• Carolyn

Tartan, the bulldog - A story

Updated: Dec 24, 2020


I recently took part in an international creative writing competition. And before you ask, no, I didn't win.

The competition was online, and it took place over two weeks. A prompt was provided at 6am each day. A story relating to that prompt had to be uploaded within 24 hours, after which no changes were possible.

One day, the prompt was the following, upsetting image: 'Imagine you find your dog or cat, crucified, outside your house.'

The story had to be over 3,000 characters, including spaces.

Here is what I submitted. (Spoiler alert: there is no bloodshed).

Tartan, the Bulldog

There was this crazy girl next door, Alexa, who used to make rag dolls. Even though Alexa was nine, like me, we never played together. She spent all her time fashioning those dolls. They were incredibly detailed. With simple fabrics and a few beads and threads, she made wonderful likenesses of all the neighbours. I was so envious of her talent. There was Old Herbert, with his walking stick. Then there was Mandy, the baby across the road, with a bib, sitting in a cardboard pram. And Rocker the cook, who raced cars up and down the road – she made his likeness with a steering wheel in his hands, and with his long hair flying out behind. Everyone loved the dolls, and bought them from Alexa, and her savings grew rapidly.

Then Alexa branched out into the animal kingdom. She made likenesses of the pets on our road. First there was Duncan’s axolotl, easy to make because it had so little colour. She made it from bits of an old sheet, and its gills were six red feathers. Then she made Eric’s python. That was also quite easy, sewing together pieces of green carpet cut-offs, and adding patches over the top to produce a distinctive python pattern. The snake’s beady eyes were quite frightening. Eric loved it.

Then there was our dog. Alexa didn’t get our dog quite right. You see, we had a Scottish terrier called Tartan, and she made it with the face of a bulldog. The fact that Tartan had snarled at her when she was delivering the python was no excuse. I didn’t want to buy a Tartan likeness with a bulldog face, but my mother said we should encourage talent.

I grudgingly went next door, gave Alexa the money, and took the creation. But I was so angry that I tore off its head on the way home. I threw the bulldog head into the bushes across the road. Mother understood, at least I think she did. In any case, I never saw Tartan’s headless rag body again.

When Alexa heard about the decapitation, she was furious. From then on, all her animals were defective.

She remembered that when she was only five, old Norma had scolded her for stealing letters from her letterbox. Alexa made a cat for Norma. But instead of a pretty grey cat, Alexa gave it the face of a tiger. We all knew it was Norma’s cat, because it was the only cat on the road.

Norma refused to buy the cat. She told Alexa off in very strong terms. Next thing we knew, Alexa had crucified the tiger cat on a couple of Chinese chopsticks, right outside Norma’s house.

The tiger cat and the chopsticks shuddered in the cold October wind. Neighbours slowed down as they drove past, kids staring through car windows. Passing pedestrians inspected the structure curiously, then quickly glanced away. They hurried on, tightening their coats around their bodies.

The Changs became upset when they found that Alexa had taken a pair of their best chopsticks, ruining a perfectly good set. They were those red lacquered ones, with the fake ivory inlays, that they used every night for dinner. The Changs simply could not understand what had gotten into Alexa. They'd been so happy with the rag doll that Alexa had made for their daughter Meiling, with its straight dark hair and jet black eyes, and beautiful cheongsam.

Mother ignored all the gossip and admired the excellent needlework on the tiger head, praising Alexa's handiwork every evening at mealtime.

Norma refused to talk about it.

Eventually the street-sweeper, deciding that the whole exercise was in very poor taste, swept up the ragged remains and tipped them into the rubbish bin, where they swirled around in a pile of autumn leaves as the bin was wheeled away, disappearing down the road.

After that, Alexa stopped making dolls, her family left the district, and things returned to normal.

Over the years, the neighbours rearranged their lives. Rocker ended up marrying Old Herbert's granddaughter, Meiling Chang became the local doctor, and Norma opened a cat refuge. Mandy's still at university studying law.

Alexa was only ten years old when her family moved to California, but even now, so many years later, I only have to think of Tartan, and those old emotions of fury and impotence flood over me. I hear the tearing of the fabric as I decapitate him, I feel the force in my arm as I throw away the bulldog head, and I sense the satisfaction as pieces of stuffing fall into the gutter, are caught in eddies, and flow down the drain.

But then I remind my adult self that the only time I think of Tartan is when I open the pages of Vogue or Harpers Bazaar, and see one of Alexa's astounding creations on a famous model. I wonder, then, whether that flood of emotion for Tartan is really the rage of envy.


Recent Posts

See All

Subscribe to my occasional newsletter

 Subscribe to my occasional newsletter

        © 2020 Carolyn Kerr