“Do I want to know how this happened?” said Serena.
“She’s not a this,” I said. “She’s a dog. Her name’s Sid.”
Serena leaned against the door frame and shut her eyes. “Okay. Look. You realise you are putting me in an awkward position here, don’t you? I should be throwing you out on your ear and demanding some kind of—of—I don’t know, damages or something. I’m not going to, and if Jan were here he wouldn’t either, but this is still a business, you know? There are going to be people staying in this room after you, and they won’t want to be bitten by fleas. Or black widow spiders or small rodents, or whatever else is hiding in—among—underneath—she looks like she’s been incompetently felted.”
I looked at my dog. Up close in daylight . . . she might well be a short-haired dog for a while, after I’d cut all the mats out. Possibly while wearing gloves in case of black widow spiders.
“Sorry,” I said. “Yes. I do know. And we’re leaving right now, and I’m worrying about whether Sid is going to agree to be passenger dog, because I haven’t got any other choices if she doesn’t. I don’t know anything about her . . . except she’s now mine. I just paid the first colossal vet’s bill,” I added a little wildly, “including getting her microchip changed to my name. And our first stop is the pet shop to buy a brush. Or maybe I’ll just ask Gus to bring a hedge-trimmer on Sunday.”
“You don’t like taking your major life crises gradually, do you?” said Serena. “I’ll tell Gus to sharpen the blades. Microchip? That thi—she—is microchipped?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Her previous owner doesn’t want her back.”
“Um,” said Serena. “Um. Why?”
“I guess she ran away a lot,” I said vaguely. I thought mentioning the demon dog description might be a bad idea. “She broke her leg jumping out a window once.”
“Oh,” said Serena carefully.
At this stark moment my phone rang. I jumped like I’d been bitten by a small rodent or a black widow spider, and Sid surged to her feet ready for . . . I found myself remembering Thy new comrade is swift and loyal and high-couraged. And bony, I thought. And looks like she’s been incompetently felted. I had meant to turn my phone off again and forgot. I pulled it out reluctantly. It was Mr Wolverine. I turned it off and put it away without answering. I was trembling. Oh, pigs’ bladders and tapeworms and cobras. Particularly cobras.
“Uh oh,” said Serena. “Was that last night’s bad news?”
“Yes,” I said. There was a silence so thick and solid you could have nailed a bookshelf to it and stacked all thirty-two volumes of the last hard copy edition of the Britannica on it. Serena was just starting to say, “S’okay, I have days like —” when I said, “Divorce lawyer. Mine. I call him Mr Wolverine, which is a defamation of wolverines, who I’m sure are honest and straightforward and kind to their mothers.” Sid, who had sat down, stood up again, looking for the villain.
“Oh,” said Serena. “I’m sorry.”
“The divorce has already gone through,” I said frustratedly. “How bad can it be?”
There was another, slightly less intense silence that you probably couldn’t have piled anything heavier than the complete works of Patricia A McKillip in paperback on.
“You shouldn’t say things like that to someone who’s been through it,” Serena said finally. “But your ex is the one with all the money, isn’t he?”
“All the money,” I said with feeling. “All the money. So why can’t Mr W go away and leave me alone forever? I even paid his bill, which would keep a family of four in the Four Seasons Penthouse Suite for a month. With beluga caviar for breakfast.”
“Why won’t he leave you alone?” said Serena. “Because you’re still moving. Divorce lawyers and bounty hunters hate that.”
I didn’t mean to, but I laughed.
“Sorry,” said Serena. “I’m not helping. I’m sure there are worthy, decent divorce lawyers with a sense of humor like normal people. I just haven’t met them. Mine . . . well.”
“I had to ask for a higher flaming settlement to pay his bill.” Sid shoved her face in my hands, which is how I found out I had balled them into fists and was banging the knuckles together. I stopped. I petted my dog. I sighed. The rest of her was maybe felted, but the top of her head was silky and there was another little silky bit under her chin. “I hadn’t wanted to use him in the first place . . . never mind.” I kept petting my dog. I felt my blood pressure dropping. That’s what dogs are for, although it tended to go the other way with my mom’s Ghastlies.
“I take it all back,” said Serena. “You and Sid are obviously made for each other.”
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