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Joel WellsMarch 25, 2024
(iStock)

Editor’s note: This story, which imagines how famous authors might narrate the news that a dog had been hit by a car, was originally published in America on Dec. 6, 1958, as "Death of a Dog."

ITEM: A dog was struck and killed by a car at 9:30 last night on the highway north of town, an unidentified boy reported to the police this morning.

'The Old Dog and the Cars': Ernest Hemingway

He was an old dog, and he had not chased a car for four years. But he would chase a car tonight and the boy would see him and know that he was not afraid. He had not been afraid when he was a pup. There were not enough cars on the highway then, or big enough, or fast enough. He took them as they came, every afternoon with the sun in their eyes so they could not see him, which tripled the risk. Or at night, when there was no moon, he had run with risk so big he could feel it crowding against his flank.

There was a Sunday in his third year when he ran four Buicks within ten minutes, making three of them cross the centerline and putting the last one in the ditch. The boy had given him a tire for that.

But the Ford got him the very next day, driven by a woman. She hooked to the right, catching him on the rusty bumper so that he had lost his footing and fallen before the feet of the boy. And the fear had moved up from the tip of his tail and strangled his courage as he lay there.

He did not run again and the boy got another pup. For four years he sat in the afternoon dust under the porch and listened to the applause of brakes on the highway. Tonight they would squeal for him.

'Put Out More Dogs': Evelyn Waugh

“Myles! I do wish you could remember to steer to the right.”

Lady Distraught dug bone-white fingers even deeper into the leopard-skin upholstery of the Rolls and glared at her husband.

“Damned nuisance!” His Lordship muttered, veering the wheel sharply to avoid a large moving-van already half off the road and heading for the safety of a concrete embankment.

Trust the Americans to muck up a perfectly simple thing like motoring. During the war, he remembered, some Lend-Lease-happy idiot had come before Parliament with a proposal to make England “keep to the right to make the Yanks feel at home.” The fool had gone on to read a forty-minute tract about “not having to change the roads, you know, not even the center- stripes.”

Well, he’d dodged more than his share of Americans at home, let them dodge him over here. And, having retrieved the hand with which he had been adjusting his tails to a better lie (they had a terrible propensity to bunch against leopard-skin), he steadied the Rolls for a fresh charge.

A promising petrol tanker was just settling into his sights when Lady Distraught gave one of her well-known screams and something struck the car’s right fender with a thud.

“Clement Attlee!” swore His Lordship, sure that he had run up against one of those rural American types whose clothing is covered over with copper rivets and buttons, “that’s bound to have marred the finish.”

'The Matter of a Hound': Graham Greene

The overhead fan moved no faster than the minute hand of his watch. A fly clung to the underside of the blade with contemptuous ease. Through the open door the heat bulged in at him like a penny balloon filled with water. At any moment it would burst and inundate him in his own sweat. Under the porch lizards stirred and rubbed against each other with the sound of dry sticks.

Inspector Hoad opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out a bottle. Frowning, he held it before his mouth but did not drink.

“Drunk again!” buzzed the fly, “drunk before eight in the morning.”

He opened his lips and let the gin slide over his tongue and down the desolate road of his throat. Very quickly, Hoad hoped, it would reach his soul.

The balloon burst. Sweat oozed over his lashes into his eyes and the station-yard began to shimmer through the doorway like the high-noon prospect of an English 317 country pond. Something white was moving across its surface. Slender and white: a swan? The swan stopped in the doorway surrounded by a salty nimbus.

“You killed him,” the boy said. “You were drunk and you ran over him but you didn’t have to stop because you are the police.”

Hoad blotted his eyes on the encrusted khaki sleeve of authority. So it had come to that at last: one night you finally succeed in capturing that elusive nymph, oblivion, and in the morning a boy in a white shirt comes and stands in your door to tell you that you’ve killed someone.

“You have the only car,” the boy said, passing sentence.

Reverently, Hoad recapped the gin and placed it back in the drawer. The moment was too sacred to spoil with sordid curiosity. This boy, Manuel, would tell it well in his careful mission-school English: “He looked at me but did not ask whom it was that he had killed.”

To Hoad’s lips the barrel of the pistol felt even cooler than had the bottle.

'The Weakling and the Dog': Francois Mauriac

It was during the summer of his fourteenth year that the dog had been destroyed. His parents, in the manner of those who have only sons who are frail, ran continually to bearded physicians who assured them that all that was required was a month under the sun at X, on the coast. Heeding this divine word as faithfully as had the Israelites in going out of Egypt, they fled the city, driving their firstborn and animals before them, until they came to a halt beside the sea.

But the waters had neither divided nor performed to prescription and the boy had grown thinner while a certain cough, muted in the din of Paris, became more audible in nights as silent as a tabernacle. They baked and watered him by day and rubbed and wrapped him at night until his body became as pliable and porous as a pudding. The days ached on interminably to the drone of his mother’s reading and the snuffling sounds which rose from behind his father’s newspaper.

The dog had been his great consolation. On the beach it leaped and circled his chair, attacking the waves impetuously with a bravado both comic and inspiring. At night, after the droning and the snuffling in the adjoining room had merged themselves in a rich counterpoint of snoring, the dog would leap over the sill of the boy’s room and settle himself in the blankets over his feet.

But doctors, as everyone knows, are able to see far more than ordinary men, and it was not long before one of them discovered dog hairs among the boy’s bed-clothes.

“And you ask why he coughs and grows thinner,” pronounced Zeus from the hallway outside his room.

“But he is so attached to the beast that he will never consent to being separated,” bis mother responded in the voice of one who knows that what they are saying is of no consequence.

“Here is what you must do….” The doctor outlined his murderous plot without the least diminution of his superbly professional voice.

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