GOLDIE A Christmas story
   The dog crouched low, her ears pricked to alertness as the man and his wheelbarrow approached her hideout. Nuzzling her head between her two front legs she lay in wait, fearful and suspicious but with a longing hopefulness.
   Throughout the morning she had listened to the noises in the house beyond. Heard the opening and shutting of doors, friendly voices, laughter and a baby crying. All familiar sounds, soothing to her ears. Yet she knew she must stay hidden.
   It was cool beneath the bushy shade of the low hanging shrubs. The soil was soft and during the night she had scratched a bed so that her body was able to settle comfortably into its hollow. At day-break she had ventured from her hiding place, and in the noisy wake of the garbage men gathered the precious scraps, which had so often sustained her for the day.
   This morning she had gathered the scraps in her teeth and carried them back to her make-shift den. Though hungry she made no attempt to eat, but very carefully covered the food with soil, nosing it into little heaps until every morsel was covered, to be kept until needed.
   The footsteps drew nearer and she trembled with fear when she heard the man curse the loose soil which she had thrown back onto the path in her frantic digging. He stopped no more than a couple of feet from where she crouched. Then the branches parted above her and for just a second, man and dog confronted each other. But the sight of the cringing, dirty, swollen collie only filled the man with more anger and raising his spade he hit at her. "Get out of here." The angry words, accompanied by the now too familiar boot, sent her scampering from her hiding place. Her pads were worn and the extra weight of her body, heavy in whelp, sent through her a searing pain which was matched only by the terror of this unknown world in which she found herself. She knew that her time was near and during the night she had crept beneath the bushes of an unfenced garden where she had planned to hide and await her pending litter. For nine weeks she had been on the move, searching endlessly for a familiar face, ears attuned for a familiar sound. At times her heart would leap for joy when in the distance she thought she recognised a member of her family. But the sight of a collie bounding towards them filled people with a terror that only ended in more abuse and confusion.
Life hadn't prepared the dog to fend for herself. She had been a pampered pet and proud show dog. Her owner had driven a hundred miles so that the best stud dog would be the father of her pups and they were returning home when the accident happened.
   Somehow she had been thrown clear of the car as it rolled down the embankment and the noise and confusion had awakened her self preservation so that she had run until exhausted. By the time she stopped she was lost and her owner unconscious in hospital unable to set the wheels in motion for her recovery.
    The once beautifully groomed dog was now matted and dirty, her shape grotesque with its bulging stomach and skeleton ribs. She no longer held her head high but rather slunk along as though awaiting her fate from the human voices and hands which she had loved so well.
    But the desire for human companionship had been bred deeply into her being and so she kept near the townships and their familiar sounds. Always hoping, always searching.
    It was Christmas Eve, the 63rd day of her pregnancy. Hunted from her hiding place she wandered aimlessly, finding shade and drink where possible. Occasionally she was given a kindly word but her dirty unkempt condition formed a barrier she was unable to break. Mothers pulled their small children away with a warning of "dirty dog", while homeowners realising her condition had no desire to encourage an invitation for unwanted puppies. Finally as the setting sun brought relief from the scorching heat she sought seclusion in the shadows of darkness.
    The church-yard was empty but for one car parked close to a side wall. By crouching low she was able to drag herself beneath the car and into the safety of its privacy. Exhausted she slept.
    It was some hours later that she heard the first of the cars enter the grounds and park nearby. From then on there was a steady flow, headlights illuminating the darkness and playing on the ground in a flickering, searching hide and seek. She edged deeper back into the shadows. From within the church she could hear the haunting cry of the organ and this mingled with the light happy voices of people leaving their cars brought a peace and renewed hope to her solitude.
    Midnight Mass over and the last parishioner gone, Father Crowe set about locking up the church. The first whimper was barely audible and in the stillness of the night he stopped to listen. Ears played funny tricks in the early hours of the morning. But there it was again. A faint whimpering sound. Shaking his head he continued to lock the doors. Probably the sound came from one of the back-yards adjoining the grounds. A pup locked out perhaps? As he turned the key in the last lock he heard again the urgent whimpering; much closer now and easily defined. He walked quietly to his car, grateful he carried a torch. Crouching, he flashed its beam beneath the car's chassis until it fell upon the dog. She lifted her head in the blinding light, eyes pleading for kindness but ready to defend her family.
    "What have we here?" The priest spoke softly. Because he had a way with dogs he kept his distance ' speaking kindly, awaiting acceptance. Finally the dog moved her tail, slowly at first until rapidly gaining speed she thumped the ground with pride and happiness. The pups sprawled over themselves in their eagerness to suckle and she, sensing all was well with the stranger, nosed them to her, licking their small bodies until each was clean and warm.
    The priest smiled. The miracle of life touched all living things. It was Christmas Day, a time for rejoicing.
                                                                                              (C)Helen Catherine Cramer
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