‘Dead Dog’ by Philip Ó Ceallaigh

‘Dead Dog’ is one of the most uncomfortable stories here because of its intense physicality but also because the margins of hope are so narrow. The protagonist is a failing Irish writer living in Bucharest with no money, in a run-down apartment block, trying to look after his young daughter after her mother has left them. He has written a “dead-end book” which has been refused by his publisher and his editor has abandoned him. But he is a man who can’t help taking on responsibilities he can barely meet, like arranging to remove the corpse of an old neighbour’s dog from the basement because people are complaining about the smell. Literally scratching around, collecting bits of scrap metal to raise money to pay the disposal company, every move he makes is draining and painful in the sweltering Romanian summer. The reader feels it too – the heat, the smells, the sheer effort of doing anything at times, are relentless. But there is some hope in the end, in the writer’s attempts to do the right things in the hardest circumstances, and particularly in his relationship with his daughter:

“When the child was born and he first held her, he felt he was good enough to protect her and do only what was right. That was love, and nothing else held the foolish precarious world together.”

Collected in Trouble, Stinging Fly Press, 2021

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