A crime has been committed, but don’t blame the dog | Seamas O'Reilly

If ever you land near death’s door, you may find yourself scrolling the options for non-human reincarnation. A noble eagle, perhaps, or a river dolphin; a mountain goat, or a stolid little bumblebee. Your best bet would be to come back as one of my father’s dogs. Free of human responsibility, you’ll still reap many of civilisation’s core benefits, like living indoors, eating cooked meals and watching Loose Women.

Moreover, you will know the love of humankind, for Annie and Dougie – his beautiful but large and needy Labradors – are my father’s most ardent objects of affection and his favourite topic of conversation. They are also, I should add, his favourite conversational partners. Sometimes, while talking to him this week, I’ve caught his face screwing up in resentment as he realises that he is reduced to speaking to a person. Most of all, he is their indefatigable advocate on those occasions when I speak calumny against them.

‘Dougie did it!’ I told him, as he immediately assumed high dudgeon. ‘I have seen no evidence of this,’ he exclaimed, all but donning a powdered wig and silk robe.

My brother, Dara, and I were back in Derry for a few days to keep my father company while my sister and her husband were away. We had a lovely few days, blighted only by a certain sordid crime. I’d ordered some chess pieces to the house as a gift for my brother-in-law, Jimmy. This was because his beautiful set – decimated after innumerable games between him and my son – is missing seven pieces.

On the day of their arrival, a quick look outside revealed that the postman, presumably well used to the ogrish hounds that blight his daily route, had not brought the parcel straight to the door, but discarded it and run away, quite possibly laying down suppressive fire from a machine gun as he retreated.

When I got to the parcel it had been thoroughly ripped to shreds. On bringing the soggy wreckage indoors, it was clear that a single brown rook was missing. It was then I started pointing fingers and found that I, and not Dougie, was in the dock.

‘He ate it!’ I cried. ‘Douglas would never do that,’ my dad maintained, as if it was he who stood accused of tearing open a package with his teeth and not the bear-sized dog who has, in recent memory, eaten shoes, pillows and a handbag.

My father stared me down, resolute. I’d crossed a line. Dougie looked at him and then me. It’s cheap to presume I can read the emotions of a dog’s face, but were I to hazard a translation of his hangdog expression it would be, ‘I ate it, and I’d do it again.’

I retired from the stand. Some battles cannot be won in court. But I am confident that there will come, a day or two from now, a bark of pain and a plink of wood, when the truth – and rook – will out. I’ve made my piece heard. In the end, so too shall Dougie.

Follow Séamas on X @shockproofbeats

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78


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