Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction ‘Oliver and Trip’ A Tribute to Charles Dickens

This Flash Fiction was written in response to Charlie Mills at Carrot Ranch’s weekly prompt

Carrot Ranch 20th Jan
January 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a boy and his dog, showing the value or benefit of such a relationship. Be creative, uplifting and demonstrate that such a relationship has merit. If the prompt takes you somewhere darker, know that writing into the dark often retrieves the light. Let it have a purpose.

This week’s prompt has taken me to Victorian England. Those of you who know me will not be surprised!

Dogs feature prominently in Dickens’ work. He was a dog lover all his life. More about Dickens and his dogs here

Dickens walking his dogs
Dickens took long walks in the afternoon, ten miles or more, with the dogs as his sole companions. Illustration from Princes, Authors, and Statesmen of Our Time, Henry Bill Publishing Co., 1885

In my flash the boy and the dog will grow a bond because, sadly, they’re both given the same food to eat, and both wish to ‘join forces’ and escape from their cruel ‘owners’.

It’s inspired by an episode in my beloved Oliver Twist, but more later. Here’s my flash!

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Oliver and Trip

An Undertaker’s Cellar. London, 1837.

The undertaker’s wife pushed me down the stairs into the coal-cellar, where I almost tripped over a shaggy dog. 

‘Oliver, you can ‘ave what Trip’s left on his plate. Probably found himself a big fat rat last night, so ‘e ain’t hungry this morning.’

She kicked the animal viciously. ‘Don’t be greedy and let the little beggar eat some o’ them bits o’ meat!’

Trip backed away and growled, but I was so hungry I decided to risk it and put my fingers on his food. 

‘We’ll get out of here together,’ I whispered as he licked my hand.

****

This flash is inspired by some characters and events in Oliver Twist, published by Charles Dickens in 1837.

Just in case you think I’m exaggerating in my Flash Fiction, there follows an extract from Dickens’ novel, where a similar event is described.

Oliver had just been ‘brought’ or ‘bought’ from the poor house to work at an Undertaker’s and he is given the dog’s food to eat, which he devours hungrily.

Notice also how, in the passage, Dickens, ardent and active social campaigner, directs his wrath at a ‘well-fed philosopher’, no doubt some contemporary politician/s, who will never witness the ‘ferocity of famine’.

Here’s the extract from the end of Chapter IV (The undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry, who has just collected Oliver from the workhouse is speaking to his wife, Charlotte. Trip is their dog.)

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‘Here, Charlotte,’ said Mr. Sowerberry, who had followed Oliver down, ‘give this boy some of the cold bits that were put by for Trip. He hasn’t come home since the morning, so he may go without ‘em. I dare say the boy isn’t too dainty to eat ‘em—are you, boy?’

Oliver, whose eyes had glistened at the mention of meat, and who was trembling with eagerness to devour it, replied in the negative; and a plateful of coarse broken victuals was set before him.

I wish some well-fed philosopher, whose meat and drink turn to gall within him; whose blood is ice, whose heart is iron; could have seen Oliver Twist clutching at the dainty viands that the dog had neglected. I wish he could have witnessed the horrible avidity with which Oliver tore the bits asunder with all the ferocity of famine. There is only one thing I should like better; and that would be to see the Philosopher making the same sort of meal himself, with the same relish.

****

It pains me to listen to some critics/readers, both his and our contemporaries, say Dickens’ writings were ‘too melodramatic’. I’d reply, ‘You weren’t there. You didn’t walk down the cellars, or inside the chimneys, or live in the poor houses. Don’t you dare classify abuse and suffering as melodramatic!’

There can be no doubt in our minds that this ‘piece of fiction’ happened often enough to be described by Charles Dickens. We’ve come a long way, partly thanks to Mr. Dickens’ honest descriptions of cruelty and exploitation in Victorian England.

This is why I believe literature is more enlightening than history to understand our past. History tells us the facts, whereas literature tells the real story of what happened to real people, not only the names of the Kings and Queens who reigned or the battles fought.

Writers are telling the real story, so please keep writing, all of you!