Lois knelt so that she was face-to-face with the puppy, through the none-too-clean shop window. Its eyes revealed the perpetual optimism of a canine, archetypal born loser.
My, but he was ugly. Apart from his eyes. Their dark velvet depths compensated for the squat little body and flat, thick head. His tail was a pure cartoon, absurdly plumed, curling onto his back and wagging tentatively, warily, as though he knew how fleeting this blissful moment of communication was likely to be.
Lois looked hard at the unprepossessing little mongrel and wondered if her eyes expressed her personal despair so blatantly.
She doubted it. At the last check, they had seemed perfectly familiar and normal. Wide and long-lashed, the pale, smudgy eye shadow creating just the right highlights, her brows professionally shaped.
Someone had once said that eyes were the mirrors of the soul. Maybe she’d had too much practice recently, hiding the inner doubts, controlling the despair that wouldn’t be banished.
She looked at the dog again. His eyes quite definitely reflected his soul. They were unmistakably say- ing that he wished her to claim him as her own.
Lois stood up and leaned one hand against the window to steady herself. And what would David say to that little maneuver?
Fifteen years ago, she’d have telephoned him and he’d have arranged to meet her. Together, they’d have shared and mulled over this tremendous decision. Would the flat be big enough, was it fair to have a puppy when they were both working! Their conclusion would have been born of mutual consideration, of total communication.
She closed her eyes briefly as the panic wave of depression swept through her, leaving her weak and trembling. The dog had lain down now, still watching her, but no longer hopeful. Lois mouthed a foolish, self-conscious, “I’m so sorry” at him through the window and turned quickly, not looking back.
Fifteen years was a long time ago and circumstances change. She didn’t work now-and their townhouse was big enough to stable a racehorse, never mind a dog.
She could picture David’s reaction as clearly as if he were with her now: “You want a puppy? You actually want to buy a dog, to burden yourself with all sorts of idiotic training and responsibilities? Now, when the children are settled at school and we’ve found our dream house….” away
His reasoning was sound, to be fair. He’d worked long, hard hours to achieve his success and all that went with it. And Lois had gone along with the blueprint plan. Instead of daydreaming or doing the odd watercolor, she’d gone to Cordon Bleu classes and courses on flower arranging.
And gradually their life-style had settled on its new axis, with Simon and Fiona at expensive but congenial boarding schools, plus the acquisition of the new townhouse with its thick pile carpets and treasured long-sought antiques. David’s solid grind at the office was relieved by their early spring holiday in Majorca and regular winter skiing fortnight in Austria.
A far cry from their first home, an upstairs flat, with David cramming at night school after work and Lois herself coming home to cook and iron after a full day at university. A far cry indeed. A world of separation.
The words caught at Lois’s heart. That was the whole root of the trouble. They were entering into a dangerously separate existence, with the children away, David a slave to the demands of business, and Lois herself flitting from a coffee morning to golf club to bridge party.
And in all this, the mystery was how could such full living produce such a dearth of conversation at the end of the day? Even in bed, their communication had become purely physical, almost without warmth.
Today at lunch at the plush department store, she had caught sight of herself and her three friends in the mirrored wall behind them. Four glossy, attractive women, playing their familiar conversation game, fashion, hairstyles, education, dishwashers, local gossip. Lois had sat back, deliberately detaching herself, and had wondered where their idealism had gone. They had all been young, hopeful, and earnest. Didn’t they need to dream anymore?
She couldn’t bear another moment and had excused herself before the coffee arrived. She had said goodbye quickly, longing for fresh air, to be able to walk and walk, to allow her mind to clear itself, to assess, to attempt a solution.
And then she’d found herself in the narrow, dark side streets, and she’d seen the puppy. The thought of him now, sleeping in that grimy corner of the shop made her eyes fill with tears and in a sudden blaze of decision, she looked for a telephone kiosk.
David’s secretary’s impeccably trained voice pleasantly informed Lois that he was rather busy. Was it urgent! Lois said that indeed it was and that she wished to speak to her husband now.
David’s voice sounded strangely welcoming and showed not a vestige of impatience, and for a second, it threw Lois. But she went ahead with her campaign.
“A puppy? From some pet shop?” David queried, his tone controlled but with the surprise show.
Lois was explicit. Yes, a puppy, and yes, it was a pet shop in a filthy back lane called Blackgate. And the puppy was just as unprepossessing. Black-and-white, with a ridiculous tail and it was more than probably flea-ridden, but she wanted it.
David’s patience was amazingly limitless. He went carefully through all the arguments. The inconvenience, the impracticalities-the oyster-colored carpets for one. She remained adamant and he changed his tack. Well, what about a poodle or a Siamese cat from some reputable source? Why this particular dog!
Lois felt the tears running down her impeccably colored cheeks, She didn’t know where the words, the emotions, came from. Deep down, she supposed, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of her despair, which had built up over the years. She left nothing out. Not the children at school, not the townhouse, not the golf club, not David’s presidential company tours of the globe, not even their cold marriage bed.
“What have we got now? Apart from oyster carpets and dishwashers and your fifty-three drip-dry shirts?” she shouted. “Think of what we used to have. The laughter, the tears, the peaks, the valleys. I want the children around me, I want you, David. I want to know what you think, what you feel, what you want. There was a time when we didn’t need words. Now we can’t even find them.”
David said quietly, “You seem to be doing all right in that direction. Have you finished, or are there some more home truths to be spilled?”
Lois was totally exhausted and shivering uncontrollably, so the telephone shook in her hand. She felt suddenly alone. She said, “No, I’ve finished. And forget about the dog.”
She left the kiosk and walked some more, then found a cinema showing an old American musical. She fell asleep after half an hour and awoke when the next film was beginning. And then she repaired her makeup, then drove home.
As she pulled into the drive she saw David’s car. She sat for a moment, totally enervated, not wanting to move. How would he be, she wondered: furious, or unctuously understanding, proffering sherries and a meal out somewhere, or an extra holiday? Anything to allay the horrors of an incipient neurotic wife.
He’d already opened the front door and she saw that he was angry. And not looking at all himself. Sort of disheveled, frantic, and most curiously garbed.
“I could kill you,” he said. And her heart flared in the wildest optimism because his face and his magnificent gray eyes were saying anything but that.
“Don’t you ever dare do this to me again. I’ve been almost out of my mind. I’ve already rung around so many friends so many times, they obviously think you’ve run off with the milkman. The police were the next to my líst.”
Lois said wearily, “Why are you wearing that ridiculous apron? It’s Mrs. Mason’s jam-making apron.”
David took her hand and led her upstairs. “You may well ask. I’m wearing it because the job I’m doing requires a large all-enveloping garment, and this was all I could think of.”
He opened the door to the bathroom, their beautiful, opulent bathroom with the exquisite chestnut brown suit and the thick-piled oyster carpet. But the thick pile was strangely sodden and bedraggled, and in the midst of a pile of her newest, fluffiest, most expensive towels, sat an unprepossessing mongrel of familiar features and beautiful brown soulful eyes.
David said, “You were right about one thing. He is flea-ridden. Extremely!”
He looked at her for a moment, and suddenly there was no laughter in his eyes. Lois read the fear, the nascent hope, the plea for a second chance. He said quietly, “You were right about a few things actually. And he’s the beginning of things to come.”
And then the laughter was back, and he threw her a towel. “Well, get a working, woman. And he was your idea.”
And for the next few moments, the gold-plated, Italian-tiled luxury of the bathroom was a chaotic muddle, with Lois in David’s arms, being held against him, long and hard, while one very new canine addition to the household leaped madly about them, determined to be part of this glorious celebration.
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