Jim reeve
Brentwood Writers' Circle at their seventieth celebrations. Jim is on the left of the picture
Brentwood Writers' Circle at their seventieth celebrations. Jim is on the left.
A Soldier’s War
The Suitcase
In the Beginning
To Ben With Love
The First Casualty

To Ben With Love

     I turned the corner and sighed with relief as I saw the house ablaze with lights; the children were home.

     I swear the rain had it in for me for as I left the office with an arm full of shopping, it poured down. All the way home the traffic crawled, have you noticed it’s always like that when it rains?. Glad to be home, I put my umbrella in the stand on the porch and balancing the shopping on my knee, I fiddled with my handbag to locate my front door key, only to find I had it in my hand all the time. Pushing the door open with my back, I felt something wet brush against my leg. I glanced down and there, slinking past, was a bedraggled, black cocker spaniel. “Come on, out! Shoo!” I shouted.

     “Mum, you can’t. It’s pouring out there!” It was my twelve year old daughter coming down the stairs .

     “Jenny, it’s owner will be looking for it.”

     “No they wont , it hasn’t a collar” said my son Graham, as he came out of the front room with the television control in his hand. The dog crept past me and sat between them; they were ganging up.

     “I’m sorry, kids, it costs enough to feed you two let alone a dog as well.”

     Graham bent down and, stroking the dog, looked up “Dad would let us keep him.”

     He knew exactly how to find my tender spot , since Dave , my husband, had been posted to Iraq six months ago.

     My daughter put the boot in“ How would you like to be out on a night like this, Mum?”

     I looked down at the poor, wet creature and it also seemed to know how to exploit my weakness, it wagged its tail. That was it, I capitulated “Look, on my way to work tomorrow. I’ll report to the police that we’ve got him.. It’s owner might have reported it missing and be looking for it.“

     Jenny threw her arms round my neck. “Thanks Mum.”

     “You haven’t heard my conditions yet, Graham, you will have to take him for a walk before school and come home lunch time to let him out. Jenny you’re in charge of feeding him.”

     Before I knew where I was, they had named him Ben, after their favourite uncle. .

     Next morning, I left for work a bit earlier and called in at the local police station where a large police sergeant stared over his desk at me. He smiled as I told him the story. “No problem love. I’d have probably done the same. We know he’s in good hands and where he is if his owner turns up. Saves us feeding him.”

     And so, Ben stayed, but the only trouble was, he kept chewing everything, the cushions, the leg of a kitchen chair, one of Jenny’s dolls. I decided to ignore it as I had never seen the kids so happy or so good. Jenny cooked dinner and it was there on the table each night waiting for me. She also fed Ben. Graham took Ben for walks and to my surprise oovered round, a thing he’d never even attempted before. He even cut the grass. I telephoned the police occasionally, hoping they had not heard from the owner, and they hadn’t, and so Ben continued to live with us but the only problem was that the chewing continued and it was getting expensive.

     One day, Ben went too far when I found the leg of my antique doll chewed. It was special , Dave had bought me before he went away. I tore down the stairs, screaming

     “All of you, in the kitchen now! He’ll have to go! Look what he’s done !” I roared, laying the doll on the table with its damaged leg dangling over the edge.

     The three of them stood behind the table as a defence barrier between me and them.

     “Look what he’s done!” I said, pointing to the leg “ It’s ruined! Tomorrow he goes. Now, bed!”

     I could see the tears in the children’s eyes but I wasn’t going to relent. Jenny said “But Mum.”

     “No buts, he goes; now off to bed!”

     Ben led the retreat upstairs. I nearly changed my mind when I looked in on Jenny and saw Ben snuggled up to her.

     For a while I lay in bed, wondering if I’d been too hard on the children. After all, they had been so good lately. I had just dozed off when Ben started barking. I pulled the blankets over my head

     “Ignore him, he’ll be gone tomorrow.” Then to my surprise he started tugging at my bedclothes .

     “This is the last straw, tomorrow you’re history! Downstairs!”

     I snatched open the door and the heat hit me. The smoke was bellowing up the stairs, making it impossible to see. I screamed “Jenny! Graham!” as I crawled along the floor towards their rooms.

     “Mum ! Mum! We can’t get out!”

     “Get down on the floor and crawl towards me!” I commanded

     “Mum we can’t get downstairs and it’s too high to jump out of the bedroom window!” cried Graham.

     My outstretched hand touched Ben’s wet nose as he started to tug at my sleeve, pulling me towards Jenny’s room.

     Jenny lay curled up on the bed, too frightened to move. With Ben tugging at Jenny’s nightdress and me pulling,
we finally got her out of bed and holding her hand , followed Ben into the blazing passage. The fire was now at the top of the stairs and was creeping along the passage towards us as Ben pulled frantically at my sleeve. My eyes smarted and suddenly I realized we were in the bathroom. Ben kept jumping up at the window and barking. I wondered what he was on about I opened the window and looked down and there, three feet below, was the garage roof. Graham helped me to push Jenny through the opening and then he scrambled out himself. He stood there then offering me his hand and helped me climb out. Ben was not behind us. “Ben! Ben!” I cried, but the only reply was the crackling flames.

     A neighbour cried out “ Down here!” and step by step we scrambled down his ladder and with relief ,touched the ground. I drew my kids to me looking up at the window for Ben. In the distance I could hear the fire engine..

     Suddenly an arm gently touched my shoulder and I looked round into the eyes of the large sergeant from the local station. “I shouldn’t worry about the dog .He’s done it before, you know? The other day I was thinking about your description of him and wondered whether it was the same one that saved a family about five years ago over Stock way. It was then I felt something wet and furry brushed against my leg.

~ by Jim Reeve.

© Jim Reeve