When Jack and I spoke about it later he couldn’t remember the first time he noticed the dog. Once the dog was in his consciousness it was impossible to imagine that he had ever not been there.
The dog was a malamute. He lived three doors down from the Murphys. They never knew much about the people who owned him. They were a couple. She was foreign, maybe Italian, maybe Spanish, maybe.. They decided she was probably Italian.
He was Irish, from the country, maybe somewhere up a little north. They were very unfriendly. She might have been shy; he was definitely rude. They didn’t know their names or what they did. He was capable of completely ignoring you if you said ‘hello’ so after a while you stopped trying. A baby arrived in their house too and then his mother made appearances. She always seemed a little embarrassed.
A malamute is a striking dog, something like a giant husky, and this was a striking malamute. Jack and Sophie thought of him as a ‘status dog’. The way that young men in the eighties in some parts of Dublin had German Shepards to show that they were tough and people sometimes have bull terriers now; in the new Dublin people were buying beautiful and totally inappropriate dogs like huskies and malamutes to show how well off they were and what good taste they had.
All over cities like Dublin there were people buying dogs that would need hours of exercise a day and taking them out of twenty minutes to shit. A generation of insane sled dogs was being abused into life.
This dog was often left outside the house, alone, for hours. The door would open, the dog would be guided out by a hand and forearm, the door would shut. The dog would sit quietly, beautifully erect, for a while, or he might find himself a stick, or a pizza box to throw from himself like a Frisbee. A dog that big, with so little attention and exercise you would expect to be bored and badly behaved but this dog was a model of maturity and self-possession, he just seemed to have been born wise, rooted, anything near to him was within his gravitational field.
Still or in motion the dog had an aura of power held lightly, power in repose that you can feel form large animals with peaceful temperaments or heavyweight wrestlers relaxing.
The Phoenix Park was on their doorstep and sometimes when Jack was tired and stressed he would go for a walk in the park. If the dog was around he would follow Jack and they would go for a walk together. Jack liked the dog’s company, he was easy to talk to in the way dogs are and he was possessed of a quiet dignity which was calming to be around. There was one road to cross between the estate and the park. The first time they walked together Jack had reached down to hold the dog at the back of his neck, he wore no collar, to make sure he didn’t run into traffic. The dog sat and looked up at Jack with a look of such offended dignity that he immediately removed his hand and apologised to him. The look had simply said, ‘If you threat me like this, how can we be walking companions.’ Jack understood that to be true and the apology that spontaneously issued form his mouth to be the correct and gentlemanly thing to do.
In the park the dog would range ahead of Jack but always come back to just outside of arm’s reach if he felt he was in danger of leaving Jack behind. Jack was never sure which one of them choice the routes they followed but he instinctively trusted the dog in a way and to an extent which he could not have explained.
Sometimes when they meet other dogs Jack would become nervous as the malamute approached the other to say hello. He was an imposing physical presence and Jack feared that the other dogs and their owners would be frightened or aggressive in their response to this creature the size of a small bear moving towards them. Jack worried that another dog might snap at the malamute and that perhaps the big fella might retaliate and tear something in two. It never happened. Any time a dog reacted negatively to him the malamute simply went his own way, shaking the dust from the pads of his giant paws but leaving a blessing in his wake.
Sometimes when Jack saw the dog outside his door he would open his own door, sit on his own step and wait for the malamute to come to him and lay his huge head on his lap. Jack would stroke his head and talk and look down at the rough, tightly patterned greys and black of the animal’s coat. At these times Jack could feel his own breath slowing to match the dog’s and sometimes he even felt tearful though he couldn’t think why. The dog had one blue eye and one green eye, like David Bowie, and although that was not, as you might think, the most striking thing about him; Jack found that there was something both compelling and soothing about the way he held your gaze with those eyes.
Times were good and time moved quickly. In 2006 the Murphy’s had a second child. A son they named Eoin.
Jack was not the kind of man who had held his breath waiting for a son. He had experienced a slight sense of relief for which he had not been prepared when Aoife was born. He didn’t feel that he needed to teach Aoife to be a woman. He just needed to support her and give her love. Now, with the birth of Eoin, he realised that it was his responsibility to show his son how to be a good man and he wasn’t entirely sure that he was competent to do that. Things, however, move quickly when you have a new baby and Jack slid along on the general activity, moving faster than his anxiety.
Aoife was walking as long as she had adult fingers to hold onto like a baby ape. Aoife was never still. Eoin was not a good sleeper. Jack was often tired. His vision was affected at times and sometimes his hands shook or trembled.
Sophie, who could always be sharp in temper, became a little sharper after Eoin’s arrival. She felt the tension between family and career more acutely than ever and it wore her thin both in body and spirit. Jack was more and more often tired and as he had been the one who spent most time with the children she felt an unspoken demand to be more domestic that she resented. She ate less and exercised more. She became thinner. For both Jack and Sophie the need to eat and to feed the children became a sort of silent strain.
Eoin slept less. He cried a lot. There was a lot of fussing and discussing regarding his temperament and character, much reassurance that he would settle into a pre-programmed, greatly desired and imagined homeostasis in due course of time. There was fretting over the missing of milestones of development, a great deal of swearing off, and swearing about baby books.