Isn`t every day a new start? An opportunity to redress wrongs of the day before, to go back on that diet, to visit an elderly relative who has been left alone too long, to finish that piece of handiwork that has been languishing in a bag in the spare room, perhaps to tidy that same room? All these thoughts were going through Emma`s head as she lay in her bed, sipping her first coffee on a Sunday morning. She wriggled her feet into the cosy slippers beside the bed and drew back the curtains. The sun blazed into the room, making Emma blink; she hadn`t realised it was that late – she looked at her watch and saw it was 10.30 am.
She caught a glimpse of herself in the bedroom mirror as she made her way into the bathroom – rumpled blonde bed-hair, tanned face and plumpish figure clad in pink pyjamas – she put her tongue out as she walked past and began to clean her teeth before running the shower. The water coursed over her body and hair as she lathered them both with her favourite gel. The bubbles crackled and hissed around her ears and she welcomed the rush of warm water turning this way and that under the shower head. A quick rub of her hair and then she wrapped herself in a large, fluffy towel and returned to the bedroom humming softly to herself. For a moment she paused in the doorway looking expectantly at the mat by the dressing-table – no – there was no large, untidy lump of blonde fur lying there – looking up at her adoringly and thumping a tail. She realized, sadly, that it had now been two weeks since she had taken the necessary step of having to put down Ladybug, her beloved retriever, who had been her constant companion for twelve years. Ladybug always slept in her basket downstairs at night, but it was her custom to come up to the bedroom each morning when Emma took her coffee back upstairs – she then `helped` Emma to get dressed by lying just where Emma wanted to stand – sneezing each time Emma applied her hairspray or perfume. `Well move then, silly dog` Emma used to say but Ladybug just ignored her and carried on sneezing and helping.
Emma and Ladybug had a set routine – after Emma dressed they would go downstairs and have breakfast – Emma usually had toast with Marmite and a second cup of coffee and Ladybug relished her dried biscuits. Then off to the park for their jog/trot/brisk walk and a game of `fetch the ball` which was enough, in later years, to tire Ladybug out for the rest of the morning. They then walked to the local shops – into the bakers for bread and perhaps the odd, tempting-looking cake for lunch and then into the small supermarket for other bits and pieces. Ladybug always sat outside, waiting patiently. Emma did not need to tie her up – she had passed the age when she would dash after the odd cat or anything else that took her fancy.
Now the lead was still hanging on its hook by the door – waiting? for what? It was another reminder to Emma of the loss of her beloved pet but somehow she was not yet ready to get rid of it.
As Emma munched her way through the toast and sipped her coffee she thought about beginning to tackle the Sunday papers but decided they were better left until later in the day. What to do? Walking through the park was still too painful and full of memories of Ladybug and even after just two weeks of not walking, Emma noticed she had put on a little weight. Clear out the spare room? That was a major undertaking and one she felt should be reserved for a day when she got up a lot earlier than she had today. The weather was far too nice to get out embroidery she had been working on for years and she didn`t feel like gardening – she only had a small back garden which had been made secure for a dog and she had paved most of it and grown plants in pots – an easy-maintenance garden that suited her.
Various ideas churned through her mind and then she thought of her Aunt Grace – her late mother`s younger sister – who she hadn`t seen for ages. She picked up the phone right away and Grace`s friendly voice answered brightly. Yes, she would love to see Emma that afternoon and insisted that she stay for tea. Emma felt satisfied – there was something purposeful to do.
After a light lunch Emma changed and dusted her face lightly with makeup, ran the comb through her hair, grabbed her handbag and mobile phone and set off in her car for the 25 mile journey to Aunt Grace. She stopped on the way at a roadside stall that was selling freshly-cut flowers and bought a colourful bouquet for her aunt. She put on `Graceland`, her favourite CD and hummed to the throbbing music as she drove.
There was quite a delay before Aunt Grace answered the door and muffled scufflings and scramblings could be heard from inside. Eventually a rather ruffled Aunt opened the door a little, bending down to grab the collar of a wriggling, snuffling, whimpering bundle of golden fur whose front paws shot out to welcome Emma. Aunt Grace pulled the puppy back and opened the door to let Emma in.
As soon as the pup was released she twisted herself around Emma`s legs, jumping up excitedly and yelping in glee. Aunt Grace apologised and tried to control the pup – not very effectively. `Fleur, will you behave!` Aunt Grace bellowed, the pup turned to look at her for a moment and then returned to greeting Emma. She had no intention of behaving when there was someone new to make a fuss of and, hopefully, the attention would be returned. It was.
Emma stooped down in the hall and ruffled the pup`s ears and kissed her head – no easy task as Fleur was still wriggling with excitement. It was all too much – a puddle on the hall carpet had Aunt Grace dashing for a cloth, exclaiming in frustration as she mopped up the pool.
The three of them made their way into the kitchen where Fleur ignored the request to get in her basket. Emma noticed a pair of chewed slippers that had obviously been very smart before Fleur`s needlelike teeth had customised them. There were several toys around the kitchen floor and Fleur`s water and food bowl.
Aunt Grace made some tea and produced the sandwiches, bridge rolls and cake she had made earlier. They sat at the kitchen table with Fleur, by now exhausted, curled up in her basket. Aunt Grace explained that her son had bought Fleur for her about two weeks ago, to keep her company. It was a strange coincidence, Emma thought, that that was about the time she had lost Ladybug. Anyway Aunt Grace admitted she was at her wits` end with the puppy – she was finding it very difficult to cope and, although she knew things would be easier when puppyhood had passed, it was the puppyhood that seemed so daunting. She admitted she really wished her son had bought her a kitten!
Aunt Grace was a little ashamed of being so useless with a puppy but thought perhaps Golden Retrievers, though lovely and loving by nature, were very boisterous when young. She asked Emma how she had coped with Ladybug as a puppy and, at that, Emma broke down in tears – her hands began to shake as she held her teacup and carefully replaced it chinking on the saucer. `Sorry`, Emma sobbed, groping in her bag for her tissues. Her Aunt rose and came to place her arms around Emma and hugged her as Emma managed to gulp out that she had had to have Ladybug put to sleep recently. Aunt hugged her closer and stroked her hair. They stood like that, frozen in attitude, for some time until a small, furry paw was placed on Emma`s lap and she looked down into two sad, deep brown eyes. With an enormous sob Emma leant down and scooped Fleur up off the floor and snuggled into her warm, puppy-smelling body. Aunt Grace returned quietly to her seat watching the two of them thoughtfully.
Fleur was not going to tolerate being hugged for too long so she wriggled her way free and dashed across the floor after one of her toys. Emma wiped her face and went to the sink to wash her hands before resuming tea. Aunt Grace looked at her for a while across the table before speaking, `Emma, I know this is rather soon, but would you … could you … consider taking on Fleur? I really don`t think I can cope any longer and as she was a present from my son I can`t just give her to anyone but I know Boyd would understand if you wanted her. Would you consider it?` Emma looked up from her plate, tears welling in her eyes again as she looked up `Oh Aunt Grace – I would love her. You know I would look after her well and, of course, I would bring her to visit you often so you can watch her grow.` `Well that`s that` said Aunt Grace – you may take her with you now if you like – I have her crate in the garage and I`m sure you have room in your car for her basket, plates, toys and other bits and pieces`.
Emma couldn`t believe what had happened. It had not occurred to her to try and replace Ladybug and anyway she knew she never could do that but this was a pup in need – left in Aunt Grace`s kindly but exasperated care the pup would do just what it liked and lead Aunt – quite literally – a dog`s life!
So thanking Aunt Grace many, many times and with a wriggling Fleur in her arms, Emma made her way to her car, burying her face in the bundle of fur and thinking that she was starting over again …