15. When Even Puppy Love Has Its Limits
Angus, dispirited by the realisation that Big Lou could not reasonably be expected to accept one or more of his boisterous litter of puppies, looked down into his coffee cup. And a coffee cup, as we all know, is not something that it pays to look into if one is searching for meaning beyond meaning; coffee, in all its forms, looks murky and gives little comfort to one who hopes to see something in it. Unlike tea, which allows one to glimpse something of what lies beneath the surface, usually more tea.
Although they had been in the flat for only a day and a half, the puppies were proving to be a waking nightmare for Angus. A flat without a garden is not the ideal place in which to raise a small dog, let alone six. To begin with, there was the problem of hygiene. A dog may be trained to restrain itself until taken outside, a fact which one would not have to be Ivan Petrovich Pavlov to discover, but this considerate view of the matter is not one which a puppy adopts until it has been conditioned to do so, something which involves a great deal of angst for the dog’s owner. Angus realised that he simply could not face however many weeks, or indeed months, would be required before house-training might be accomplished. In Cyril’s case, of course, the process had been remarkably quick, such was the dog’s unusual intelligence and, indeed, empathy. Cyril understood the issue immediately when it had been pointed out to him by Angus; he had simply looked at his master and nodded, to indicate that he knew that in future he would wait until he was taken outside. Angus had been astonished at the rapidity of Cyril’s understanding, and had mentioned this to one of his Scottish Arts Club friends, who happened to be a member of the staff of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies. “Impossible,” his friend had said, cutting off further discussion. “Animals can’t grasp these things. You have to condition the dog to associate conduct with bad consequences – pain or your displeasure, which amounts to the same thing to the besotted canine. That’s all. They don’t understand these things, you know. Your dog will be no different.”
But it had been true; it had happened, and Angus felt the same sense of frustration that must be felt by those who have witnessed a miracle and find that the person whom they wish to tell about it is a convinced Humean and believes that no human account of the miraculous can be true. It was no good his insisting that Cyril had understood immediately; he would simply not be believed. And of course the most powerful refutation of the likelihood of Cyril having required no house-training now lay before his eyes, in the conduct of these six puppies.
And there was more. Not only was there the house-training issue; there were other forms of damage that the puppies were wreaking. One had chewed a roll of canvas that Angus had stacked at the side of his studio; another had worried away at the edge of a small Persian rug in his hallway, creating an untidy edge along one side and a small hole in the middle. And if this was not enough, another had succeeded in upsetting the small table on which Angus had carefully placed the items for his current still life, shattering the Glasgow jug that formed the centrepiece of this arrangement. The jug lay in fragments; the painting could not be completed now, as Angus could not re-create the moment of juxtaposition that lies at the heart of a good still life; the painting, half-finished, was useless.
Big Lou looked at Angus with something that was close to pity. Of course he would have imagined that it would be a simple matter to palm off a puppy on her. Angus had no inkling that she could read his motives with no difficulty at all, and his motives here were nothing to do with his professed belief that she would be better off with a dog. But in spite of the self-serving nature of his remarks, she found herself feeling sorry for him now – seven dogs in one flat, and a man – what bedlam that must be!
As she looked at Angus, she reflected on what it must be like to be him. It required some imagination, of course; it was such a different life, a life of strange odours and textures: paint, turps; hours spent in the Cumberland Bar with all his fusty friends; being pushed about by that woman, Domenica Macdonald; those long conversations with Cyril; a diet that consisted, as far as she could make out, of kippers and oatcakes. It could not be much fun.
She imagined for a moment the advertisement that Angus might place in the Scotsman lonely hearts column: painter, with seven dogs, seeks understanding woman. That would attract no replies, surely, or deserved not to; the trouble was that desert did not come into it: there were just not enough men. Every man, even the most unpromising one, who placed an advertisement in that column received, on average, eighty-two replies, while even the most meritorious woman who advertised there was lucky to get a single reply, and this single reply, at that, would often be from a man who would have replied to several other advertisements at the same time. Big Lou had once overheard, while walking down Dundas Street, two well-dressed women talking about the difficulty of balancing the seats at a dinner party. “We know no single men for our single girlfriends,” one said, “not one. They simply don’t exist.”
“The world has changed,” said the other.
“No. It’s always been thus. We women wait for men who never turn up.”
And Big Lou thought: is this the lot of women? Is this what we really think? That we either reflect on our good fortune in having found a man, or bemoan his non-appearance? Surely not. Was it for this that the clay grew tall? The more she thought about this, the more she thought: the answer is probably yes. In which case, I shouldn’t even think about giving up Robbie; for all his flaws, for all his Jacobite dreaming, I must keep him. And that means marriage. I can change him. I really can. Marriage changes men – always.