The bastard slipped his lead.
He saw something in the distance and sprang into the air like a salmon, somehow unhooked his head from his collar (which I was told was impossible, incidentally) and made off at startling speed towards what looked (to him and, I’ll admit, to me) like a rabbit.
It was only that Yorkshire Terrier and now I have to pay for its ear to be sewn back on and have completely skewered my chances with that attractive man, who is not quite so attractive when sobbing over a limp, small dog.
“You’re not supposed to let him off the lead,” Peony remarked when I got back.
“You look as a white as a sheet, dear,” contributed Mother.
They were watching one of those infomercials about hair removal that fill the gap before the movies start on Film Four.
“I don’t remember wanting this stupid bloody hound,” I complained to their vacant faces. “And yet here I am walking it several times a day and nobody, not one of you, takes a turn. You wanted him, you walk him.”
Ken Tray had his muzzle in Peony’s crotch by now and Mother was leaning over from her armchair and petting him like he was her son.
Speaking of which. “Where’s Charlton?” I demanded. “He can do the afternoon walk.”
My daughter kept her eyes on the screen. “He’s at the 24-hour bowling marathon, remember. Mum, you just need a bit of common sense with a greyhound. They’ve been bred to chase. He can’t help himself.”
“I would offer, you know that,” whimpers Mother. “But what about my condition? What if I collapsed in the middle of the park and there was no one there to help me? We can’t take that risk.”
And of course, there’s nothing I’m allowed to say to that, though what I want to say is: “Oh shut up with your threats of collapsing. I’ve never seen you collapse in your entire sedentary life. You’ve never even collapsed into tears. One day I’m going to go to the hospital and ask if they got your tests mixed up and gave you the results of someone who was actually ill.”
“I’ll cut his bloody legs off,” I muttered as I left them to it.
Connie arrived an hour later. When I opened the door to her she was standing beside a huge cardboard box.
“I’ve got that thing for Peony she wanted,” said my friend.
“What thing?” I asked as she shoved it over the threshold.
“It’s a flat pack so don’t be fooled by this compact box.”
“This box is not compact,” I said as I moved aside to let her kick it violently along.
“Charlton home?” she asked, looking up a moment from her labour.
I didn’t answer her (that’s my policy from hereon – simply ignoring her enquiries) but called Peony instead.
“Oh soo-perb,” she exclaimed. “Thanks so much, Con. Do you mind kicking it all the way upstairs?”
“I’m not going to ask,” I told my daughter.
And so she wasn’t inclined to answer. I made a point of not helping them, stung by the insensitivity of my oldest friend and my only child. Seeking permission first to bring things into my house would be a pleasant novelty.
So I had no choice but to rummage about Mother’s terrifying brain for a clue as to what was going on.
I sat down beside her in the armchair only just vacated by Peony.
“She talk to you much, does she? About things?”
“I know about Gilbert, if that’s what you mean.” Was her reply.
I know nothing about Gilbert but I muttered: “Yes, him. Honestly.”
“But I don’t care to ask much,” she sighs and finally she deigns to look away from the telly and straight at me. “When you and your brother were still at home, you both always came to me with all your problems. You were the mewling sort, dear. Always complaining about your lot. I barely had time for your poor brother. Maybe that’s why he’s so lost and rudderless now. But that girl of yours is far more independent. She just comes and goes as she wishes and is always full of such good ideas to help the world along. You don’t get many like her to the pound.”
And though she got that bit about me being mewling totally wrong, I had to admit that there was something rather unique and special about my girl. She has a big heart, that child, and always wants the people around her to be just as carefree. You can’t put her down.
And so I felt a bit mean and small and even contrite as I hovered beside her closed bedroom door later that afternoon and winced at the hammering and swearing coming from the other side.
When she eventually emerged from her bedroom, I pretended I had just been passing with a pile of laundry for the linen cupboard.
“Everything alright?” I asked airily.
“What’s an Allen key?” she grumbled.
I shrugged. “Can I help with anything?”
And there was that smile, that beautiful emerging ray or sunlight. I always lose the power of speech in its captivating warmth.
But I owed it to my dear, good girl to push a little further, to help ease her out from under whatever burden she must be bearing.
“Is it… is it trouble with Gilbert?” I stuttered.
“Gilbert giving you grief?”
“What are you mewling on about, Mum?” she snapped. “Who the hell is Gilbert? Now be a good girl and find me an Allen key, would you?”
And she returned to her bedroom and to the hammering and I darted downstairs to locate her father’s old tool box.