The Big Issue : Edition 439
26 THE BIG ISSUE 16 -- 29 AUG 2013 "I'm sorry Dare's such an idiot," Laurelle said. "We reckon he got dropped on the head a few times as a baby." Laurelle, Dare and Derek: only the dog had a sensible name. "Alright then, Dare," Laurelle said, drawing the words out slowly like she was talking to a small child. "I need you to pick Derek up." Dare grabbed the dog around the waist and hoisted it up into his arms. It was a lot of weight for him to support. Laurelle had to help by propping up its bottom. The dog turned its mournful black eyes on me. It knew all this was undignifed. “See this joint here,” Laurelle said, running her fnger along the dog's back leg. "I don't remember what the vet said exactly, but the gist of it was that this joint here is buggered. We've let him turn into a big tub of lard, and now his poor legs can't cope with all the weight. The vet said the best thing we can do now is take him for a swim in a swimming pool. Swimming will help him lose the weight without putting too much strain on his haunches. They call it water therapy. I asked the vet if we could use his pool for it, but all he did was laugh and give Derek another dog chew. So that's why we're asking you. You're the only house around here that's got a pool, and we desperately need one for water therapy." "You've both said that." "Said what?" "That I'm the only house around here with a pool. How do you know that? How do you know I’ve got one in the frst place? My fence is high. Have you been snooping? If you've been trespassing, I'll call the police." "We only had a look on the internet," Laurelle said. "That's how we know. We looked at backyards on the internet." "I'm not on the internet." "Your backyard is." "Everybody's is," Dare explained. "Google took a photo." "How?" "They've got one of them satellites." Derek kicked his hind legs impatiently. Dare lowered the dog to the ground. It slumped sadly onto its side. All this talk was exhausting it. I didn't know what to say. I never gave anyone permission to put a photo of my backyard on the internet. Maybe it happened when my wife was alive. She trusted everybody. If this Google came to the door and sweet-talked her long enough, she would have gone ahead and signed their papers. "We thought we better do the decent thing and ask you frst,” Dare said. “I spent a bit of time on your footpath, trying to get a feel for when you go out, but damn, man -- you are always at home. I said to Laurelle, there is no way we can pull this one off without him noticing. And she said to me, we'll just have to do the decent thing and ask him frst.” "We're very decent people," Laurelle said, "and Derek is a bloody good dog." Ordinarily I would have told them both to bugger off. I was about to do just that when I noticed Mrs Bellow watching us from her front verandah. She was holding up a Mills & Boon book, the hot pink cover shielding the lower half of her face. I knew what she'd do if I turned them away. She'd stand at the fence and squawk at me until I came down and told her who they were and what they wanted. I thought I'd have some fun with her instead. "I'd be happy to help," I said, opening the screen door and stepping to one side. "My pool hasn't been cleaned in a while, but I don't think young Derek will mind. What are you waiting for? Come inside." Laurelle and Dare hesitated. This wasn't the response they were expecting. Derek was a lot more trusting. He walked in right away. He stood in the middle of the lounge room and tilted his head from side to side, breathing heavily and taking in the sight of everything: the leather chairs, the fat screen TV, the framed photographs of me and my wife. Laurelle and Dare followed him in reluctantly, like parents tailing their fve-year-old into a toy store. I felt a tremor of excitement when I locked the door behind them. I had protected myself from people and events for a long time. Now, out of nowhere, something was happening. In the midday movie there's usually a scene where the main character has to learn to dance or box or do karate, and although he practises for months on end we see him progress from amateur to expert in the time it takes to play a three- minute pop song. If you want, you can imagine the events I'm about to describe in the same way. First focus the camera on Dare as he throws Derek into the pool. The dog splutters and struggles to keep his head above the water. Laurelle screams and says he must be drowning. Dare grabs him by the underarms and hoists him out again. I watch them leave through a crack in the blinds. They arrive the next day with towels and a water noodle. Mrs Bellow looks up from her gardening and stares. Laurelle and Dare support Derek's body in the pool. They shout words of encouragement as he kicks his legs in an urgent effort to keep his head above the water. I watch them from the swing chair on my back deck. Focus on my jacaranda: fowers blossom and fall to the ground. Derek grows thinner in fast-motion. Laurelle and Dare stand at opposite ends of the pool and watch him swim laps by himself. I fnd a water mattress in the shed and blow it up. Derek foats about on it pensively. He looks like an Egyptian god cruising down the Nile on a raft. The three of us laugh. Mrs Bellow climbs a ladder to clean her awnings and snoop. The pop song fades out at the chorus. I say very loudly, so Mrs Bellow can hear, "Tomorrow you ought to come over at seven. I want you good people to join me for dinner." I FELT A TREMOR OF EXCITEMENT WHEN I LOCKED THE DOOR BEHIND THEM. I HAD PROTECTED MYSELF FROM PEOPLE AND EVENTS FOR A LONG TIME. NOW, OUT OF NOWHERE, SOMETHING WAS HAPPENING.