‘Shelly May. Shelly May. Shelly May.’ Shelly wished that just for one hour, her son would forget her name. Fifty times a day he stood immobile and yelled her full name at the top of his voice. He would never think to actually come and get her. Luckily for Shelly, Brenda and Jack next door loved Sammy. ‘Shelly May. Shelly May.’
‘Yes, yes, I’m coming. What’s that stupid dog done now?’
She opened the door and went into the kitchen. Carthenage had a pair of John’s pants and was ragging them with delight.
‘Oops, Shelly May, oops.’
‘It’s all right, Sammy, I’ve got them. No, Carthenage, give them back.’
‘Shelly May Fibber. Fibber. Shelly May has not got her hands in John May’s underpants.’ Damn, technically, it was true. She’d made a grab for the boxers but Carthenage pre-empted her takeover bid and, as she lunged for them, he whirled around and ran off, but she’d have the brute in a minute. But damn, did Sammy have to yell everything at the top of his voice.
‘I’ve got hold of one half of them,’ answered Shelly, indignantly, after her second attempt.
She retrieved the pants and went into the kitchen to put on a wash. When she came back Sammy was holding out a doggie-treat and was lecturing Carthenage. The pup was standing in front of his master salivating and whimpering because Sammy had been holding out the treat for sometime and Carthenage wanted it.
‘Carthenage, if you do not sit down in front of me. I can not give you the treat. You only get the treat if you sit down and then Sammy May can put your lead on and then Shelly May and John May and Sammy May can take you to the dog park where you can run and play with other dogs. And when we get to the dog park you can poop at the side of the doggie play area and Shelly May can pick it up and put it in the poop bins that say ‘Dog’ on them and John May can say, “God that stinks.” And Sammy May can say, “Good Boy, Carthenage.” And Carthenage can wag his tail.’
Sammy, honey, it’s lovely that you talk to Carthenage a lot. He likes that, but when you want him to do something, you have to give him just little, clear commands. You know when you get too much noise in your head at once, and you find it hard to make out the voice that’s talking to you? Well that’s what it’s like for Carthenage, too. You need to just say the one word ‘Sit’ and give him the corresponding hand signal.
‘Is Shelly May training Carthenage?’
‘Is John May training Carthenage?’
‘No love, but—‘
‘Is Wanda Jackson training Carthenage?’ Sammy had gone from immediate family to his teacher at school. If Shelly didn’t break the loop before he settled into it, he’d be reeling names off for hours. He’d begin with every single person that he knew personally and when he ran out of them, he’d start on authors, scientist, actors, directors, pop stars and if the idea occurred to him, he’d begin on A in the phone book and start reciting the names. He had them stored in his brain, and could load them from his databank to his voice box, at will.
All, I’m saying love, is that maybe, you should download some dog-training books to your Kindle. I think they’d really help you.
‘It was Saturday and Sammy had woken up at six. He was still excited about having the pup. They had been trying for months to get him to knock on their bedroom door before barging in and it had finally clicked— until Carthenage came along. That morning, he’d burst into their room shouting Shelly’s name at top decibel and demanding that they all get up to go to the park, immediately. They had persuaded him to wait until after breakfast.
When Shelly put the idea of downloading books into his head, all thoughts of going to the park were forgotten and he wandered over to the downstairs computer with Carthenage’s biscuit still in his hand. The dog whined, sighed and flopped down in a heap on the carpet. Shelly went to get him another biscuit.
Sammy had total recall; he only had to skim read a book to photograph it to his memory. It took him roughly ten seconds to mentally scan each page of text. After he’d downloaded, and uploaded to memory, every book that he could find on training your dog, he scoured internet reports and then searched television programmes such as The Dog Whisperer and It’s Me or the Dog. The library was closed on the Sunday when Sammy decided that he had to go. He didn’t cope with inconvenience well. They had a bad day that Sunday beginning with general unease leading to several grand mal seizures in rapid succession. Sammy was exhausted. If he had been an average boy, Shelly would have kept him at home the next day, but the upheaval that a change to his routine would bring about, would be far worse than letting him go to school tired. She felt sorry for his teachers because he’d be violently moody all day. The best that she could do was to tell Sandra that he’d had a bad day, and she would pass it on to the school. At least they’d be pre-warned and would keep a close vigil on him, especially around the other kids.
The fact that the library was shut gave Carthenage a couple of day’s grace, during which time the content pooch had no idea what was in store for him. Sammy’s poor mind was a computer. It worked like a computer. He was methodical in everything that he did. He’d wanted to read everything that he could find at the library and then begin Carthenage’s training regime after lunch. That was his plan and plans, once laid, should never be upset. He had made spreadsheets to chart their progress. He’d already written the date. Anybody else would have moved it on one digit and date it from the Monday, instead. Sammy couldn’t do that. He had spent hours making the spreadsheets, all he had to do was change one number on each date cell. He couldn’t. He’d had to delete all of his work and make new ones from scratch. But even that didn’t appease him. The original sheets had been deleted, but they were still stored, both on the computer’s hard drive—he could see them as coloured Tetris blocks of fragmented programme scattered untidily across his database— and similarly arranged in his brain. It offended him, worried him beyond anything that a rationally thinking person could comprehend, and, as the day wore on, drove him to illness.
Similarly, anybody else would have taken what information they’d found already and would work on that until they could access the library. He could have begun the training, as planned, and then he wouldn’t have had to spend the afternoon re-doing his charts and graphs, spreadsheets and working timeline. Shelly tried to tell him that he’d probably already downloaded every book that the library carried. She doubted that he’d find anything new. But there might be one that he hadn’t got. There was that one, slim chance that the small, town library had something that the online shop didn’t.
The minute that Sammy came in from school, Shelly’s calm world evaporated. It was time to hang up his coat, wash his hands, urinate, and wash his hands again. It was time for Shelly to make him a snack. It was time to sit as his desk and do his homework. But it was also time to go to the library to read dog training books. He didn’t need to borrow the books; he could read anything that they had while he was there. As well as information on training, he also wanted to scour their encyclopaedia, he needed to know everything that there was to know about canine disease and illness, diagnoses, treatment and recovery times. He had to have every word that he could glean about canine genetics. He needed a list of dog breeds, all of them; because he was going to scientifically try to work out what breeds comprised Carthenage’s ancestry.
Whenever there was a break to what Sammy considered acceptable, any small alteration to an established routine, it disturbed him. When he was very little Shelly had devised a tool to help with this. Although they both moved heaven and earth to keep Sammy’s routine as organised as possible, there were times, when breaking it was unavoidable. A routine could be established very quickly but to break it was something that Sammy couldn’t come to terms with.
When he was five years old, as part of his six monthly assessments, a home visit was organised. Sammy attended consultations at the hospital but he never did well there. His stress levels would be high and his behaviour erratic. Because he was a savant autistic, with total recall and echolalia, his progress was monitored and documented. As many of his tests as possible were done at home. A man called Peter Heller was employed by the Medical Sciences Division of Oxford University to conduct these tests. The first time he’d come, in an attempt to gain Sammy’s friendship, Peter had given him a Polo mint. Sammy had so much information in his brain that he was late talking and didn’t utter his first words until he was seven years old. But from the age of three, he’d displayed savant abilities and drew the attention of the medical establishment. Peter had visited again six months later. Sammy sat nicely for the first part of his interview but five minutes, he displayed minor symptoms of agitation. He rolled his eyes and sighed in frustration, it was clear that he was waiting for something. When that something wasn’t delivered, he rose in disgust, huffed like a petulant teenager and walked over to Peter, he stood in front of him with his mouth open.
‘What’s the matter, Sammy? What do you want?’ He looked to Shelly and John for answers.
‘Search me, that’s a new one,’ Shelly replied with a shrug of her shoulders. They tried to continue with the tests but Sammy was distracted and repeatedly went to Peter and opened his mouth. Shelly decided that he associated Peter with a doctor and was trying to tell him that he was in pain. The only answer that they could come up with was that Sammy had toothache. Shelly worried, Sammy didn’t tolerate any form of illness or pain well. He didn’t understand it. She said that she’d ring the dentist when Peter left, to make an appointment for Sammy.
Sammy decided that he’d been polite for just about long enough. The third time he went to Peter,only to be disappointed, he took matters into his own hands. He leaned forward and thrust his hand into Peter’s jacket pocket, grunting in satisfaction when he came up with a packet of Polo mints. He took one and put it in his mouth, handing the rest of the packet back to Peter. In just one previous visit, a routine had been made. Every time that Peter came, he always made sure that he had Polos in his pocket for Sammy.
Sammy was fifteen now and more dependant on routine and stability than ever. When he was little Shelly had come up with the idea to help Sammy to cope with change. It had had to be tweaked over the years but it worked, to a degree. Any change was still stressful for him, but the posting, helped.
Sammy went to his desk and got out his Basildon Bond watermarked writing pad and a matching envelope. He wrote down his home time routine in a numbered list, and then carefully folded it and put it in the envelope. He addressed it to himself and added a first class stamp. Then he took it into the hallway where he had a letter holder specifically for the purpose of his outgoing mail. He put the envelope in the slot and Shelly would post it the next time she went out.
They had been doing this since Sammy was five. At first, She only had to put the letter in an envelope and pretend to post it; at that point, it didn’t matter where.
Later Sammy insisted on seeing it being posted. Shelly felt guilty about the hundreds unaddressed envelopes with rubbish scribbled on them, first in Shelly’s hand, and later, in Sammy’s. She knew that wasting police time was an offence, what about wasting the postal sorting office time? Soon, that was not enough, either. Sammy inevitably wanted to know what happened to his routine once the list was put in the post box. From then Shelly had devised the idea of sending it back to him. Over the years it had been both a Godsend and a financial cross to bear. At one time she got away with second class postage, but when Sammy became aware of the different pricing systems according to the time the letter took, he wanted the best. Shelly bartered First Class postage, with not having to go out to post the letter the minute Sammy had finished writing it. That made a huge difference to their lives. Usually they averaged one letter a day, sometimes they did as well as just a couple a week, but the record number of letters that Shelly had ever had to post in one day was thirty eight. It was costly and so debilitating, especially in the early days when letters had to be posted immediately, that when they’d moved house, while other buyers might be looking at the proximity of schools and shops, Shelly and John only cared about the nearest post box. They had one on the corner of the street. Sammy kept every letter that came back to him. He had suitcases full of them. It was enough for him to know that when he altered his usual routine, the routine didn’t die. It was still there, alive and well, shooting along conveyor belts in the postal system. Sammy could pick it up and resume it as normal, as soon as the letter was returned. If for any reason, the post was late, that caused a whole new set of problems, and Sammy had to write a new letter to accommodate for the extra time it took the first one to arrive. It was a system that worked and kept Sammy level.
Shelly took Sammy to the library and posted his letter, and two others due to Carthenage messing with Sammy’s normal routine that morning, on the way. As anticipated, they didn’t have a single book that Sammy didn’t have already. He wasn’t disappointed or distressed by this, he’d expected it to be that way, and so it fell into the category of normal. It was what he’d expected, it was what came to pass, no surprises there. After what to some might have seemed like a wasted journey, Sammy was happy.
Carthenage was about to be trained.