Crash! The side gate slammed on its hinges as Michael shut it fiercely behind him. Now I’ll be in for it, he thought to himself. Any minute now I’ll be hearing Mum’s voice telling me not to wake the baby.
“Michael, is that you?” She stuck her head out of the back door as he drew level. “Please keep the noise down, Vicky’s just gone off to sleep.” She looked closely at his face. “I didn’t expect you back so soon. Is everything OK?”
“Yeah, everything’s fine Mum.” He walked straight past her into the courtyard at the back of the townhouse and sat down on a plastic chair.
“All right, well come in and have something to eat if you want to.” she called after him and closed the door.
Michael sat alone on the small stretch of lawn, kicking at the sandy grass beneath his feet with the toe of his shoe. Everything should be fine. when you’re just a kid of ten years old. But everything wasn’t all right. He felt like crying sometimes but he was too old to cry. To stop himself from crying he just got angry. He got angry all the time.
This afternoon had started out like most Fridays. After school he’d come home to change and take his football down to the park to play with his mates, Aron Smith and Andrew Beecham. For some reason they both hadn’t been there. Who should be there but Perry Wilson who was also in his class. He thought Perry was alright but they didn’t often play together. Perry’s dad was with him and they were playing cricket, Perry batting while his dad bowled.
Perry’s little sister was there, too, all bright and pink in overalls with bows in her fair hair, swinging vigorously backwards and forwards on the swings. Tied to a fence close by, held safely by a leather leash, excitedly straining to join in the play was Perry’s big black and white border collie dog.
“Hi fella,” Michael patted its warm, thick fur.
“Mike, come and play cricket” called Perry.
“Naw, it’s O.K.” Michael continued patting the dog. It licked his nose.
“Come on Michael,” sang out Perry’s dad. “It’s easier with a fielder. You bat and Perry can field.”
“Aw Dad,” Perry complained.
Michael watched the way that they laughed at one another and felt jealous. Mr Wilson took charge and organized everyone. Michael batted for a while, then bowled and fielded. All the time Mr Wilson praised him and Perry when they played well and just joked when they didn’t.
“I better be getting home now, Mr Wilson. Thanks for the game.” Michael handed the cricket bat back to Perry.”
“See you on Monday,” said Perry.
“’Bye son.” said Mr Wilson.
As Michael left the park he turned and glanced back. Mr Wilson was picking up the little girl in his arms and swinging her high above his head; Perry was holding on to the dog’s lead as he ran off in the other direction. That was when Michael started to feel funny - so sad and then so angry.
Son. That’s what Perry’s dad had called him. But of course he wasn’t Michael’s father. Michael didn’t know where his father was or what he was doing. He had three letters from him, kept in an old biscuit tin in the back of his wardrobe. The last one was posted from Darwin nearly a year ago. They never said very much, just that he hoped Michael was happy and doing well at school. As if he cared. He left them all when Victoria was just a baby. Mum said she and Dad weren’t able to stop fighting and they were just making everyone unhappy. Michael didn’t have a dad to take him to the park and play cricket with him. He sometimes wondered if he would ever even receive another letter.
Michael got up from the chair and went to sit on the ground by the fence. It was such a little garden. Vicky’s swing set took up nearly all the space there was. That was another thing that happened when Dad went away. They had to leave their house to come to live in this little townhouse without a proper garden. If things had been different, he’d still be living in their old house and have a garden to play in and a dog.
Michael wanted a dog of his own so much. A big, friendly furry dog that would love him and always be with him.
“You know we’re not allowed dogs here.” Mum would answer whenever he brought the matter up. “Besides, it would be cruel, keeping a dog in a courtyard like ours. Dogs need room to run around.”
“Here, King.” Michael sat with his back against the high wooden fence that surrounded the courtyard and called out softly. If he couldn’t have a real dog, he might as well have the next best thing. “Here boy. That’s a good dog.”
In his imagination the dream dog appeared, as it often did, black and white and long-haired, nuzzling his nose into Michael’s hand. It sat at his feet and looked lovingly into his eyes.
“Come on boy, let’s go for a run.” In his imagination they were running as swiftly and lightly as the wind across a wild grassy hillside.
A loud scraping sound from the other side of the fence interrupted his daydream. Oh, no, thought Michael, I hope Mr Krupps didn’t hear me or he’ll think I’m nuts. Why does he always have to be around anyway? Always pottering around in his vegie patch over there and watching to see what’s going on. It’s not fair, here we are stuck in this little unit and he’s next door in his big old house and great big garden. Peering through the fence Michael could see the stout old man just a few feet away, turning over a patch of earth with his spade. Michael quickly ran into the house.
Vicky was in her high chair messily feeding herself mashed banana with a plastic spoon. Mum looked at Michael and started to say something then stopped and took down a glass from the cupboard, pouring him some freshly squeezed orange juice.
“There’s some strawberries if you’d like some,” she said, putting a bowl on the table. Michael reached for a red, juicy strawberry and then hesitated.
“Where did these come from?” he demanded, suspiciously.
“Mr Krupps brought them in this morning.” she replied. “Michael you don’t have to be like that, “she said as Michael pushed the bowl away.
“Why does he have to be coming over here all the time, giving us things?” said Michael.
“Michael, he’s a kind man. He’s very lonely since his wife died and he’s got no children nearby. It makes him happy to share the things that he grows.”
“Well he doesn’t have to hang around here, does he?”
“Michael, he’s a nice old man really. It’s just that the two of you got off to a bad start.”
That was true. It all happened the first week that they arrived in the townhouse. Michael was out in the garden while Mum set up Vicky’s swing set and he was supposed to be helping but wasn’t being much use really. He hated the new place right from the start. There were some rocks on the lawn and she asked him to move them so he picked up one in each hand and just chucked them over the fence. There was the sound of glass breaking and a few minutes later Mr Krupps was round at side gate, puffing and red in the face. It seemed Michael had broken one of the cold frames he used to put tomato seedlings in.
When Michael had been made to apologise and offer to pay for the broken glass out of his pocket money, Mr Krupps seemed to calm down and looked a little sheepish.
“It’s okay.” he said. “It was an old frame. I have some more. But please be careful in future.”
After that Mr Krupps often dropped by to bring them some home grown fruit or vegetables and talk to Mum. She sometimes made him a cake or sewed buttons onto clothes for him. Vicky loved him and always gurgled and held out her arms when she saw him but Michael had never managed to even like him.
It had rained all week and twice Michael had been in trouble at school for staring out of the window instead of paying attention in class. He couldn’t wait for lessons to finish on Friday afternoon. It was a week since he had been at the park with Perry. He wouldn’t go again this week. He might go home and watch a DVD.
He hadn’t been at home for long when the front doorbell rang. He could hear voices outside, then Mum came to where he was watching television.
“Michael, Mr Krupps is at the door.”
“Well, why doesn’t he come in then?”
“He particularly wants to see you.”
“Oh, Mum, do I have to?”
“Michael, he wants to see you. You can watch the movie later.”
Michael went reluctantly to the door and swung it wide open. Mr Krupps was standing outside with a beaming smile on his face. In his hand he held a shiny red leash, and on the end of the leash was a smooth-haired, large black dog, of uncertain breed, its long tongue lolling from its mouth as it sniffed at Michael’s legs. Instinctively Michael patted its head and the dog’s tail wagged enthusiastically.
“Michael, I have a little favour to ask you,” Mr Krupps began.
“What’s that, Mr Krupps?”
“Well, there have been some attempts at breaking into houses around here lately and I am on my own, you know, so I decided to get myself a dog from the animal shelter for protection,” he paused, “and for company.”
“But,” he continued, “I am an old man now and not as fit as I once was. Walking home from the shelter I wondered if I had made a mistake, choosing a big dog like this. Perhaps I should have to take it back. But this dog I like. So I wondered, would it be very impertinent of me to ask you, would you be willing to take the dog for walks for me – to the park perhaps?”
“Mr Krupps” Michael almost shouted for joy. “Why of course I would love to help look after the dog.”
“I am very grateful to you.” Mr Krupps bowed. “I was also thinking that I must now build a fence around my vegetable garden to keep the dog out. Perhaps, if you would like to, you could help me with some of the cutting and nailing.”
“I’ve never tried anything like that before” replied Michael, “but I’d love to try.”
“I’m sure you will learn very fast” smiled Mr Krupps. “We start tomorrow. Oh, Michael, there’s just one other thing. My old brain is not so good any more, when it comes to names. What do you think would be a good name for our dog here?”
Our dog. He had said our dog.
“I know just the name” said Michael happily, “King.”