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by Phil McCumskey


     Still weak and groggy from the operation, I lie on my side staring at the green wall, passing in and out of consciousness. One minute the room is in perfect focus, the next it’s fuzzy and out of sync. My legs twitch and shudder and there’s a numbness down there I’m not sure I want to look at.

I remember coming out of the anaesthetic, the nurse leaning over me, stroking my face. She’s here again now and this time she’s stroking my back and neck and that soft spot just behind my ears. Mmm, that’s good. A door swings open and an old man with a purple-veined nose and pink rubbery lips shuffles in. He’s wearing a bloody apron and his eyes are glinting as he bends over me. Sticking a thermometer up my arse, he peels back my left eyelid with his thumb, peers into my eye then grins. He turns to the nurse.

‘His signs are good. The effects of the anaesthetic are still there but all-in-all he’s doing fine. Pity I had to amputate the leg, but if I hadn’t he may well have died.’ He frowns and purses his lips. ‘I’m afraid I got a little carried away and neutered him at the same time. Don’t know what came over me. Still, won’t do him any harm.’

My ears prick up. Amputated my leg … neutered me … won’t do me any harm. Is this man Dr. Mengele?

And then I remember the accident, the avalanche, when my handler, Jurgen, and I, had struggled up the mountain before locating the young skier, off-piste, deep under compacted snow. As the helicopter crew hoisted him to safety, tightly wrapped in a tinfoil blanket, the second avalanche struck. Tons of snow and ice swept us into the void below. In the silence that followed, I realized my leg had been badly hurt. A chunk of ice the size of Wales had done the damage. Miraculously, Jurgen got up and walked away, but now I’m minus a leg and my manhood butchered by an old fart who got carried away.

The name’s Rufus, by the way. I’m a seven-year-old Saint Bernard, fully-trained at taxpayer’s expense in mountain rescue and recovery, standing at just over three-feet high, with a shaggy chestnut-brown coat, adorable mushy face and a salmon-pink tongue.

A damn fine specimen.

Only now I’m damaged goods.

Mountain rescue was not something I chose to do. As a pup of six weeks, I’d been taken from my mother’s side and thrust for two years into a strict training regime. The work here is way too demanding and dangerous. Freezing my nuts off on cold stormy days and nights is no fun. Hell, I had other dreams, other aspirations.

I’d rather have been a loving companion to a wealthy retired lady who’d let me snooze on the couch and feed me treats, or else a highly-trained sniffer dog in a temperature-modulated airport, smelling out narcotics and laundered cash. Or better still, a famous Hollywood movie star like Hooch, the giant French Mastiff in “Turner and Hooch”, or Uggie that cheeky Jack Russell in “The Artist” who got his paw print on the Walk of Fame, or any one of those adorable One-Hundred-and-One Dalmatians. But no, I get to run up and down snowy peaks, sniffing out buried people for a living, with a bloody great keg filled with brandy strapped to my neck. It’s not bloody fair. Looking on the bright side, though, I’m hoping the accident may help me make a fresh start, mould a new me.

At exactly 10.30 am, as they did every Wednesday morning, my new owners, Mabel and Sid Donnelly, sat in in the lounge of Downside Retirement Village, sipping tea and dunking their biscuits. They lived in a country cottage on the estate that comprised fifty acres of forest, a two-acre lake and numerous walking paths. I lay dozing at their feet on the luxurious Axminster, having just enjoyed a ramble in the woods after a breakfast of Canagan Country Dog Food, a piquant blend of duck, venison and rabbit. The sounds of the manager introducing a newcomer to the half-dozen residents slumped in comfy chairs around the room woke me and I eased open an eye. Four feet away, directly in my line of vision were two blotched, varicose-veined legs, peeping out from a tweed woollen skirt.

‘I’m Jean Denny,’ said the skirt. ‘And this is Boris. He’s a Rhodesian Ridgeback.’

Erect at her side, chest puffed out, ears pricked, stood a magnificent beast.

‘Sit, Boris,’ Jean commanded, and sit he did.

Boris had already spotted me and we stared each other down. Also known as the African Lion Hound, he was large and muscular and his dense, coffee-coloured coat had a clearly defined ridge of hairs running down the middle of his back. His legs were straight and long and his deep brown eyes perfectly round. In short, he was gorgeous. Oops, did I say gorgeous? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. You see, ever since the operation, my body’s been giving me mixed signals. At first I put it down to the drugs and the fact that I was struggling to accept my disabilities, but once I got back on my feet, if you’ll excuse the pun, and had lost the urge to lick my phantom balls, I understood exactly what had happened.

I no longer fancied bitches. Strange. Weird. Embarrassing. I know. But that’s just how it is. Go figure.

Boris yawned, showing off a set of dazzling white teeth, cocked his head, and then, with a strange glint in his eye, winked at me.

I stiffened and my body quivered.

     Oh, I do hope we’ll be good friends.

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