short story

Don Coyote’s dog

At 50, Don has finally relinquished the burden of immortality, that most endearing quality of youth. His consciousness is now fully settled into his body. Pain has facilitated the descent. The weight of discomfort displaces the emotions forcing reflection to the surface of consciousness. Pain is a catalyst for enlightenment. The body he has condescendingly inhabited has gained the upper hand; established its dominance.

We are one and the same, you and I, it says.

The body, which is his, now requires one 1500mg tablet of Glucosamine Forte (a bomb of a pill) each morning to relieve osteoarthritis and 150mg of Desvenlafaxine to throw a veil of contentment over his major depression. The former helps him perform his job of night-fill at the local IGA; the latter generates the will to get there. Medicine delivers him of most constraints that might otherwise hinder a contented life. He is for the most part satisfied with his life. He would not, however, call himself happy (the diagnosis and medication suggest otherwise). When he feels pleased there is always the devil on his shoulder whispering ‘drugs have made it so’. Life is a matter of routine activities punctuated with reading, walking the dog, talking to the dog and coffee. Reading is less a pleasure than a declaration of willingness to sustain a measure of curiosity; a cautious act of rebellion against suicidal thoughts. He feels that he will ultimately survive life and die naturally. He wills it. However, on the matter of ‘will’, Don is still troubled. Does will not speak itself as desire? What is desire? The will to be pleased? What is the will to have will called? I think it is called the working life. He smiles. Sancho my brother, we are free, we have will, Praise be to God! Sancho wags his tail but does not lift his head. He closes the weathered paperback edition of “The Waves”, strokes the cigarette burn on the cover. He understands Virginia Woolf and her stones. He, however, does not have pockets big enough for rocks. He also has no river. There is the ocean but stepping into its crashing waves with a pocket of rocks seems absurd. Besides, beaches are public places. So, he resists that urge and also the urge to buy vodka and lights another cigarette and squints against the blinding light of another dawn. Despair will pass; again, into something else … he forgets what it is called. This is his burden of hope. He must carry it for the children. It is not as bad as it feels. Feelings are unreliable indicators of the value of life. There is value, he has value, and even if he does not feel it now he must trust that he will feel it again. He must trust that value exists without feeling it. He must have faith, or at the very least, cultivate faith. Freedom Sancho, is the ability to hope for something better … no it’s not. That is habit. But, we are free Sancho to walk in the park and poop where we want? Well, you are anyway.

He sits down on their couch and shares a biscuit while he sips his coffee. He brushes crumbs from his chest onto his lap then the floor and by force of habit looks over his shoulder and experiences a nip of guilt. These philosophical interludes with the dog sustain him. People will suspect I am mad to be talking to you about such deep things Sancho. Forgive me when I exclude you in the company of others, they would not understand. Five hundred years ago they would have burnt the pair of us. What a barbie that would be mate he chuckles as Sancho licks his hand and focuses his attention on Don’s other hand, the hand with the biscuit.

We must focus on lighter things Sancho that is our new project he says you’re a bad influence, far too dark … bad dog! The dog puts his ears back. He gives the dog a vigorous rub. He settles back into the chair, head back and studies the wooden beams of the porch roof. There are ants everywhere, and spider webs. Another job put off. The porcupine stirs in his abdomen, its quills extend deep into him from within. All of his energy will be required to fight back with calming thoughts. The prospect of the fight leaves him exhausted before he has begun. A wet and heavy hessian cloth is closing in over him.

I choose my life. I commit myself to the full extent of my life. My life is good. I have all I need. I want for nothing. The past is done with. I will face a bright future he says softly.

He thinks of a pink and orange sunrise over a turquoise sea. Sancho, let’s go for a walk! The dog knows the words, the tone of the words and is in a moment running to the front door, wagging its tail, whimpering with excitement. Happiness comes easily to you he says to the dog as he places the leash around his neck. The dog licks his face with abandon and the man smiles, feeling loved. They walk through the winding paths of Lighthouse Park. The dog seems to pee on every bush it finds. How do you do that Sancho? How do you will yourself to pee like that?

They encounter several other dogs being walked. Sancho’s man, Don, exchanges greetings and sometimes a few words with familiar people he has been passing in this fashion for years. Suburban dog-walkers strolling for fitness, a change of scenery, the company of passing people and … why do we walk Sancho? The dog wags his tail every time Don talks. It stops to sniff the ground, slouches forward, pees on cue. Oh yes, I forgot.

It is summer and at ten o’clock in the morning the heat of the sun begins to burn Don’s forearms and shins. Cicada trills reverberate through the air. There are too many flies and Don decides to take a short cut home through an enclosed reserve that has a trail through thick brush. Let’s call it a day Sancho, the flies are getting on my tits he says leading the dog through the turnstile gate of the reserve. The trail is overgrown, branches of shrubs and long grass brush against his arms and legs. Flies seem to multiply and he must keep his mouth closed. Maybe this wasn’t worth it he thinks. He is walking faster now and the dog sensing the increase in pace begins to run. Don steps on a stick that jerks suddenly and the movement terrifies him to release an involuntary aaah Jesus snake and he performs a panicked jig both dancing on the spot and running away. A peripheral thought alerts him to how foolish he must look while simultaneously another urges him to flee. He runs. The Dugite is long and brown and the dog barks and chases after it, its front paws catching the snake’s tail. In a flash the snake has turned, darted at the dog, bitten it on the face, whipped away and gone with alarming speed. The dog yelps, backs into Don’s legs, nosedives into the sand and with its paws attempts to wipe away the pain. It howls an awful high-pitched wail that presses down on Don’s being. He scoops the dog into his arms and cradles him tightly while inspecting the dog’s face, which it attempts to burrow under his arm. The dog is shaking with shock. The body calms, then trembles and begins to make involuntary kicks. It’s ok Sancho I’m here. You’re good, you’re fine, we’ll get you sorted, it’s ok, stay with me Sancho.


The vet seems outrageously young to save lives. She is petite and too delicate. He fears the dog is lost. Yet she takes command with reassuring calm talking to the dog all of the time. I am not the only one who talks to animals like this Don thinks. He has the thought of buying her flowers, kissing her on the hand, coffee … Her slender hands caress the dog’s flaccid limbs as she delivers her prognosis. Sancho will live. Toxicity levels are low; anti-venom is administered intravenously with anti-histamines and painkillers. After 48 hours he is home. Don carries the dog to his bed, forms a soft nest with a blanket and pillows and lowers Sancho into it. He lies down on the bed folding himself around the animal. You scared me Sancho he says gently stroking its head and face. The dog licks his hand. They both fall asleep. It is dark when Don wakes up. A jolt of dread subsides when he sees the dog with its snout on his chest; its tail yields a slight wag. I’m happy Sancho Coyote, I think we are lucky, you and I.


A short story by Mike Scallan

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Ode to a moth

Ode to a moth

Quiet as brick and effortless as breath you slipped your soft form and went, leaving just this delicate presence that rocks a little from my own exhilation.

Did you suffer? Do moths suffer as people do? Was your leaving as tranquil as your slack wings suggest? We’re not all that different you know, our species. Yours and mine both seek out light and finally settle unnoticed in the shadows. Here, looking at you on this ledge, in this public toilet, your mausoleum, I offer a few minutes of silence. Dead quiet. Did you try to enter this light bulb? Did moths live longer before electricity? Chasing the sun is easier than gate-crashing closer light. It takes longest to see what is closest to you.

I’m not in the habit of talking to dead insects, that would be absurd. Perhaps whenever we talk into an absence, we are really just talking to ourselves and maybe real people we knew who are now also on the edge of our memories, our world. Death reminds us that life existed where it no longer does. A brutal irony.

It is the brevity of life that gives it some worth but also bridles the heart with such unbearable pain. Maybe that is why I’m having this conversation with you? If I cannot pause for you, what will I stop for? If the stuff that once bound us, life, goes out of something little, surely it’s as sad as when it leaves the larger among us? My life is as little as yours in the context of the world. We may even be brothers? There is vast chasm between your world and mine. There is language for one thing, I do not know yours. But, whatever the differences my friend, we depended on air together. The only real difference is that I still breathe and you are simply still.


ownership, philosophy, suburbia

I own therefore I am

I am on my way home, in my car, listening to my radio, I stop at our beach. We call it ours, this stretch of sand on this continent that is now my home. My country, this is how I refer to the 7,682,300.0 square kilometres beneath my feet. I have a passport which confirms my citizenship of the state. It is navy, embossed in gold, official looking. The cover is bendable but thick. It will not easily be damaged from frequent use. It holds the allure of adventure. This is how the institution of state draws us in and places the spell of attachment on us. “With us you may travel freely, ” it seems to say, “you are not the citizen of the world you imagined you were. You are not as free as you thought you were. This book marks that you are owned. We call this state of being owned ‘citizenship’.”  

It contains, inside, a black and white photograph of me, unsmiling. One is not encouraged to smile for official photographs. So here I am in my country seriously wishing to understand how I assume that so much is mine. I have even purchased a piece of land with a house on it and that I call mine but really, it is the bank that has deemed me fit to speak of it thus. I earn a salary, paid fortnightly. Most of this goes to the bank so that I can one day, decades from now, call the house truthfully, mine. Strange isn’t it? To speak of it seems strange, this suburban ritual of possession. I am told that it was not always so. I have read articles by clever men on the history of ownership and possession and it would appear that Indigenous people worldwide never considered themselves owners of land. My mate Matt, a Noongar man, once laughed off the notion of buying a home. “Why would I buy dirt cobber?” he asked me. Indeed, why?


It seems to be a distinctly European invention, this idea that ownership begets identity. We assume it has always been so, genetic even, like violence. Seems we have been wrong about many things. They really started something those restless fifteenth century Spaniards and Portuguese. Further back the Goths, the Vandals, the Huns, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Vikings caught it; this contagion of land-greed. Their desire to possess was passed on to the English, the Germans, the Belgians, the French, the Dutch and the Italians. What formed their view of the world? Why did they think a first meeting ought to be followed by the planting of their flags, declarations of ownership and brutal oppression? It’s a fundamentally flawed human practice that we continue to emulate 500 years later.

Where does this language of ownership came from? How did it come to be the mode of my tongue, my mind? The pronoun ‘mine’ is one of a child’s earliest words. It defines the boundaries of their existence: ‘my nose’, ‘my mummy’, ‘my house ‘. What does it mean to ‘have‘? How do I ‘have’ this home, ‘have’ this toothache, ‘have’ this bruise, ‘have’ these thoughts? In the marriage union I get to ‘have’ and to ‘hold’. I have a great deal, but when was I bestowed ownership of ‘my’ character? Who is this ‘me’ I speak of?


Studies of human society suggest that one of the prime forces in our history is ownership. We have evolved through ownership. From feudalism to mass consumerism we have organised our social structures around competition for land and artefacts. We call land ‘real estate’. It forms our reality. Being landless thus presents itself as a an ‘unreal’ condition, an undesirable state of being. Material poverty is perhaps more an indictment on our modern tendency to insulate ourselves with our possessions. Poverty represents the way we think about the world, not a way of the world. It is perhaps more a consquence than a condition. It is a word denoting what one does not have. A street vendor in Mumbai, India told me there was no poverty in India. I did not understand what he meant. It appeared self-evident to me that poverty was not only real but rampant as well. I’m beginning to realise what he meant. I’m seeing more of it living in the first world.



letter for mother



The last time we spoke I struggled to understand your words. A day later you were moved to ICU and two days later you died. But there were other, more important words that passed between us. We spoke often and for that I am grateful. There is a sense of closure in the love we knew we had for each other. I feel remorse at being over 6000km away when you were folding your life away. I wish I could have been there to hold your hand, just once. Sean did that for both of us. I know you would remind me that geography does not alter the state of the soul, that you knew we loved you dearly. We did, do. Now I experience the real cost of migration. You made our leaving easier by supporting it. You were brave that way. I also know it played its part in breaking your heart. What a big heart you had.


I shall visit Sean in April and together we will with care and all the gentleness we can muster, trace your life in the belongings you left behind. There will be letters we wrote to you as children, hand made gifts from your granchildren … you kept everything. Archeology of the soul. Memories will re-establish your beautiful presence and we will cry. We will encounter your absence in every room of the home. We will embrace your presence which is now only found inside of us. It seems darker and roomier inside, colder. I will feed your birds and water your plants and talk to you. We will laugh. In the laughter we will recall one of the finest gifts you ever gave your sons, the ability to find in the bleakest hour of the day a reason to smile.


This was meant to be a letter of thanks and goodbye, some sort of eulogy shared. Like our lives it is imperfect, a poor mirror of the vast emptiness your leaving has left. The words do not express my heart, they never do. At best, all they can do is point towards someone they are trying to embrace and whisper the words one last time, ‘I love you mom’.


p.s. Happy birthday 🙂