Res­cue Me

A new fam­ily be­gins to bond in this poignant short story by Alyson Hil­bourne.

The People's Friend Special - - FICTION -

IT has been three hours now. Three hours since Fos­sil went miss­ing. Reuben and I were walk­ing him on the hill and he ran off. We’ve been out, shout­ing and call­ing, chas­ing round our usual routes un­til Reuben started to fade.

He plod­ded along, his shoul­ders slumped and a look of weary res­ig­na­tion stretched across his face.

“He will come back, won’t he?”

How can I an­swer that? Reuben looks at me as if I can fix ev­ery­thing. I want to pick my son up and hug him tight. I want to pro­tect him from the world.

“I hope so, sweet­heart.” It’s the best I can of­fer him.

I think back to the day three months ago when we got Fos­sil. Reuben chose him at the an­i­mal res­cue cen­tre and we vis­ited a cou­ple of times be­fore they did a home check on us.

Then Fos­sil ar­rived, wag­ging his tail and with a list of in­struc­tions as long as the M1.

It was Reuben’s ex­cite­ment I re­mem­ber most. For the first time his face lit up from in­side so we could al­most feel the heat com­ing from him.

“Can he stay with us for ever?” he asked, his voice shrill with dis­be­lief.

“That’s the plan,” I said, grin­ning at my hus­band. “Bril­liant,” Reuben said. He didn’t want to go to bed that night.

“Fos­sil might be lonely,” he said. “He’ll be scared in this new place.”

I swal­lowed. Such un­der­stand­ing for such a small boy.

“I think he’s all right. He seems happy on his bed.”

Fos­sil lay on the new red cush­ion sur­rounded by a wealth of toys and chews.

“You can give him a good­night hug.”

Reuben cud­dled the dog then I took him up­stairs and read him a story be­fore tuck­ing him in.

In the morn­ing, when I came down, they were curled up to­gether on the cush­ion. Reuben had his head on Fos­sil’s stomach. Only three months ago. Now we are cold and tired after search­ing and our voices are hoarse. I sit Reuben at the kitchen ta­ble and make hot choco­late.

While he is drink­ing, I ring the res­cue cen­tre. They sug­gest I call the po­lice and vets.

“Some­one may re­port him,” they say. “Give them all the de­tails.”

“He’s large, ginger and shaggy. A cross be­tween an Ir­ish set­ter and other things,” I tell the po­lice­man.

“You’re not sell­ing him well,” he says, but I can hear the smile in his voice.

“You have to know him to love him,” I say, think­ing how Fos­sil loved ev­ery one of our fam­ily.

I thought of how he and Reuben spent hours en­twined on the car­pet; how Fos­sil would lean against my leg all af­ter­noon, happy with hu­man con­tact.

“We’ll have lunch and then go out and look again, OK?” I ask Reuben.

He nods and I see his lips puck­er­ing as he tries to con­trol his emo­tions.

“I’m sure we’ll find him,” I say with more con­fi­dence than I feel.

After lunch we go out. Reuben, with re­newed en­ergy, runs up the path through the woods.

I hurry to keep up. I can’t lose both of them.

When we get to the river, Reuben peers in the water as I search bushes and call Fos­sil’s name.

As each hour passes I feel more de­spon­dent. How is Reuben go­ing to cope if we don’t find him?

We are out for three hours and cover most of the places we’ve ever taken Fos­sil on walks. I’m ex­hausted when we get home.

I turn the TV on for Reuben, but he buries his head in his hands.

I should start get­ting din­ner ready but I can’t think straight. My mind is full of im­ages of Fos­sil.

I drift about the kitchen, get­ting out onions and po­ta­toes but not do­ing any­thing with them.

I go into the liv­ing-room to com­fort Reuben, but he shrugs me off. He’s be­come a tight ball of anger and worry.

I’m re­lieved when I hear Char­lie’s key in the door. Both Reuben and I race to meet him.

“Fos­sil’s gone!” Reuben bursts out.

All the emo­tion he was keep­ing un­der con­trol cracks and tears roll down his cheeks.

“Gone?” My hus­band looks at me.

“Fos­sil ran off,” I ex­plain. “You know how he does, chas­ing smells. But this

Reuben and Fos­sil loved each other. But now Fos­sil had dis­ap­peared . . .

time he didn’t come back.

“We were out call­ing for ages. We went out again this af­ter­noon. I’ve phoned the po­lice and the vets.” I let my hands drop. “I don’t know what else to do.”

I’m as close to tears as Reuben, but I swal­low them back.

Char­lie purses his lips. “Mmm,” he says. “How about mak­ing posters?”

Reuben looks up with in­ter­est at this idea. Why didn’t I think of that?

“Come on,” I tell Reuben. “Let’s look on the com­puter and find a good photo.”

“I’ll take the car out and have an­other look round,” Char­lie says, putting his coat back on.

Reuben and I sit at the com­puter, flick­ing through hun­dreds of pho­tos.

“Look!” There’s a smile on his face as Reuben sees a pic­ture of him­self with the sand­cas­tle Char­lie had helped him build.

Fos­sil is sit­ting on the top of it, look­ing as pleased as Punch, con­vinced they’d spent two hours build­ing it just for him to de­stroy it.

I re­mem­ber the af­ter­noon well. It was Reuben’s first trip to the beach, and Fos­sil’s, too. They both stood on the edge of the water, ner­vously jump­ing as the waves ap­proached.

Fos­sil barked as the water reared up in white ridges and Reuben scooted back to dry sand.

We’d eaten a pic­nic with the wind blow­ing our hair about. Fos­sil ran round in ex­cited cir­cles, bark­ing as we showed Reuben how to col­lect shells, then Char­lie helped him build the cas­tle.

It was the first time I felt things were go­ing to be

OK, and I know a lot of that had to do with Fos­sil.

I move on to more pic­tures of that day, then ones in the gar­den and out on walks. The more I look, the more I re­alise most of our pho­tos of Fos­sil have Reuben in them, too. They have been in­sep­a­ra­ble since the dog ar­rived.

Even­tu­ally we agree on a photo. Fos­sil is run­ning to­wards the cam­era, legs splayed, mouth open and tongue lolling. His eyes are wide and there is a look of de­ter­mi­na­tion on his face.

“I’ll have to crop it,” I say to Reuben.

“What?” he asks.

“Cut the photo so it only shows Fos­sil, not you.” “Why?” His voice rises. “Be­cause if we are go­ing to put it up all round the streets I can’t put your photo on it. It’s not safe.”

He pulls a face. He doesn’t like be­ing sep­a­rated from Fos­sil. Not even on paper.

I cen­tre the cropped pic­ture on a new page and write LOST at the top, show­ing Reuben the let­ters and ex­plain­ing what they mean.

I put Fos­sil’s name and our names and the phone num­ber.

“0-7-8 . . .” Reuben re­peats the num­bers as I type and I clap when he’s fin­ished.

“Right, let’s print these.” We have a dozen or so pages when we hear Char­lie come in again.

Reuben rushes to show him the posters.

“Great. That’s good. Let me have a cup of tea and

I’ll go and put some up,” Char­lie says.

I clap a hand to my mouth. I’ve for­got­ten all about din­ner. It’s long past our nor­mal eat­ing time.

“I’ll make some­thing,” I say. “Beans on toast OK?”

Char­lie nods and puts the ket­tle on.

We sit round the ta­ble. Char­lie is the only one who tucks into his din­ner; Reuben just pushes beans around the plate.

I can’t be cross with him, how­ever, as there’s a lump in my throat pre­vent­ing me from eat­ing, too.

His eye­lids are droop­ing and he looks as if he may slip off the chair.

“Do you want to go to bed?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “I want Fos­sil.”

“Dad will go out with the posters after din­ner,” I say. “We’re do­ing all we can.”

We sit for an­other 10 min­utes and even­tu­ally I clear the plates and throw Reuben’s din­ner in the bin.

Char­lie scoops up the posters and takes some tape.

I get Reuben up­stairs and ready for bed. He wants to take Fos­sil’s raggedy teddy up with him.

“What if Fos­sil comes back in the night and needs it?” I ask, try­ing to de­ter him from hav­ing the dog-chewed toy in his bed. “Let’s leave it down­stairs.”

“Will Fos­sil be back in the morn­ing?” Reuben asks. Tight­ness grips my chest. “I hope so, sweet­heart.” When Char­lie comes back we sit on the sofa. I stare at the TV with­out see­ing any­thing. I’m lis­ten­ing with one ear for any sound that could in­di­cate that Fos­sil is back.

“You didn’t see any sign of him?” I ask Char­lie. He shakes his head. Even­tu­ally we go up to bed, too, but I spend the night toss­ing and turn­ing, and around five o’clock Reuben tip­toes into our room.

“I wet the bed.” His voice is small.

He hasn’t done this since we’ve had Fos­sil.

I crawl out of bed and change his py­ja­mas. Then I pop him in bed with Char­lie and re­place his sheets.

I’m fully awake so I go down­stairs and put the wash­ing ma­chine on. I make a cup of tea and stand clutch­ing the cup as I watch the sun come up across the gar­den.

Char­lie and Reuben ap­pear half an hour later. “It’s early,” Char­lie says. “I don’t think any­one slept well.”

We’re all sit­ting at the break­fast ta­ble, wrapped up in our own thoughts, when my phone rings.

I fum­ble to an­swer it and al­most drop it on the floor.

“Hello? No, it’s not too early. Re­ally?” I grin at Char­lie and Reuben. “All night? I’m sorry. Yes! See you soon.”

I put the phone down and feel such a re­lief of ten­sion my body flops.

“Fos­sil has been at some­one’s house all night, sit­ting by the gate. It seems he has a lady friend.”

Char­lie guf­faws with laugh­ter while Reuben looks puz­zled.

“Doesn’t he want to be our friend?” he asks.

“Oh, he does. He wants a lady friend as well, though,” I say. “Now, let’s get coats on and we’ll go and get him. Re­mem­ber the lead.”

We walk to the ad­dress the caller gave me and, sure enough, there is Fos­sil sit­ting out­side the gate.

“Fos­sil!” Reuben yells and the dog comes run­ning to­wards him, legs splayed, tongue lolling.

Reuben hugs him and I don’t have it in me to tell the dog off. I clip the lead on him.

We go up the path to the house. Fos­sil is very in­ter­ested in the gar­den and sniffs around.

I ring the bell.

“Thank you,” I say to the man who an­swers. “I’m afraid he’s a res­cue dog and we’re still work­ing on train­ing.”

“He’s a res­cue dog and I’m a res­cue boy,” Reuben pipes up.

The man gives us a puz­zled look.

“That’s fine,” he says. “Glad to help. Our Maisie’s on heat and we keep her in, but she has a string of suit­ors.”

We turn to go, with Fos­sil tug­ging at the lead.

Reuben skips be­side me. “I think Fos­sil’s hun­gry, Mum.”

I al­most stop in my tracks. A lump rises in my throat and I look across at Char­lie.

He raises his eye­brows and smiles.

Reuben is right when he says he’s a res­cue child. We adopted him six months ago and it’s been a steep learn­ing curve since then.

We can’t be sure what Reuben went through be­fore he came to us, and he has a lot of catch­ing up to do in many ar­eas.

We’ve spent months try­ing to gain his trust, and Fos­sil helped enor­mously. Reuben bonded with him much quicker than he’s bonded with us.

But Reuben has just called me Mum for the first time, and de­spite the dread­ful day yes­ter­day and the hor­ri­ble night I feel as light as air.

“Let’s get home,” I say. “So we can feed this dog.”

The End.

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