Soon it was night, and Alex realized his father was going to be worried sick. He climbed onto his feet and headed towards home, but no sooner had he done so he heard the familiar sound of his father’s car, jumping along the dirt road. His father gave the horn a good toot when he saw Alex, even though he was standing there waiting.
Minutes passed by, and soon the lights from their house could be seen on top of a small rise in the distance, very alone in a darkened landscape.
“So?” asked Alex’s father?
Alex was slow to answer. “Sorry,” he said.
“Everyone’s sorry, Alex,” said his father, “but it’s getting too much – for the school, anyway. I personally don’t see the bloody problem. What came over you? Same old story?”
Alex wanted to cry, but not in front of his father. “s’pose.”
“I believe you by the way. So did the psychologist.
“Yeah. Mr. Thompson had one at the school talking to a all of us. Meanwhile you’re God knows where. I wanted to leave but that guy…”
“I know. Can I change schools?”
“To where? I can’t move, Alex, not now. You can’t come with me either. Anyway, hear me out,” said the father. There was silence for a while. The car passed the wooden gate, and the half-barrel that did as a letterbox.
“Do you want to know what she said?” said Rob, stopping the engine and pulling the handbrake. The silence in the car seemed empty, after the rattling on the road.
Alex shrugged. “Am I going to get the pills?”
“I’m sure he would love that,” Alex’s father chuckled as he kicked the door open and stepped into the fresh night air, “but I wouldn’t agree to it. The only other option is inside.” He pointed to the house.
“What…” Alex looked at his father with wide eyes as he got out and close the door. They walked to the house. “Who’s in there?” he said.
“Look for yourself, Alex,” his father said, very seriously, turning the key and opening the door.
Alex stepped into the dark house, and noticed light shining out from beneath the bathroom door. There were very faint noises, like a slight knocking, or scraping. He listened a little more to the scurrying noises. “Who’s that? What’re they doing in there? What’s that?” he said quietly, as his father turned on the living room light and dropped into his tattered tweedy arm chair.
“You’d better just open the door. There’s nothing bad in there, promise!” he said.
Cautiously, Alex turned the rattly brass knob and pushed at the door. It was no wider than half a foot when a small brown head with very big eyes poked out.
“A dog!” laughed Alex. A little puppy with a big head jumped up excitedly on Alex, who stooped down with a big smile. The puppy licked Alex all over his hands, arms and would have covered his face to if Alex hadn’t crooned his head up and away, exposing his chin. “A dog?” he said again, but this time it was a question.”
“That’s right, it’s something new. No pills, just a good friend. Not a bad idea, I thought.”
“But where’d you get him?” Alex asked.
“The pound,” his father answered.
Alex stood up, with the small puppy writhing in his arms. “Who puts such a cute Dog in the pound?”
“He was born in there, apparently,” his father said.
“Oh,” said Alex, as he put the little one down on the cement floor. It ran about the room, checking the corner between the kitchen bench and the rubbish bin, the scraps of food swept into the corner under the window, but always coming back to Alex for a pat of a scratch before he went to sniff out a new place.
“What’s his name?” asked Alex’s father.
“He doesn’t have a name?” asked Alex, watching the little one with glee. “Let me think…” he said. “He looks just like a potato, but that’s a stupid name.” He thought harder, then said, “Moses. I always imagined Moses would have a robe just that colour.”
“Moses it is. Good name.” his father said.
After his holidays, Alex’s father went back to the mines to work another while. When Alex went to school Moses would stay in the house, waiting patiently near the door. The school days passed quickly, Alex knowing that a true friend waited for him every night. He never felt lonely, even if some days not one other child from the school glanced his way. He just sat by himself, watching the others or reading a comic and was more or less left alone.
On one day the bell had rung and the children made their way into the yard and began running about or chattering about this or that. Alex went to sit in his favourite spot under the window to the side of the school, where he could see the coast to his left and the hills far away to the north. But sitting there, with tear stained cheeks, was the least expected person: Nicole Lambert.
Alex walked towards her slowly, thinking that he was watching a glacier melting.
“Go away, can’t you see I’m sitting here?” the young girl cried.
“Oh. Sorry,” said Alex, “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Are you even dumber than you look? Get lost!” she said with furrowed brows and impossibly dark eyes.
“Maybe,” Alex said. He stood looking out towards the sea. Something must be really wrong to have Nicole in tears, he thought, so he just stood still for a few minutes.
Alex moved closer. “All right, I maybe dumb, but are you sure nothing’s the matter with you? You can tell me, you know. I don’t’ talk to anybody.”
Nicole said nothing, but new tears rolled down the tracks already prepared. She cried and cried, and as she did, she made more room on the seat, inch by inch, until she was half on one side of the bench and there was just enough room for Alex to sit, half on and half of.
“What’s it like only having one parent?” she finally asked.
Oh! Thought Alex. That made sense. “It’s not so bad. You get used to it.”
Nicole turned to Alex. “Do you think the other kids are going to tease me?”
Nicole laughed for a brief second, then cried more. “I’ve used to be really awful to you, didn’t I?” she said.
Alex shrugged. “You get used to that too.”
“I won’t anymore. Promise,” said Nicole, looking earnestly at Alex.
“So what happened?”
“They were fighting again.”
Alex had never known that Nicole’s parents were fighting. The whole family was always looked up to across town.
“This time mom didn’t come back. Aunty Mave called Dad, they had a big fight too. Mom said she’s not coming back. Dad says I can’t go with her though,” said Nicole, drying her eyes with her white collar.
“Oh” said Alex.
“Yeah,” said Nicole. “What happened to your mom anyway?”
“I can’t remember, really. Dad still talks about her coming back though. He doesn’t drink anymore. ‘Maybe one day when I’ve got more money’ he says.”
Nicole suddenly started crying again, and grasped Alex’s hand tightly. “I really hope so,” she cried softly. “You know those days I was really mean to you?”
“That was usually after my parents fighting,” she said through sobs. “You always looked so happy, sitting there, like nothing in the world could touch you.”
Alex’s eyes opened wide. “I always thought you were the lucky one!”
“You’re joking,” sobbed Nicole. “Why?”
“Well,” Alex said, then paused for a thought. “Well, everyone listens to you.”
“Those boys,” Nicole sighed, “yeah, I guess they do. Buy you know why?”
Nicole paused, then said in a low voice, “because their dads and mums work for my dad. Practically the whole town works for my dad. No big deal, really.”
“I never knew that,” said Alex, thinking. “But wouldn’t that mean your dad has lots of money?”
Nicole smiled, but it was a sad smile. “Lots of money, yeah. But that’s it. Not much of anything else,” she said.