I know irony when I hear it. “She was lying on the doorstep here when you dropped me off last night!” I said. “I didn’t mean to get a dog yet!”
Sid, apparently believing that she had performed her function, sat down and had a scratch. I could feel Serena stiffening in the doorway. The carpet, foresightfully tweedy to disguise mystery stains, didn’t reveal any small leaping things trying to escape the recent assault of Fleawhacker™. This was okay as far as it went, but my middle-aged eyes had spent too much time staring at a computer screen and if it didn’t have pixels, they were slow to react. Sid, possibly responding to the atmosphere, lay down again in the New York City library lion pose but I thought it was more of a ‘I’m small and harmless’ choice than a ‘I’ll just have a little rest till something else happens, preferably something including cheese.’ She wasn’t bolting out the open door or looking for windows to jump out of though. That was good. Maybe she was intimidated by Merry’s grin.
“I especially didn’t mean to get a dog that—er—needs serious remedial work. The vet says she needs to gain about half her present body weight. Her vertebrae are like—fists.” I looked at my dog-stroking hands. “And I’m worried about the black widow spiders too. I want her presentable before Hayley comes round to see how I’m settling in. Rose Manor’s landlord allows pets but there are probably limits.”
I could hear Serena not saying anything. She might not be an animal person. Not everyone was. And I hadn’t seen any bowls in the corner of her kitchen saying ‘cat’ or ‘dog’. Or ‘megatherium.’
“I want a cat and Gus wants a dog,” she said as if reading my mind. “We’ve compromised so far by having neither. I figure I’ve held out this long, he goes to college in less than three years.”
I looked at my dog. “Canary. Chinchilla. Siamese fighting fish.”
“Don’t have this conversation with Gus on Sunday, okay?” said Serena. “It’s going to be bad enough you’ve got a dog. I swear every person in Jan’s family has about twelve dogs, and there are always dogs hanging out at Mike’s garage, but only one of Gus’ regular clients has a dog at the moment and it’s kind of a dumb dog. Three years can be a long time.” Serena brooded. “Supposing Gus goes to college. He may go straight into idiosyncratic computer entrepreneurship.”
I blocked the thought of the idiosyncratic computer entrepreneur I’d been married to for almost twenty years and who was responsible for railroading me into Mr W, even if he’d raised the settlement to cover Mr W’s bill without complaint. I complained. I didn’t want to take any more money off Gelasio than I could possibly help. Although now I had an extra mouth to feed—an extra mouth that was attached to a body that needed to gain thirty-five pounds—I really needed to finish FLOWERHAIR FOUR. I needed an ending to finish with however. Maybe she could meet a forsoothly-speaking watermelon-shouldered black guy and adopt a dog. I needed a bridge to FLOWERHAIR FIVE too. New characters were good. Wait, wasn’t life supposed to imitate art?
I’d pulled the curtains open before we’d left for breakfast and other adventures, and I could see my rose bush doing gentle calisthenics above the sill. I winced. What was the odd stolen rose-bush among ex-friends. I hoped the fashionably understated pot she was in wasn’t Ming Dynasty. No, Mr Diamond-Studded Shoelaces would have had handcuffs on me by now if it was anything more serious than cut rate Tiffany. Although Gelasio would probably have been glad to give me a character reference for cluelessness about art if it turned out to be Ming, or Barbara Hepworth, if Barbara Hepworth had ever done flower pots. My idea of great art was James McNeil Whistler. Gelasio’s idea of great art was Mark Rothko. I thought Mark Rothko would have made interesting bedsheets. Gelasio and I had disagreed vehemently about what to hang on the walls of our apartment. Some things about my old life I didn’t miss at all.
“What do you think of Mark Rothko?” I said.
“What?” said Serena. “Eh. Good knitting patterns. I made half a dozen Rothko pullovers a while back. I like stripes and big geometric shapes. In clothing. Listen, I have to get back to the office. Try to be discreet, please? I’m not sure where all our visitors are, and the guy in cabin two is a regular and I really don’t want . . . never mind. If I’d found her on my doorstep I’d have brought her in and fed her too. Although I wouldn’t have allowed her on the bed till after the buzzcut and the fumigation. See you.”
“Thanks,” I said to her retreating back, but I’m not sure she heard me.
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