One Truth and Lies
Excerpted from A Dog for Life by L. S. Matthews Copyright © 2006 by L.S. Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is the true story of the journey of John Hawkins (that’s me) and our dog, Mouse, from way up north to way down south. You’ve probably heard a mention of it before, but the people that tell the news, they don’t tell it right. I never knew that before, until I heard how they told our story. They got all sorts of things wrong, and it made me mad.
My mum said that everyone knows the news people always get it wrong. You hear famous people moaning about it all the time. She said, some of the time they just make mistakes, but mostly it’s because they tell the story they want to tell, or the story people want to hear.
I thought about that and realized it was true; I was always hearing famous people complaining the news stories about them were wrong, and maybe I just hadn’t believed them. And it’s true that people like the most crazy story, as long as they can believe it. Like, “Joe got a new bike for Christmas” won’t exactly race around the school, but “Joe got a new bike for Christmas, but everyone knows his dad stole it” will. Even if the more exciting version isn’t true. But “Joe got a new bike for Christmas, and aliens delivered it to his door” won’t work; the person trying to pass that one on is likely to get either no reaction or some pain.
And I worked out long ago that bit about people not believing stuff they don’t want to hear. Sometimes they just act like they haven’t heard. Sometimes they call you a liar. For them, anything is better than trying to believe something they don’t understand.
An example of this is when my brother Tom saw a ghost. Not “saw” exactly, because we were leaving a church after a wedding and he was walking a little way ahead, chatting away to someone he thought was a relative, walking next to him. He said afterward he just vaguely noticed it was a man, in a suit, but when you’re walking alongside someone, you don’t really look at them. We saw him talking to himself, and we called to him, and he looked back at us, and then all around, and asked where the guy had gone.
Mum didn’t like it, I could tell, and said Tom must have been imagining things. Tom and I realized later it must have been a ghost. But people don’t like ghosts—why, I don’t know. Tom said this guy was perfectly friendly before he vanished; though, when he thought about it, he hadn’t actually said anything back to Tom. So we shut up about it after that.
We also dreamed the same dreams some nights. We found we even sometimes got each other’s dreams by mistake, though we couldn’t think why—we’re not twins or anything; Tom’s two years older. Like one day Tom had been playing ball with his mate and that night I had the dream of doing the same thing, but I could tell it was Tom, not me, and in the dream he was irritated about something that wasn’t fair. I found this a bit of a boring dream, and told him off the next day, and said could he keep his dreams out of my dreams, which were much better than his.
Tom said he’d had one about my ant farm being tipped over; but he wasn’t interested in the ant farm, and if I’d keep my dreams, he’d try and keep his.
We never worked out why this happened, and of course, there wasn’t really anything we could do about it. But we didn’t tell people—including Mum—because we’d tried before, and they seemed to get cross with us, or think we were lying.
The same sort of thing was true about Mouse. Mouse had been a puppy when we were young, and she was called Mouse because she had squeaked like one. Of course, me and Tom, we understood everything she said and she felt the same. We could talk out loud to her or just by thinking the words, and we’d hear her talk right back, in our heads. She was just a person like anyone—maybe a bit cleverer than most—who happened to have paws and fur and so on; she could run faster and play ball better than both of us.
We found out, as we got older, that we could talk with most dogs, though it took a little more time and effort, as other dogs weren’t used to doing this with humans. But we slowly realized that other people thought “dog” like they thought “cabbage”; it was another species entirely that you couldn’t communicate with or anything. When Mouse did stuff, they said we’d trained her. If the tough kids think you’re lying, you’re liable for a beating, so we kept quiet, but it was hard, because it seemed unfair on Mouse. The good thing was, Tom pointed out, she really didn’t care. She had humans all sized up, and if she could cope with their small brain limitation, so could we.
Now, the reason I’m writing this is because Mum said, what you can do is write the truth yourself. Some of these famous people do that and call it an autobiography, or memoirs. Then you get your say. So that’s what I’m doing. And I don’t lie, so all this really is true. Well, sometimes you’ll see I had to cover myself with a story or two, on my journey, but I’m not hiding that from you, and like I said, sometimes you have to go along with people and tell them what they want to hear.
The truth of the story is, me and Mouse made the journey to save my brother, Tom. But the newspapers wouldn’t understand that. You’ll maybe have just heard about me “running away with a pet dog” and so on. Me and Mouse and Tom, we knew the truth, but no one seemed to listen. Now it’s different. That’s why I’m writing this.
From the Hardcover edition.