Dod had spent the most of his life in the suburb of Heidelberg, outer northeast of Melbourne. Before that, he’d spent his younger years in Collingwood, up till the age of sixteen. Not once, however, had he ever set foot on the soil of other parts such as Texas, Oklahoma or any other distant land where a twang to the voice was expected. But twang, Dod’s voice did.
His friend, Jim, had asked him about this one night when they’d been drinking at the pub. Sixty-seven years old with a twang to his voice, born and raised in Australia, and all Dod could do was shrug. Nearest Dod could figure – because he used words like “figure” and “reckon” – it must have tied in with his name somehow. Dod could remember a time, when he was twelve, when he’d suddenly figured his name sounded like one that a cowboy might have. He reckoned it could have been then that he’d started to talk like one – maybe as a lark at first – and somehow it had always just stuck.
All Jim had to say was that it was lucky that Dod had never worn the hat and chaps at the time, because they, too, might have “always just stuck”. And, as Jim rightly pointed out, chaps on a late-sixties pensioner would have to look rather silly.
Dod had nodded, sipped his beer, then he’d twanged, ‘I reckon you’re right.’
It was some months later, the topic of Dod’s twang long forgotten, that Dod and Jim again sat in the pub, drinking beer. Dod had been listening to Jim talk about his son, who was a good boy but had terrible taste in women. So far, Jim’s son had been married five times and he was presently courting wife number six, who, while better than wife number three, was on a par with wife number two who’d been prone to sniffing as punctuation.
Jim had said very dryly that his son kept a tuxedo hanging in the hallway, he married so often. Dod wasn’t quite sure if this was said in jest or not, the way Jim had said it. Whatever the case, it turned out that wife number six was like wife number two, and while she didn’t sniff in between “every bloody sentence” she did in fact blah, blah, blah…
It was here that Dod raised his hand. On either side of that lifted hand, each man frowned – Dod with a look to him like one who hadn’t been listening, Jim with a look of his own like one who’d have to repeat himself. It seemed as though this was how things would follow until Dod actually opened his mouth.
‘I don’t feel right,’ Dod said. His hand fell to the table then moved back till it reached his beer. Both hands fumbled at the cool frosted glass, fingertips lightly smearing the beads of water that had gathered there.
‘How’s that?’ Jim asked.
‘I don’t know,’ said Dod, shrugging. ‘I reckon I just don’t feel right.’
‘How’s that?’ Jim asked again. ‘What doesn’t feel right?’
Dod thought about it for a moment, even tilted his head and looked upward because he always thought better when he’d do this. It was no help, though. He looked back to Jim, shrugging again. ‘I really can’t say. All’a sudden I just figure I don’t feel right.’
‘Might be flu…’ said Jim, rubbing his grey-stubbled chin. ‘I know it’s warm out, but there’s a lot of that summer flu about. You think it might be flu, Dod?’ Dod shook his head, knowing with some certainty that it couldn’t be the flu. Jim, on the other hand, nodded. ‘Might be the flu,’ he said again.
Dod gave a slight nod also, committing himself neither way. Jim was one of those self-professed doctor-types who always knew what was ailing someone, and it always just happened to be the flu. His remedy was also always the same.
‘A shot of brandy,’ he said, rubbing at his chin again. ‘I’ll get us a couple now. Best I have one, myself, in case I catch your flu.’ Jim was always careful not to catch the flu and he drank a lot of brandy in between beers.
Dod said nothing as Jim left the table and went to the bar. He quickly finished off his beer, seeing as Jim was getting him a brandy, and pondered over why he didn’t feel right. He even tried tilting his head, looking upward again, but still that didn’t help. At the bar, Jim ordered two shots of brandy. The barman, Harry, was just about to get them when Jim waved him back.
‘What’s up?’ asked Harry.
‘It’s Dod,’ said Jim. ‘He doesn’t feel right.’
‘What’cha mean, he doesn’t feel right?’
Jim shrugged, rubbed his chin. ‘That’s what I asked Dod, but he couldn’t really say. You ask me, it’s the flu. Might be the same flu you had a few weeks ago.’
Harry frowned. ‘I told you… I went to the doctor about that. I put my neck out.’
Jim didn’t show any sign that he’d heard this. He continued to rub at his chin. ‘Yeah… Could be the same flu you had. Better make each brandy a double, Harry. Just to be on the safe side.’
Harry sighed for Jim’s medical expertise, turned and took the brandy from the shelf at the back of the bar. He took two glasses and dolled out two measures for each one, turned again and put them out before Jim. Jim fumbled out his wallet and Harry looked past him, knowing Jim always took a while getting his wallet out.
‘You a bit out of sorts, Dod?’ he called out. Dod looked up from where he sat, wearing a puzzled frown. ‘I asked if you were a bit out of sorts,’ said Harry again.
Dod shook his head. ‘Can’t says I am. I just don’t feel right, somehow.’
‘That’s sort of out of sorts. Sort of…’ said Harry.
‘It’s the flu, I tell you.’ Jim had finally managed to get his wallet and was fumbling a twenty-dollar note out.
‘It’s not the flu,’ said Dod. ‘And I’m not out of sorts either. I reckon I just don’t feel right.’
‘Maybe you should see a doctor?’ said Harry.
‘Doctor’d just tell him he’s got the flu,’ said Jim.
Harry threw Jim a look of helpless annoyance, looked back to Dod. ‘Get yourself to a doctor, Dod. Couldn’t hurt, could it?’
Dod lifted his head, staring at the ceiling before he nodded. ‘I reckon it couldn’t hurt, because I do feel a mite poorly. But not out of sorts, and not for a flu. I figure I just don’t feel right.’
As Dod continued to nod, Jim watched him from the bar, smiling comfortingly as he nodded also. He turned back, leaning over the bar as he slid Harry the twenty and discretely muttered, ‘Flu.’
‘Well, you don’t appear to have the flu,’ said the Doctor. ‘And you say that you’re not feeling well?’
‘I reckon I feel well, by all accounts,’ said Dod. ‘But then, I also get to thinkin’ I don’t feel right. I guess I just feel wrong, some.’
“Wrong,” the doctor noted on his pad. He stared down then added the word “some” thinking this might be important, not that it was.
‘Well, you don’t appear to have the flu,’ the Doctor said again, not sure what else to say.
‘I never figured on it bein’ the flu,’ Dod twanged. ‘Though my friend Jim thought it the case.’
‘Jim Donaldson?’ said the Doctor. ‘Your age, son who marries far too often?’
‘That’s the one,’ said Dod.
‘He’s always in here,’ frowned the Doctor. ‘Trying to tell me he has the flu.’
‘He says he’s often caught with the flu,’ said Dod.
‘He never has the flu,’ said the Doctor. ‘He only comes in here so I’ll write him prescriptions for brandy.’
‘Figured you didn’t need no prescription for brandy,’ said Dod.
‘Oh, you don’t,’ said the Doctor. ‘But he seems to think that he does.’
‘But he drinks on the brandy all’a time,’ drawled Dod.
‘Oh, I know that. His liver’s in bad shape, but he doesn’t have the flu. He’s a nice man, though,’ said the Doctor.
‘No question to that,’ replied Dod.
The two men spent a few minutes nodding in silence, happy to reach this point where at least something had been established. The Doctor didn’t even bother to charge Dod, waiving his fee because he felt he’d been such little help.
A short time later, the Doctor stepped out to the waiting room to call in his next patient and he saw that Dod was still there, standing before the waiting room fish tank, nose almost pressed to the glass.
‘I never cry,’ muttered Dod, to either himself or the fish.
It was then that the Doctor called him aside, recommending he see a psychologist. Dod said that he might just do that and the Doctor smiled, feeling better that he’d managed to be of some help. It also made him feel less bad when he reneged and charged Dod the fee.
‘So you say that you just don’t feel right… And you say you never cry?’ asked the Psychologist.
‘Well, I know that I just don’t feel right,’ said Dod. ‘And I reckon I must have cried at some point, but I can’t figure when I last did.’
‘Everyone cries at some point,’ agreed the Psychologist.
‘But I can’t figure when I last did,’ said Dod.
‘Can you remember at least one time when you cried?’ asked the Psychologist.
Dod could in fact recall a time when he’d cried, back when he’d been 8 years old and his dog, Snapper, had died. He thought about how he’d held Snapper in his arms after he’d been hit by a car. He remembered how warm and limp the dog had been, how Snapper’s chest had risen and fallen against Dod’s chest, until soon only one chest was moving and the other was very still.
Dod opened his mouth to twang about all of this but instead he found himself talking about when he’d been 19, and his heart had first been broken. He talked of Angela, the girl with straw-blonde hair who’d left him for Devon McKillop, a local bully of Irish descent who’d had hair as red as Hades.
Not that Dod could figure on why that was important, but he talked about Devon’s red hair, the contrast it held to Angela’s straw-blonde locks when he’d first seen them kissing.
The Psychologist listened very patiently then he picked up his notepad and began to write a referral, saying, ‘I think you should buy a dog…’
‘I never cry,’ said Dod.
The Pet Store Man just stared blankly, wondering how this related to what sort of dog Dod wanted. They’d been through several breeds now and so far nothing had caught Dod’s eye. It didn’t help that every time the man asked, all Dod would say was that he didn’t feel right or that he’d never cry.
Things were looking rather grim after this long stalemate between them until Dod started to talk about Angela and how Devon McKillop had stolen her. When he mentioned the way their hair had looked together when he’d first seen them kissing the Pet Store Man’s eyes lit up, knowing just the right dog for Dod.
‘You’ll love her, she’s perfect for you!’ said the Pet Store Man, leading Dod down the back of the shop to show him the young pup he had.
She was a small, white terrier, with faint wisps of orange about her eyes that trailed down through her fur. She wagged her stubbed little tail upon seeing Dod, but even then her dark brown eyes seemed sad, staring up at Dod from beneath the fringe of fur over her eyes.
‘Those streaks,’ said the Pet Store Man, ‘the ones around her eyes… that’s actually from her tears. Well, not tears, but her eyes weep and the fluid’s actually acidic. That’s what gives her fur that orange colour.’
Dod picked the dog up and held her to his chest, feeling their two chests moving as one. He thought of Snapper, but instead spoke of Angela, telling the Pet Store Man that she’d had the sweetest smile he’d ever seen.
As he stood there with the dog in his arms, the dog’s eyes appeared to weep more so with every word that came from Dod’s mouth, talking about his lost love.
Dod had now had the dog for two months and still had yet to name her. It wasn’t that he was lost for a name because he’d in fact come up with countless prospects. The problem was that every name he thought of seemed to fit the dog very well, leaving him spoilt for choice.
He was talking about this with Jim in the pub when Jim tried to help matters by rattling off every name of the wives his son had had. He only complicated this, however, when he then moved on to failed fiancées, and further compounded the issue when he next moved on to girlfriends.
Dod was simply biding the time, nodding to every name Jim put forth, slouched in his chair with one hand at his beer and the other hand hanging loosely down to pat the dog by his side. Jim was still running though his list of names when Dod suddenly sat upright and raised his hand.
‘My dog don’t feel right,’ he told Jim.
‘How’s that?’ Jim asked.
‘I don’t know,’ said Dod, shrugging. ‘I reckon she just don’t feel right.’
‘Might be worms…’ said Jim, giving a sagely nod.
Dod could only shrug, knowing little about dogs and worms.
‘Yeah,’ said Jim with another nod, this time of quiet triumph. ‘It’d be worms… You know what’d get rid of worms,’ he began before Harry cut him off loudly.
‘You are not giving that dog brandy!’ Harry yelled.
‘I’ve got a prescription,’ Jim said in protest.
‘You do not!’ Harry snapped in return. ‘You wrote that damned thing yourself! Is your dog a bit out of sorts,’ he asked, looking over to Dod.
Dod only shrugged, letting his hand fall back to pet the dog. ‘She just don’t feel right, Harry,’ he said.
‘I’m telling you, it’s worms,’ said Jim before giving a small cough because he felt the need for a brandy.
‘Could be worms,’ Dod conceded. ‘Would worms make her not feelin’ right?’
‘Best take her to a Vet,’ said Harry.
‘Vet’d just give her some brandy,’ said Jim.
‘Oh, I’d never give her brandy,’ said the Vet. ‘Was it Jim who told you that? Jim Donaldson, has a son who marries far too often?’
‘That’s the one,’ said Dod.
‘He’s always in here,’ said the Vet, ‘trying to get me to give him worm tablets.’
‘And do you give him worm tablets?’
‘Oh, all the time,’ said the Vet.
‘But he don’t have no dog, if I recall proper,’ said Dod.
‘Doesn’t he?’ said the Vet. ‘I just always assumed he did.’
‘No, I reckon he don’t,’ said Dod.
‘His son might,’ suggested the Vet.
‘Or maybe one of them wives of his,’ Dod also suggested.
‘That could be a lot of dogs,’ said the Vet. ‘If each wife had a dog. Might explain all those worm tablets.’
‘I figure it would,’ said Dod.
‘Well…’ said the Vet, getting back to the point, ‘from what I can see there’s nothing wrong with your dog. It wouldn’t hurt to give her worm tablets, though. Just to be on the safe side.’
‘Should I start her on them today?’ Dod asked.
‘No rush,’ said the Vet, ‘she seems fine, despite your saying she doesn’t feel right. You might as well get the tablets from Jim, I’m sure he has plenty left.’
‘He never offered no tablets,’ said Dod.
‘But I’m betting he offered you brandy,’ the Vet said, giving a laugh. ‘Jim’s always been good like that.’
‘No question to that,’ replied Dod.
‘Reckon she still don’t feel right,’ said Dod, after giving the dog Jim’s tablets.
‘Maybe she’s got the flu then,’ said Jim. ‘Worm tablets won’t help the flu.’
‘But I reckon I don’t feel right either,’ said Dod. ‘What if I’m just set to thinkin’ she’s wrong as for me feelin’ not right myself?’
‘That’s called projection, Dod,’ said Harry from the bar.
‘I hear that brandy’s good for projection,’ said Jim.
Harry just shook his head.
‘I reckon it ain’t projection,’ said Dod. ‘And I reckon it ain’t the flu.’
‘Maybe you’ve got worms,’ said Jim.
‘Maybe I have,’ said Dod. ‘You reckon a bout of worms’d have me not feelin’ right?’
‘Take a worm tablet and brandy,’ said Jim.
‘Reckon it couldn’t hurt,’ said Dod.
‘I might do the same myself,’ said Jim. ‘In case it’s going around. The flu, I mean. Not the worms. I’m pretty sure I don’t have worms.’ His brow furrowed as he said this, as he wasn’t pretty sure at all.
Jim ordered two brandies, making each a double, just to be on the safe side. He set them down and started on his own, while Dod did likewise, swallowing down a worm tablet that may or may not have been originally meant for Jim’s son or one of his many wives and their possibly many dogs.
Dod was thinking about all those wives, all the dogs they might have had. He began to wonder if Angela had married Devon McKillop, and whether they had a dog. He looked down to his own dog and decided to name her Angela.
Then, feeling as though he’d almost cry but knowing that he wouldn’t, he took another worm tablet, hoping he’d one day feel right.