by Lorna Lee
A short short story of literary fiction.
|‘Sorry,’ she said again as she fumbled with her change. She picked up the newspaper and dog food and headed down the aisle towards the door. A child holding her mother’s hand was watching her and Jennie looked down at the floor to avoid the accusing glare. What she was guilty of, she didn’t know, but it was hidden in the child’s wide eyes and she didn’t want to see it.
The floor was orange and patterned with stains which were sticky when she walked on them. She looked up in disgust, just in time to side-step a man coming at her with a rolled up newspaper. As she did, she saw herself in the convex mirror that newsagents use for catching shoplifters. Her round frame was enhanced by the bulging glass and she saw what John meant when he called her a plum. The Christmas red of her jumper that was so appealing in her own mirror was made grotesque in this one and again she turned away. It’s just a bad mirror, she told herself. She liked how the red of the jumper contrasted with her pale white skin and grey eyes and gave her what her mother used to call 'a visual joie de vivre’. You need it, pet, her mother would say, otherwise no-one would know you were there.
Jennie pulled the door open, but the wind battled her for power over it and she gave an audible groan as she wrested control and levered herself outside. She supposed she had won that battle, but then the door closed behind her, heavy and forbidding, and she suddenly felt she had lost. There were very few people around. A dog’s bark brought her out of her thoughts. She looked down. ‘Hello Barker,’ she whispered, bringing her head down low and letting the Pekingese lick her face. She untied the lead and picked the dog up, holding it in her arms and shielding it from the wind. They faced the now empty street together.
At home that evening. the Pekingese was eating his dinner while Jennie sat at the computer watching him. ‘We’ve come this far, haven’t we, Barker?’ but the dog didn’t respond. Jennie tugged at her jumper then smoothed it with her hands. Her face, reflected in the screen, backdropped the online conversation as if she haunted it. There, but not there. The green dot next to his profile picture - a shot of him hugging his Dachshund against a grassy background - showed he was online. He was waiting for an answer.
The pointer hovered over the ‘send’ button. A sing song voice whispered, Come on, what’s the worse that could happen? Even if it’s bad, it’ll be an experience. Another, her mother’s voice, said, What’s the point, pet? A red jumper will only take you so far.
It’s just a dog date, added the sing song voice, it’s literally a walk in the park. She pressed down on the mouse and the ‘send’ button lit up, but she didn’t release it just yet. She was almost there. She was a step closer to something. She tugged at her jumper with her free hand as if to distract herself while the other hand released the ‘send’ button and her response appeared in the chat: OK, sounds good. See you tomorrow.
Jennie sat on a bench watching the wind throw a tantrum: it threw an old water bottle down the path, and tore at the posters on the notice-board. The Pekingese sat in Jennie’s arms. The Dachshund man had said to meet at the entrance, but he was five minutes late and she needed to sit down. She had placed a red bow on Barker’s collar, a sign to the Dachshund man that she was the one he was looking for. She waited. She watched other dog walkers come and go, but none looked like him. A few minutes passed. It’s ok, said the sing song voice, not everyone is as punctual as you.
‘He’ll be here soon, Barker,’ she said, ‘and then this will all be worth it.’ A woman walked past carrying a small dog, Jennie couldn’t tell what it was, but it wore a red bow; it was larger than Jennie’s bow, but she wondered at the coincidence of it. The woman stopped to talk to a man entering the park. He had a small dog, but Jennie couldn’t see his face. Was that a Dachshund? The man and woman talked. Jennie closed her arms tighter around the dog in her lap. Is that him? The Pekingese struggled against his soft prison. Jennie looked down at him. ‘Maybe he think that’s me?’ The dog looked up at her and she felt he was waiting for her to do something, but what could she do?
‘It’s not him, it’s just a coincidence,’ she told the dog, but she wondered if she should say something. She imagined going over there and asking them, but how silly she would feel if it wasn’t him. Don’t make a fool of yourself, pet.
‘I’ll just leave it. He’ll come soon enough.’ The dog lead was wound tight around her hands burying the thin leather in her skin. The Pekingese’s black eyes watched her, but she turned away, back to the gate. The man and woman were gone. She had missed them. Did they leave together? She loosened her grip on the lead and the dog struggled out of her lap. Dachshund man was twenty minutes late. As she stood up, she felt it all slip away from her. She walked to the notice-board and scanned it. She pulled a lost dog flyer from the board and looked at it, then down at the Pekingese. ‘So it’s Max, is it?’ The Pekingese looked up at her and barked. She rolled the flyer up and pushed it inside Max’s collar. ‘I’ll take you back to the newsagent’s then, shall I, Max?’