Following a tough week in work I thought I’d take advantage of the fairly mild weather today and head out for a late afternoon walk with the dog. After a quick drive to the hilltop grounds of a nearby, seasonally quiet hotel I made my way down through the neighbouring golf course and woods with my jet black terrier in tow. We were walking for less than half-an-hour when the dog ceased her nose-to-the-ground rambling to peer back behind us, tail and ears erect. Following her lead I turned and noticed the figure of a woman in the distance, in her late fifties or sixties judging by her dress and movement, heading towards us with an ungainly Labrador Retriever bounding ahead. If you’re a dog owner you’ll know that slight feeling of apprehension you get when you see a stranger accompanied by their own pet. Your dog may be the most placid animal in the world but you never know how the other one will react, or quite how your own pet will behave if things take a turn for the worse. After five days of working with idiots – and one lazy conniving idiot in particular – I was in no mood to find out so I took off at a brisk pace through the trees to find some further solitude.
Several minutes later I realised that the woman was still behind me, beating the same track through the woods that I was. Slightly irritated by this, I took a sharp turn across a gap in the vegetation and into some thicker undergrowth, past a copse of tall pine trees and down a slope into an open field. Five minutes into this detour my crossbred terrier stopped again, brushing past my legs to look back with a whine. Turning around I saw the woman and her horse of a dog at the top of the slope, the former recognisable by her long grey coat and brownish misshapen lump of a hat. Moving from irritation to annoyance I took a muddy, circuitous path onto the golf course, heading at a brisk pace for ten or fifteen minutes across the manicured greens, stopping to catch my breadth near an old drystone wall.
Peering back through the darkening evening I was astonished to see the figure of the old woman and her animal walking towards me. By this stage things were taking on the appearance of a geriatric version of Terminator II. I decided to make a loop around the course to take me back more or less in the direction I had come, up the hill to the hotel carpark and away from my apparent stalker. Yes, I know, most people would have stopped and waited to see what actually transpired when the stranger caught up with them. Put the dog on the leash, to be sure, and stood their ground. Maybe she was simply searching for some company or a friendly hello on a brisk winter evening? However most people aren’t employed in a job where they spend forty or fifty hours a week managing processes than can cost thousands or tens of thousands of euros to make right if they go wrong. Most people don’t spend four days locked into a secure facility cheek by jowl with colleagues who are driven feverish by the intensity and pressure of the work they are doing. In truth, like Garbo in Grand Hotel, I just wanted to be left alone.
As I moved off through the gathering twilight I could see the brighter dashes of colour that represented the woman and her dog, doing their best Sandman impression as I and my terrier took on the role of Logan and Jessica. We soon reached an interior part of the golf course where a narrow ditch and tumbled-down wall was crossed by an old footbridge of grey-green logs, leading into a small but dense wood. During the spring and summer its floor was filled with wild garlic, a sea of sharp-scented white blossoms. However at this time of the year it was a carpet of sodden leaves and wind-snapped branches. Unfortunately it was at this point that the tawny hellhound caught up with us, springing out of the near-gloom with frothing growls. Like Cú Chulainn I struck out at the carnivorous beast, though not with a hurl of iron-bound ash. Rather more prosaically I had to make do with a plastic throwing stick from the local Petstop, which I swung at the animal’s head while cursing its ancestry. Fortunately my own brave terrier, half its opponent’s size, got between the two of us and – hair standing on end – refused to let the other sidle pass to take a snap at my legs.
It was then that I spotted the silhouette of the woman standing some distance away under a narrow line of trees, hands in her coat pocket, watching the confrontation with seeming equanimity. I roared at her to control her dog but she moved not a muscle, until eventually the rabid mutt grew tired with the game and bounded back towards her. Exasperated beyond belief I stormed across the narrow bridge and followed a familiar twisting track to the far side of the thicket, marvelling at the madness that guides the behaviour of some individuals.
We were heading back onto the golf course, just pass a large sand bunker, when the deranged dog appeared out of the blackness again with an audible smack of fang-upon-tooth. Before I could react my terrier was to the fore growling from the bottom of her toes (claws) to the tips of her ears, ready to go all Cujo on her rival. By now I had experienced enough of the sociopathic canine and whatever predatory instinct was directing its brain. I jumped down into the bunker, picked up a white plastic rake used by the golfers to flatten the sand, and re-emerging from the depression whacked the pursuing hound across the head, knocking it sideways with a satisfactory thud.
“Don’t you hit my dog!”
Looking up I could just about make out the old woman standing three or four meters away in the dark, hands still in her pockets, glaring at me from beneath a tweed bag posing as a hat.
“Then control your fucking dog, you stupid bitch!”
There was an inaudible reply as she swung away which caused the half-stunned Labrador to twist around and stumble into the night, following its mistress along a dirt path leading to a parking spot half-way up the hill. Throwing a few imaginatively choice expletives after both, as only an Irish person can, I dropped the rake, gave my dog a well-deserved rub on the head and walked back up the hill through the darkness to the empty carpark with its solitary working light, some ten minutes away. As I took off my damp walking boots and coat, the terrier lapping up a victory bottle of water from her metal travel bowl, a battered Volvo estate wheezed its way up the road to our location, pulling up nearby, its yellowed headlights shining directly at us. Putting my animal into the footwell of the passenger side I moved around to the driver’s door and peered at the dun-coloured Volvo until it suddenly reversed away, turning with a squeal of metal on metal. Barely visible behind the wheel as it sped back down the road, dimly illuminated, was a figure wearing a half-shaped hat. Jumping between the back seat and the open boot was a hyperactive Labrador, teeth and muzzle smearing saliva over the greyed windows.
The next time I walk the dog, I thought to myself, I’m heading to the fucking beach…