Mick Plumptre – Zimba and the man bitch 

                 

There were many things that Zimba knew, there were many things that Zimba  did not know.

Most of the things Zimba knew, he knew, he knew, and those  things he did not know, he knew he did not know. It can therefore  be established at this stage  that there were very few things that Zimba did not know, that he did not know.

       One aspect of his  canine life that definitely  fell into the ’knew he did not know’ bracket,  and  made him painfully aware of his lower standing, in  the pecking order of life, was  David’s bitch.

The man bitch, Sarah.   David  and  Sarah lived together  in a small neat kennel, almost exactly the same as all the other small neat kennels around it.

     Zimba always knew when he and Mike were going to visit David and his bitch. Leaving the windswept wilderness of Dartmoor that he loved, with it’s  smells of pony, sheep, cow, and rabbit, they would descend into the  the raucous raw of; screaming  motor bike engines, blaring horns, and thundering  diesels.

       Anyone familiar with the three monkeys; see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil. Will know that primates alone, of all God’s creatures, have the ability to put their hands over their ears in order to blot out sound. Other species must either endure or run. Never was this deficiency more painfully apparent to any animal, than it was to Zimba, that night as he sat miserably beside Mike in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Plymouth. Knowing what was in store for him  wounded his pride. Being a boxer dog he had no tail. Just a stump. (another bone of contention in his opinion.) but had he had one, on this occasion to wag or do otherwise with,  it would have been firmly clamped between his back legs.

      To say that the initial meeting between Sarah and Zimba  had not gone well, would be an understatement comparable to saying. The maiden voyage of the Titanic left a little bit to be desired.  Zimba  having been banished to the kitchen by Sarah. Lay with his chin on his paws and not the slightest   flicker of a wag in his stump. Over the years he  had become used to this treatment, indeed had come to expect it, albeit with the reluctance of one , who not only knows their place, but knows that further protestation against that place would probably be a waste of time. Like a child, sent  to bed, whilst it’s parents are having a dinner party below. Zimba listened with  growing resentment to the giggles. chinking glasses and general sounds of merriment coming from the drawing room.

      Like most dogs, Zimba enjoyed  the company of people. As a puppy he had allowed the farmers’ children to play with him as if he were a rag doll. Rolling him over in the grass and tickling his tummy. He had loved their childish laughter as they held him high over their heads, clutched him tightly to their breasts,  kissing his splayed nose, and nibbling his soft velvet ears. Now as an adult he hated being excluded from any activity of humans ,especial one in which Mike was involved, and  appeared to be having a good time without him . Zimba longed to be included, every sinue  in his body yearned to be amidst  the laughter and merriment ,   ten feet away in that little room.    Eventually the soft growl of resentment  in his throat exploded into a woof of injustice.

     Zimba made a decision: He would risk an uninvited entry into the drawing room.  Once again, like the child banished to the bedroom,  Zimba’s decision was philosophical based, simply that whatever he did things could hardly get worse.

       Zimba crept slowly across the passage and into the drawing room ,hardly daring to breathe. A strange sight met his eyes. The humans had been trying to light a fire, unsuccessfully, it seemed. The men had gone out to the corner shop leaving Sarah to persevere with the dying flames; Sarah on her knees and elbows, her legs slightly splayed ,was  blowing at a few glowing embers. Seeing her in this position, Zimba’s canine instinct took over. Sarah wore a short  pleated skirt , Zimba lifted this gently with his nose to carry  out the. conventional canine greeting; a long sniff of the reproductive area. The human equivalent of shaking hands  and saying 

    ”How do you do? ‘’ He was surprised to find she wore nothing under her skirt . Sarah, feeling her skirt being lifted gently from behind, assumed David had returned from the off licence  and let loose a little giggle  . Zimba took this  giggle to be a green light for stage two of the canine introduction; another closer sniff to ascertain at what stage of the menstrual cycle the bitch was in,  and perhaps a  tentative lick of encouragement. The human equivalent of a kiss on both cheeks  with an inadvertent brushing of the lips whilst changing sides.

       The effect on Sarah was not at all what Zimba  was hoping for. This could well be due to the fact that Zimba had exceptionally bristly whiskers. Sarah leaped up with a screech, cracking her head on the mantelpiece. Unfortunately  the mantelpiece was not as secure as it could have been. The jolt it received was sufficient to dislodge the half bottle of brandy that had been placed there . The second unfortunate event in this scenario was the way in which the bottle fell. Had it landed on the cushion at Sarah’s knee, the whole incident might have passed off as misunderstanding. As it happened, the bottle spun onto the edge of the granite heath, in such a way as to spray the contents onto the now  glowing embers.

     Those of us who have witnessed, or taken part in   the Christmas pudding ritual will know that brandy  is a flammable liquid . What is not so widely known is that warm brandy, when sprayed forcefully into glowing embers, becomes almost explosive.

       Two things went through Zimba’s mind as he was being dragged  back to the kitchen. One, the injustice off it all, as now thanks to his intervention, there was a healthy fire burning  in the grate . Secondly Sarah is still on her hands and knees,  her big brown eyes wide in disbelief and panting slightly.  Her wavy bronze hair curtaining her pretty face. And her frilly silk blouse now speckled with grey charcoal. She rather resembled the saucy little poodle he’d had so much fun with in the car park of Tescos  the week before.

       It took nearly three quarters of the drive  back to there home on the edge of Dartmoor 

, before Mike let out a quiet chuckle, muttering as he reached over to scrunch Zimba’s ears.

      ‘’Honestly Zimba, what are you going to do next? hopeless hound.’’

       Zimba, realizing his period of disgrace was  now over, gave a little growl of gratitude and licked Mike’s hand.  Dogs do not endure prolonged punishment well, and Zimba hated being out of favour with Mike for any length of time. Indeed the expression.’’ Least said, the soonest mended’’ could well  have been pawed by a dog. If not by Zimba himself.

      It was six weeks before Mike and Zimba went to visit David and Sarah again, an unusually long time . Zimba knew, of course, that Mike had been there  on his own. David and Sarah’s kennel had a very distinctive smell ,which stayed on Mike’s clothes for days. Sarah’s smell could last for over a week. This time things were different. Zimba watched closely, as Mike shook out his blanket ,and brushed any debris out of his basket  before loading both into the boot of the car, along with a bone from the butcher and a new tin of his dog food. Mike had been behaving strangely all morning ,constantly scrunching Zimbas’  ears, and muttering.

      ‘’ Good boy, on garde’’. Zimba knew the significance of ‘’.On garde’’  It entailed him accepting some sort of responsibility. What exactly that was on this occasion he could not quite grasp. He loved Mike scrunching his ears and usually acknowledged a good scrunch with a little growl of appreciation. This morning he felt he had been rather over-scrunched and was sufficiently astute to realize that  something strange was “apaw.”He sat silently, thoughtfully regarding his bone and basket in the boot of their  car.

        As soon as they arrived  at the Plymouth kennel Sarah was at the door, not so much to greet them as to ensure that everything was done exactly as she chose it to be.  Zimba’s  basket was installed in the furtherest corner of the kitchen, with what Mike considered to be an excessive amount of cardboard under, and around it. Whilst his bone was flung out into the garden with a brusque. 

     ‘’ No way he’s eating that in my  house’’.  David was about to point out that strictly speaking it was not just her house but decided against it

      Zimba knew enough about humans and their behaviour  to know that this was no time for any kind of canine intervention. He skulked  around the garden trying to avoid any eye contact with Sarah. (the incident of the pleated skirt and the brandy bottle, although not mentioned, had obviously not been forgotten). He was trying to decide whether or not to risk a surreptitious gnaw at his bone, which was lying in the nettles at the end of the garden. Eventually, Sarah reached down to give Zimbas’  ears a gentle scrunch, and muttered .

    “ I s’pose your not all bad, go on have your bone “  Sarahs’ scrunching technique was not quite up to Mikes’ but the intention was there, and the flicker of a wag leapt into  Zimbas’ stump for a few seconds as he licked Sarahs’ hand.  Zimba chewed thoughtfully on his bone, glancing occasionally at his three humans, he knew  something unusual was in the air but decided they were best left bustling around  without any input from him, and besides it was indeed an excellent bone. And in his opinion a bone of that standing deserved his undivided attention.

       What Zimba did not know was that there had been a number of petty crimes in the area , one young woman had been knocked  to the ground  and kicked when confronting an intruder. David, a professional photographer, had an important event to cover up in the midlands, and had seethed with rage at the idea of anything unpleasant happening to Sarah.

     Mike and David had discussed the problem at some length. Two possibilities had emerged. Plan A was for Mike to lend Sarah his 12 bore shotgun, this was swiftly dismissed as a bad idea, on the grounds that, as Sarah had never actually held a shotgun let alone fired one. The two friends could foresee more negative outcomes than positive ones.

        Plan B. was for Zimba to spend the night with Sarah in the bungalow. David had known Zimba from a puppy and had great respect for his standing as a garde dog. The two friends agreed they could not leave Sarah in more capable paws. 

     Different breeds of dogs have different characteristics.  Retrievers retriever. Pointers point. Whether or not setters set, or lurchers lurch, is not a debate we need  embark on now. Sufficient to say that boxers do not box, They garde. Ever since the first cringing cur crept into a cave occupied by man. A bond has existed, between the host and his four legged friend,

      In exchange for warmth, a modicum of affection, and the occasional tossed bone, the dog will fight to the death to defend anything belonging to his accepted master, but especially will fight to the death if it needs it for his master’s bitch and pups. Never had that instinct been stronger in any hound than it was in Zimba that evening. The “On garde” command was now starting to make sense.

      A dog’s ability to ascertain when something is going on, is as vastly superior to that of humans as is their sense of smell. A dog with a keen sense of smell can detect a spoonful of sugar in a swimming pool. Their ability to interpret atmosphere and body language is as equality finely tuned.

     We are all familiar with the long running joke about dogs biting postmen. What some may not know is the chemistry that lies behind this statistic.

        The sight of a postman coming up the garden path may immediately bring about a sense of foreboding or dread to the householder in acceptation of unwanted bills or a final demand. Any self respecting garde dog, who takes his calling seriously would receive these telepathic vibrations and feel duty bound to expel the bearer of these ill tidings with a bout ferocious barking, and    perhaps a little nip  to the buttocks. The canine equivalent of ”a clip round the ear’ole” to a truculent and unwanted adolescence. Zimba was just such a dog, and in exactly the right state of mind to administer more than a little a little nip to any unwanted visitor, as the rain poured down on that little bungalow that dark and windy night.

        It was not the squeak of the gate that awoke Zimber from his light slumber, but the smell. The  smell of fear coming from the room in which Sarah sat. Most dogs can smell fear, as distinctly as we can smell fresh paint or chopped onions. Some can also smell deceit,  insincerity, and in a few cases selfishness. But it was definitely  the smell of fear that had Zimber on his paws, hackles bristling, with a rumbling growl in his throat  that bode well for the weather outside. One glance at Sarah,  sitting bolt upright. Ashen faced, her eyes wide, fingers clenched round the arms of her chair, told Zimba that this was the reason he was there in that little bungalow.

     Like a highly trained soldier, finely sent into battle to fight for a cause he believes with all his heart to be just, Zimba’s  body surged with  adrenalin. This was his “raison d’etre” , a calling reaching back through the ages to that dimly lit cave in the stone age . This was the time for him to fulfil the trust Mike had placed in him when he hand scrunched his ears and said

       “On garde” This was the event Mike had foreseen.

    Things started to happen fast. Sarah remembered with a gasp, that on returning home with a bag of shopping she had left the keys in the door on the outside. Zimbas’ sturdy presence gave her courage, She ran to the back door intending to open it just enough to reach round and grab the keys. Zimba hit the opening like an express train, tearing it out of her hand. He raced  down the path with a blood-curdling baying that the hound of the Baskervilles would have been proud of.

 A flash of lightning lit up the sky, showing two shadowy  figures coming up the path., The look of horror clearly visible on their faces as they saw Zimba bearing down on them. A crash of thunder drowned  out their curses as they turned and fled. 

The next flash showed the men trying to get into a shabby car, half  hidden under the branches of a tree in the lane, Zimba had one by  the trouser leg, and was dragging backwards with all his might. The second man was kicking him viciously, and raining down blows with a heavy stick. Sarah could hear thuds,  and imagined the pain to Zimba.  She ran blindly down the path screaming.

 “Stop it you bastard , Zimba! come back. Zimba! Zimba!” But Zimba did not come back. Give up was not, in Zimbas’ vocabulary. Sarah tripped and fell headlong in the muddy gravel grazing her knees, hands and face. Scrambling up she ran on ignoring  the pain;. Growls, shouts, curses and crashes of thunder filled the air. A  car engine sounded,  the lights bursting into life showed Zimba  dancing in front , biting at the tyres as it surged forward.  Sarah screamed again in panic.

 “ Zimba! Zimba! Stop it, you’ll be killed. Zimba! You bloody fool Zimba! Come back”. Sarah kicked off her elegant high heeled shoes, yanked her expensiv suede skirt up over her hips, and staggered on , heedless of the pain in  her feet from the loose stones and rough surface of the lane. The frilly silk blouse she wore to the office now a tattered mess of blood, mud, rain and tears. 

       The car came back into view again. Zig zagging now ,  the driver trying to run Zimba down. Still he leapt to and fro in front, snapping at the tyres A crunching sound of metal and stone, the tinkle of broken glass. A loud high pitched yelp of pain from Zimba , and the car sped away up the hill.

  Sarah staggered on gasping for breath, sobbing with pain and rage, another flash of lightning showed Zimba lying motionless in the lane as the torrential rain poured down. With a scream of anguish Sarah flung herself down beside him and wept uncontrollably.

    David, returning from what he considered to have been an extremely enjoyable, and successful trip, decided to fortify himself with a pint of Doombar in the Dog and Bucket at the top of the hill before rushing into the arms of the girl he loved. It was therefore nearly an hour later, before a slightly light-headed David arrived outside his bungalow, and decided to have a look through the open window in order to assess the situation before entering. Of all the possible scenarios he had considered, the one that met his eyes was definitely not one he could have entertained in the wildest of dreams.        

    Sarah, clad in her dressing gown, lay sprawled on one end of the sofa. A pleasant smile on her face despite what looked like a nasty graze on her cheek and forehead. Both knees now exposed were bandaged, as were both her hands. Zimba lay on his back, taking up the rest of the sofa. All four paws in the air,  the left side of his hindquarters encased in bandage, as was his left shoulder. His head lay in Sarahs’ lap, she was gently cradling it in her arm, whilst stroking under his chin with the unbandaged  fingers of her other hand. A plate of finely sliced steak was at her elbow on a little side table,  Sarah would occasionally select a morsel and lower it into Zimbas’  expectant mouth. The gesture reminded David of a mother bird dutifully feeding her young. With each snack Zimbas’ stump would leap into an extercy of wag, Sarah giggling, would softly kiss his nose. David could  just make out her words although it was only a gentle murmur.“ 

   “ Such a brave hound, you were. Oh, yes you were, You know you were, yes you do. You silly, silly, old fool, You could have got yourself killed. Stupid, stupid, faithful hound.” 

   David scratched his chin and rubbed his eyes thoughtfully. He toyed with the idea of returning to the ”Dog and Bucket” for another glass of beer, on the grounds that the hallucinogenic properties of that establishments’ beverages appeared to be second to none.      

Published by Ian

Music maker and story teller.

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