I felt like it was time for another short story from Alistair MacLeod’s Island collection, and thought it would be nice to find one appropriate for summer. So I chose As Birds Bring Forth the Sun – sounds summery, right? (I can hear those of you who know this story laughing at me already.) How wrong I was. This is more of a ghost story than anything else; a haunting tale passed down through generations.
Not only is it ghost-y, but it’s also horribly sad with a terribly graphic and heartbreaking scene of brutality. Why did I go on? Because the cadence of his writing lured me on with the hope of good things to come. Once you get past the first part of the story, it gets easier to bear. Ghosts aren’t nearly so bad as attacking dogs and dead fathers.
Once there was a family with a Highland name who lived beside the sea. And the man had a dog of which he was very fond.
The dog became known as “the big grey dog”.
One spring, when she was pregnant for puppies, she disappeared and did not come home. Some time later the man was out on the water with his sons. They came to an island on which had been living the big grey dog. She fell on him with joy as she used to do, but when her offspring saw what she was doing, they misunderstood and came to her “rescue”. (I’ll spare you the grisly details.)
Since then, it has been said, that when a descendant of the man who loved the dog is near death, a vision of the big grey dog shows itself to them.
In the deaths of each generation, the grey dog was seen by some – by women who were to die in childbirth; by soldiers who went forth to the many wars but did not return; by those who went forth to feuds or dangerous love affairs; by those who answered mysterious midnight messages; by those who swerved on the highway to avoid the real or imagined grey dog and ended in masses of crumpled steel… Many of the man’s descendants moved like careful haemophiliacs, fearing that they carried unwanted possibilities deep within them.
Even those who are most sceptical, like my oldest brother who has driven here from Montreal, betray themselves by their nervous actions. “I avoided the Greyhound bus stations in both Montreal and Toronto,” he smiled upon his arrival, and then added, “Just in case.”
This might not end up being my favourite story of the bunch, but let’s hope I’ve gotten the most dismal out of the way early on.