An Old Dog
by Fiona Webber
Jack was an old dog. Sally looked down to where he ambled along the bush track beside her. His face was grizzled. His eyes hid blue shadows. She wasn't sure whether he was enjoying this walk at all. There was a serious expression on his face, as though it was a job he had to do. Although when they started out he'd run around with wagging tail, snuffling at stray scents, for some time now he'd been content to simply follow her closely. It seemed a long walk was too much for him.
It hurt her to know he was getting old. For years now he had been such an integral part of her life. A devoted, loving companion. Sally took him everywhere with her. But now it looked as if life was getting a little harder for him. Perhaps he would be better off lazing his days away at home.
She looked ahead to where Luke was questing from one side of the track to another. Bright gold and quick, like a living flame flickering across the ground. Already a show winner, and a star at her local obedience school. Although his tongue was lolling out at he loped along, she knew it was a mark of his inexhaustible joy in life, not of tiredness. He was hard and fit and could go all day. Luke was a dog to be proud of.
Jack still shuffled along beside her. He could never have pretended to be a show dog, and had thought obedience to be beneath him. Although they'd trialled, at critical moments he tended to think of something better to do, to her total mortification. Yes, although she loved Jack dearly, in many ways Luke was the better dog.
They came to the end of their walk and stopped beside her car. Sally felt in her pocket for her keys and froze.
They weren't there.
They must have fallen out somewhere. Perhaps they had been caught in the folds of her handkerchief when she took it out of her pocket. They could be anywhere.
Cold fear gripped her. In the daytime this track was perfectly safe, but at night its seclusion attracted car thieves and worse. The evening gloom was deepening as she watched. Her options were to walk to the closest house, which was quite a distance away, or to backtrack along the track hoping to find her keys before the dark closed in.
Neither was a good option. Her breath was hard in her throat, her chest tightening, as she tried to decide what to do.
Jack must have felt her mood and he shoved at her hand with his nose, whining.
"You can't help me, Jack," Sally said as she knelt down beside him. The feel of his smooth golden coat, so familiar under her hand, was calming.
Jack put his muzzle into her hand again.
Suddenly Sally knew why he hadn't been running around with Luke, why he'd stayed so close to her, why he'd looked so serious. How could she have thought age was catching up with him? She flung her arms around his neck in a quick, fierce hug.
With tears prickling in her eyes and a lump the size of an egg in her throat, she watched Jack bound off to join Luke in his mad grasshopper chase before looking down at the wet, clammy object he had put into her palm.
Her car keys.