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The Affliction

By Lesley Gibson, May 2019, Updated June 2021
Photo by MagMos

Sam was bored … terribly bored. Bored out of his considerable mind. Scruffy, for his part, was busy looking behind every rock, grinning at him, tongue lolling, dropping the ball at his feet. Scruffy always tried to work out what Sam wanted. He was eager to make the boy happy, but why did it always involve a ball? Sam seemed to be fixated on them, which was fine if you liked that sort of thing, but Scruffy wasn’t sure that he did. Other dogs might say it was an obsession, but Scruffy didn’t like to judge. Each to their own.

The thing was, he had a sort of tic, did Sam, like the Westie on Harbour Lane who had come from a rescue home and whose left leg shot out like a piston whenever he heard the word “lupin’.” Until you see a dog with Tourette’s, you don’t realize how many words sound similar, such as “new pin,” “look in,” “looking” and “loopy,” which the Westie certainly was, though, as we know, Scruffy never liked to judge.

In Sam’s case, whenever he held a ball, a spasm would send the prized object skyward or seaward or treeward, and Scruffy would have to fetch it again and again from some truly awful places and drop it directly at his feet.

Don’t pick it up … don’t pick it up, Scruffy implored him telepathically, trying to burn it into the lad’s brain with the power of a bright and steady gaze. It sets off your condition.


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But even if Sam understood, he just didn’t seem to be able to help himself. Consequently, Scruffy spent many busy afternoons a victim of the boy’s ailment. Sometimes he thought he might even be facilitating it.

He liked Sam well enough and he liked finding things—he loved playing Hunt the Smell, for instance—but from time to time, he would get thoroughly pissed off with Sam’s inability to learn from his mistakes; was medication the answer? He had tried returning empty-mouthed, but the lad would just pull another ball from his pocket and the whole thing would start again. Scruffy was afraid to leave him alone in case his tic got the better of him. It took a toll.

Scruffy almost wept when he saw Molly approaching over the hill. Looking from boy to dog, she read Please, please, make him stop on the faces of both. She could see their misery quite plainly. She knew that as long as her cousin kept throwing, Scruffy would keep fetching; they had each other on a treadmill that would surely end in the death of one of them. Molly bent down and ruffled the dog’s fur, picked up the wet and slobbery ball, and cheerfully stuffed it into her hoodie pocket.

“We made cakes. They look a bit funny but they taste like rainbows. Granny Alice said you’ve to come and try them, Sam.” If Scruffy had any energy left, he’d have stood on his hind legs and hugged her.

“Oh, I was playing with Scruffy.”

“Yes, and he doesn’t want to play anymore.” The dog blushed but didn’t deny it. Molly always knew what he needed.

Photo by MagMos

Lesley Gibson is a writer who lives in Stamford, England, with her teenage daughter and her one-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Tiger.