A SUMMER CAROL by Guilherme Ribeiro (3rd place, Oct20)

Dawn slaps him around a little. I’m awake! He shouts at the sun, accepting sweet numb nothing ain’t returning. I’m awake, he mumbles to himself as he slides off the park bench. Not a sliding off exactly, more of a ploy to trick gravity into gaining momentum with the purpose of standing up. He succeeds… Somewhat. He straightens his once red, now crusty brown overcoat, standing to attention. He shakes the slumber off. Coffee! Yes, a purpose.

The old man in the crusty coat ambles aimlessly, ignoring the layout of the park, scratching at his long white beard as he goes along. Grass, leaves, sticks creak under his feet. He sweats as the heat of summer blasts on, filling the early hours of the morning with dense hot air. An old mutt catches up with him, scratching under his snout. Hello old friend, what’s breakfast? The dog barks a rough snort in response. Hmm, that bad hey? Don’t worry, old Nic got himself a little liquid breakfast.

They find shade and Nic shakes the instant coffee into a mug, fills it up with malt liquor and stirs it with his finger. He splashes some on the floor. Here you go, don’t go sayin’ I don’t take care of you.

They sit there for a while, sipping coffee, keeping their minds from the unrelenting heat. Watching the dozens of birds toiling away at their day around the pond’s ecosystem.

Bloody birds. Mocking us with their flight. I used to fly you know. Yes, don’t give me that look, I used to fly real good. Fastest man in the world. You try getting to all continents within forty-eight hours. I thought so. The wife never much appreciated the job, did she? I could have taken her along, but that wasn’t the problem was it? Don’t look at me like that…

Huh… I know, I am a drunk slob, you’re right. You try only working two months a year. And the economy hasn’t been great, has it? Yeah, you should know. Dumb mutt.

The dog barks in disapproval.

Sorry, yeah, you smart alright.

They walk up to the pond and take a rest around its edge. His hands grab bits of grass and pebbles, rolling them in his hand, throwing them aimlessly in the general direction of the birds. His jaws work away, grinding, thoughtless.

Hey you, yes you, you big long necked duck. You a duck right? ‘Cause you’re dark. A swan would be white yes? You remind me of her, she also had a long neck.. She quacked plenty too.

“Nicky get off the sofa, Nicky dwarfs are a bad influence, Nicky you always stink of booze… Nicky if you want to keep reindeer you have to take care of them. Goddammit Nicholas! I am not burying one more malnourished ravenous reindeer…”

The dog looks at him.

I know… It gets too hot… Don’t look at me like that.

It’s moot now. She kicked my ass out. The neighbour you know? Some grizzly lumberjack apparently. I can’t compete with an industrious seal clubber, now can I? He’s apparently ‘friends’ with the polar bears too, yes, that old boxing club uptown. Punch a bear, get a fish. He got mauled once and she was all over him. Nic go fetch antiseptic, Nicholas warm towels! For Mr Muscle next door, now!

I hold no grudge dog, not at all. She’s much better off now, she is even happy, I hope.

But I ain’t changing ’cause I got kicked out am I? You know it. You ever change old dog? Nope. Exactly my point.

A small child runs around the pond, the park fills with tourists, families, babies crying and nice dogs doing their business and being all well behaved.

Until that moment he was alone, he thought, not one soul. Nothing but the dog, the feathers everywhere, the white specs veering away from the water and hovering in full speed, spreading tiny ripples as they go. Now his morning is over. The noise and the heat disturb him. He finds some vegetation where he can hide. Sleep. He dreams of a lumberjack playing go fish with a seal.

Right dog. I am off south. You coming? Gotta keep going. Some teens barbecuing nearby recognise him and invite him over. Is all good kids you go back to your thing. It’s no trouble really. Want a sausage? No, I am good, I got places to go. You kids have fun.

They give him a bottle of whiskey which they refuse to accept back. He thanks them, takes a large swig, shakes off the dirt around his trousers and gets going.

As he enjoys a sudden refreshing shade over him, a giant eagle stabs his shoulders with its claws and lifts him up to the sky.

Dog! dog! look, I am flying! I am finally flying! Hahahahah! Ha Aw, Aww!

The giant bird flaps around a bit until he decides on a direction.

Soooo, Mr Eagle, where do you think you taking me? The giant bird coos in response. Fine. He closes his eyes and embraces the breeze, the weightlessness, the joy of flight, the sobering pain in his shoulders.

The eagle lets him go. And he falls, and he smiles, now we are talking. Now he is free.

His body hits the ground with a crush. He can taste the impact. A bloody gargle is all he can muster, or he would be laughing hysterically.

Hahahah – aww – Fiiine – aw – Coughs – I will shape up. Is that OK with you, you stupid bird?

He lays there for a while, quietly. A rough whimper in the distance can be heard. Dog! Dog? Where are ya? Someone needs to scrape me off the floor, dog. Here you are. The dog licks the puddle of whiskey next to Nic’s body.

Dog… We making some changes around here… I made a decision. We’ moving to the south pole OK? I hear penguins are good neighbours. Plus, they better than reindeer at high speed travel. Don’t know how dog, do I? They just are.

Who will build toys? You really think people need more trash? Nah, I am out of that racket, the internal politics, the drugs… all them wild nights with half sized people.

Here’s what will work dog. I am gonna give people what they need to hear and make ’em hear it alright! That’s it. The dog lays on his back next to Nicholas. See, you warming to it. They watch the stars do their thing. “Tell people you appreciate them” “No, sequins ain’t good on a dinner dress” “Get off yer ass” “Leave your desk job” “Bangs do look good on you” “You are extraordinary” “Playful stylish sandals ain’t a thing” “Speak your mind” “Tell that one person you adore them, now” “Double denim was never a good look, and it ain’t starting now” that kind of thing.

Dog barks in approval.

Dog, can you get a doctor in the morning? Thanks, appreciate it.

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