Well I did it! I hit ‘send’ on my second Much Winchmoor novel on the due date, so as promised in my last blog post, I’m posting this short story by way of celebration. Also, it’s a thank you to all you lovely people who have followed my blog during my stumbling journey towards and beyond publication of my debut crime novel, Murder Served Cold.
It is not a Christmas story but one I enjoyed writing very much as it features a Dalmatian called Jemima – and here’s a photograph of the dog that inspired it. She was a sweet natured, gentle dog and was very much loved.
This story is dedicated to her and all the other dogs we have been privileged to share our lives with.
Mail Order Husband
“WANTED: A Husband. Must be young and fit with good teeth and bone structure.”
I read out what I’d just written to Jemima, who was watching me, her lovely amber eyes focussed intently on my face. “What do you think so far?” I asked. “Is there anything else you’d like me to say? Good sense of humour? Enjoys long walks in the country?”
Jemima gave one of her special smiles, then went across to the door and looked back at me impatiently.
“OK, I’ll be there in a minute,” I said. “But I’ve got to finish this ad first. It is, after all, for your benefit, so don’t rush me, otherwise I’ll forget the most important bit. ‘Must have spots’. Better not leave that out, had I?”
After all, spots are pretty important to a Dalmatian – and Jemima, my two year old Dalmatian was pretty important to me. In fact, since Simon stomped out of my life, she was the single most important thing left in it.
Maybe, this tiny niggling voice inside my head was saying, that was the case before Simon stomped out – and maybe that was why he stomped.
That and the dog hairs, of course. They used to drive him bananas. If he was wearing light coloured clothes, the black hairs would show while the white ones stuck like a shower of tiny barbed magnets to his smart, something-in-the-City suits.
But now Simon had gone, there was nothing stopping me letting Jemima have a litter of puppies, hence my quest to find her a husband – or in her case, a one night stand. In fact, for Simon, that was the final straw, or do I mean dog’s hair? He didn’t quite say ‘it’s me or the puppies’, just the usual stuff about growing apart and how it was him, not me.
I finished writing the ad, popped it in an envelope ready to put in the post box when I took Jemima out for her walk. There were some wonderful dog walks close to where I lived and in the two years I’d had Jemima, I’d got to know and like most of the other dogs and their owners in the area.
All, that is, except one. The dog was the most peculiar looking creature you could imagine, with weird, angular limbs that stuck out at awkward angles when he ran. He had huge clumsy paws, hair that looked like a worn down yard broom and a bark that could have been used as a foghorn in the English Channel. I have no idea what his owner looked like because he was invariably a couple of fields away, bellowing at the dog to come back.
Only of course, the dog never did. If that dog had been human, he’d have had an asbo slapped on him ages ago. He was a nightmare.
As I crossed the stile into the next field, there ahead of me, was Asbo Dog who took one look at me and Jemima and ran towards us, no doubt trying to warn us there was a giant oil tanker bearing down on our starboard side.
I did what I always did when I heard him. I turned, went back over the stile and into another field, calling Jemima to follow me as I did so.
But she didn’t. Instead, for the first time in her life, instead of coming when she was called, she took off across the field towards him, like Cathy and Heathcliff on the Yorkshire moors.
“Jemima. Come back now.” I yelled, but it was no good. The two of them streaked through the hedge and out of sight, leaving me to run as fast as I could after them.
“Was that your dog chasing mine?” a young man with wild hair and anxious brown eyes asked me.
“My dog chase yours?” I stopped to get my breath and realised I was talking to the owner of Asbo-Dog. “Let me tell you, Mr -?”
“Nick. My name’s Nick.”
“Well, Nick, your dog is the worst, the most out of control dog I’ve ever met. Have you never heard of training classes?”
Nick pushed his fingers through his hair, making it wilder than ever. “I tried – but he got expelled. Untrainable, she said.”
“Nonsense. You should have found another class. No dog is untrainable, you know, just their owners.”
“And what would they teach me?” he said, his mouth twitching like he was trying to hide a smile.
“To get your dog to come when it’s called, for a start,” I said, realising too late I’d walked into his trap.
“Like – what was it you called her? Jemima?”
“Yeah, all right.” I couldn’t help laughing but it soon faded. “Seriously though, we ought to find them. I don’t know about yours, but mine’s got the road sense of a paper bag. And if they should get as far as the main road –”
“Good point. Mine usually sticks to the fields, but it looks like your Jemima has turned his head well and truly today. Who knows what might be going on in that pea brain of his. I’ll try calling him again. Dolly! Come here boy.”
“Dolly?” We were half way across the second field by now but I stopped and turned to stare at him. “You have a great bruiser of a dog who’s built like a tank, looks like a giant bottlebrush and has a bark like a fog horn – and you call him Dolly?”
Nick shrugged. “I don’t know much about dogs but the name suits him when you get to know him.”
I stopped myself in time from saying I didn’t think I wanted to get to know Dolly and I certainly didn’t want any of his bad habits rubbing off on Jemima.
“He was a rescue dog,” Nick went on. “My girlfriend bought him, said she couldn’t resist his cute face. She knew even less about dogs than I do, but we could see he was a right old mixture of breeds, so we thought it would be very clever to call him Dolly. For Dolly Mixtures? We thought he was a she, you see.”
“Obviously,” I said. “But even when they’re little puppies, it’s fairly easy to tell little boy dogs from little girls.”
“I did say we didn’t know much about dogs,” he said with a rueful grin. “And by the time we discovered out mistake, the name had stuck. Unfortunately, at about the same time, my girlfriend realised she’d made another kind of mistake and that she wasn’t really a dog person, or, when she stopped to think about it, a me person, so she walked out, leaving me and Dolly to rub along without her.”
By this time we’d covered most of the field and I was beginning to get seriously worried about Jemima.
“She’s never run off before,” I said, my throat feeling quite sore from calling for her.
“I’m afraid Dolly does it to me most days,” Nick said. “I live in the cottage at the end of Henley Lane and by the time I get back, he’s there, waiting for me, a big silly grin on his face like he’s saying ‘what kept you?’ Hey, come on, they’ll be fine, you’ll see.”
But by the time we trudged back to his cottage, there was no great overgrown bottlebrush of a dog waiting on the doorstep with a big silly grin. No sign of Jemima either.
I was seriously worried and ready to burst into tears. “If anything’s happened to her, I’ll never forgive myself,” I said as I tried but failed to imagine life without my stupid, scatterbrain, intensely affectionate dog who would wrinkle her lips back in a smile – and steal the food off the table the second my back was turned.
“Look, why don’t you come in and have a coffee or something?” Nick asked. “You look all in.”
“No, I must keep looking.”
“Just a quick coffee – and I’ve got some very nice chocolate biscuits. Come on round the back. It’s easier -“
He stopped so suddenly that I bumped into him on the narrow path that led around the side of his cottage. To one side of the cottage was an old lean to that Nick obviously used as a log store.
And there, cosied up together like Brad and Angelina was Jemima and Dolly. He was looking like the cat who got the cream while she looked like she’d not only got the cream but the champagne and chocolates as well.
I went to get her lead from my pocket when I felt something crackle. I pulled it out. It was the envelope I’d forgotten to post.
“You’re all right,” Nick said. “There’s a post box just outside the cottage.”
“I think it’s a bit late for that,” I said.
He shook his head. “No, I don’t think it’s been collected yet. Do you want me to -?”
I shook my head and laughed. “I meant it’s probably too late as far as Jemima’s concerned. This is an advert for a husband for her. I was trying to find another Dalmatian, you see. Only it looks very much like Jemima had her own ideas when it came to finding a mate.”
“Oh Lord, I am sorry,” Nick said. “But don’t I remember hearing somewhere that there are injections dogs can have, sort of like the morning after pill?”
I looked at Jemima, still cosied up to Dolly. And I looked at Dolly with his sweet trusting face and friendly eyes. And do you know, he was quite a handsome looking dog, after all. The sort that grew on you. Very much like his owner, come to think of it.
“Oh I don’t know,” I said, “Goodness only knows what the puppies will be like. We’ve probably invented a new breed. We can call them –”
We both said it together, proving what I was coming to suspect. That Nick and I had as much in common as our dogs.
Now, all that remains is to wish you all a happy Christmas and a hope that 2019 brings you everything you wish for. xxx