8. Puppy Facts
Old friends, like old shoes, are comfortable. But old shoes, unlike old friends, tend not to be supportive: it is easier to stumble and sprain an ankle while wearing a pair of old shoes than it is in new shoes, with their less yielding leather.
In his despair, Angus decided that it would be Domenica to whom he would turn. He did not have much choice, of course; in recent years he had not paid as much attention to friendships as he should have done, and there were relatively few people with whom he had preserved a dropping-in relationship. And there are many of us, surely, in that category; we may feel that we have numerous friends, but how many can we telephone with no purpose other than to chat? Angus was aware of this. He had spent evenings on his own when he ached to talk to somebody and he had decided that he really should do something about acquiring more friends.
Fortunately, Domenica was in. She was due that morning to attend a Saltire Society meeting, but that was not until eleven, and it was barely half past nine when Angus knocked on her door. She sensed from his expression that something was wrong, and invited him in solicitously.
“Something’s happened?” She thought immediately of Cyril. To have a dog is to give a hostage to fortune, and Domenica had occasionally reflected on the fact that when Cyril went – and dogs do not really last all that long – Angus would be bereft. Yes, she thought; something has happened to Cyril – again. It was only a month or so ago that he had been arrested and had faced being put down for biting – an unjust charge which had in due course been refuted. And then there had been his earlier adventure when he had been kidnapped while Angus had been buying olive oil in Valvona & Crolla. Cyril, it seemed, was destined to bring drama to their lives.
“Cyril?” asked Domenica, putting an arm around Angus’s shoulder.
Angus nodded miserably.
“Oh, dear Angus,” said Domenica. “He was such a fine dog. One of the great dogs of his generation. An example to… to other dogs.”
The eulogy was premature; Angus was shaking his head. “Is, if you don’t mind. Is, not was.”
Domenica was momentarily taken aback. While she might have described Cyril in those glowing terms once he was safely dead, she was not sure if she would compliment him thus during his lifetime. In fact, she thought rather the opposite; Cyril, in her view, was distinctly malodorous and somewhat odd, with that ridiculous gold tooth of his and his habit of winking at people. No, there was something rum about Cyril; and I have to use the word rum, thought Domenica – there is no other word in the English language with that precise nuance of meaning. Cyril was rum and Angus was… well, perhaps very slightly rum – sometimes. Perhaps we need a word, she wondered, not quite as strong as rum, which might be used for people who are just a little bit… again the language failed, thereby underlining the need for the elusive word. The lexicon of drinks might be dipped into for this purpose: if not rum then gin? No. Gin already had its metaphorical burden, at least when linked with tonic. Somebody who was a bit G and T was the sort of person who hung about golf club bars, a bit flashy. Port? That was more promising perhaps.
Angus had politely shrugged her arm off his shoulder and was now sitting at her kitchen table, looking at the kettle.
“You’re very kind. Thank you.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “Cyril had an affair, you see.”
Domenica looked at Angus wide-eyed. “Well, I suppose that these things happen. But what’s wrong with that? Don’t you approve of his choice?”
“A very brief affair,” said Angus. “It lasted about four minutes. With a bitch he met in Drummond Place Gardens. I couldn’t stop it, really. And then she became pregnant.”
Domenica suppressed the urge to laugh. “Well, I suppose that’s what happens. People have affairs and… well, biology takes the shine off.”
“Well, the puppies have been delivered to me,” Angus blurted out. “In a box. Six of them.”
Domenica, who was in the middle of filling the kettle, stopped what she was doing. “To you?” she asked. “To the flat?”
Angus sighed. “They’re in my studio at the moment. I’ve put them in there. Cyril was delighted to meet them.”
Domenica reached for the coffee jar and ladled several spoonfuls into the cafeti`ere. She tried to imagine what it would be like to have seven dogs in one flat, even in a flat the size of Angus’s.
“Well I don’t know what to say,” she said. “You’ll have to get rid of them. Obviously.”
Angus looked up from the table. “How? How can I get rid of six puppies?”
“Put them in The Scotsman. You see dogs for sale there.”
It was clear to Angus that Domenica knew nothing about the world of dogs. “Those are pedigree dogs,” he explained patiently. “Cyril is, of course, a pedigree dog, but the mother… well, she’s multicultural. Half spaniel, I think, with a dash of schnauzer and goodness knows what else. Nobody wants funny-looking dogs any more.”
“Well, take them to the dogs’ home then,” said Domenica briskly. “That’s why we have dogs’ homes.” She paused. “We do have a dogs’ home in Edinburgh, don’t we?”
“We do,” answered Angus. “And I’ve already been in touch. I telephoned them straight away. They’re chock-a-block full at the moment, and they told me that I should try to find homes for them myself. So that’s not on.”
Domenica resumed her making of the coffee. Then, suddenly she turned to him and said, “I don’t want a puppy, Angus.”
He looked at her, wounded. “I wasn’t going to…”
“Well, I just thought I’d make that clear from the start,” she said. “I don’t actively dislike dogs, but I would have to draw the line at owning one.”
Well, that answers that, thought Angus. He had been planning to ask Domenica to take one, but that was not the reason he had come here. He had come here for sympathy and advice, and all he was getting was a warning and a cup of Domenica’s coffee, which never tasted very good anyway and was certainly not as good as the coffee made by… He stopped. Big Lou! Big Lou was all heart and what heart would not be melted by a puppy… or perhaps even two?