Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson (Little Brown and Company 2010)

Cruel and unusual punishment, he thought. He had been around violence in one form or another all his life, not always on the receiving end of it, but you had to draw the line somewhere. A small, helpless dog seemed like a good place to draw that line.

He followed the man out of the park. The man's car was parked nearby and he opened the boot and plucked up the dog and flung it inside where it cowered, shivering and whimpering.

"You just wait, you little bastard," the man said. He already had his mobile phone open, holding it to one ear as he raised a warning finger to the dog in case it made a move to escape. "Hey, babe, it's Colin," he said, his voice turning oily, a cage-fighting Romeo.

He frowned, imagining what would happen to the dog when the man got it home. Colin. It seemed unlikely it would be good. He stepped forward, tapped "Colin" on the shoulder, said, "Excuse me?" When Testosterone Man turned round, he said, "on guard."

"What the fuck are you talking about?" Colin said and he said, "I'm being ironic," and he delivered a vicious and satisfying uppercut to Colin's diaphragm. Now that he was no longer subject to institutional rules governing brutality he felt free to hit people at will. He might have been around violence all his life but it was only recently that he was beginning to see the point of it. It used to be that his bark was worse than his bite, now it was the other way round.

His philosophy where fighting was concerned was to keep clear of anything fancy. One good, well-placed blow was usually enough to lay a man down. The punch was driven by a flash of anger. There were days when he knew who he was. He was his father's son.

Right enough, Colin's legs went from beneath him and he dropped to the ground, making a face like a suffocating fish. Strange squeaking and squealing noises came from his lungs as he fought for breath.

He squatted down next to Colin and said, "Do that to anyone or anything again - man, woman, child, dog, even a fucking tree - and you're dead. And you'll never know whether or not I'm watching you. Understand?" The man nodded in acknowledgment even though he still hadn't managed to take a breath, looked in fact like he might never take another one. Bullies were always cowards at heart. His phone had clattered to the pavement and he could hear a woman's voice saying, "Colin? Col - are you still there?"

He stood up and stepped on the phone and ground it into the pavement. Unnecessary and ridiculous but somehow satisfying.