Yesterday morning I switched on my laptop to discover a message headed: “This is not a promotion – you have won a genuine prize.”
You are meant to delete those messages instantly, aren’t you? You’re not even supposed to look at them, because of the inevitable dire consequences. Nine times out of ten, they’re a scam.
So why did I open it? Because I am reckless and, at times, rather dangerous. The crux of it was that I had won a prize draw, for which I had been automatically entered after taking part in a consumer survey. (I dimly remember some months ago the poor, importuning young man who called saying that he needed one more interviewee to finish his quota for the day. And so I had agreed to provide him with my views on toilet cleaners, apple-scented shampoos and daily newspapers). My act of charity two months ago had netted me, I read in the email, a year’s supply of tinned dog food.
I sent the reply: “Is this one of those frauds where you’re going to ask for my bank details to unlock my prize?” and some time later a Justine Pollock, the consumer and communications team co-ordinator, replied with the reassurance: “Please be reassured.”
She went on: “From time to time we are able to reward our participants with prizes, details of which will have been given to you at the time the survey was taken. Have you got a dog?”
I replied: “No.”
Her answer: “I’m afraid we can’t commute the prize details. On some occasions we have other offers of which you could avail yourself but this time it’s dog food. I believe it will prove a significant saving in household expenses. ”
“It would,” I reminded her. “If I had a dog.”
That very afternoon a huge pallet of tinned dog food arrived. It blocked the hall and my arteries.
Peony, who was coming and going that afternoon, reminded me that she had worked at the Home for Retired Greyhounds as a student and that perhaps we could donate the prize to them.
“I’ll take it there myself,” she said breezily. “Nice to see the old place again.”
“Take me, too,” said Mother.
“Yes, take her too,” I insisted.
Connie called a little while after. She was wondering if she should drop by, being at a loose end.
“Is Charlton there?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
“Oh,” she said. “Where is he?”
“He’s at a seminar called ‘The Art of Selling Time Share Holidays’.”
“Oh,” she said.
“I have to go, Con,” I told her. “I can hear the front door.”
And there was a final, faint “Oh” as I pressed the button and as the front door was being opened.
“Why is she always going on about Charlton?” I asked Peony but, as I said it, I had the sensation that a gust of wind had blown through the opened door and whirled past my legs and left my skirt flapping against my calves. It was the oddest feeling, like a touch of sea-sickness or perhaps the queasiness that comes of putting on a light and seeing a thousand cockroaches scurry away. (That’s never actually happened to me but I’ve seen it on telly and felt that way, unsettled.)
Mother was just making a performance of stepping over the threshold.
“His name is Ken,” she said and then remembered to pant. “Ken Tray.”
“Come and sit down,” I chided her. “Pointless is about to start.” And then: “Whose name is Ken?”
Peony was bringing back the tins of dog food by the very same bagfuls in which we had taken them out earlier.
She stopped beside me and shook her head. “Daft old mare,” she confided. “His racing name is actually Kent Ray. I’ve told her a thousand times, but it won’t sink in.”
“Ken Tray,” I managed to mutter and then my voice just disappeared on me. I stumbled through the house to the back door, only to see what looked like a malnourished, dark grey antelope running in tight and frenzied circles on the lawn, scattering turf as he went.
Peony came and stood beside me and clapped with indulgent joy at the sight of the idiocy on the lawn.
“You know what it’s like,” she chuckled. “They choose you, not you them.”
God it’s a struggle, isn’t it? It’s a constant struggle trying to remain standing against the tide of other people’s whims and acts of wilfulness. All I ever wanted was to be left alone, for my mother to be splendid in her independence, for my daughter to find her own sphere, for my brother to just go away. I’m the last person in the world who should have so many useless dependents. I don’t want to be responsible for them. I don’t want a bloody dog either!
When my voice returned, it squeaked: “You were meant to be taking them the dog food. Peony, wasn’t that the understanding?”
Peony’s eyes opened wide. “Get this, Mum,” she announced. “Apparently greyhounds can’t eat tinned dog food. They should only eat proper, dry dog meal. And wait for this: apparently, it’s really, really expensive.”
“Expensive,” I repeated and the echo of the word reached the ears of Ken Tray, who stopped finally and grinned at me in a way that I believe only grehounds are able to do. I really wish they wouldn’t.