Danny and the Wizard of Dogs


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Mention Aunty Em calling him on phone.

America earlier

The town encroaching on the farm with low rises etc.

‘Danny, Danny!’

Danny turned over in his bed, and felt the heat of his dog against his leg. Toto always slept in the warmest spots of the bed. Danny would often wake up with a cricked neck, trying not to disturb the dog even in his sleep.

‘Danny! Get up! You’ll be late for school, and Miss Gulks will call welfare on us again!’

Danny got out of bed for that. Toto growled a little and then lay on his back with his legs in the air. Danny smiled, and threw the corner of the duvet over him.

He ate breakfast standing up, Aunty Em lecturing him from the sink as she washed last night’s dishes.

‘Do your best not to get into trouble again today, Danny. I know Miss Gulks nips at you, but we can’t afford any more problems. You got to stay at school. You got to get into a decent high school. The farm isn’t going to support you like it would have. Your mother would want you to work hard and...’

‘Don’t talk about her,’ Danny cried out and sudden tears shamed him. He wiped them quickly on his sleeve, hoping Aunty Em couldn’t see anything.

‘OK, honey.’ Aunty Em knew better than to say anything nice, or anything else at all. The boy was still so touchy about his mother. Still, it had only been two months since the sudden illness had carried her off, leaving Danny and the dog to come to her and Uncle Pete.

‘Go get Toto, and put him in the back room.’

‘Do I have to?’

‘Yes, otherwise he’ll follow you to school again.’

Danny fetched Toto, who growled and snapped to be taken out of the warm bed. Danny rubbed his face in Toto’s fur as he carried him downstairs. ‘I know you miss her too, Totes,’ he said. ‘She used to love you so much. She said you were like her second son. She used to carry you like this.’ His throat closed and he squeezed Toto tight and quickly shut him in the laundry room. Straight away, the cries began. Danny couldn’t bear it. He grabbed his school bag and left the house, with no goodbyes.

He took his secret path through the low rise blocks that edged up onto the scrub and fences of the farm, like they wanted to move in. Let them. The farm was falling apart. Danny didn’t see the little dog that had somehow got out of the back room. His mind went into nothingness for a while. Cotton candy head, his Mom would say, when she was trying to get him to come down from his room or in from the street. Cotton candy instead of brains, she would say, rubbing his hair with her hands, when he finally heard her calling and giving him a quick hug.

Then he was at school, and bracing himself to go through the front door. It was tough, knowing no one, and liking no one either. No one was very kind to a sudden arrival, half way through the year, and one who wouldn’t talk much and looked as if he would take you down if you said anything even a little bit wrong. So they kept out of his way, mostly. There were a group of three boys, led by Finn, who had tried to befriend Danny early on, but he had scorned them as nerdy, and they had given up in the end.

The bell rang for class. He squared his shoulders and went in, past the smoker’s bushes that rustled a little as he brushed against them.

Miss Gulks started on him almost straight away. ‘Tardy again today, Danny. Quick sticks, thank you. To your seats, everyone, quickly please.’ Danny sat, keeping a hold on his temper as much as he could. He couldn’t bear her little phrases. Quick sticks, for freaks’ sake. What did it even mean? Just because she’d been to England for a year.

And then the barking started.

‘Oh, for pity’s sake,’ Danny muttered under his breath. ‘That freakin’ dog.’

Finn watched him curiously. One thing he had learnt about Danny was that interesting stuff tended to happen wherever he was.

Danny raised his hand. ‘Miss Gulks? I gotta go...bathroom.’

‘No, you should have gone before.’

‘But I’ve got to.’


Danny just pushed his chair aside and got up and left. Miss Gulks sighed, and went to the door.

‘Class, read silently.’

The class, most of them, went to the windows.

Danny retrieved Toto from the bushes. The little dog licked his face, overjoyed to be reunited. Danny put him down and began making a temporary collar and lead from his belt. When Miss Gulks came out shouting about rudeness and bad dogs and poor choices, Toto bit her. Above the ankle. Not hard, but hard enough. Danny grabbed Toto, and stared at Miss Gulks. He knew what this would mean. Miss Gulks went white for a moment, then a bright, bright red. Not even looking at her ankle, she moved towards Danny and Toto.

‘I am calling the Sheriff,’ she said. ‘This dog will be put down.’

Danny clutched Toto so hard that he let out a small yelp, but Danny didn’t hear. With his eyes fixed on the teacher, he said, ‘You are not having my mother’s dog.’

Danny sat outside the Principal’s office, Toto on his knees. Miss Gulks had been rushed off to first aid by the fawning secretary (‘oh you poor poor thing, that vicious dog’), and Aunty Em had been called. She sat there next to Danny, neither of them saying a word. Aunty Em was thinking that this was the last straw, that children’s services would be called, that the law would get involved. She had never had any doings with the law in her life. Danny wasn’t thinking at all. He was repeating a phrase in his head, over and over, one that his mother had taught him, ‘they can’t get you if you don’t let ‘em’.

Mr. Scott walked in. He looked at the boy, and at the woman, and then at the Sheriff’s man coming through the main door on the CCTV camera.

‘Danny,’ he said. ‘The Sheriff’s deputy is coming. You need to let him take Toto.’

Danny did not speak or even look. His face was like a stone. But his heart hurt so much, he thought it might break all over again.

‘Have they got to take the boy’s dog?’, asked Aunty Em. ‘That’s all he has left of his mother. And he’s real gentle – with gentle people that is.’

Danny got to his feet and began heading to the door. Mr. Scott blocked it, and then moved aside to let the Deputy come in. ‘I am so sorry, Danny.’

The Deputy took Toto from Danny’s arms so quickly, that Danny’s hands closed on nothing but air. Danny looked at Aunty Em with a world of hurt in his eyes. He let out a cry that was terrible to hear, and ran down the corridor after the man.

Aunty Em stood up, wiping her face. She would do anything if she could change the situation, knowing she had failed him, her sister’s son, the joy of her sister’s heart. There was nothing she could do.

‘You have done a bad thing,’ she said to Mr. Scott, and left.

Danny crashed through the main doors of the school, and watched as the deputy shut Toto in the back of a car with a metal grille separating the trunk from the seats. He finally found his voice.

‘Don’t kill my dog!’ he shouted, but the man ignored him, got in the car, and drove away.

Danny ran down the school drive, but soon realised it was stupid. He sat down in the smokers’ bush and, rubbing his face, decided what to do next. He saw Aunty Em walk past on her way to the car.

When she had gone, Danny began to walk down the road, towards the town, and the vet. Mr. Scott watched him go from the front doors. Above his head, the clouds gathered and began to flow.

Danny knew that there was no way he was going to let Toto be killed by the vet. He knew he would have to run away with Toto. And he knew that no-one would miss him. Aunty Em and Uncle Pete wouldn’t care. No-one really cared for him since his Mom had died. He and Toto would be OK together. That was all he needed really. Life would be just fine, as fine as it could ever be without his Mom there. She had always said that he brought the colour into her life, and Danny knew that, since she had died, he had been living in – not exactly black and white – but a leached out world where nothing seemed bright any more. As far as he could see, it would be like that for always. So why should he stay round here where no-one wanted him anyway? He would find somewhere to go, and he would just struggle through, like he had done since his Mom had whispered goodbye to him through a half smile. The wind was getting up as he walked towards the town and Danny had left his jacket at school. He shivered and wrapped his arms round his chest. It was getting colder. He started to run.

As he got to the middle of town, he tried to remember where the vetinarian was. He stood for a moment, not sure whether to turn left or right, and then headed towards the mall. A chill rain had begun to fall and litter – newspapers and food wrappers – whipped at his legs.

The police car was parked out back of the vets. There was also the farm station wagon. That meant that Aunty Em had come here? What was she doing? He tried to decide what to do. If that man were there, he’d better wait until they had gone. The actual killing would happen after, he decided. He hunkered down by the wall where he could still see the police car. He tried to make himself small and quiet. Danny waited. And he waited. The chill rain began to soak him.

Aunty Em was inside, pleading with the vet and the Sheriff’s man. The words weren’t coming out very well but she was doing her best. She wasn’t used to talking much.

‘The boy came to me in February after his mother died. Cancer. They lived in a rented house, all she had to give him was the dog. It’s all he has of her. The dog, and a couple of photos on his phone. If you destroy Toto, Danny will go too. I’m sure he’s fixing to run away, and he’s all I got of my sister. You know, I couldn’t have kids of my own. Would you reconsider? I’ll get the dog seen too, learn how to manage it, so it won’t bite again.’

‘I wish I could,’ said the Sheriff’s man, ‘but Miss Gulks will want to see evidence that it was carried out.’

‘Why is it up to her? Surely there ought to be some kind of hearing. Does she want to see Toto lying there dead for proof?’

The vet turned to the cop. ‘She’s got a point,’ he said, mildly. ‘There ought to be due process.’

‘It’s a dangerous dog!’, the deputy retorted. And they all looked at Toto who lay, asleep, on the floor by the counter. There was a pause. Then the vet said, ‘Yeah, looks real dangerous.’

Em seized the moment. ‘I know we’ve not been treating him right. Shutting him up all day, ignoring him. Why, he’s not used to being alone. My sister – well, she didn’t work towards the end so the dog got used to being around her all day. If we can keep him, I’ll see to it that he’s trained, I’ll see he gets walked every day when Danny is at school. I won’t let this happen again, I promise.’

The vet looked at the deputy and said, ‘What about the ‘one free bite’ law, Officer?’

The cop was caught and he knew it. ‘One free bite?’

The vet recited: ‘One ‘free bite’ meaning the owner cannot be held liable for the first bite as there was no expectation that the dog may harm someone, as long as the dog was not overtly aggressive and did not regularly snap at people. After that first bite though, the owner is liable and the dog can be destroyed in the interest of public safety.’

The deputy was about to accept defeat. ‘OK. I’ll say that this was the meeting that the process calls for. Toto has had his one free bite, and if there are any more, he will be put to sleep. I’ll write up the meeting and say that we agreed that he would be trained and exercised, and I will be checking up, you can be sure. I’ll contact Miss Gulks, as the victim she has the right to hear what has been decided. She’ll be mad, I’m sure, that woman was born complaining about something. But, if I were you, I’d talk to the principal about getting the boy out of her class at school. This ain’t gonna go down well.’

Em bent down to pick up the dog.

The vet said, ‘I’ll give you a proper lead and collar for him. You know, you shouldn’t carry him around and nor should the boy. Gives him ideas above his station. Make him walk, make him obey you. Not in a harsh way. But someone’s gotta be the boss and it shouldn’t be the dog.

Em said quietly, so quietly that they could barely hear her. ‘I know a dog trainer. He lives here – well, he lives in his van. He comes and goes, but I’ve seen him around recently.’

The vet saw her swallow and knew how hard it was for her to mention him. Why, she hadn’t talked about Isaac for years. He said, gently, ‘Are you sure, Emily? There are other trainers you know, in Springfield, and it isn’t far.’

‘Springfield? We don’t go there. Pete says why waste the gas when everything we need is in Troy. No, I’ll track Isaac down and talk to him, see if he can sort the dog out.’

The Sheriff’s man was getting sick of this, he had other work to do, no use bothering any more with a small dog. ‘Right, so I’ll send an official letter. If Miss Gulks kicks off, I’ll talk to her. And, like I say, talk to the school about the boy’s classes.’ With the toe of his boot, but not hard, he poked the dog’s stomach. Toto leapt to his feet, growling. The man laughed and left the building.

The vet touched Em on the shoulder and said, ‘I’ll get that lead. The dog’s frightened, so tell him no, and get him to sit, then give him a stroke.’

Em got to her knees and looked at Toto. Those brown eyes looked back at her like small puddles, reflecting her own eyes. ‘No growling, Toto,’ she said. ‘No growling. Sit now.’ There was a pause and then the dog lowered his butt to the ground. She petted him, his fur felt rough beneath her hand, and his head was hot.

The vet, standing behind her with a collar and lead that had belonged to a dog that had died in his lap, watched her for a moment, then said, ‘Put these on him, Em. And let me know if you need any help.’

‘Well, you’ll be down at the farm sometime soon, no doubt,’ Em replied. Then quieter, much quieter, she whispered, ‘Thank you.’

Standing out in the parking lot with Toto, reluctant and dragging on the lead, she stopped and looked around for a moment.

‘Danny,’ said Aunt Em. ‘Come out now. Toto is all right.’

Danny kept as still as he could. Had Aunty Em saved Toto? Shit, he’d have to be all grateful now, and he wasn’t sure he knew how.

‘Danny. I can see your sneaker. Come on now. It’s raining and we gotta get somewhere.’ She sounded impatient. Danny crawled out from behind the car.

‘Let’s get in the car. Put Toto in back. I need to talk to you about something important.’

Danny, silently, did as he was told. Aunt Em put the heaters on and passed him an old jacket. Danny put it on. It smelt of the farm. Aunt Em started the engine and the windscreen wipers started to wipe away the sheets of rain that had accumulated.

‘Now, it has been a bad day. But Toto is all right. But if anything else happens, he will be put to sleep, Danny. So we all got to take some responsibility. I know someone, from a long time ago, who used to train dogs, and we are going to find him and ask him to train Toto.’

‘Toto doesn’t need training!’

‘Danny. He growls, he runs away and now he bites too. There is no way this can be allowed to go on. He bit a teacher, and not only that, but the worst woman in this town for complaining and campaigning. I’ve known Elvira Gulks for a long time. She won’t let this go. So we are going to see this man. This...Isaac.’

Danny stayed silent, not because he was being insolent, but because the words were buried so deep down inside him, words like thank you and sorry and I don’t want anything else to change in my life. But all that came out was ‘OK’. And Aunt Em took a look at him and saw the look on his face, half angry, half tearful, and decided the best thing was just to start driving.

Aunt Em had seen the van around for the last couple of days, parked in random places. But as to where it was now, she had no idea. They would just have to drive for a while. It would give Danny a chance to warm up. Uncle Pete would be wondering, especially as it was nearing the time she would be making lunch. But he would just have to wait. Or make his own sandwich, like that would ever happen. They drove out from the mall towards the edge of the town, where the town met the country with ever increasing hunger for space and land. No sign. In again on another road though the newish housing projects. Back out, back towards the farm. And there it was. Practically on the farm’s land. Aunty Em took a deep breath and looked at Danny, slumped down and almost asleep, or pretending to be. She looked at Toto, who took it as an invitation to squeeze through the seats and creep on to Danny’s lap. Em extended a hand and stroked Toto’s head.

‘Danny. I guess you were going to run away. And if you do ever want to run away, remember that I want you to stay with me. Whatever happens, I consider you my son now and I want to look after you. Your mother wanted that too. Whatever happens.’

Without looking over, she got out the car and, leaning in, clipped the lead on Toto. ‘Danny, I am going to speak to the dog trainer. To...Isaac. Are you coming with me and Toto?’

Danny scrambled out and they stood together in front of the white van with ‘The Wizard of Dogs’ stencilled on the side. Looked professional, Aunty Em thought, as she tried to make herself knock on the van or call out, or do something. Toto whined at her feet and Danny went to pick him up. But Em stopped him. ‘We gotta teach him to stay on the ground. The vet said.’ Danny opened his mouth to speak, when the door to the van slid open. Isaac stood there, blinking.

‘Can I help you guys?’

‘Isaac. It’s me, Emily. You might remember me as Susan’s sister, Susan Gale. This here is Danny, her son. And their dog, Toto. We need some help to train him. He bit Danny’s teacher. You know Elvira Gulks.’ Every word was coming out fast and strange and she made herself stop, Danny now silent by her side.

‘I knew Elvira. You’re lucky you saved that dog.’

‘Yes, and now we need your help to keep him. He’s gotta to be trained and I don’t know anyone else to ask.’

‘I can train him. But he’ll have to stay here with me for a while. This is how it works. I keep him for a week, get the basics done, then I bring him back and every day we work together for an hour. You, or the boy, and the dog. It’s the quickest and easiest way.’

Danny was finally able to unstick his voice. ‘You are not taking my dog. How do I know you’ll treat him well?’

‘I treat all dogs well, but it’s fair and it’s clear. There’s no hitting, but I won’t mollycoddle him either, or treat him like a child. He’s gotta know who he is and who is boss and right now I guess he is all confused.’

‘But...’ Danny had run out of words. Scared he was going to cry, he sealed his lips and stared at the ground. Beetles and bugs were running to and fro. How easy it would be to crush them with his foot. How easy it was for anything to disappear forever.

Aunty Em chipped in. ‘How much will it be, Isaac?’

‘I’ll charge you less than the others would. You’ll need to bring his food along later. The boy can do it.’

The rain had started up again. Em handed the lead to Isaac and Danny looked at her, desperately. Em said, ‘This is how we keep him, Danny.’

Danny found his voice at last.

‘What are you going to do with my dog?’

Isaac sighed. ‘Get in the van for a moment and I’ll explain.’

Danny looked at Em who said, ‘Go on, Danny. I’ll wait in the car. And, Isaac, you had better treat that dog well.’ There was a slight edge of warning in her tone. Isaac looked at her and Em looked at him steadily and he saw a glimpse of the girl she had been in that still gaze. Always shy, always good, always staring at him and her sister through the slats in the porch, holding a doll or a kitten or a dog eared notebook. Always being told to go away.

Danny scrambled in to the van. Toto scrabbled up, and dangled for a moment, legs running, as he tried to get in. Isaac lifted him and placed him on a blanket. They sat on the gritty van floor.

‘OK, so this is what I’ll do for your dog. I’ll train him, sort him out.’

‘He doesn’t need any sorting out!’

‘He doesn’t need any sorting out. Well, let’s see. He bites, he runs away.’

‘He doesn’t run away, he runs towards me. And he never used to do those things. When...’

‘When your mother was alive,’.

Danny’s voice had dried up and then stopped and suddenly, for a wild moment, he thought he could grab Toto’s lead and run, far away, to a place where there wasn’t any trouble. His body tensed, ready to grab the dog and run.

But Isaac spoke, ‘I guess you want to run away with Toto. But the dog needs help, if he bites again, that’s it, he’ll be killed. I’ll sort him out, and, if you learn along with me, you can have him back. If you run away with him, you will hurt your Aunt so much, you will just about break her heart. Don’t you think it broke enough when her sister died? Look at her now, worrying about you, and the dog, and whether or not she is being a good enough mother to you. That woman cares about you, and I know you don’t think she does, but I am telling you, she does.’

‘She is not my mother.’

‘I know, Danny.’ The man’s voice was strangely gentle all of a sudden. ‘But you gotta let her in so she can try.’

Danny was silent for a moment. Then he said, ‘How do you know all this?’

‘It doesn’t take a genius to look at someone and know stuff. Besides, I used to know your Aunt Em. A long time ago. It’s a small world here in Troy, you know.’

‘How do I know you’ll look after Toto?’

Isaac answered kindly: ‘Give him to me.’ Danny did as he was told. Toto sank into Isaac’s arms as if he was supremely safe and happy. It was a long time since Toto had looked that relaxed. Danny felt a pain in his heart. What it would be to feel that safe and warm again, to be able to relax completely in another’s arms. Why, it would be like heaven, or coming home. He spoke through the lump in his throat, ‘Later then. He likes leftovers.’

‘He’ll get fed, and a warm place to sleep. Better than being dead. Go on now, get. I’ll see you later.’

Danny took a long look at Toto and then caressed and stroked his head quickly. Then he was out of the van and into the car. Aunty Em started up the engine. Danny felt a kind of crumbling feeling in his chest, but he held his head up and looked ahead, at the pouring rain on the windshield. It seemed as if the whole world was covered in rain beaten glass and he was inside, cold and wet and shivering, and all alone.

‘Ready, Danny? Guess we better go and tell Uncle Pete what’s happened.’ She paused. ‘I know this is hard but it’s the best thing we can do.’

‘Toto will be okay, he’ll be okay’ Danny said fiercely.

Aunty Em knew better than to reply to that. She just touched him gently on the arm – the boy was getting tall – then drove away home. The rain beat on the windshield.

Home again, they sat in the kitchen eating sandwiches.

‘The storm’s getting up, better stay in now, Danny.’

‘But Toto...I gotta take the dog food.’

‘He’ll be OK. If it dies down you can go later. Isaac won’t let him starve.’ Danny nodded and looked at her for a moment. Em felt a little warmth pass through her heart. It felt good. If Danny stayed, she would try and say more to him than just instructions and commands, find out what was in his heart, listen and learn how he was, what he thought, how he felt about things. She would try and be more of a Mom to him, though she could never take her sister’s place.

Danny went up to his room. It felt empty without Toto. He lay on the bed, and held the feather pillow to his chest but it was cold and slithery, like a dead thing. He threw it from him, and sat up to watch the storm moving in across the plains. The clouds rolled like giant whales in the sky, dark whales with somewhere essential to go. If that man wasn’t keeping his promises...but Danny knew better than to let his imagination take over. Toto was fine, Toto would be fine, and that was all that mattered. The clouds were spinning in the sky, and the sun had gone. One cloud was the shape of a woman on a bicycle, and Danny imagined it was Miss Gulks on her stupid folding bike that she boasted about. ‘Imported from England, cost me so much, but it’s worth it to save our environment, you can take it on the buses, no need for a car.’ Well, she was out in the environment now and see how she liked it. Danny wished things were normal though: the weather, the day, his whole life. Everything had been tilted off balance and it felt like he couldn’t hold on any more. Even his mother’s face was slowly vanishing. His mother would have let him go out in the storm but would have waited by the door like a talisman with her hands held ready the minute she saw him, hands held ready to open the door and press him to her heart, never to let him go again on any crazy fool schemes.

Em braced herself to call the school and talk about Danny’s classes and everything that had happened that day. Pete was out on the far field, and anyway, he wouldn’t speak to people on the phone. He had also made it clear when the boy had arrived that anything to do with him was Em’s job. Well, this was one job that Em was dreading. All her life, she’d been scared of conflict. It was more important to keep people liking her than to stick her neck out on the executioner’s block. But – well – who was more important here, her sister’s boy or the Principal? She had to try and do the right thing for Danny. She pulled the phone towards her and dialed. She had to go through too many people to get to Mr. Scott – didn’t the school want parents to get in touch? – but finally she heard his voice on the phone.

‘How can I help you today?’

‘Mr. Scott, it’s Danny Gale’s Aunt. I just wanted to talk to you about his classes.’

‘Mrs. Gale, I am glad you called. I am so very sorry about what happened today. How is Danny?’

Gale wasn’t her name any more but she let that pass. It felt nice to share the same name as her sister again.

‘Danny’s all right, Mr. Scott. The Sheriff has given the dog a chance. One chance. Toto is with a trainer and is going to learn what he needs to learn. But I don’t think Danny should be in Miss. Gulks’ class anymore.’

‘I think you’re right, and I am grateful to you for being so honest. I am glad about the dog too. But we are in a difficult situation. I can move Danny into a different class for English. But he will need to agree to keep out of Miss Gulks’ way and to be polite if he does see her. This is a small school and Danny has only got a few months to go. He just needs to keep his head down and do his work. The other thing is that the only class left that she doesn’t teach is AP English. I have had a look at his scores from his previous school, and it seems he could manage the work. But the truth is, there’s been no evidence of that ability since he started here. I know that he has been grieving, not just for his mother, but for the loss of his whole life, his home, his old school, his friends, everything. But he’ll need to work hard and he’ll need to show he can keep out of Miss Gulks’ way.’

‘I’ll talk to him, make sure he does. Thank you Mr. Scott.’

‘Thank you. Miss Gulks is off sick and will be for at least a week, so he can come back to school tomorrow with no potential problems there. I’ll sort out the advanced English class. He may enjoy it. Maybe what Danny needs is a challenge of some kind. It’s as if he’s been in another world, and I think he needs to come home.’

Em rang off and felt her shoulders drop. Thank goodness he had been so understanding. Thank goodness there were people who cared. Now to talk to Danny. Should she wait ‘til dinner or go get him now? Probably now was best. She didn’t need an audience. Finding her feet as a mother was hard. She rose to her feet and began to climb the stairs. Standing outside Danny’s room, she paused to catch her breath. When had she got so tired? Why, she used to run up these stairs like a child. But that was before everything. Staring at the wood panels, she gently called his name. ‘Danny. Danny, can I come in? It’s Aunty Em.’

Danny froze for a minute when he heard her voice. But he had to let her in. He swung his feet onto the floor and went to the door. It stuck a little but he opened it. Aunty Em was standing right outside. She looked frightened for a moment, but then her eyes softened. For a moment, a tiny moment, she looked like his Mom. He had always thought Aunty Em was a dried up old stick, with the ingrained lines on her face and her small mouth. But when she smiled…well, she looked different. It was a small smile but it made all the difference.

‘Danny…,’ she began, but Danny interrupted her.

‘Aunt Em…you can sit down. Come and sit on the bed.’

He tried to straighten the coverlet but his hands were shaking.

‘Don’t worry, Danny, I can stand.’

‘No, I want you to sit down,’. He managed it, and she sat down carefully on the bed. It was the one she had had as a child, she had brought it here when she married, for her firstborn. It was soft and she tilted a little, but let her shoulders go. Danny stood awkwardly beside her, his eyes looking into the distance, looking everywhere but at her.

‘I spoke to Mr. Scott, and he’s a fair man, Danny. He is going to move you to AP English, so you can get out of Miss Gulks’ class. But you’ll have to work hard, and I’ll help you. I used to be good at writing, even though I never talked much in class. He says you gotta keep out of Miss Gulks’ way and be polite when you do see her, and he’ll say the same to her. Don’t rise to her, Danny. She’s not a good woman, but she has suffered, like we all have. You need to learn to blank her out, a polite face is all you need. You can say what you like to her in your head.’

Danny muttered something under his breath, and then looked directly at Em.

‘I hate school. I’ve got no friends.’

‘You have to be a friend to get a friend, Danny. But I know it’s hard when you are new, and it is half way through the year. And you’re grieving, Danny, I know you are really really sad. And I know you don’t like me talking about what your mother, my - sister, would have wanted. But think about it, Danny. Would she of wanted you to try?’

Danny knew that she would have wanted him to try, to try with all his guts to make a good life for himself, to prove that she had given him something good that was in him, to prove that she had left him something after all. He wanted to, he really did, but he had been too much inside himself, in another world, to try. Maybe this was his chance to step away from the road he’d been on, without losing face, to try another road which was brighter, more colorful that the gray place he’d been for so long. He raised his eyes and looked at Aunty Em.

‘I’ll try, Aunty Em.’

‘That’s all I can ask of you, Danny, and it is more than enough. I am proud of you, and I am sure you can go far, I am sure you can get to where you need to be, and I’ll help you as much as I can. You’ve got a good heart, Danny, and you’ve got a good brain, and you are brave, and I hope you will feel someday soon that you have a home here with me and your Uncle for as long as you need it. Your little dog will be back soon too, and we’ll all do our best to muddle on together.’

Danny’s clear eyes were wet, but he kept his gaze on Aunty Em, and she smiled at him, trying to show him the seeds of love that were growing inside her. He looked so much like her sister. It hurt, but it helped too.

‘The rain is getting up, can you leave taking Toto’s food til tomorrow? He’ll be fine, that dog prefers human food anyway.’

‘Yes, OK, I’ll take it as soon I get up.’

‘Come down to the kitchen, Danny, and help me get dinner. Or just chat to me while I do it.’

‘I’ll come down soon, Aunty Em.’

‘OK, Danny. See you soon.’

She got up, awkwardly, from the bed and as soon as the door snicked shut, Danny cast himself down where she had been lying. It was warm, and it smelt like…sort of…vanilla and spices. She liked to bake, that was why, he guessed. His Mom had baked once a year, on his birthday, and it had always gone wrong and they had always laughed. One year the cake had been gray when she had wanted it to be silver. One year, it had spread and morphed from a rectangle into a kind of alien monstrosity. She had given it eyes and teeth. She could make something good of anything, and was never embarrassed or ashamed. He wanted to cry a little, thinking of her and of the cakes she had made. But he wiped his eyes and went down.

Isaac was not asleep. He couldn’t bear to meet Em’s eyes, there were like twin beacons that showed him up with every sweeping gaze. They felt like fire on him, like her eyes saw every dark corner in him. He felt empty and substanceless.

Show down

Carry story on

Move away from film

More of the history of dog training

Showman? Why is he called the Wizard of Dogs.

Bluffs people out of their money?

Danny is the Wizard?

Sees in colour for the first time since Mom died

Journey (YBR)

Lesson/refuses to learn a lesson.

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