THERE are certain video games where players must complete a string of challenges to claim a reward. Something that will help them. It’s often fun as the game lasts longer.
Nothing about this quest has been fun. Matt runs down Merchant’s Quay; his feet surely bleeding because he’s never been fit. The PlayStation is the reward. But there are moments where the challenges really aren’t worth it. Like now.
Because if Dodger dodges them again after asking out a waitress, rolling tyres, tearing up a floor, finding a dog walker, choosing to do the right thing, singing in public... Well, he’ll be on a mission to destroy every PlayStation in existence. Dodger turns the corner onto Parnell Place; they skip around a crowd at the pedestrian crossing, a worker pushing a trolley full of cardboard, and ignore the barking dogs cheering on Dodger’s escape. Show-off.
Barra almost loses balance, and he grasps the edge to straighten himself. Matt pushes him ahead. The sun is beating down, their Lynx scent all but evaporated and their shirts stick to their skin like melted cheese in a toasted sandwich. They’re weak, dizzy, blistering, bodies completely banjaxed. But still going.
“I’m dead,” Barra huffs.
“You can be dead when I say so. Keep moving, Crunchie. Come on, pump those legs.”
Dodger stops at the bottom of Oliver Plunkett, sniffs, seems to give everything the all-clear, and continues on.
They look down the street and it’s like they’re in the Olympics. Fecking length of the thing.
Matt holds his sides. He can’t give Barra much credit after today, but he is the fitter one.
“Here.” He hands over the leash, wheezing. “You’ve to catch him.”
“Yes, you can. Right behind you. PS5. Go.”
They set off, shifting between limping and sprinting, hands slicing, legs buckling. All the way, past the Old Oak and Oliver Plunkett, right down to the GPO, where cries of ‘Echo!’ bellow down the street as they hobble past people flicking through the paper, folding it up and tucking it between ribs and elbow. Until they see Dodger, licking around the blockish seats.
Barra stops, his chest heaving, and he blinks, rubbing his nose. He lets the leash sway against his legs and reaches out a hand.
Matt catches up. Dodger extends his neck, sniffs Barra, which must be an awful stench by now, then retreats again. Barra steps forward.
“Good boy. Easy. Tis alright, like.”
Dodger sniffs again and comes forward, one tiny step at a time. They meet and he sniffs Barra’s pants. Barra pats his head, his hand trembling, then relaxing into a scratching rhythm behind the dog’s ear. Jesus, fair play. Dodger sits, wagging his tail. Barra clips on the lead.
“Told you I wasn’t scared.”
“Yeah. Terrified, more like.”
They sit down, Dodger between them and licking the sweat from their faces. The uniform will stink no matter how much Mam washes it.
“Now I hate dogs and you like them.”
Barra stands and drags Matt up. He takes out a ham and cheese sandwich and rips it in three.
“Think we still have time.”
They cut through Winthrop Street onto Patrick Street and jog over to the bus stop. A 208 pulls up and they bounce up and down in the queue until they reach the top.
“Guide dog?” The bus driver asks.
“Yes,” Matt says.
“No,” Barra admits.
The driver points at the street.
“Ah, come on. He got on for free earlier.”
“Two seventy so.”
“What? For real?”
“He’s an adult, ain’t he?”
Matt pays for three tickets, his leap card in the minus. Not seeing a bus for at least two weeks will do no harm at all.
They wince in their seats. Everything creaks and aches and an older couple look pitifully at them. The bus takes off and he checks his phone.
Will they make it?