She wonders what will happen when the dog dies.
This dog, the third or fourth they have had together, has been a good one, challenging enough as a puppy to ensure that there was always conversation, projects, minor domestic disasters. The time he ate the washing powder, the destruction of any shoes left lying around, the little accidents in the first few months. All of this has filled the silences, kept them busy, given them something to talk about, when winter evenings stretched ahead of them and bed time seemed a million miles away.
The walking has helped, this dog has been energetic, bouncy, it has been quite legitimate to leave the house for 2 , 3 hours at a time. She knows that she has used the routine to escape when staying would have meant speaking, articulating the distance between them and she suspects that her husband has also used the dog and his routines as a way of managing a marriage gone stale, gone bad, turned rank and sour.
And of course, the dog has become the receiver of conversation, the recipient of secrets, his floppy spaniel ears pricked, head tilted to one side as each of them choose him to tell him about their day, their tiny disappointments, their even smaller achievements.
Her husband, his return as predictable as his leaving each morning for an office where, more and more, he finds himself side-lined, confused and resentful has a ritual which unchanging signals the beginning of their evenings together.
Brief case is left at the bottom of the stairs, cuff links and keys dropped just a shade too loudly into the fruit bowl on the dinning table and then a tiny pause, which she fantasies filling with a scream
“Just bloody leave it, it doesn’t matter” as he carefully re-arranges the fruit bowl so that it is exactly centered on the table.
Some days, she has taken to moving it, so that the bowl, green, ceramic, ugly, a wedding gift from an elderly aunt, his aunt, tethers on the very edge of the table. On other days, she fills it with mad objects, potatoes, clothes pegs, tiny china frogs. He never comments.
Then he makes his way upstairs and standing in the kitchen, she hear him moving around the bedroom, suit off, wardrobe open, the rustle of clothes hangers, suit carefully hung up. A pause,then a small thud of shoes being dropped to the floor as he sits on the bed to complete his evening transformation. She knows that later when she goes upstairs, in winter to turn on the electric blanket,in summer to ensure that the window is open,she will find his socks, pants, vest all left close to, but not actually in the washing basket. A tiny reminder to her that hers’ is the marginal job, the part-time hours, the proximity to home, the laughable take home pay all re-inforce her status as housewife, a carer for him, the house and of course, the dog.
And then he re-appears, neatly ironed jeans, a casual shirt, ready for the next part of the day.
Sometimes when she irons these jeans, she presses so hard on the fabric that her knuckles whiten and her wrists ache with the force she uses.
Then it is dog time and the dog, as used to this routine as she is, emerges from his basket, a little stiff now, a little less bouncy, but still eager. Her husband kneels, strokes the dogs ears and the litany begins
“Best boy, good dog, clever fella, does the big boy want to go walkies then?”
The dog shivers with pleasure, with anticipation, his face split open in a huge canine grin, his attention torn between his master and the lead hanging up on the hook by the mirror in the hallway.
“30 minutes, Yeah?” says her husband and she mumbles something indistinct from the kitchen, they both know that dinner will be ready at the same time each evening, this dialogue is simply another part of the evening ritual.
Ironically,she has found that as local authority cuts have made her job at the local library more and more part-time, almost a non job, that this half hour, where he is home, but not truly home, has become precious and on the rare occasions when truly terrible weather has kept him and the dog indoors, she has felt cheated, bereft of the loss of this tiny last gasp of solitude before the routine of dinner, television, bath and bed time.
She hears the door close behind them and opening the cutlery draw to set the table, she wonders again, what they will do when the dog dies.