This is a story from Carolyn, one of our contributing authors. Carolyn is a member of Clevedon Writers Meet group.

Food for Wet Dogs by Carolyn E. Purcell

Abby had been alone a long time. The broken romances stretched back in time, like Route 66 into the distance. Eventually, she’d had enough of coming low on her latest boyfriend’s list of priorities; after the job, the classic car, the football team, the holidays with the lads, and the trans-Sahara motorcycle rally.  She decided that she wouldn’t settle for anything less than perfect. In the meantime, she would go about her normal life doing the things she liked to do. A year later she was restless and lonely. Clearly, perfection didn’t exist.

So, she decided she would try a new routine. She’d read, in one of her many self-help books, that if you change one small thing about your life every day, in time, you end up with a totally different life. She started with mornings and got up an hour earlier every day. She used the extra hour to stop at a local coffee shop on the way to her design studio. The cafe was homely, with arm chairs in the front windows and sofas at the back. On fine days, she sat at one of the pavement tables for two.

Gradually, she got to know the regulars. Mary Lovejoy came with her dog, Archie, every day and shamelessly indulged in a hot chocolate with all the trimmings. Abby watched enviously as Mary scooped up the dripping cream and dunked the marshmallows. Dr Woodward’s large takeaway latte waited for him on the counter, eight thirty on the dot. Sam wolfed a full breakfast ahead of a long day on a building site. Young Katie came with her sleeping baby, the tell-tale shadows of a restless night under her eyes.

Then one day, out of the blue, Mary asked her for a favour. ‘I’m going to go into hospital for an operation. I’ll be away overnight and I wondered whether you would look after Archie for me. He seems to like you.’  Abby was surprised and flattered, she knew how much the dog meant to Mary.

‘Don’t you have anyone else to look after him?’ she asked.

‘Not really,’ Mary explained, ‘my daughter and her family live at a distance.’  Why not, thought Abby, it’s only one night. Archie was sweet, if a little hyperactive.

The day started as normal. After collecting Archie, Abby walked to her studio and let him loose to explore. Part spaniel, part poodle and part dynamo, Archie spent hours sniffing in every corner and rooting around in every box. By lunchtime, Abby gave up trying to concentrate, put Archie on his lead and took him to the park. They had just reached the top of the hill, when there was an unexpected summer downpour. Abby grabbed Archie and sheltered under a large tree.  Looking out from under the umbrella of green leaves, she could see a man sprinting towards her through the slanting rain. As he got closer, she realised that he was running on a sprinting blade, at a pace that made him look like he belonged on a professional running track.  A large Alsatian dog galloped along beside him.  As he pulled in under the tree, he bent over to catch his breath. He made a silent motion with his hand and the dog sat.

‘I hope you don’t mind if I share your shelter,’ he said. ‘It’s a great day for wet dogs.’

‘Not at all,’ said Abby. ‘It’s a free tree truck.’

‘John,’ he said holding out his hand.

‘Abby,’ she said and shock his hand firmly.

He caught her sideways glance at the prosthetic. ‘Afganistan, roadside IED,’ he explained.

‘I’m sorry. Were you there long?’ she asked.

‘It was my last tour. Explosive Ordnance Disposal, I was a specialist working with the dogs. My left leg was badly injured and they amputated just above the knee. It could have been worse.’ As they waited out the rain, he told her about the incident, the surgery at Camp Bastian and the rehabilitation back home. She told him about her new business venture and about how she started it with the legacy from her beloved grandmother, and what that meant to her.

‘I got to keep my dog, Leo. He was retired at the same time. I’m lucky,’ he said, patting Leo. ‘So many friends were killed.’ She moved in closer to touch his sleeve gently and the smell of him was like coming home. The rain eased and hesitation filled the space under the tree.  Archie shock himself, soaking them again.

‘The Fox and Hounds is a great pub on the other side of the park. They have home-cooked food. We could have a drink and dry off?’ John suggested. They walked the dogs to the pub. As they entered Abby noticed a huge jar of small, bone-shaped dog biscuits on the bar and a welcoming sign that read “ FOOD FOR WET DOGS “. How perfect, she thought.

© Carolyn E. Purcell 2016

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