Jacqui Bennett Writers Bureau





Sue Houghton

Email: ADAM@ahoughton12.freeserve.co.uk

"Lovely, you remembered the macaroons," Dad says, beaming as he rummages around in the carrier bags on the kitchen table. Following a hectic day at the office Ė ďYou wonít find yourself a man, working those hours, my girlĒ Ė Iíve spent the last hour flying round the supermarket, loading a wobbly trolley with items on my dadís shopping list - do people really need cream of tartar? Then I had to lug it all up two flights of stairs to my flat, passing my new and hugely attractive neighbour on the first floor landing.

    Iíd been wondering how to engineer a first meeting with him since he moved in last month. Borrow a cup of sugar/coffee/milk? Invite him over for coffee/beer/meal/foot massage? However weíd meet, I was certain it would be a breathless encounter. I wasnít wrong. One of us, at least, was breathless - and red-faced, sweating, and cussing loudly about having forgotten flea powder. He couldnít have looked more startled if Iíd lunged at him with a French stick.

    "Paula," my dadís saying. "Whatís this?" He holds up a crinkled cellophane bag artfully tied with raffia. "Was it on my list? Smells like hedge clippings."

    "Itís pot-pourri," I say, river-dancing out of my shoes and slipping my feet into my fluffy tartan slippers. "Jasmine something or other. Itís to make the room smell fresh." Oh no, heís examining the till receipts now.

    "Five pounds! For a packet of fancy-coloured hedge clippings!" He rummages again. "Did you get the eggs? You didnít forget the pickled walnuts? Did you pick up a new collar for Boris? Did you remember to get him some fresh mince? What sort of jam did you get?"

    "Yes, no, yes, yes and apricot," I say, pouring the hedge clipÖthe pot-pourri into a deep bowl and standing it on the dresser, with faint hope that itíd remove the pungent doggy odour that lingers whenever Boris is around. A new collar wonít make the hairy beast look any prettier either. Boris is supposedly a pedigree, but in my opinion, his parentage is dubious. He has long floppy ears, one of which stands at right angles to his head. His tail curls in a spiral over his vast bottom and in moments of excitement it can sweep ornaments off coffee tables with alarming accuracy. Only expensive ornaments mind. Heís failed to topple the three-foot plastic garden gnome my dadís insisted on placing by the fireplace. "These modern flats have no character, Paula."

    Boris lumbers into the kitchen, sniffing the air in expectant fashion. Heís an overweight, over-indulged, malodorous liability, but Dad loves him to bits so I bite my lip when, catching a claw in my new velour throw, Boris drags it halfway across the floor. Then he does that circular doggy-thing, as if his tailís caught in his collar. Round and round until he flops in a messy heap, giving a new meaning to the word crushed velour. I groan, whack a couple of pork chops in the oven and begin to prepare dinner.

    Dad hovers over me. "Ah! You cut your string beans like that, do you?" "Are you sure youíve not got the oven too high, dear?" "No salt, then?" "Donít you think this packet gravy tastes like furniture polish?" "Whatís carpaccio?"

    Much as I love him, Iím counting the days until his new bungalowís ready to move into. He was supposedly only going to be lodging with me over a long weekend. Then, "Looks like a few weeks, my love," the builder said. Those few weeks have somehow turned into a few months. My desirable girl-about-town apartment has become a cross between Santaís grotto and one very undesirable dog kennel.

    "I thought we could play Who wants to be a Millionaire tonight," Dadís saying as he surreptitiously adds salt to the vegetables. "Or thereís an interesting programme about the Bengal tiger on Channel Four." He pokes a finger at a defrosting roulade. "Is this broccoli or spinach?" He takes a spoonful, tastes it, grimaces, and clatters the spoon back in the sink. "Perhaps Iíll bake us some cheese scones later."

    "Why donít you take the dog for a walk?" I say, resisting the urge to batter him with the saucepan. "You could pop into the corner shop on the way back and pick up a few bottles of beer."

    "Good idea," he says. "And Iíll get some of that stuff that removes lime-scale while Iím at it. Itíll bring your toilet bowl up like new."

    Arrgh! Deep breath, Paula. "Okay," I say. "You do that."

    Heís soon out the door; muffled beneath thick scarf and bobble-hat, Boris beating time by his side. I flop onto the sofa and, after removing a rubber bone from beneath the cushion, I promptly fall asleep. But not for long. I awake to frantic banging on the door and the sound of a key being stabbed unsuccessfully against the lock. Then a shout comes via the letterbox. "Paula, itís me. Iíve lost Boris. I tied him up to the railings, but when I came out of the shop heíd slipped his collar."

    I calm him down with a mug of sweet tea and a Garibaldi. "Donít worry. He canít have gone far. Did you walk through the park or come by the main road?" If Boris has chosen to go through the park, then maybe heís stopped to chase a rabbit or two.

    "What if he wanders into the road?" says Dad. "You know what heís like in traffic."

    I shudder, imagining Boris trying to keep pace with the number fourteen bus. He might be getting on a bit, but anything with wheels is still fair game as far as Boris is concerned. He once chased a BT van for almost half a mile. "Heíll be fine." I try to sound encouraging. "You stay here in case he finds his way home. Iíll go and look for him."

    I pull on my coat and, taking the stairs two at a time, head out into the street below. I take the main route first; terrified Iíll find the poor thing injured by the roadside. Dad bought him shortly after my mum died. Heíll take it very badly if anythingís happened. I whistle and shout Borisís name into the now darkened streets, but apart from a few odd looks from the people in the bus queue, nothing.

    I cross to the park, but the gates are locked. If heís gone in there, at least heíll have to stay there until morning. Perhaps heíll simply find somewhere to sleep, curl into a hairy ball and dream of lady spaniels. I walk back along the main road, calling him every few seconds until Iím back at my flat. I climb the stairs, rehearsing how Iíll best calm the situation with a few well-placed platitudes about animal rescue, the RSPCA and the importance of having him Ďchippedí when he eventually does return.

    "What took you so long?" says Dad, as I reach my door. "Youíve been gone ages. We were worried."


    "Funny thing," Dad says. "Not five minutes after youíd left, Pete here found him outside on the pavement."

    Pete? Sitting on my sofa, his long legs stretched out in front of him is my new neighbour. He smiles up at me, his eyes twinkling from under a dark floppy fringe. "I guessed he belonged here," he says, "so I brought him on up. Heís unharmed. Just a bit hungry and tired, thatís all." Boris is snoring loudly, runny nose pressed up against my rag-rolled cupboards, moulting profusely and sweeping his great hairy tail across my wood parquet.

    "Talking of which," Dad cuts in. "Iíve suggested to Pete that the two of you go out to eat tonight. The dinnerís ruined anyway. Iíll be all right on my own. Besides, I have that toilet bowl to tackle."

    Pete rakes a big hand through his hair. "If that's okay with you."

    My cheeks are hot from my brisk walk around the block, so hopefully he wonít notice the ensuing blush. "Yes, thatíd be great."

    Boris gives a yawn and emits an odorous Ďpeepí.

    "The old boyís quite a character," laughs Pete.

    "Dad or Boris?"

    Peteís eyebrows do a cute Mexican wave and he laughs again. White even teeth, dimpled cheeks and soft kiss-me lips.

    I excuse myself to go change into something more glamorous than my purple fleece and Oh No! The tartan slippers, which in my race to find Boris Iíd forgotten I was wearing. Warp speed and, hopefully, Iím transformed from kennel maid to sultry vamp.

    "You two enjoy yourselves," says Dad, kissing the top of my head and giving my hand a squeeze. He winks and Iíve the strangest feeling that heís stage-managed the whole thing. "Come on, Boris old boy. Letís see if we can rescue some of this dinner," he says, spooning food onto a plate. Two minutes in the microwave and he declares it, "Not as bad as I first thought, dear, though it could do with a bit of spicing up. Iíll have to give you my recipe."

    "Donít wait up," I say, blowing him a kiss. Iíll tell the old rogue later that heís just ladled gravy over a gooseberry roulade.


 ©2001 Sue Houghton

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