My name is Murray. I am a very clever Miniature Poodle, born in Murray Bridge. Read on if you don’t believe me. When I turned two weeks old, a tall Chinese man drove up the gravel driveway of my mum’s sandstone cottage. The crunching sound his car tyres made on the stones stressed me a lot. The visitors often parked right in front of the barn and from our straw bed below the window, now opaque by decades-old dirt and dead cobwebs caked permanently onto the pane, my siblings and I knew the visitors came with a motive. Whenever we heard the gravel crunch and the brakes of the cars squeal, our family would shrink by one that day. We were left with just the two of us when the Chinese man came and introduced himself. He smelt different, better actually, than the hunger-inducing aroma of deep-fried chips and burnt chicken nuggets that often whiffed their way from the kitchen of the main house. The smells were actually quite rancid, but we dogs don’t mind it. It was much later that I discovered the Chinese man smelt of fried rice and Cantonese roast duck.
Our mum’s owner, Alice Brown, didn’t ever cook Chinese meals. A typically bronzed Aussie woman in her hey-day, Alice Brown’s casual drawl from the post-war era no longer fitted the mould of a tough and forceful woman in modern Australia today. She harked from the time when a Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding was as compulsory as attending church on Sundays. Her CD collections were displayed prominently in the messy lounge room – The Seekers, Little Pattie and Helen Reddy still featured daily in her selections. “How may I help you, Luv?” she asked the Chinese man in a low husky voice that was incongruous with her sweet round face. When she smiled, her doe eyes disappeared beneath the many folds of subcutaneous fat. She wore a big tightly-bound bun and the muslin apron that hung from her neck introduced her as someone that Murphy’s Law resonated with. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” were the eight words printed in bold letters across it.
“Don’t mind me, Possum – we had just finished tea”, she apologised to the Chinese man about her greasy hands as she hastily rubbed her callused fingers vigorously against her apron that was well overdue for a wash. “Tea” to people of her generation meant dinner. In the olden days, folks in the outback went to bed early on account of dark nights without electricity, and therefore, without purpose. They had their dinner early whilst the food was still visible. Whatever light remaining would disappear soon after the dishes were washed in scalding sudsy water. Tarnished silver cutlery and sparkling dinnerware (one plate with a bad chip) were all dripping with suds as they rested on the dish rack. No, they did not believe there was any need to rinse them off. Water had always been precious in this thirsty continent.
Dame Edna Everage would have understood Alice Brown to a T – they hailed from the same era but the Dame turned worldly and fashionable after discovering the limelight of stage entertainment in the mid 1950’s. Alice Brown kept her sun-ravaged fast-greying golden curls short whereas the Dame’s thick and healthy tresse became trade-marked by an elaborate Wisteria-purple coiffure. New arrivals to the sun-parched country were easily fooled by these true-blue Aussies – sharing round after round of Aristotle during their raucous conversations showed a glimmer of their philosophical leanings but they only meant passing the bottle around. Aristotle was their code-word for the bottle.
The tall man picked my twin brother, but I out-muscled the puny pup that was crawling next to me. I was named Harley, after a motorcycle brand that holds an imposing presence on the road with its mean cult-like image of brute and chrome, and loud and obstreperous torque. Maybe in a previous life, I was a Harley Davidson rider with Morbius and Lucifer tattoos permanently stencilled on my burly arms and legs. Recently, there was news of Diego Maradona’s passing. It raised the hair on my neck as I watched the eerie throwback of seeing a version of my past resembling the football God in his prime. Stout, strong and muscular like a bull.
I liked the kind look of the Chinese man. He returned my brother to the straw bed and picked me up instead after my perfect demonstration of standing on my hind legs caught his attention. No, I know the art of persuasion. People are careful to pick the best, the strongest and the healthiest. My brother and I were priced the same. The Chinese man easily saw I was the better value and did not flinch when told my price was not negotiable. He sounded too eager to seal the deal and Alice Brown, although in her late 80’s, was still as sharp as a tack. I liked the man immediately – a generous chap who would not hesitate to pay a fair price and did not quibble about a few dollars and cents.
Now I proudly call him Master. Master held me up apprehensively like a first-time father would with a new-born. Uncertain of the strength of his grip, he almost dropped me as I struggled to free my neck from his thick hands. He looked like a super-fit UFC fighter but the way he gingerly bent down to pat my head before picking me up belied his tough exterior. The roughness of his palms and the little bit of dirt under his middle fingernail misled me to think he was an avid gardener. I found out later they were made coarse by the handle bars of his dumb-bells.
Master didn’t agree that I should be named after a bike. So, he re-named me after an inconsequential town instead. He runs an internet-based business – maybe he liked the name Murray because it sounds like money. “Come Murray! Come, money!” Due to the pandemic, there has been a huge uptick in the demand for pets during the lockdowns. Master has almost doubled his money from investing in me but he hasn’t yet considered sharing some of his profits with me. Minutes after the required cash exchanged hands, Alice Brown bade me a quick farewell and placed me in a cage in the back of a neglected Rav 4. I took a fleeting last look at my birth place and said my goodbye. The garden, if one could still call that, was in its dying throes. What was once a quaint English rose garden had long been overwhelmed by nine years of the Millennium Drought. Salvation Jane, Dandelion, Bindii and the prickly Thistle had overtaken the withered and scraggly rose bushes – telltale signs of the ageing occupants’ impending demise. Even the most ardent gardener will eventually surrender to Mother Nature.
My first car ride was on National Highway M1, heading in a north-westerly direction towards Adelaide. It was quite apparent Master seldom washed his car. His boot was littered with yellowed and curled up receipts. scrunched up bank statements and other investment accounts that should have been paperless to save on fees and quite a few used foam coffee cups accentuated the mess. Does he have a sight impairment – he can’t see them? Was it his way to avoid littering the environment? My questions will remain forever unanswered. His rubbish kept me amused for about an hour until he announced, “Welcome to your new home”, as he drove up the short steep driveway into the multi-level carpark.
Master lives in a boxy building that is pigeon-holed with small rooms. The only way up to his one bedroom apartment is through a steel box which opens with a loud “TING” whenever he presses the button that has the arrow pointing up. Master was upset with me one day when I farted in the steel box they call a lift. The young lady, in a tight red dress, standing next to him pinched her nose tightly when the odour rose upwards towards her nostrils. I think she assumed it was Master’s uncontrolled indiscretion – she found me too cute and adorable to be capable of such outlandish behaviour. No, I know she won’t think I was capable of producing such evil smells. I do wonder what Master feeds me that cause such pungent gas to grow inside me. Master pretended he had anosmia, a nose impairment, and stared blankly at the walls of the lift. He scolded me as soon as we left that stinky steel box. “Do that again and you’ll spend the night in the bathroom”, before adding “in the dark!”. What a mean fella.
The following morning, Master brought me to see his parents. Humans are strange, why would his parents teach me to call them papa and mama. I am not Master’s brother, am I? Let me describe mama first, since she is the more interesting character. Mama is always “hen lei”, which means very tired in her mother tongue. It is very easy to please mama – all she needs is my total attention right before dinner is ready. No, I know when food is about to be delivered. She is better than Uber Eats, the waiting time is short and her food is to die for. The Uber Eats meals that Master frequently orders in are oily and salty and take too long to arrive. Mama is a great cook – her favourite Youtube videos are mostly about quick and easy recipes. When she is busy in the kitchen, I am at my best behaviour. Mama loves me to sit still like a quiet boy but instead of reading a book, I read her face and body movements. When she blows into my dinner bowl to cool down the food from her wok, I know it is dinner time! No, I know to walk towards her and wag my tail. She loves that and the routine that follows next. “Murray, sit. Stay, stay, stayyyy….”. Mama wants me to be like a Madame Tussaud waxed puppy and remain stationary until she yelps out “OK!”. That’s the command for me to come alive from the pretend coma.
In the first few months of my life, I struggled to get up the two steps from her kitchen to the family room. Each step was almost two-thirds my height. Mama said I looked so cute like a ball of fur trying to roll up the steps but would she say the same if she saw Master climbing over chairs and bar stools to get to the family room? Mama should be certified mad. She reckons her chooks understand her every word. The other day, she told me I should be more like them and accept that everything she says is correct.
Papa on the other hand, is just predictable. I love him as much as I would love my grand-dad. He loves me unconditionally. Unlike mama, he does not hold a tasty treat and toy with it whilst asking me if I love him. No, I know he knows our love is mutual. Words are not necessary between us. I know papa very well and can accurately read his every look and gesture. I know when his day is done without the need to look at the clock. I am off his lap even before he shuts his laptop, and doing the downward-dog by the time he stands to stretch his aching arms above his head. His sighs and laboured breaths tell me when he is despondent and that happens a lot when he is watching his football team play, which is often before the crack of dawn here. Last week, I whined to tell him it is time to change his team. For me, Manchester United are obviously much inferior than their city neighbours. Yet, the old man foolishly persists and his agony will continue to be self-inflicted.
Papa, although shrinking, is still quite tall. I get so tired of having to look up at him whenever he takes me for a walk. No, I know I shouldn’t feel insecure; for sure he will never abandon me. They do not understand how strenuous it is on my neck – I don’t see them looking up to the sky all the while during their walks, yet that is what I do, looking vertically up at papa’s face to make sure he does not run off without me. Papa is a little bit weird. He insists on deliberately looking to his left and then looking to his right three times before he crosses the quiet street to the park opposite. Their house is in a cul-de-sac, which means there is hardly a car that zooms pass. No, I know he is merely teaching me to cross the road but hey, all I have to do is scoot across when he yells “Now!”.
Papa adores me which makes it really easy to manipulate his feelings. He especially loves it when I whimper and sob as he walks down the stairs from his bedroom each morning. That is how he knows I miss him so much. I stay over with the old folks on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Their “Good morning” wishes to each other are comparatively bland. Mine please them a lot and they are immediately cheerful – they believe I am sincere with my “over-the top” welcome. I mean, who else whimpers and sobs when they say “Good morning”?! They gauge my enthusiasm by the speed and vigour of my tail-wags. No, I know I shouldn’t be insincere, but a good performance is highly rewarding. I get a few extra minutes of belly-rub from both of them. Humans have to pay to have a good body rub at a massage parlour; I get mine by simply saying “Good morning”.
Papa feels loved, and that can’t be so wrong of me, right? Papa loves football – he thinks I love being the goalie. Between you and me, that game easily bores me but I shall not disappoint him. Let me confide here that I prefer to chase the chooks instead. No, I know I am the king of the backyard when I turn maniacal to make mama’s girls squawk. The cacophony sounds almost symphonic, especially if the Kookaburras and Magpies chime in. I imagine I can be a modern-day Vivaldi. The girls are flustered by my fierce barks and are visibly terrified by my attempts to mow down the galvanised fence. No, I know I am the silverback in the backyard but what I fail to see is why they act with absolute nonchalance and walk away unperturbed as soon as papa throws some grain and seeds at them. Instantly, they will forget I am even there. I think their bird-brains simply switch off, which explains why they have such short memories. Just take a look at them now, waddling side to side, proud of their overgrown backsides. I bark with contempt at Brooke, her feathers around where her eggs pop out from are often smeared with her own poop. Mama should not have told me they think I am as threatening as a little lost kitten.
24 May 2019 will live in my memory for a long time. On that autumn day, I lost my balls. No, I know you will try and use fuzzy words to disguise the brutality of the act. Humans are good at doing that. They use words to mollify their victims so they feel little or no guilt from their cruelty. Yes, call it what it is please. It is callous, cruel and downright rude. Don’t I have rights too? When the state sanctions a killing of a human being, they call it “neutralise the target”. They use weasel words such as “alternative news” when they mean “fake news” or “negative patient outcome” when they mean “dead”. When they say “with due respect”, they are about to show their disrespect and argue with you. Master brought me to the vet on that fateful day – he said I needed to be neutered or desexed. I failed to understand him at the time, wondering how to desex me when my sex was already determined – a male endowed with all the wonderful organs intact. They cut off my balls. So that I won’t chase the ladies in the park. “Urghhlings”, I heard papa cry out in pain when I told him it hurt so much. So what if I loved playing chasey?
Papa loves playing chasey too – but I think he has forgotten how the Don in The Godfather died in his tomato garden. He thinks he gets enough steps on his “Health app” by routinely chasing me round and round the garden bench like a runaway lawn mower. Papa is devoid of fresh ideas – his favourite game is “Fetch”, a brain-numbing game of throwing the ball towards me so that I can return it to him. Mama says he is colourless and boring. I agree! The old man insists on playing the same game, day in day out. No, I know he means well, playing Treasure Hunt, a sun-bleached bone being my treasure. But the poor chap simply hasn’t got a clue when he plays hide-n-seek with me. Somehow he doesn’t realise I can smell the bone a mile away – no matter how deep he buries it. Chinese lessons are held during afternoon tea time – the only time I have to respond to his “hai yao mah” (还要吗). I am expected to nod my head enthusiastically before he will grudgingly give me some biscuit crumbs. A real scrooge. No, I know he means well, the Butter Scotch biscuits are too sweet for me. They are bad for my teeth.
But, why does papa not brush my teeth instead? Whenever he brushes his teeth, he threatens to brush mine too. I bite my teeth to show him mine are even and white, and my deadly incisors need no sharpening. Poor papa, his are crooked, jagged and worst of all, coffee-stained, despite the straw he uses. Look at his photos – there isn’t one with him smiling. It is not because he is sad, it is his malocclusion that embarrasses him. No, I know I shouldn’t say that. He couldn’t afford to have his teeth perfected by the local orthodontist during his prime – which says a lot about his prime. He harped about beauty being skin-deep. “Pretty teeth don’t improve the taste of food”, he insisted.
Papa lives a boring life, too sedentary for my liking. I do enjoy his phone conversations with Horace though. Horrors, Horace sounds like a customer from Hell. No, I know papa should be more patient with his customers, but from the gist of his complaints, Horace is an internet illiterate who shouldn’t be buying stuff online. I pity papa sometimes – the fools he has to tolerate would drive me mad too. Yesterday, there was a woman who claimed she did not receive her parcel even though her online tracking showed it was delivered. “Please can you check again?” I heard papa ask in a tired and resigned voice. “NO, I KNOW IT IS NOT HERE!”, the woman screamed at him. Today, she rang to say she forgot she had her order sent to her daughter’s address, so everything is alright now. After she hung up, I heard papa cursed under his breath the same 4-lettered vulgar word that is too frequently used in the Netflix miniseries they watch nightly. Papa is always working at his desk. No sales reps call on him anymore, ever since he moved his office to home. No one buys him his favourite cappuccino anymore – he used to enjoy free coffee from reps who queued up to see him. He reminisces a lot about the “good old days” but those days aren’t coming back.
No, I know he feels his “reign” is over – he is almost a “has-been”, ready to join the retired or the irrelevant. I sincerely wish he is aware not to become irreverent with bitterness or despair. I keep him company, as loyal as a dog, one may say. I am always in his arms when he works. He looks a lonely figure, his back hunched with a perfectly shaped C. His mind convinces him he sits with a straight back. No, I know I cannot admit that I pity papa – that being the only reason why I am glued to him all day. He thinks I behave like a booze-besotten drunk, so dependent on him that I would panic in his absence. Click, click, click click, he frantically punches at his keyboard. Papa thinks he is a fast writer, but he does not know how to touch type, so how fast can he be? I suspect his speed was at best 30 wpm, his productivity at the keyboard further reduced by the numerous back-spacings and corrections. He blames me for slowing him down. The nerve of the man. No, I know I should tone down and be more respectful. I do like to rest my hand on his as a way of affirming we are good pals. This morning, I was surprised to see 000000000000000000000000000000000 appearing on his computer screen as my paw accidentally slid off his hand and landed on the 0 on his keyboard.
Papa is difficult to understand, maybe he is just difficult. I was just two weeks old when I became a member of this family – my total length including my tail was shorter than half his lower arm. Today, I am fully grown. Yet, he still makes me lie on the same pillow, knowing I have more than doubled in length. No, I know I sound like I am complaining. But, it is just my way of sharing with you the frustrations I have. Papa should be certified mad. The other day, he asked his goldfish who was the oldest philosopher. Confucius, Socrates or Plato? He kept asking them. He told me they couldn’t agree. I could have told him the Chinese sage was the paragon of sages and the oldest, but he didn’t ask me.
Papa works many hours at his desk. I have nothing to do, except wait for him to finish work so we can play together. Papa has another disorder, it is called trichotillomania. He leaves his hair everywhere like a dog leaves its pee everywhere. I have noticed he is prone to yanking his hair more violently the more he has trouble reconciling his creditors ledger. I can’t say papa is fair to me. Papa should appreciate me more but he complains at my slightest indiscretions. He farts a lot but when I reciprocate, he gets upset with me. “Aiiiiya! Murray! Stop it!”, he yells at me impatiently. He forgets I am the one with the superior sense of smell. I suffer his bad smells silently, as a loyal friend would, whereas he will make a big song and dance about the small puffs that I push out occasionally. Hush hush, please do not tell him this puppy does it on purpose to pass his time. He doesn’t know I find it quite entertaining to see his hilarious reactions to my harmless flatulence. We are often confused about our own scent. Does he smell like me or is it the other way round? Papa said his clothes stank of my farts. I could have just as easily argued my point but I wagged my tail instead of my tongue. No, I know I am beginning to smell like an old man.