I bought a red nylon collar—and a red nylon lead to go with it. The red leather one could either go back to the lost and found box at Eats or wait for the fancy-dress ball when Sid could wear it with the gold-studded collar while I swanned around in my burgundy velvet. Red was good on a black dog. And I bought a lot of dog food and, er, sundries. She could eat out of a casserole dish but I decided that an unbreakable water dish was a good idea and I might want to use the bottom of my double boiler as a double boiler. The pile by the front door was fairly scary by the time I’d added one more dog toy. (Hey, she wasn’t even two years old yet. She was almost a puppy. Puppies need toys.)
“Go get your car and park by the door and I’ll help you heave the stuff into the trunk. Nobody’s going to bother you if you’re loading.”
Susanna frowned at me. “You’re not on foot, are you?”
“No,” I said. “Worse than that.”
Susanna raised her eyebrows. “Ox cart?”
“Um. Not exactly. I mean, no, not an ox cart. But it’s a rental, okay?” I said. “It was the only cheap rental I could get at the last minute, planning ahead not being my best skill.”
“Like you planned for a dog, right?” said Susanna. “Okay. It’s a rental. I’ll start stacking the stuff up on the sidewalk.”
Sid and I went off to fetch the van. I stood a moment, staring at a screaming skull. I’m not sure, but I think it rolled one of its flaming eyes at me. “You’re going home tonight,” I said to it. “You’ll soon be back in the heart of the city with nothing to worry you but junkies and taxi drivers.” I waited for the disembowelling stab of homesickness to fade a little, sighed, and unlocked the door. Sid jumped in with barely a hesitation and then turned to look at me as if, What are you waiting for? Maybe she liked the idea of all that dog food. Sid. I had Sid because I’d left the city. Hold that thought. Lose a wealthy husband and gain a scrawny stray dog. Okay, but she wasn’t going to leave me for a floozie. And we probably wouldn’t disagree about home decoration. Only partly because I couldn’t afford home decoration.
Susanna was standing by the Alp of dog food when I drove up. As I climbed down from the driver’s seat she was looking at the van’s nearer side and sucking on her cheeks really hard. “You’re allowed to laugh,” I said. “I’m not going to drive to Cavendish for dog food even if you laugh.”
“First thing they teach you at business school is not to laugh at your customers,” Susanna said.
“Business school,” I said. “I’ll try not to give you any expired credit cards. I tend to forget to swap them over.”
“I was going to be a banker,” said Susanna, as I hauled the van’s rear doors open. “And retire a millionaire at thirty. I hated banking. So I came back to New Iceland and opened a pet shop.”
“Think how much fitter you are than you would be sitting at a desk all day,” I said, as I scrabbled the dog-food space free of plastic bags.
She tossed a large bag of dog kibble into the gap as if it weighed nothing at all. “Yeah,” she said. “I was kind of sorry about the retiring at thirty, though, but as the years pass I’ve got over it.” She settled one of the flats of tins on the kibble bag while I staggered up behind her and dropped the second one on top of it. Then we both stacked up all the smaller bags. My rose-bush was (I hoped) reasonably well protected by the little sofa and a box of books. “Thanks,” I said. I hadn’t noticed on my way in, because I was too busy worrying, but there were critters in her front windows: rabbits were watching us from one window, and assorted birds were ignoring us from the other.
Susanna followed my gaze. “It varies,” she said. “But not puppies or kittens unless a friend has a litter they need to get rid of. Because I want to take them all home. Don’t ask,” she said, as I opened my mouth. “Several. Keep coming here, and you’ll meet them. All my staff have too many pets too. It’s so I can pay them in pet food discounts.” She grinned.
I thought of what I hadn’t paid for my loot and said, “Uh huh.”
“Safe journey,” she said. “Wherever. I hope you bring her back to show her off after she’s got through that lot.”
“I will,” I said. “Thanks.”
Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.