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2 Commercial Quay (Sputnik)
Tried to find an old photo from the shop, all I could find was this one which had been superimposed on the shot for Love Can’t Always be articulate-shop was cut out! but this was taken at that time.
The lazy Saturday morning was split into pieces, by the rude screech of a breaking car over on the far lane of the Quay, the driver had done his utmost to stop in time but couldn’t, the two foolhardy victims lay motionless beneath his mud-covered bumper. My friend Ray and I had been standing outside the shop admiring the breadth of our view across the clear horizon, we could see way out beyond the black man at the end of the breakwater, so far out we pondered aloud the possibility that one distant inkling of sparkling sand near the centre, might be a part of the Welsh coast. To its left the silent forest of Raven Point boomed in the bright sun, it’s virgin sand sloping down to the shallow water at the tip of the peninsula. We stood there in a perfect spell, with the heat of the sun warming our bones, absorbing the communal good humor of Saturday strollers, when our attention got snapped in half by the frightful sound of animal and machine, screeching for the lives of each other.
I shielded my face with an involuntary hand.
“Aw…….. Isn’t that your dog?”
“Yes!” I swallowed hard, knowing that for this public spectacle, I was not going to be an impartial observer; all that had been expected of me up till then, in my young life.
We made our way over to confirm the worst; Sputnik lay there with his eyes closed, still hot. He had been in some fierce scrapes before I thought; maybe he will survive this one as ably as the others? But Ray knew better. He pointed at the pool of warm water surrounding his body.
“That’s a sure sign! There’s not a scratch on him, but ye see…. their liver gets split. There’s no way of surviving that”
He pointed down with forensic detachment, but Ray knew these kinds of things, he was only two or three years older than me I believe, but he was a lot older than me by a different measurement than time. If information, confidence and facial hair had it’s own clock, we’d be a decade apart. He was a good man to have around in a spot like this.
“We better get him off the road” He advised.
I grabbed Sputniks back legs, he the front, and we ferried his taut body over towards the railway tracks where our old Anglia sat idle. I opened the unlocked boot and we gently swung him in there to await his final journey. As we walked back over the road, brushing the dust from our hands, I noticed the man who owned the other dog being more upset than I expected. He carried him off the road towards the shallow railway bank.
The driver of the car was beside himself with apologies, he looked like a farmer who was just popping into town for an errand from the country, I could tell by his mucky wellingtons and the tell tale suit; a Farmers uniform in Ireland at the time.
“I have an ould dog at home that’s not worth a curse, but sure I wouldn’t want anything happening to him either, I’m very sorry, the two of em just came outa nowhere”
It’s true, they had! Sputnik was very territorial, and his territory was everywhere. The other Dog must’ve been the same; maybe they even knew each other, wandering warriors looking for trespassers. Anyway they both laid eyes upon each other from opposing sides of the street and were so filled with rage that they lost all awareness of the fact that it was the busiest road in town. At the point where they met, with the intent of all out battle, there happened to be a big black car flying along at a healthy pace with no knowledge of their impending action. The dogs screeched, the car screeched and a heavy price was paid for the blindness of their rage. Two dogs that seemed to belong to no one had more going for them than you would think. That black dogs owner carried him off like a dead child. And when I went into the kitchen and announced nonchalantly that Sputnik was dead, my Mother and my Sister Breda went into a fit of loud keening.
“What’s wrong with the two of you” I chastised.
They looked at me with pale curiosity, shocked it seemed that I made so little of our loss.
“What happened to him?” my Sister sobbed, I had never noticed her notice him very much. Me Ma I could see, she had nursed him back from the brink of death when he had been in a battle near our house while out for one of his patrols of the Town. He wasn’t our dog; he was belonged to my Brother Seamus who lived all the way up in Fishers Rowe at the other end of Town. Instead of ferrying him back up to Seamus’s house, she took him in and bathed his wounds every day with hot water and Dettol; he was in bits! I had never seen such raw wounds, hadn’t thought that what lay beneath a dogs coat was similar to the carcass hanging in a Butcher shop. She nursed him for weeks, and gradually the raw red withdrew beneath his pale brown mane. I supposed (upon thinking now) that they had created a greater bond than I had given credit for. So I got it that my Mother had a special place for him, but Breda I hadn’t noticed caring about him too much, obviously there was a lot that I hadn’t noticed about Sputnik. I was fond enough of him myself; he was a clever mutt, and a great guard dog. I would leave him minding the shop when I was in the dark room. If I heard him barking I knew there was customer out there. I often went out there to find him baring his teeth; crouched in attack position, his back hair up, only the bravest customer or most desperate would hold position until I appeared.
“Don’t mind him…… Sputnik, Shut up or I’ll brain ye! ” He immediately obeyed and cowered behind the counter.
I had always assumed that his bark was worse than his bite, but knowing how fierce he could be in a dogfight, meant that he had a fair enough bite. He was gone now, they would have no reason to even see him again. I had acted like the man of the house and locked him away out of sight. I presumed that someone with more experience in this area would take him from the boot of the Anglia to where dogs get dumped when they are dead – probably where the surplus of newly born pups go – sinking in a stone filled sack. My parent’s generations were less sentimental about such things. Obviously some of that had rubbed off on me though. I had acted surprisingly mature, and calculating. However, I wasn’t going to finish the next part of the job, I‘d had enough maturity for one day.
While I was casually informing my Mother and Sister about Sputniks demise, Ray kept an eye on the Shop. When I returned, he was out on the footpath having a chat with a Girlfriend, leaving two friends of mine, who had come by for a Saturday chat, in the Shop. I told the lads about the dog and they gave it a couple of seconds attention, they were at that anti sentimental age, it wasn’t cool. So we turned the conversation to our favourite subject, music. Deccie walked around with an acoustic guitar strapped across his back, he would swing it around and start playing at the drop of a hat. He started to play a chord sequence that was familiar and beautiful, I recognized that it was the Beatles song “Something” he played a chord that I didn’t know how to play. I asked what it was, he hid the fret board so that I couldn’t see. It was a competitive place, Wexford. Dick asked for his favourite song, he would never own it, a lot of people did this, our record shop was like the Bank where they kept their favourite songs. They come in and made a request.
“Play that one by the Byrds that you have here”
“What from the EP?”
“Yeah, the single”
I put “8 Miles High” on the old Phillips Gramophone, it used to be our house player, but I claimed it for the shop. The house never got a replacement, but I put speakers in the kitchen and ran a long wire with a switch. They didn’t sound great, it was a long journey, but the Gramophone itself was high fidelity, it had a lot of punch. Ray had left his cigarettes on the counter and the lads thought it would be pleasurable to have a smoke while listening to the jangling guitars and harmonies of the Byrds at full volume. I cautioned restraint; Ray was a big man, in every way! He was a bit of a Hemingway character; he believed that it was honorable to have a boxing match over a disagreement. The two lads were his polar opposite, they were both scrawny musicians like myself, if they had any muscles it was just an adequate amount for ferrying their young skinny frames up and down the Main Street. They giggled as they offered each other a fag from the silver lined pack of Afton’s. I cautioned them again.
“Ray won’t like this, I’m tellin ye”
The two lads exaggeratedly pulled on the fags, creating a fog of nicotine around their bravado, giggling like schoolboys. Which of course they were! They were still attending the secondary School with two years to go before their leaving cert. I should’ve been in their class, but had left school the previous year. They weren’t real smokers yet, but Ray was. Ray was working as a lifeguard over in Ferrybank, so he had a few bob. He was also a fine painter and had sold some to the local café’s. It was a common summer sight to see him at his easel beside the lifeguard chair, fearlessly spreading great swaths of paint with an oil knife across a canvas; depicting his view of the Town and the River from the other side of the Bridge.
Unlike the two lads and myself, he lived in his swimming trunks while there, we thought hard of removing our suits as we gawped in awe at Johns painting skills, We seldom dipped into the river after we heard the Beatles. He was a sand devil browning in the sun, fearlessly diving off the rocks when he needed to cool down, drying off in the sun, a mans man! He was not going to take kindly to the lads smoking his cigarettes.
Youth has a funny effect on danger and time. Deccie and Dick seemed to think that they had all the time in the world to finish off the fags before Ray would return, and because danger wasn’t imminently present, they seemed to presume its non – existence. But danger was just outside on the Quay having a chat with his latest crush Mary Gilltrap, and I noticed with some alarm through the shop window, that their chat had come to a close. Ray was smiling when he came through the door, the chat must’ve went well, he was swinging his strong tanned arms playfully in unison. I hoped that his good humour might supersede what he was about to discover, but I knew he was a moody character and that he could switch from pleasantness to anger in a flash. The two lads had their backs turned and hadn’t seen him come in, they were chatting away, having a grown up moment with their ciggies burning away, picking the tobacco off their tongues. Ray did a quick double take; he looked at me, then at them, then down at the wooden counter where his cigarettes lay. Keeping the smile frozen on his face, he coolly went over to the two lads and took the cigarettes out of their mouths simultaneously, dropped them on the tiled floor and crushed em with the ball of his foot. He then picked up his cigarettes and matches off the counter and left. Deccie and Dick stood semi paralyzed with just their eyes following his movement, the Byrds sonorous harmonies, wilted into background noise as we stood there in silence.
Ray had shown us once again how much more he knew about the world, embarrassment was more powerful than violence. The two lads left the shop nervously smiling, they probably wouldn’t do that kind of thing again, and they weren’t going to admit that they felt a pinch of discomfort. Ray smarted up Charlotte Street after Mary, chuffed I imagine with himself that he had been so cool. I looked down under the counter where Sputnik used to sit and felt what I had withheld before; I hadn’t noticed his presence until he was gone. Like most of us, Sputnik’s stature had increased with his demise.