It started with a scream and ended with a bang.
The screaming was like an alarm clock. I was in bed when I heard my little brother Jack screaming out front. It was his turn to be up at dawn to feed the chooks. Next thing I heard Mum screaming and Dad storming through like a stampede in the hallway.
It was too damn early: I was still in my undies when I burst through the old screen door and ran out into the front yard that led to the paddock. Mum was on her knees holding Jack’s bleeding arm. He was crying and carrying on.
Then I saw Dad: he had our cattle dog Trooper by the scruff of his neck dragging him to just outside the chicken-wire fence.
‘Sharon!’ he yelled. ‘Fetch my twenty-two!’
‘Dad, no!’ I screamed back.
Mum came running back with Dad’s rifle. She told me to go inside with her and Jack, but I couldn’t let him do it. Mum carried Jack inside and I ran after Dad. I caught up to him and started tugging on the back of his shirt.
‘Please, Dad!’ I screamed. ‘Please don’t, don’t! Please Dad, don’t! Please don’t do it!’
Dad never made a sound. Trooper had his tongue out and was wagging his tail. I was happy he didn’t know what was coming. We got past the chicken-wire fence and Dad shoved Trooper in front of him.
‘Run, Trooper!’ I yelled at him. ‘Run away! Now! Go!’
Dad hardly moved. He cocked the rifle and put the butt against his right shoulder. Trooper just looked at us both, ears only rising when I screamed.
‘Trooper,’ Dad said. ‘Sit down.’
Trooper whimpered a bit, then sat like a good boy at his feet. Dad stepped back a few feet and gripped the rifle. I threw myself at Dad’s legs and wrapped my arms around them, pulling at his jeans and crying.
‘Please don’t,’ I said with one last attempt.
Dad’s lower body didn’t move at all. He had taught me to shoot as soon as I could hold a gun: telling me to aim true, and never pull the trigger, just squeeze. I didn’t see it; I just heard it. There was no cower or whimper from Trooper.
I looked up at the ridges and valleys of the Southern Tablelands and heard the echo of the gunshot travel through them. Dad put his hand on my head and walked inside. I didn’t talk to him.
A week later the old man caught me early in the morning going out to feed the chooks. He stopped me on the front porch and put his hand on my shoulder.
‘Listen; you’ll see the saddest thing isn’t that you’ve lost your dog and you loved him,’ he said. ‘The saddest thing will be how soon you forget him and move on.’