Mystic Graham

by Eileen Gilmour



Sam always did his best thinking on the top of Goose Hill. He lay on his back on his favourite UFO-spotting rock and cuddled Graham against his chest. It was a miracle really, that a three-legged dog could ever make it up Goose Hill, but as well as being mystic Graham had a determined streak.

Sam screwed up his eyes and allowed his mind to drift. The best thing about thinking was that you didn't stutter in your head. He just hoped that when the aliens came they communicated by mind-reading. It was possible they might come today - a dirty paintwater day when no one would notice.

Today was special. Sam had dressed carefully. He'd dug out a Homer Simpson T-shirt, baggy shorts and a matching pair of grey socks and scrubbed them in bleach in the kitchen sink. He'd made enquiries about an iron but Dad just shrugged and carried on saving the world on his computer. The ironing had stopped on the day Mum disappeared. Stuff had been pretty crumpled since then. Except for this summer of course.

Sam's eyes burned. He held on tight to Graham. Today was a day for very serious thinking...


It was Mrs Jellicoe next door who'd first noticed Graham's special powers. She read tea leaves on a part-time basis and bred clouds of fluffy Bichon Frise puppies. Sam had wanted one more than anything but Dad just said, "I can't be doing with all that poncy pedigree business. I'll get you a proper lad's dog."

And he did. He gave a fiver to a man in the pub who'd got a greyhound for sale that wasn't winning races any more. They soon found out why.

Sam was a bit disappointed about the missing back leg at first but then Graham rested his bristly chin on his knee and gazed up at him with one of his wonky crossed eyes; one ear pricked and the other sticking out at right angles. Sam had just failed his maths project on symmetry so he felt an immediate bond.

"That dog sees things," said Mrs Jellicoe, leaning over the fence with a cotton wool pup under each arm and a smear of chocolate round her mouth. "See how close together his eyes are? That's the sign of a mystic, mark my words."

Mrs Jellicoe's suspicions were confirmed when Princess Margaret died. Graham, who usually fell into a deep snoring sleep across the bottom of Sam's bed, sat by the back door and howled through the night. The next morning it was the main story on the telly news. Princess Margaret had died peacefully in her sleep. Tony Blair sounded all choked up when he said she'd be remembered with a lot of affection.

"What did I tell you?" Mrs Jellicoe stood in the kitchen doorway with a casserole dish and a gap-toothed smile. "That dog's in tune with momentous events."

Sam's dad snorted into his Coco Pops. "More like bellyache after that vat of semolina you brought round. You coming in or what?"

"You're such a charmer, Kev. I don't know why I bother." Mrs Jellicoe winked at Sam as she shuffled over to the table, pushed a pile of newspapers and junk mail out of the way and plonked down the casserole. "Beef and garlic this week, boys. This'll put hairs on your chest."

Sam hoped she was right. That'd show the tough kids who pushed him in the playground.

Mrs Jellicoe bent down to tickle Graham who was catching up on his sleep under the table. "Don't you worry, Grahamy boy, your Auntie Trace can see things as well."

"Perhaps Auntie Trace would like to see the door on her way out then."

Sam nibbled his charcoal toast and flinched. He couldn't bear it when his dad was rude to Mrs Jellicoe. She couldn't help being fat and psychic.

Graham's tail thudded as he slurped his tongue over Mrs Jellicoe's apple face.

"Flippin' dragon breath - you want to brush his teeth, young Sammy. Come round to mine now and I'll give you a special toothbrush and check your tea leaves."

Sam jumped to his feet and raised his eyebrows at his dad.

"Bloody Mystic Meg. Go on if you must."

Sam whistled Graham and they scampered off after Mrs Jellicoe. It was the other half of their semi but it was like a different world in her house. It smelt of polish and hot cakes and the kitchen tiles were all sparkly. You could write your name in the chip grease in Sam's kitchen and he often did.

"Come on in and park your bum." Mrs Jellicoe bustled around clattering cups and arranging homemade crumbly biscuits on a china plate while a flurry of yapping pups chewed at her slippers. "Now drink your tea and we'll see what your future's got in store." She pulled up a stool next to Sam at the breakfast bar and stroked Graham's bony head. Graham closed his eyes and let out a long shuddering sigh. Sam knew how he felt. There was something about Mrs Jellicoe that made you feel better.

"Thank you." Sam formed his words carefully as he passed his empty cup. He didn't normally speak much, not since his mum disappeared three years ago.

He remembered her pale and sleepy in the big bed in the dining room. She told him she'd been to the hospital to have something taken out but it was okay because she could manage without it. He'd just started school then and one dismal Monday he came home to find the bed had gone. His mum had gone as well and no one ever mentioned her after that. It was hard to talk to his dad. He didn't do hugs or tear-wiping. He was more of a plug-it-in sort of dad.

"My goodness, Sammy, your future's looking dead exciting!" Mrs Jellicoe peered into his cup. "I can see that you might be moving house soon - not very far away but it'll be great."

Sam's eyes widened. "G-g-graham?"

"Oh don't you worry, Graham will be going as well. In fact there'll be loads of dogs and a fab new auntie to look after you." Mrs Jellicoe squeezed his hand. "Do you think you'd like that, Sammy?"

Sam could hear his heart pounding. Mumbo jumbo his dad called it, but he knew Mrs Jellicoe wouldn't lie to him.

There was silence for a moment and then Graham scrambled up on the squashy sofa in the corner, rolled over on his back and started to snore.

"You see, Graham knows. He's chosen his bed for when he moves in."


On the day before the Queen Mother died, Mrs Jellicoe married Sam's dad in a quiet ceremony at Hereford register office. The wedding night was less quiet. Graham sat by the back door and howled at the moon. Sam sat with him and wondered who was going to disappear this time.

"We've lost a symbol of Britain's decency and courage," announced Tony Blair next morning, sounding even more upset than when Princess Margaret died.

It was funny sitting round Mrs Jellicoe's table and seeing her and his dad in matching white towelling dressing gowns. Almost like a proper family.

"Now come on, Kev, you have to admit that dog's psychic." Mrs Jellicoe took a huge bite of croissant and strawberry jam oozed down her chin.

"What planet are you on, you daft bat."

Mrs Jellicoe laughed, spitting crumbs all over the table, and hit him with the tea cosy. "I knew I should have waited for Johnny Depp. A fine honeymoon this is turning out to be."

They were interrupted by the post thudding onto the mat and the usual display of histrionics from Mrs Jellicoe's Candyfloss as she shot off into the hall to try and maim the postman.

Kev jabbed a finger. "I don't know about psychic - your precious Fluffybum's a bloody psycho!"

Sam watched and wondered. Did they really like each other? Certainly his dad smiled and shaved more these days but he didn't call her darling or hold her hand. Their old house next door was up for sale (Chip Fat Villa as Mrs Jellicoe called it) and they'd moved most of their stuff in but Sam still couldn't quite believe it was forever.

"Let's do something fab this afternoon," said Mrs Jellicoe. "Let's load up the dogs and drive to the beach for a picnic."

Sam wriggled in his chair. This was more like it. This was the sort of thing families did.

"Get a grip, woman." Kev drained his Bucks Fizz. "It's flippin' freezin' and we're not exactly on the coast."

But Mrs Jellicoe wasn't listening. She was already boiling the eggs for the sandwiches.

Sam was in charge of the dogs. He packed towels and biscuits and water, then did his special whistle and Graham and Candyfloss and her pups raced after him to Mrs Jellicoe's big red estate car parked on the front drive. The Jellicoe dogs knew all about outings and they piled into the back like an explosion in a cotton wool factory, but this was a new experience for Graham. Sam turned to help him in but Graham lowered his head and backed awkwardly away.

"G-g-graham?" Sam held out his hand. A low warning growl rumbled through Graham's skeletal body and he curled back his lip, showing pointed yellow teeth.

"Don't touch him." Mrs Jellicoe stood on the step with the bulging cool bag. "He's seeing something."

Graham was doing serious wolf impressions now. His hair was standing on end as though it had been gelled.

Sam felt his legs turn wobbly - this was a new Graham and he didn't know what to do. He wouldn't bite, surely?

"It's not you he's growling at, Sammy love - it's the car. Just stand still a mo." Mrs Jellicoe tiptoed down the drive making cooing noises. Graham swung round as though he was going to jump at her, then seemed to think better of it and slunk off into the house with his tail clamped firmly between his leg and his stump.

"Well I never!" Mrs Jellicoe threw her arms round Sam. "You all right, lovey?"

He nodded but was glad of a hug. He just hoped the tough kids across the road weren't watching.

Sam's dad swaggered out wearing his new leather jacket and a jaunty scarlet baseball cap. "What the hell's going on now?"

"Change of plan, Kev. We'll have to go in your minging old rust bucket. Graham's had a premonition about my car."

"Graham's had a what?"

"One of his premonitions - we can't just ignore it. Not after Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother. How would you feel if we all ended up dead in a ditch?"

Kev rolled his eyes. "Bloody fed up."

Sam was surprised that his dad didn't shout. He was even more surprised when he noticed him squeeze Mrs Jellicoe's arm.


The trip to the seaside was the first of many fab outings, as Mrs Jellicoe called them. Sam's favourite picnic spot was up Goose Hill where they all played tracking games and hide-and-seek in the undergrowth. One afternoon his dad and Mrs Jellicoe stayed hidden in the bushes for ages but Sam didn't worry- he felt safe with Graham to look after him.

They always went in Kev’s car. Mrs Jellicoe stopped using her red estate after Graham's premonition. She said she'd seen a similar warning in the tea leaves herself so they'd just have to sell it. Kev said she was bloody bonkers but he still didn't shout.

Sam noticed a big change in his dad. Mrs Jellicoe seemed to have cast a spell over him. He was still rude of course but in a jokey way and he stopped playing killing games on his computer and dropping cigarette ends in his coffee. The only bad thing was he stank of soap and after-shave.

"Is everybody happy?" asked Mrs Jellicoe one drowsy afternoon at the end of August. They were sitting on the riverbank eating chicken salad and drinking ice-cold lemonade.

"Dead happy, thanks, Aunt Trace." Sam bit into a plump juicy tomato and closed his eyes. He could almost feel his taste buds exploding into life after all those years of being coated in yellow fur.

"I'm very happy love."

Sam squinted through his lashes and saw his dad smiling at Mrs Jellicoe in a way he'd never seen before. He reached out a hand to stroke Graham, who was snoozing in the sun beside him and felt his hand being thoroughly licked.

I might remember this moment forever, thought Sam.


That night Graham howled by the back door until he was hoarse. Sam shivered and held him close. He could feel Graham's bones vibrating through his own body. It went on until dawn when Mrs Jellicoe crept down the stairs and made tea and toast.

"Who?" asked Sam.

"I don't really know, love, but Prince Philip's been looking a bit peaky lately."

Graham paced up and down the kitchen on his three legs, refusing to settle. Sam was so weary he wanted to cry.

"I tell you what," said Mrs Jellicoe. "You go back to bed for a bit and I'll give Graham an early morning walkie. Don't you worry; he'll be fine with me."


It wasn't the riverbank moment that Sam would always remember. It was the sound of the doorbell and his dad screaming.

Throwing himself out of bed and down the stairs, the words punched all the breath from his body.

"Terrible accident."

"Killed outright."

"And the dog."


The light was beginning to fade over Goose Hill. Sam finally came to the end of his thinking and wiped his wet face with Graham's old blanket. His nose and throat were suddenly full of Graham and he held his breath until he thought he might faint.

He'd felt the blood pounding in his ears all through Mrs Jellicoe's funeral the day before. A celebration of her life, they'd called it, and there'd been a lot to celebrate. Tony Blair hadn't said anything though.

He stroked the carved wooden box. It was hard to believe that so much dog could fit in such a small space. He was symmetrical now, all right.

If only Graham and Mrs Jellicoe had been a bit more mystic, they'd have known it wasn't the red estate car they had to fear but the postman in his van with the faulty brakes. Perhaps little yapping Candyfloss had been the psychic one after all.

Sam made a decision. He pressed the box against his lips. Then he scattered Graham's ashes over the UFO landing strip.

It was hard to know what else to believe in now.

©2008 Eileen Gilmour

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