To celebrate World Book Day we wanted to share an original short story written by Harriet Smith, we hope you enjoy her story and that it inspires you to write and read more!
By Harriet Smith
I stand outside the door to my backyard and put my hand out to touch the brick wall on my right. I slide my right foot back, put my right arm behind my hip and slide my right foot forward. Once I’m sure I am lined up, I take the handle of my guide dog Sparky’s harness and give him the command to go forward. He strides out and I can sense his confidence. I wriggle my fingers inside the sleeve of my jacket and try not to let him sense my nerves. Today of all days I can’t let that happen. When I feel the road drop down, I give him the hand signal and verbal command to go right, and breathe a sigh of relief when I feel him do so. We’ve got past that first bit, now it’s a straight line down towards the bus stop. I swing my right arm forward every few seconds, encouraging him to go straight on. I breathe anther sigh of relief when I feel us power down the hill that’s not far from the white gates. Once we’re at the bottom, I give him another command to go straight on. In what feels like no time at all, I hear the birdsong of the ornament blue tits which is my landmark so I know I’m at the white gates. Thank goodness they worked today. I hope things are going to stay that way.
“Find the step,” I say in a clear voice to Sparky once we’ve gone through the gates.
I keep repeating the command until I feel his front feet go up. I stretch my hand out and touch the dustbins to double check I’m at the bus stop.
“Good boy, Sparky,” I praise and fish out a treat from my jeans pocket. I feel his soft mouth against my hand as he takes it. “We’re waiting for the bus.”
I drop the handle of the harness on his back and take a tight grip of the lead. I hope we won’t have to wait for long. I listen to the cars whizz past, waiting for the low rumble of the bus engine. Five minutes go by and still it doesn’t come. I press my watch. It’s 9:18 Am. It should have arrived three minutes ago. Maybe it’s forgotten to pick me up again, like it did one time before I had Sparky. Sorry, I correct myself. Sparky isn’t officially mine yet. I must remind myself of that. I reach across and run my fingers down Sparky’s silky ears to calm myself. Then he gives a slight pull and wags his tail. I hear the low rumble that I’ve been anticipating. The bus is here. As it comes closer I tighten my grip on Sparky’s lead and wait for the driver to come and help me on.
We greet each other and she takes my right arm. I tell Sparky to go steady as we walk up the steps. Once I’m settled in my seat, I give him the command to lie down and put the lead under my leg. When I’ve checked he’s comfortable, I get my phone out and text my trainer Mitch to let her know I’m on my way.
As the bus rattles and judders along, I ask the driver if we’re picking anyone else up. She informs me we’re not. I put my hand down to pat Sparky’s head, and whisper to him that we’re on the bus. I get my phone out of my handbag and check it again. Still no response from Mitch. I try not to panic too much. Maybe she’s driving and isn’t in signal. I call her and it rings, but goes to voicemail. I leave her a short message, telling her I’m on the bus. I put my phone back in my bag and take some deep breaths. If she doesn’t make contact within the next ten minutes, I’ll just have to trust she’s there. I give Sparky another stroke, offering comforting words of reassurance as the bus bumps over a pothole. I run over the route in my head, making a mental note of landmarks that are particularly important to remember.
“We’re in Towcester, now,” the bus driver says.
“Ok, thank you,” I say and check my phone one last time. Still nothing. All I can do is hope Mitch got my message. I unfasten my seatbelt, take hold of Sparky’s lead and prepare to leave the bus. When it’s stopped moving, the driver comes over and helps me off, as usual. I wait for her before standing up with Sparky. When she takes my arm I get up and walk with Sparky to the door, telling him to go steady as we descend the steps. Once on the pavement I turn left, listening hard to make sure the sound of the traffic is also on my left. I take the handle of Sparky’s harness and stand still for a couple of seconds. Yes, the traffic is definitely on my left. I’m going in the right direction. I tell Sparky to go forward and we speed down Watling Street. I swing my arm, always encouraging him to go straight on. I breathe an inward sigh of relief when I feel the blister bubbles of the pelican crossing under my feet.
“Not now, Sparky. Straight on,” I say, raising my voice above the noise of the traffic.
We go straight past the crossing and carry on down the street. I catch a faint scent of the flower shop, another sign I’m going the right way. After a few paces, I feel Sparky put his head down and begin to sniff something on the ground. I immediately take the lead in my right hand and give it a sharp tug, known as the correction technique.
“No, Sparky,” I say in a fierce tone.
He doesn’t respond straight away, so I do it again a little harder. This time it works and he lifts his head up. We continue on our way.
Several moments later I feel the blister bubbles by the Estate Agents and direct Sparky to turn right. Now we’re going along the narrow pavement by the building site. I follow the harness carefully as Sparky guides me along the tight space. A lorry thunders past, but we battle on regardless. I feel for the steep slope down towards the road by the library. This distance always takes longer to walk than I think. Today though, it’s a little quieter from the noise of diggers than usual, which I am grateful for. Then suddenly the slope’s there and I feel the bubbles under my feet. I tell Sparky to wait, then command him to turn right. I begin to count nine paces in my head which is the distance I have to travel before I turn left and tell him to find the kerb.
“Would you like any help crossing the road?” a lady asks, interrupting me mid-count.
My heart quickens and I swallow hard, unsure what to do. This is what I was dreading would happen. My answer will unwind part of the breakable thread that stands between failure and passing. Two words could be about to snap it. If I was lost, I wouldn’t hesitate in accepting her help. If Sparky had tried to follow another dog and I was facing the complete opposite direction to where I’m meant to be going, then I’d do it like a shot. But none of these things have happened. I know I’m facing the road because I can hear the traffic ahead of me, the kerb is only a few steps away. But then I think of the future. If I decline the offer now, and I’m walking this route again with Sparky next time and I really do get lost, the lady might not bother asking. If there is a next time. Seconds are ticking by and I know I must make my decision.
“Would you like me to help you cross the road, dear?” the lady repeats herself.
Thank goodness she’s still there.
“Yes please, that would be very kind of you,” I say at last.
I tell the lady to take my right arm and I allow her to lead me towards the kerb. I put my right foot out and feel it in front of me. I tell Sparky to wait and I listen for traffic, as usual. It’s always so hard to judge with this road. When there’s a break in the traffic, I give Sparky the command to go forward although someone else is guiding me. As I haven’t crossed the road in my normal place I don’t feel the familiar kerb that I step up on the other side, and my feet hit the bubbles instead. But I know I’m heading roughly in the right direction so I let go of the woman’s arm.
“Thank you. I’ll be Ok now,” I say.
She asks me where I’m going and I tell her the library, willing her to leave me to it now. For a moment I’m terrified I’ve lost my bearings. I don’t think I need to tell Sparky to turn right because I didn’t indent when I was crossing the road. So I swing my arm and command him to go straight on, praying we’re still heading the right way. I could have already made one mistake, and if I make another it will almost certainly be the end of my life with Sparky. Well, if it is at least I’ve spent nine weeks with him and gained some first-hand experience of what it’s like to live and train with a guide dog, I think to myself. I’ll miss him dreadfully of course, miss planting him a soft kiss on his head last thing at night, miss the comforting sound of his breathing that helps me drift off to sleep. I’ll miss giving him a bear hug as soon as I wake up and the way he nudges his nose against my hand to let me know he’s there, and his sneaky trick of giving me his paw when he thinks nobody’s watching. Still at least I’ll have the memories, and no-one can take those away from me. Then I feel Sparky do a sharp left turn and my heart skips a beat. I’m almost there!
“Find the door,” I say.
I keep giving him this command until I hear a click and the first pair of automatic doors open, hitting my face with a draft of heat.
“Find the desk,” I say once we’ve gone through the second pair.
I repeat the command one more time and Sparky stops walking. I put my hand out and feel the desk beneath my fingers. I’ve reached my first destination, whatever the outcome.
“Such a good boy, Sparky,” I say and dig another treat from my pocket.
He takes it from me and it’s gone in an instant.
“Well done, Hannah! You made it,” Mitch says, coming over to me.
I smile and pull Sparky back as he tries to greet her. Mitch guides me across to the chairs nearby and I take a seat. Sparky lies at my feet, taking the opportunity to have a little snooze before we begin the final part of the journey. When I’m sitting down, Mitch informs me the manager Tony’s here, too. I feel confused, as a few days ago she’d told me that he couldn’t make it today after all and was going to come out at a later date.
“Yes, well I told a little white lie there,” Mitch says, laughing. “I thought if you didn’t know he was watching, you wouldn’t feel as nervous.”
I give a shy smile, knowing it wouldn’t have made any difference, but it was a kind thought nonetheless.
“Hello, Hannah. You did that walk brilliantly,” Tony says.
I thank him, but avoid asking the question I really want to know.
“I think we’ve left you in suspense for long enough,” Mitch says. “I bet you’re dying to find out if you’ve passed.”
I don’t say anything, but clutch Sparky’s lead between my fingers. Adrenalin rushes through my body and I can feel my heart pounding.
“Have you got a 50p piece lying around anywhere at home?” Tony asks. “If so, you might be needing it to pay for your very own guide dog.”
I leap up from my chair, almost letting go of Sparky’s lead.
“You mean I’ve qualified with Sparky?” I exclaim.
“Yes you have, Hannah,” Mitch says, hugging me. “Congratulations, you’ve worked incredibly hard to achieve this.”
Sparky wags his tail in a furious manner and it thumps against the chairs.
“Oh Sparky, I’ve done it! You’re really going to be mine,” I say, pulling him close to me and squeezing him tight.
I bend down and rub my cheek against his velvety ears.
“Did I do the right thing in accepting help at the road crossing?” I ask, composing myself.
“Yes, you definitely did. I know it seemed like a mistake to you, but situations like that are always going to happen, even when you’ve had Sparky for five years,” Tony says, laughing.
Despite myself, I know he’s right. It’s part of my life with Sparky. I’m not sure how on earth I’m going to walk back to the bus stop in this ecstatic state, but I’ll manage it somehow. Even if I do have to ask for help.