puppy weighs three pounds, give him three ounces of food. Every part of your pug puppy’s body is growing and developing at this stage so feed him…’
That’s right, son,’ cut in John, ‘but mate, we didn’t get you a pug. We got you a German shepherd. Well, technically it’s a German shepherd crossbreed. I know you like to be precise about these things.’ Shelly gave him a warning look and John shut up to allow Sammy time to process the information that his brain had just taken in.
John had shut the pup in the garage until the time for proper introductions could take place. This had to be done at Sammy’s pace, it was too important to rush, but the pup had other ideas. He’d had time to mooch about the garage a bit and sniff out all the interesting smells. He’d probably peed and pooped to establish himself as belonging in this new place and he’d whined just a little bit, for attention. When the attention didn’t come, he started scratching at the garage door and yelping in earnest.
Shelly John and Sammy heard him. The adults held their breath waiting to gauge Sammy’s reaction. He rolled his eyes from side to side. John said that his eye rolling was like the LED display on a computer. It was indicative of the computer working to process the information passing through Sammy’s brain.
‘John May got a dog,’ said Sammy.
‘Yes we did, Sammy, but only a little puppy dog, we got him especially for you.’ Shelly busied herself with moving some things on the coffee table so that Sammy wouldn’t pick up on her nervousness.
‘I’ll go and see to him, he’s probably frightened,’ John said, referring to the dog.
‘So what do you think, honey? Do you want to meet the new member of the family?’ At first Shelly didn’t think that Sammy was going to answer her. His silence stretched out within a great cavern of expectancy. He was twining his hands in his lap and giving them his full attention. This was not a good sign.
‘Is it a human being? No,’ Sammy said, answering his own question. ‘Does it share any linage with Samuel May’s ancestors? No. Does any part of its DNA string match any part of Samuel May’s DNA string? No. Is it a member of Samuel May’s family? No. So it is a pet belonging to Samuel May. It is not a member of Samuel May’s family.’ Sammy said, calmer now that he had sorted that out in his mind. Despite the negative questioning, the fact that Sammy was talking at all was very good. Silence from him, in the face of any new situation, was never a good thing.
When he was a young child, Sammy had read a sentence in his father’s newspaper. It said, ‘People are identified by names, not by titles.’ He had always addressed people by their full names. Shelly and John had tried for years to get him to call them Mummy and Daddy and later, the grown-on versions, but those two words made no sense to Sammy. As well as titles, he often found adjectives hard to grasp because he couldn’t picture them in his mind. Words such as please and thank you, for instance, had no concrete meaning to him. Names he understood, because names were a means of identification. At school, instead of being addressed as Sir or Miss, his teachers had resigned themselves to being called by their given names.
‘He’s going to be your dog, sweetheart; you need to think of a name for him.’
Without a second’s hesitation, without even giving himself time to blink, Sammy said, ‘His name is Carthenage. That is his name.’ Shelly waited for Sammy to recite facts that he’d read about the name.
They heard the back door open and the sound of scratchy claws scrambling on the laminate flooring in the kitchen. ‘No you don’t, come here, buddy,’ John’s voice wafted through to them. They heard him grunting as he bent to pick the puppy up and then the panting of the excited dog. Sammy’s eyelashes fluttered erratically, a sign that he wasn’t comfortable with this variable to his norm.
John came in with the squirming puppy in his arms. He walked over to Sammy and knelt down in front of him. Sammy turned his head to the left and looked into the far corner of the ceiling. He neither looked at, nor acknowledged the dog. His fingers twined and moved fast in his lap. He was processing. It was okay, so far.
‘You can stroke him Sammy,’ said Shelly, before turning her attention to John. Sammy continued to stare at the farthest corner of the room. ‘You should have put him on a lead,’
‘I tried; it’s impossible, have you seen how much this thing can wriggle?’
As if on cue the puppy squirmed free and jumped from John’s hands. He bounded the two steps over to Sammy and leapt up at his legs, scratching and scrambling to try and climb onto his knee.
Sammy’s eyes rolled. John made a grab for the pup but before he could get him out of Sammy’s way, the boy’s hand came up in a fist and lashed out at the dog. He did it blindly without looking. He wasn’t purposefully trying to hurt the animal, it had just invaded his space and when that happened to him, Sammy hit out.
It was less than a second. The dog was half on Sammy’s knee, John was already reaching out to him, and Sammy belted the dog off his lap and clean across the room.
The puppy screamed once and then continued to yelp. Shelly’s hands flew to cover her mouth. ‘Oh my God. Is he all right?’ she asked.
John went over to the pup and picked him up. He checked him over to see that he hadn’t been badly hurt. ‘Yeah, he’s fine, He’s just frightened. It’s okay. It’s all okay, isn’t it, buddy,’ he said stroking the dog and talking into his ear as the puppy calmed.
Knowing that the pup was okay, Shelly stooped in front of her son. She didn’t try to touch him. At this point it would have sent him over the edge. She just told him that everything was okay.
Sammy was looking at his hands, they were in his lap twisting and turning, his fingers wiggled and he brought them up to his face where they floated and flittered in front of is eyes, twining and intertwining like butterflies.
‘Carthenage is his name. That is his name. Carthenage is his name. That’s a good name. Carthenage is his name. That’s a good name.’ Sammy was on a loop.
He was coming to terms with the change. Shelly was delighted to hear him repeating the dog’s name. It told her that, even after the frightening experience of having the pup scratching at him to get up, Sammy wasn’t denouncing the dog as a bad thing. She felt that by saying his name Sammy was claiming ownership of the dog.
It could have gone better, and the puppy was going to have to learn that Sammy couldn’t be jumped all over, but it could have been a disaster. Shelly was cautiously optimistic. ‘You know honey, he’s so small and fragile that we have to be very careful and try really hard not to hurt him. You should have put him on a lead,’ she shot at her husband.
‘Carthenage needs his lead. That’s what Cathenage needs,’ Sammy said before lurching into pages of text that he’d read in a book on dog behaviour.