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With no bait or line or hook we caught very few fish but we did manage to get some tadpoles in a jar we found. We lost track of time and when it started to rain we took shelter under a bridge.
My parents were sick with worry and my grandmother, whom I rarely saw because she was rich and lived on the other side of town in a big house that smelled of pine needles and Fabulon, was there too, with a block of peppermint chocolate for me to have when I felt better. The adult me showed the severed collar to my aged father, hoping he would be inundated with the same Proustian flood as I had. And I couldn’t come that day because I was working …’Wolfie Leigh. Wolfie had a sister, too, and she had encephalitis.
But my mother said I wasn’t allowed to eat it because I had scared her and my father half to death. But no, he couldn’t recall the incident and chuckled softly at the mention of my imaginary dog. He thought a moment as he continued peeling an apple with a small knife (using only one hand; a skill I always admired but, sadly, never acquired). It was a strange family but Wolfie had a television set and we didn’t so I spent a lot of time over there and we became pals, much to the consternation of my mother, who thought the Leighs were ‘like something out of at the pictures; we had been rather taken with it.
Scrambling up the embankment, though, I tripped and struck my head on a rock and blacked out.
Tim, way ahead and already trying to get under the barrier, came back to me, licking my face between flashes of lightning until I regained consciousness, then dragged me back to the road by the hood of my jacket and stood guard and barked at passing traffic until a kindly policeman stopped and took us home. In the real world he would have been awarded that medal for animal bravery they gave those dolphins in World War II. We called him Wolfie because he had a single eyebrow and incisors that looked like fangs. His father had been a Spitfire pilot in World War II and during a mission his wind-screen had been shot out by a Messerschmitt. Wolfie’s mother was much younger and quite beautiful, much more so than the other neighbourhood mothers and so, of course, none of the mothers liked her.
I’m not sure who the ‘everybody’ was but the lady from the NHSA didn’t seem too bothered by it when my mother took me in and made me tell her about our adventures.
I was quite happy to relay one or two of our more dangerous escapades and, at her request, even draw a picture of the most hair-raising one with the special soft crayons she had called Cray-Pas (a small packet of which I was allowed to keep). Of course, there was no river at all near my suburban Adelaide home; there was a storm drain and there was a creek up at Brown Hill but nothing that resembled the raging torrent that almost swept Tim and me I didn’t really like much but were quite cheap and so were what I bought with my six-cents-a-week pocket money.The creek was swollen and the rain was beating down but Wolfie and I could still hear the voices of the adults as they crossed and re-crossed the stone bridge we were under. We wondered if we should stay where we were until they all went home, then reappear dramatically in the morning, perhaps even sneaking into our own funerals, like Tom in the movie. Adelaide in the 1960s was almost as dull as it is now. I stroked his head and let him have a puff on my corn-cob pipe. I beeeeen there before.’ And Tim laughed and shook his head. This essay by Shaun Micallef is just one of many that appears in the new anthology edited by Andrew Rule.In the end, Captain Leigh shone a torch in our faces and Wolfie got a whipping. My mother and father sat with me in silence in the back of my grandfather’s car as he drove us slowly home, my mother holding my hand, and my father’s wet hat dripping on the picnic blanket they’d wrapped around me. He was a policeman but, regrettably, he had brought his normal car …My father handed me a bit of apple and creaked back in his old chair, feet on the desk he used, his whole life, to sketch his designs (he was a commercial artist, responsible for the original drawing of the Coppertone girl in 1953).‘You used to like movies and comic books back then, didn’t you? ‘This is the life, eh, Tommy,’ he said.‘It’s fine and all,’ I replied, ‘but I reckon I got to gits me out for a spell and head west, afore the Widow Douglas tries to adopt and sivilize me. Other contributors include William Mc Innes, Phillip Adams, Tony Birch, Greg Combet, Don Watson, Liam Pieper, John Harms, Tony Wilson, Les Carlyon, Robert Drewe, John Clarke and more.I was disappointed my father hadn’t looked after these more carefully because this collection, if pristine and not a damp mass of papier-mâché, would have fetched plenty on e Bay.But that was my father: he’d already burned my first-edition albums because ‘they were old’.My grandfather’s fierce eyes looked at me now and then in the rear-view mirror but he said nothing. Irony: incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the expected results. Well take the short story “Lady with a Dog” written by Anton Chekhov as an example.Tim barked at me to run home and save myself but I certainly wasn’t going to leave him behind to God knows what fate at the escapee’s murderous hands.I whipped out my knife and hacked through Tim’s collar, heart pounding so hard I could barely hear the thunder that cracked over us. Whether it was the killer’s bony hands on my shoulder — or perhaps just a stray branch — as soon as Tim was freed we bolted through the driving rain to safety.Captain Leigh had led a search party along the canal and into the big stormwater pipe, where no one was supposed to go. We went to the pictures to cheer you up.’That’s right, that’s right. I’d conflated my experience with Wolfie, and made Wolfie a dog through my association of him with the Phantom’s wolf dog, being written and drawn by Lee Falk — Lee as in Leigh, see?A little boy had been found in there once, we’d been told. Of course, I read the book later and loved it — it was why I wanted to be a lawyer — but at the time I’d wanted a puppy just like the little one in my father’s Coppertone ad.‘Remember what Old Yeller got bitten by? And I’d created a false memory of being rescued in the rain from the clutches of an evil stranger by a trusty and heroic, but completely imaginary, dog.