My heart sank. She had a name, she was known, she belonged to someone—someone who, if they were trying to catch her, wanted her back. Although if she belonged to someone, why would she rather stay on the street in this weather and let herself get filthy and emaciated than be captured? Why wasn’t she wearing a collar with a tag? And why had she flinched at the sight of my belt? I hadn’t caught her. I’d left the door open and she’d come in.
I’d given her a name.
Okay, hold on. I’d been right the first time. I was supposed to go to the pound and find a dog the normal way. I could go to the pound this afternoon and lumber myself with a dog immediately, before I was anything like ready or set up for a dog, if I had to have a dog. I could do it now, as soon as I’d made the phone call to her owner, or maybe I’d make Bridget do the phoning because of the sudden lump in my throat, and maybe I could have my breakfast indoors in the warm if her owner came for her immediately. There was no doubt a perfectly reasonable explanation for her reaction to my belt.
I wasn’t hungry any more.
Sid shuffled her butt over till she was leaning against my leg, and put her head on my lap. I told myself I should push it off (gently), there was no future in flirting with a married dog, but the pushing hand was somehow mysteriously stroking the top of her head. Sid shut her eyes.
“Well she’s sure got you where she wants you,” said Bridget. “Good. We’ve all been really worried about her. She is a her, isn’t she? She turned up in the middle of winter, for pity’s sake. There was three feet of snow on the ground. The dog warden couldn’t get near her. We were all trying to catch her because she was going to die. The town rats probably love her because I’m sure she didn’t eat all the food that was put out for her. And nobody ever figured out where she was sleeping.” Bridget was still standing holding her tray, but she didn’t look like Mistress of Tea. She looked like Soppy Animal Lady watching a happy ending. I hoped she was right. “Obviously she’s been waiting for you.”
“You sound like you have dogs,” I said.
“Yes. Three. Three and a half. I think I’m about to have four. My daughter’s away at college and I am willing to bet her first job won’t pay her enough to afford a place that takes dogs. Have you named her?”
“Sid,” I said. Sid opened her eyes.
“Well, Sid,” said Bridget, “I’m happy to meet you.” She took the last two steps to the table cautiously, but Sid didn’t move, although one eye and one ear followed her. Bridget put the tray down and offered the end of the cord to me. I plugged it in one-handed because my left hand was still fully occupied stroking my dog.
“Do you need a recommendation for a vet?” said Bridget. “Jim Cuthbert is two blocks from here and he’ll be delighted that he can stop feeding the local rats. I take my crowd to him. My kids liked him better than their pediatrician. Better quality of lollipops.”
“That’s great,” I said. “Thanks.”
“I could phone him now,” said Bridget. “And see if he could fit you in. He will, as soon as he finds out it’s the Phantom.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I said again, but my stomach wasn’t happy. I knew we had to go to the vet. But what if . . . No what-if mattered. We had to go to the vet and the sooner the better.
“And I’ll find her something to lie on. It’s still too cold for a dog that skinny.”
Bridget went back indoors. There were two tea cosies on the plugged-in tray. I lifted the one with water lilies on it and there was a polka-dot teapot and the red dragon mug. I lifted the other and was ravished by the smell of warm bran muffin fabulously soggy with melted butter. I had eaten all of it and was restraining myself from offering my buttery fingers to Sid to lick (I was not going to have a beggar dog, I was not) when Bridget re-emerged with an armful of blankets. “One of them is for you,” she said, and draped it around my shoulders. She dropped two more to the ground next to Sid and then knelt down to fluff them up. Sid lifted her head to watch. “Hello, Sid,” said Bridget. Sid unrolled about two feet of tongue and licked Bridget’s nose. She settled down on the blankets with a little dog-purr and put her head on my feet.
“Jim is thrilled,” said Bridget, standing up again. “He’ll see you whenever you can get over there. I said you hadn’t had breakfast yet. He says that’s fine, and not to rush the Eatsmobile experience. So now that you’re both warm and comfy, what else can I bring you?”
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