The old heeler sleeps on the verandah, twitching his ears occasionally to move the flies that land. His coat mottled black and grey, his head pure black apart from the white muzzle that tells his age.
The farmhands walk past him at sundown, dusty and sweating, grumbling as they kick off their boots.
The noise wakes the old dog, who stretches and groans before rising and padding through the door where he takes his place under the kitchen table.
He dozes again, lulled by the burr of human voices , the smell of food and the kitchen’s warmth.
His legs twitch as he dreams, young again, chasing and snapping at the heels of cattle. Eagerly looking to his master for approval and his next command. Mouth open grinning, panting as he waited expectantly.
Outside, the young working dogs, chained to their shelters, gulp down their food and settle to rest in the red dust.
The old dog waits under the table at his master’s feet. Eating the occasional chop bone dropped to him. His belly broad and swollen with rich food and rest.
His eyes close and he remembers hot dusty holding pens, Leaping across the backs of cattle, urging them up ramps and through races. The smell of the beasts, their fear and stress. The excitement of running alongside his master’s vehicle through the paddocks, searching for stray cattle, his sides heaving with exertion. The cool thrill of plunging into the stock dam.
He wakes as dinner finishes and follows the men out to the verandah. He lies, once again in his spot while the men put their boots back on.
“Alright for some,” grunts one.
“Yep,” replies another,” Wouldn’t know a hard day of work if it bit his arse.”
The men walk away towards their quarters,past the young dogs who strain at their chain, yapping and barking.
The old dog sighs and stretches.His master stands on the verandah, contemplating the cool night. He reaches down and rubs the old dog’s head.
“Good boy, old fella.”
The dog’s tail thumps against the floorboards.
“Good boy.”