The Black Dog came in the night. He came in a cloud – he was the cloud. A huge cloud that covered the city. And the city – the air above the city – became even darker. For just a while. Then the black cloud got smaller, and smaller. Until it was a small cloud that sank lower to the ground, and its shape became doglike and the doglike shape became a dog.
The Black Dog of Depression had invaded the city of Dublin. No humans noticed.
But the animals did.
The city’s pets tried to warn their owners but the humans weren’t listening. A bark was a bark, and a mew was just a mew.
The Black Dog crept through the city’s streets. He slid along the shadows and made no noise at all. He slid and crept, and sneaked into houses and flats – wherever he could find the humans.
The city’s dogs hated what was happening.
Dublin loves dogs. And the city’s dogs know they’re lucky.
‘All this food and water!’ said a dog called Sadie. ‘Oh my God! And all I have to do, like, is wag my tail and remember to pee and, like, poo in the garden.’
‘I forget sometimes,’ said a second dog, called Chester. ‘Me too, like,’ said Sadie.
‘The only thing I have to do,’ said Chester, ‘is pretend I’m happy when my owner comes home from work.’
‘Do you have to pretend?’ Sadie asked. ‘Sometimes,’ said Chester.
‘Oh my God,’ said Sadie. ‘I never do.’
‘Aren’t you great?’ said Chester, a bit sarcastically. (Dogs, especially Dublin dogs, can be very sarcastic. Just listen very carefully to the barks, especially early in the morning.)
The dogs knew: there was only one way to stop the Black Dog of Depression. But all they could do was watch as the Black Dog started to prowl in the night and move in closer to the humans. It was horrible to see how he could become part of the air and slide into houses. How he could change the mood, kill laughter and wipe smiles from faces that had been smiling for years. How he could change sleep from a pleasant dream into a nightmare.
The two dogs, Chester and Sadie, lived very near each other. They were almost next-door neighbours. There was only one house between theirs, and it belonged to a man called Ben Kelly. They both liked Ben. He didn’t have a dog of his own but he always treated them well, whenever he saw them going for a walk or barking at him through the windows of their houses. They both liked sitting on the backs of the couches in their front rooms.
‘Oh my God!’ said Sadie. ‘Do you do that as well?’ ‘I do, yeah,’ said Chester.
‘That’s, like, amazing!’ said Sadie. ‘Passes the time.’ Chester shrugged.
Ben lived alone, but there were always people coming and going. There was always music and laughter. And there were two children that the dogs liked. Two kids who used to come to Ben’s house. They called him Uncle Ben.
‘What’s an uncle?’ Sadie asked Chester.
‘Don’t know,’ Chester admitted. ‘But I think it might have something to do with chips.’
‘Yeah,’ said Chester. ‘He buys them chips whenever they come to the house.’
The children, a boy and a girl, loved their Uncle Ben. And it was clear Ben loved them. But then the Black Dog slid into Ben’s house – and hundreds, thousands, of other houses. He came at night, hiding in the darkness. Dogs, and most other animals, love the night-time.
It’s the time when they can be themselves, when they can do most of their barking and howling. They’re not expected to wag their tails forever or to fetch sticks and stupid plastic toys. People go to bed, and their pets can secretly relax. It’s a magic time, when the daylight rules wobble and the humans don’t pay as much attention.
Unusual events seem normal or don’t get noticed. Two talking dogs might actually be two human voices carried in the wind. A black dog-shaped shadow creeping up the stairs is probably the moon behind the tree outside in the front garden.
It made the city’s animals angry that the Black Dog used the night to spread his poison. But they knew there was nothing that Sadie or Chester or any of the city’s other dogs and pets could do to stop him.
Only the city’s kids could do that.
Gloria Kelly lay in bed. She was wide awake. She knew her brother, Raymond, was too. She could tell by the way he was breathing. It was awake breath. He was lying there, thinking and listening. Sleep breath was different. It was longer and lighter, less in and out.
‘Rayzer?’ she whispered.
Raymond didn’t answer. But she didn’t care.
She liked sharing the bedroom. Although she knew Raymond didn’t. She didn’t care about that either. She could like it in secret. She didn’t have to tell him.
She’d been moved into Raymond’s room when their Uncle Ben had come to live with them. For a while. That was what her mam and dad had said. Uncle Ben would be staying ‘for a while’. At first her mother had called it ‘a little while’. But the ‘little’ had disappeared when Uncle Ben kept staying, and Gloria began to think that her bedroom wasn’t hers any more. And Raymond, she supposed, began to think the same thing. His room had become their room.
She looked into her room sometimes, when her Uncle Ben wasn’t in there. He hadn’t done anything to it. He hadn’t touched her pictures or her other stuff. It was still pink, nearly everything in it. The only really new thing in the room was her Uncle Ben’s smell. It was kind of an adult smell. A mixture of soap and sweatiness. There were none of his clothes lying around, and just one book that wasn’t hers. She’d looked at the cover but it had looked boring, about a war or something. Except for the fact that she didn’t sleep or play in there any more, it was still Gloria’s room. So maybe her Uncle Ben really was only staying for a while – but the while was a bit longer than they’d expected.
He still wouldn’t answer.
She didn’t like her bed. It wasn’t a real bed. It was just a mattress on the floor. She’d liked it at first. It had been fun, nearly like camping. But not now. Her face was sometimes right against the wall, low down, at the skirting board, nearly where it joined the floor. It was cold there. Always – even when the rest of the room was warm. And she could hear things sometimes – she thought she could. Behind the skirting board.
Gloria wished she had her own bed back. That was all she missed really. She had her duvet and her pink cover. But it wasn’t the same.
She said it a bit louder. Nearly proper talking.
Maybe he was asleep. She kind of liked that, the fact that her big brother had fallen asleep before her.
She tried again. ‘Rayzer?’
‘Are you not asleep?’
‘That’s a stupid question.’
‘I bet you were asleep,’ said Gloria. ‘And I woke you.’
‘I wasn’t,’ said Raymond.
‘Bet you were,’ said Gloria. ‘Prove it.’
‘Easy,’ said Raymond. ‘You said “Rayzer” four times.’
She heard him moving, turning in his bed. ‘Didn’t you?’
‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I think. Why didn’t you answer?’
‘Didn’t want to.’
‘I knew that,’ said Gloria. ‘I knew you were awake.’
‘What d’you want?’
‘Can you hear them?’ said Gloria. ‘Yeah.’
Gloria was talking about the grown-ups. Her mam, her dad, her granny and Uncle Ben. They were down in the kitchen. Raymond’s bedroom was right on top of them.
‘They’re mumbling again,’ Gloria whispered.
‘Yeah,’ said Raymond.
The house was full of mumbles these days. Mumbles that often stopped whenever Raymond or Gloria walked into the room. Mumbling was what grown-ups did when they thought they were whispering. Whispers only stayed in the air for a little while but mumbles rolled around for ages, in the high corners, along the window frames, all around the house. The mumbles had almost become creatures. Gloria imagined she could see them. They were made of dust and hair, pushed into a ball, with skinny legs that barely touched the walls and ceilings as they slid along the paint and glass and wood.
The mumbling had started when their Uncle Ben had come to live with them. Or just before he came. Gloria didn’t like the mumbles. They worried her. But she didn’t blame her Uncle Ben for them.
Neither did Raymond. He didn’t like having to share his bedroom with Gloria, but he didn’t blame his Uncle Ben for that either. Gloria was a pain in the neck – and in other places too. But Raymond knew all little sisters were like that. It was one of the rules of life. And sometimes sharing the bedroom wasn’t too bad. Like now. Raymond had always been a bit afraid of the dark. Just a small bit. He was nearly two years older than Gloria, so he went to bed half an hour after her. It was a quarter of an hour for each year. That was the rule, his dad had told him.
‘Who made the rule?’ Raymond had asked his dad.
‘The government,’ his dad had answered. His dad thought he was funny.
Anyway, when Raymond had gone up to bed he’d always left his bedroom door open a bit, so that light from the kitchen downstairs could get in and push away some of the darkness. He’d hated it when he saw Gloria’s door closed, with her stupid sign: ‘Keep Out – I Mean U! XX’. Because Gloria wasn’t scared of the dark. And that made Raymond feel terrible, and ashamed.
Now, with Gloria sharing the bedroom, Raymond wasn’t really scared of the dark any more. And he didn’t have to say anything about it, or be grateful or anything. It was just a fact.
‘Mumble, mumble, mumble,’ said Gloria now.
Raymond did a deep, man mumble. ‘Mummm-bull.’
Gloria did a lady one. ‘Mimm-bill, mimm-bill. Know what we should do, Rayzer?’
‘Sneak down, under the table.’
It was the night before Saint Patrick’s Day. There was no school the next day, and they’d already been allowed stay up later than usual.
Gloria heard Raymond getting out of his bed.
She stood up on the mattress.
Gloria and Raymond had this secret thing, a game. They’d sneak back downstairs – only at the weekends – after they’d been sent to bed, and only when the grown-ups were in the kitchen. It didn’t really work in the other rooms. They’d sneak down the stairs and along the hall. They’d creep into the kitchen on their hands and knees, or sliding along on their bellies. They’d crawl in under the table, and they’d stay there. For as long as they could.
They couldn’t touch the adult feet, or they’d be caught and the game would end and they’d be sent back up to bed. The first time they did it, they’d only lasted two minutes and fourteen seconds because their dad moved his foot and felt something.
‘There’s a dog under the table,’ he said. ‘But we don’t have a dog.’
Then they saw his big face, upside down, looking at them.
‘Messers,’ he said. ‘Get back up to bed.’
Their mam grabbed and tickled them when they were climbing out from under.
It became something they did nearly every Friday and Saturday night. It was brilliant, because their parents always forgot. And their granny – she forgot too. But their granny forgot nearly everything, so she didn’t really count.
One night, when they had been under the table for thirty-seven minutes and fifty-one seconds,
Raymond and Gloria realized something at the exact same time: their parents knew they were there. They were in on the game. In fact, it had become their game, pretending they didn’t know their kids were under the table. Their parents owned the game, not Gloria and Raymond.
It was the way their mam and dad were talking to each other – that was the giveaway. And what they were saying.
‘Here, Pat,’ said their mam. Pat was their dad. Their mam’s name was Una. ‘You know the way Gloria and Raymond are asleep in their beds?’
‘I do,’ said their dad.
‘Well,’ said their mam. ‘Will we eat the chocolate we hid in the secret place where they’d never, ever find it?’
‘Good idea,’ said their dad. ‘They’ll never know.’
It wasn’t funny, and not because Gloria thought there was a hiding place for chocolate that she’d never found. (She didn’t.) What wasn’t funny was the fact that the game was over – Raymond and Gloria been caught. Actually, they might have been caught ages ago but they hadn’t noticed. Their parents, even their granny, had been playing with them, like three cats with two mice.
Raymond and Gloria got out from under the table.
‘Oh, look,’ said their mam.
‘Were you under the table?’ said their dad.
‘All the time?’ said their mam.
‘Ha ha,’ said Raymond. ‘I don’t think.’
Gloria had cried. She hadn’t meant to. Her parents never really teased her. But it felt like they’d been teasing her for ages – for ever – and she’d only just found out. She hated being teased. She hated it.
Her parents knew they’d gone too far, and they felt guilty. Gloria sat on her dad’s lap while her mam made them all hot chocolate.
‘Time for bed,’ said their mam, when the chocolate was finished.
Gloria’s dad kissed the top of Gloria’s head, then Raymond’s.
‘You can sneak under the table any time you want,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ said their mam. But they didn’t.
Not for ages.
Weeks. Months. Nearly a year.
Their parents missed it – Raymond and Gloria could tell.
‘Make sure you stay in bed now,’ said their dad, the next Friday night.
They stayed in bed.
‘No sneaking under the table tonight,’ he said the following night.
They stayed in bed.
‘Did you fall asleep last night?’ their dad asked Raymond on Sunday morning.
‘I fall asleep every night,’ said Raymond. ‘Can you pass the milk, please?’
Raymond and Gloria both agreed. They’d never sneak downstairs again – until they knew the game was theirs.
They even forgot about the game.
Then one day, a few days after Christmas, Gloria was in the kitchen and she dropped one of the charms from the new bracelet her granny had given her. It fell under the table and Gloria went in after it. And she remembered.
She said nothing until she was alone with Raymond.
‘Hey, Rayzer,’ she said. ‘What?’
He was playing tennis against himself on his new Wii.
‘Remember when we used to go under the table?’ said Gloria.
And they started again.
That night, they crept down the stairs, down the hall, into the kitchen, under the table. They stayed there when their parents and their granny stood up. They stayed when they heard their parents going up the stairs. And they waited.
‘They’ll catch us if they look into our rooms before they go to bed,’ Gloria whispered.
They heard the toilet. They heard taps going on, and off. They heard a cough, and gargling. They heard a laugh – their mother. They heard silence.
‘They didn’t check.’ They’d won.
And they won again, and again – and again. They crept and they slid, and they were sure their parents never knew. The best bit, the biggest triumph, was sitting under the table. For minutes. For more and more minutes. They stayed absolutely still. But it was hard. Their noses got runny, their ears got itchy. Burps climbed slowly up their throats and knocked at their teeth to get out. Their legs and bums went numb, then dead, then back to jumpy life. They bit their arms to stop laughing.
It went on for months and it got even better when their Uncle Ben arrived. Now they had to slide through four sets of feet and legs. Being under the table was like being in a cage, and the grown- up legs were like the iron bars. But these iron bars wore slippers or had holes in their socks, and some of them even had hair in the gaps between the socks and trousers. So it was funny – especially once, when Raymond leaned out and pretended he was going to pull one of the black hairs on their dad’s shin. There were the legs of the table too, and the chairs. They made the secret space under the table even more like a cage.
Sometimes Gloria didn’t like being small. But sometimes it was great, like when she was able to slide between the legs and sit with her hair just touching the underside of the table. Sometimes, when the grown-ups were drinking tea, she thought she could feel the heat from a cup coming through the table, on top of her head. It was nice, like a friendly hand. It made her feel relaxed, even when her legs were stiff and her mam’s knee was only a millimetre away from the tip of Gloria’s nose.
There was another thing about their Uncle Ben coming to stay. The grown-ups spent much more time sitting in the kitchen. Chatting, talking – and mumbling.
Chatting was when they were telling one another what they’d done that day, or what they were planning for the next day.
‘Add Krispies to the list there. Is there anything worth watching on telly?’
‘Your man is on.’
‘That fella who used to be on the other thing. The fella with the hair. You know him.’
‘Ah, you do.’
‘I don’t. What about his hair?’
‘It’s not his. It’s a rug.’
‘I’m not watching him.’
‘Who?’ was their granny’s favourite word.
Followed by ‘what?’
‘Add butter to the list too, love. We’re running out.’
‘I’ll tell you who has a rug, nearer to home. You know your man who’s going with my cousin Rita?’
‘That’s not a wig, is it?’
‘It is, yeah.’
‘How do you know it’s a wig?’
‘Gerry in work told me.’
‘How does he know?’
‘He grew up with him. The same road. He was bald for about five years before the wig arrived.’
‘Well, that’s what Paddy says.’
That was chatting. It was boring, but sometimes funny, sometimes deliberately funny but most times accidentally. Chatting and laughing usually went together.
Talking was like chatting, but a bit more serious. It was often about work, or money, or things that were happening in Ireland and the world.
‘We don’t need them.’
‘But they’re nice. You can’t have a cup of tea without a biscuit.’
‘Yes, you can. It’s easy, look.’
‘Ah now, we’d want to be in a bad way if we can’t have a biscuit with the tea.’
‘It doesn’t have to be these ones. There are cheaper biscuits.’
‘I like these ones.’
Sometimes Gloria and Raymond couldn’t tell if they were listening to talking or chatting. It was often hard to tell. A chat about the price of biscuits became a conversation about how people were having difficulty paying for all sorts of things –houses, clothes, heating – and about how the government was doing nothing. They weren’t chatting any more. They were talking.
Then something would happen. ‘Well, at least we have our health.’ ‘That’s true.’
‘Talking about health. Did you see the state of your man next door? He has a belly on him that’d stop the tide from coming in.’
‘And she hasn’t a pick on her.’
They’d be chatting again, and whatever they’d been talking about was forgotten.
‘That’s often the way, isn’t it? Fat fella, skinny girl.’
‘Or the other way round. Big girls aren’t exactly an endangered species.’
When their granny said ‘who?’ or ‘what?’, one of her dog slippers always jumped a bit, like it was talking too. It was really funny.
Sometimes, without Raymond or Gloria noticing – they were busy trying not to laugh or groan – the chatting would swerve back to talking. Talking often came with sighs and ‘I don’t know’s.
‘We’ll stay at home this year, will we?’
‘Here? In the house, like?’
‘We can go somewhere different every day. It’ll be nice.’
‘It could end up being as expensive as going somewhere for the two weeks.’
‘Not really. If we’re careful.’
‘I don’t know . . .’
‘It’ll be grand.’
‘Ah sure, Dublin’s great.’
That was their granny. Her slippers were jumping up and down.
‘Sure, they come from all over the world to see Dublin.’
‘God love them. Did I say sugar?’
‘On the list. Sugar. Is it there?’
Then there was mumbling.
Now, the night before Saint Patrick’s Day, as Gloria very carefully opened the bedroom door, they could hear the mumbling coming from downstairs.
‘Mimm-bill, mimm-bill,’ she whispered.
‘Mummm-bull,’ Raymond whispered back.
Mumbling was different. Chatting often changed into talking, and back to chatting. But mumbling was always mumbling. It was like a foreign language, heard through walls and floors.
Gloria held the door handle down as far as it would go. She pressed her other hand flat against the door as she pulled it open. This stopped the hinges from groaning. She opened the door slowly but without stopping or hesitating.
Raymond and Gloria didn’t like the mumbling. They didn’t understand it. But one thing about it was clear: mumbling was very serious. There was never any laughter mixed in with it.
They were on the landing now, about to creep down the stairs. They knew the stairs off by heart.
They knew the bumps and squeaks of every step. They could have gone up and down with their eyes shut and not holding the banister. Actually they did that quite a lot – because they’d been told not to. It was brilliant. Especially going down. They did it for practice, so it would be perfect when they were sneaking down at night. There was only one really loud step, the second one at the bottom. The noise it made – a long spooky metally groan – was caused by a loose nail under the carpet. They knew this because every time he heard the groan their dad would say, ‘That nail’s on my list for the weekend.’ He’d been saying it all their lives. Or sometimes, ‘That nail’s on my list,’ or just, ‘That’s on the list.’
It was a family joke. If any of them heard a groan, they’d say, ‘That’s on the list.’ It didn’t have to be a stairs. Anything that groaned, they said it. A metal gate, a wooden bench. They even said it when they heard a human groan.
Their Uncle Ben had fractured two of his ribs a few years before he’d come to live with them. He wasn’t wrapped in bandages, but he had to take it easy, stay in his house and do nothing. So they’d gone to visit him with some DVDs and grapes.
‘I’m grand, I’m grand,’ he kept saying.
But he’d groaned when he was sitting down. ‘That’s on the list,’ said their mam. ‘Oh God, sorry, Ben.’
They’d all started laughing, including Uncle Ben, even though laughing was agony for him, and even funnier – and even more agony.
There was only one big groan, but every step had its own small noises. Sometimes it felt like the stairs were a bit human. It was like walking down a nice giant, from the top of his head to his feet. He’d sigh and moan as they went, and then the last big groan on the second step – it was like the giant was pretending he was going to stand up and chase them down the hall.
Now they stepped right over the second step, first Gloria, then Raymond, so they wouldn’t wake the giant. But it was tricky. They had to make sure they didn’t put too much weight on the last step, because it had its own little squeak. If they went too quickly or went right over the last step, their feet would make too much noise when they landed on the hall floor.
They were there now, in the hall. So far, so good. They listened. The mumbles were still coming from the kitchen. No one had heard them. Mission accomplished – so far. It was eight steps to the kitchen door. These were easy to do because there were no squeaky floorboards. Gloria and Raymond could walk quietly over the rug. There was just one big problem. The kitchen door was always open.
They got down on the floor and started to slide. They didn’t mind things being serious. They knew that not everything could be funny. Laughing was only good when it was a bit of a surprise. They hated people who laughed all the time. They had an auntie called Deirdre who laughed at everything.
‘Good morning – HAHAHAHAHAHA!’ She laughed at absolutely everything. ‘We’ve no milk.’
‘No milk – HAHAHAHAHAHA!’
They hated her. They didn’t hate her. But they hated when she laughed and she never stopped, so it was hard not to hate her a bit too. She always called Gloria ‘Glory-Be-To-God’.
‘How’s Glory-Be-To-God – HAHAHAHAHA?’
‘It’s her nerves,’ their granny told them once, after Auntie Deirdre had laughed when Raymond told her that his goldfish had died. ‘She’s always been a bit nervous in herself,’ their granny explained. ‘She didn’t mean to be cruel. Here.’
‘Here’ was their favourite Granny word. It meant she was bending over to get her purse from her handbag, to give them money for sweets. Their mam called it bribery and she didn’t like it.
‘You’re spoiling them.’
Raymond and Gloria agreed, but they loved it.
Their granny agreed too, but she didn’t care.
‘Ah now, a bit of bribery never hurt anyone,’ she always said.
Anyway, Raymond and Gloria knew there was more to life than laughing. When chatting turned into talking, when the grown-ups started getting serious, they didn’t mind that. They knew that food and clothes cost money, and that holidays cost money, and the thing that their parents spoke about as if it was a snake getting ready to bite, the mortgage. They knew about the recession, even though they didn’t know exactly what it was. They watched the news sometimes with their parents, even though it was boring. But their parents liked them to watch it.
‘You’ll remember this,’ said Gloria’s mam as they watched people celebrating in Egypt.
‘Why will I?’ Gloria asked.
‘You just will,’ said her mam. Gloria was snuggled in beside her.
‘It’s a big event,’ said her mam. ‘A revolution.’
Her mam was probably right. Gloria saw things on the news, like the tsunami in Japan, and she knew she’d remember them for the rest of her life. Because they were often so scary and terrible. Or mad – like the woman throwing the cat into the wheelie bin in England. Gloria would never forget that.
But most of the news was about banks and politicians and people shouting, and the recession and the euro, and men who were older than their dad saying, ‘Let me explain. It’s quite simple.’
Gloria and Raymond knew it wasn’t simple and that sometimes chatting had to become talking. They didn’t mind – because they were allowed to listen. It wasn’t like mumbling. There was nothing secret about it. The times were hard and their mam and dad wanted them to know that.
They had to creep now, slither along the last bit of the hall, so no one in kitchen would see them. The kitchen door was always open. But never wide open. If they stayed on the floor, and if all the adults were sitting at the table, they could wriggle around the door and across the floor without being seen.
Raymond looked first. He waited, then stuck his head around the open door. They were all sitting down. He started to slide, and Gloria followed him.
Mumbling was different. Mumbling was private. The grown-ups only mumbled when they didn’t want the kids to hear what they were saying. Gloria and Raymond hated it. It wasn’t fair and it frightened them – a bit. But mostly it annoyed them.
They loved their Uncle Ben, but the mumbling had started just before he’d come to stay.
Gloria was following Raymond. Her face was nearly touching the soles of his feet. He was fast, but the really amazing thing was she couldn’t hear him. He could wriggle across the kitchen like an eel she’d once seen on the telly, moving through water.
There was a space at the end of the table, between Uncle Ben’s boots and their granny’s slippers. Raymond only needed a second. Gloria didn’t have to wait – she was right behind him. He slid in between the feet and sat up, under the table, and crossed his legs in tight. He did all this in what looked like one slick movement. And so did Gloria. Just like a seal – Gloria thought – sliding on to a rock in the zoo.
They sat there now, under the kitchen table, and waited.
Excerpted from Brilliant by Roddy Doyle. Copyright © 2013 by Roddy Doyle.
First published 2013 by Macmillan Children’s Books, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited, 20 New Wharf Road, London N1 9RR, Basingstoke and Oxford. Associated companies throughout the world http://www.panmacmillan.com.
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