26 June 2010


Ginger had snored in his sleep most of the night and with every snort a stick of straw bounced on my nose. I snarled a few times hoping it would stop without me having to move. All the same, I opened my eyes, saw a glimmer of light showing through the broken slats in the barn door. The day was dawning, it felt warm yet I smelled rain. Mice scurried in and out of tiny holes, something Ginger and I had to put up with. I didn’t mind sharing the barn with Ginger but the mice really got on my nerves.

We shared the farm with other wild animals, rabbits, rats, and the occasional fox. Hens were kept in a covered enclosure, only allowed to roam free under supervision so that foxy couldn’t grab one for a meal. I avoided them when they were out. I’d had enough nips from bantams to make me wary. My favourite hiding place was in the stable along with a grey mare called Dolly. It was a daft name for a horse but probably not as silly as calling me Butch. I mean, did you ever see a dog less butch in your life? Ginger I could understand, him having a red coat, but Butch…. No!

More pokes from the hay, the last one right in my eye, ended my bit of daydreaming. Feeling irritated I shoved up closer to Ginger and barked in his ear. He leapt up, half alert, half still dreaming, then lay down again. Whoa! Not so fast, young man, you’ve got things to do, this is no time for lazing on your pallet. I dragged a paw over his eyes, the only sure fire way I knew to get his attention and to remind him that today was his big day.

That did it, he was up and pacing before I could get on my feet. I felt a bit sorry, really, knowing how much he disliked dog shows.

Heralded by the crowing cockerel, I padded to the barn door to see if Chicken Fingers had laid on breakfast. I could see the food plates were empty, only the water bowl was full and even that contained a couple of flies trying to swim. It was already feeling muggy; I could feel the pressure of impending heat. Not the right condition for poor Ginger to be marching round a show ring.

Ginger and I shuffled towards the house, woofing occasionally in the hope that waking Chicken Fingers would get us fed sooner rather than later. He was a bit of a late starter at weekends. My stomach rumbled with hunger, my fault for not having had supper! I was sulking ‘cause Ginger was getting all the attention. Missus was a great one for overdoing the ear fondling and her declarations of love for what she called a Silly Setter were quite painful to listen to. Chicken Fingers tried to pacify me, promising me a knuckle bone while Ginger was in the ring. Sometimes it pays to be small and undemanding.

As we cornered the house we could hear Missus humming a tune so I guessed she was in a good mood. Exceptional smells emanated from the kitchen, inviting me to dart through the door. But I hung back to let Ginger go in first. Sight of him would have her doubling our rations since he was her favourite. She couldn’t do enough for him, and I was glad. It meant I was in for the extra that Ginger couldn’t eat. Our appetites were quite different which Chicken Fingers said was unusual considering our different sizes.

There were a lot of hiccups that morning. Missus and Chicken Fingers fell out over a bit of mud he’d walked into the kitchen. Humans are funny sometimes. The telephone rang repeatedly, mostly when Missus was in the middle of doing something important. One time she was putting on her face when it rang, though for the life of me I couldn’t think why she was so upset. I actually thought she looked better without all that paste and stuff she layered on every day. Ginger nearly went into one of his hurtling sessions but managed to control himself … not easy when you think how much he hates the telephone. It was more than his life was worth to resort to old practices of belting round the kitchen, breaking things, and upsetting Missus into the bargain.

Missus had a lot to do before the event but when she got round to seeing to Ginger she calmed down and actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Poor Ginger had to be washed and dried and brushed until he shone. And shone he did. His wavy red hair was a sight to see. I don’t get jealous. I mean, with my short coat there’s not much to shine. And anyway I wasn’t being shown and judged. Gaffer once told his mate that ‘Butch belied his breed, he hadn’t got a jealous streak in his body,’ I spent a long time wondering how I could belie my breed, whatever that was.

We arrived at the showground early. Ginger hung back at first, I reckoned he was scared to move in case he got dirty. He’d been warned not to chase after one of the little dogs, the one with short legs that Ginger thought was German. Me, I don’t know a Beagle from a Poodle, they’re all just dogs to me. I couldn’t help grinning at Ginger when he tried hard to look the other way so as not to be tempted.

Since it was early Missus gave us permission to have a look round. ‘Mind you don’t get yourself dirty,’ she said as she stroked Ginger’s head. He had the graciousness to look pleased … he was good at toadying up to her. He might be a bit dippy but he was no fool, he knew which side his bread was buttered!

The showground was busy and very noisy. I could hear music coming from the tiny fair. People were shouting things like ‘Roll up, roll up’ and ‘Try your luck with the cards’. Kids giggling behind clouds of pink fluff on a stick stopped to give Ginger a stroke. I looked at them in my most appealing manner, was rewarded with a tickle between the ears which made me go all funny. I longed for more of the same but the girls wandered off, leaving Ginger and me alone.

Wandering round the side stalls we stopped to watch some colourful horses riding in circles, going up and down. According to a young girl who stood nearby it was called a merry-go-round. I’d heard her ask the lady whose hand she held, ‘Can I have a ride on the merry-go-round?’

Ginger decided he wanted a go too. He ran up the ramp and squatted beside a lovely red and yellow horse with a black mane and spotted body. I barked at Ginger, hoping he’d come down without a fuss, but it was only when a gent wearing a brown apron threatened him with his stick that he decided enough was enough. Ginger ran down the ramp and hit a deep puddle left by the previous night’s rain. Oh boy, trouble was definitely ahead.

Missus was beside herself. ‘I’ll never let you out with that no-good Staff again,’ she wailed.

She was, of course, blaming me for Ginger’s idiotic antics. I went and sat by Chicken Fingers, who laughed at the whole thing. Placing his hand on my back he murmured, ‘Take no notice.’ So I followed his advice and settled back to watch Missus heave the bath and shampoo out of the van, along with a container of water. Ginger was to be washed and dried all over again, in public too. I tried hard not to let him see me grinning.

‘Daft woman,’ muttered Chicken Fingers. ‘

After another brush down it was time for Missus and Ginger to take their place with the others, right in the middle of the show ring. Chicken Fingers put me on the lead and guided me towards the arena, grabbing a spot right by the ring. I settled between his feet with the promised knuckle bone to watch my best friend make a fool of himself.

Three judges stood by a long table, at the side of which lay a box of red and yellow rosettes. I thought they’d look good on the merry-go-round horses. People in white coats stood behind the table, presumably waiting to be told what to do. It was stiflingly warm which was probably why one of them kept dabbing his face with a blue and white spotted handkerchief.

‘Is everyone in that should be in,’ asked the middle judge, a balding man in crumpled grey trousers and heavy green jacket.

One of the lady judges sniggered as she walked with her colleague towards the dogs and handlers. After they finished their inspection she gave a signal to the man judge who then proceeded to give instructions for the next part of the proceedings.

Ginger looked as if he wanted to lie down but Missus had him on tight standing-up rein.

Dogs and handlers ran round the course, dog leads held high so that the animals could not only be seen but couldn’t do anything they shouldn’t. Chicken Fingers nudged me when Ginger and Missus came by. Ginger’s coat glistened but although he held his head up I could see he wasn’t enjoying it. Let’s face it, it wasn’t what either us expected when we were rescued from the dogs’ home. Seeing the look of desperation in my friend’s eyes my little heart went out to him. I yapped my encouragement and was rewarded by the flash of a grin.

The dogs had to do a number of things for the judges, sit, stand, walk, run, plus a session on obeying commands. I wouldn’t have swapped places with him if I’d been given a load of knuckle bones. I gave up watching and went back to gnawing the meat off mine.

Just then I heard a fearful noise, a crash and lots of shouting. I raised my head to see what was going on, struggled upright for a better view. You’ll never believe what I saw. It was a right scene. Ginger had broken loose from Missus and was hoofing after the German dog, chased by the fat judge whose legs were more into waddling than running. I reckoned he’d have done better if he’d left his jacket behind. The podium was tipped over, three judges’ chairs heaped beside it; a lady judge was lying on the floor, one of the men in a white coat jumped about nursing his hand, while Missus just stood there with her hands over her eyes.

Back home, with Ginger in disgrace, Missus ranted about unreliability, dangerous behaviour, and disobedience. Chicken Fingers gave him water to drink but no food. That was worrying; it could have meant I’d have to do without as well. But I was taken out later and given a feast of chicken mince with gravy while Ginger was kept indoors. Gaffer sat with me on the outside step. He told me he never thought Ginger had it in him to be disobedient. I licked his cheek, wishing I could tell him a thing or two about my buddy. But I was nothing if not loyal and anyway having to go through the ordeal of washing as well as being shown in an arena, in front of crowds of people, was enough to split his mind. Poor old Ginger, bet he sometimes wished he was a Staff.

Later that night, out in the barn, Ginger snuggled against me. I licked his face to demonstrate my feelings for him. He might be a daft dog but he was my pal and I was fearful about losing him. Who knows what Missus might do now that he was out of favour? A return to the dogs’ home didn’t bear thinking about. After the luxury of the farm I didn’t think Ginger would survive. I shuffled round until I could rest my head on his body, wondering how I would manage without him. We’d been through a lot, him and me. I felt properly down in the mouth at the idea of us being separated.

We slept close together all night, comforting each other. I’d made up my mind that if he went then so would I. If I wasn’t included in a plan to return to the dogs’ home I would run away. Life on the farm would be no good without my buddy.

Next morning, with the sun shining, the birds twittering merrily outside the barn and geese honking on the pond, Ginger and I put on a united front. We padded across to the kitchen door, noticing as we went that our dishes were empty. That was a bad sign. I was just about to turn away when the kitchen door opened and Missus raced out. Seeing Ginger she swooped, cupped his face with both hands and smothered his red face with kisses, then hauled him inside by the scruff of his neck. I followed more slowly. Chicken Fingers was sitting at the wooden table, mincing chicken. I sniffed, looked up at him, saw him wink. Slowly he rose, picked up the two dog bowls that were waiting on the drainer, filled them with mince and poured on gravy from a blue jug.

Meanwhile, Ginger was being petted by Missus. ‘I don’t care,’ she said, ‘you’re my boy and I forgive you for hurting the judge. All that fuss over a silly bruise.’ She threw her arms round Ginger’s neck and plied him with more kisses. He seemed content, even happy. When he grinned at me from within Missus’ embrace I suddenly understood what he was thinking: never again would he be dragged to a showground and made to perform. Hmm, and I thought Ginger was daft.

19 June 2010


If anything was to make me turn tail and run, it was the endless phone calls. Morning, noon, and night, and always at meal times. Ginger's and mine, that is. Blessed instrument was silent when Chicken Fingers and Missus were eating. Missus did her best to get to the phone before Ginger started his howling, though how she could run with all that bulk to carry was beyond me. Like a fattened turkey she was, the way she waddled up the hall at high speed. Too many chicken dinners. Mind, I could talk. I'd got a bit plump since moving in. So had Ginger. His stomach had dropped and it didn't look right. A setter should be lissom and lean. The way he orbited the house when the phone rang should have kept the fat off, which made me wonder how much grub he was taking on the sly. Gaffer at our old lodgings wouldn't like it if he knew. He didn't believe in doling out weighty portions.

Ginger's reaction to the ringing sounds was the only thing I disliked. Other times we got on like a barn on fire. Oops. Shouldn't tempt providence. If that happened, we'd have no place to sleep, 'cause for sure Missus wouldn't have us indoors at night. We were supposed to guard the farm then, while Chicken Fingers slept. I sneaked upstairs one day to take a look at where he and Missus bedded down. The bedstead was as high as heaven, but I managed to jump on. The feather pillow was so soft I could have stayed there all day, but Missus didn't think Chicken Fingers would like it if he knew I was napping in his domain. She ejected me pretty quick and told me never to go in there again, shouting a bit, you know, so as to put a bit of urgency in my dismissal. She was probably anxious lest Chicken Fingers walloped me with his belt. He'd actually never done that, so I didn't see why she should be scared.

Chicken Fingers was the kindest master I'd ever had. Even Ginger said that, and he'd had a couple of good ones in his time. My old lady wasn't so bad, when she wasn't going on about scouring ears with Lysol, but she wasn't a patch on Chicken Fingers. She couldn't walk me, for a start, her pins being as thin as a whippet's. Me and Ginger got all the exercise we needed on the farm: sniffing out mice, chasing rabbits, and running alongside the tractor. It was a shame when the ploughing finished. It was such an excellent activity for reducing the waistline, I wondered Missus didn't have a go. Still there was the dog show to look forward to. There'd be a lot of galloping to do there. Chicken Fingers said there would be an arena to run round, but Missus said if we didn't lose a few inches we wouldn't be eligible, whatever that meant. Perhaps she was worried we wouldn't get through the gate.

Ginger had to suffer daily grooming, but it was worth it. All the tangles on his belly disappeared and, for all his complaining, he looked quite attractive. His coat actually shone. I was sure Missus had tinted it. It wasn't such a splendid red when we came. My coat being short, I didn't need such attention. Me being ordinary black and tan didn't entitle me to much fuss. My coat gleamed, though, because Missus gave it a quick rub with a hound glove and a silk cloth, but she didn't spend time on it. I got quite jealous at times, but Chicken Fingers made me feel better. He fondled me while we watched Ginger being brushed. I was his favourite, see. After all, it was me he picked first at the kennels. Ginger was an afterthought; he was chosen for Missus.

It was during one of the shampooing sessions that Ginger toppled Missus. The phone had leaped into action and from the first peal he was hurtling round like a dog with rabies. I yapped at Missus to grab the phone before he had a heart attack. She tried, but the timing was wrong and Ginger had completed his first revolution by the time she took a step to the table. Inevitably, they collided. Missus went over like a rollicking whale, her skirts rucking round her waist, revealing a spectacle of pink bloomers.

Chicken Fingers clutched his huge gut and rocked from side to side. Terrified he was badly hurt, I raced to him, but stopped dead when I caught his first chuckle. His observation that she'd finally slaughtered his passion was lost in loud guffaws. It stopped Ginger's antics though. Anything to do with bloodshed got him really worried.

I had this image of greeting Gaffer at the kennels and him repeating his famous rule about best behaviour or no food. A joke, he said, when we snarled our disapproval, but we knew he wasn't joking by the scarcity of good grub. With this horror in mind, I decided to make amends.

Trotting up to Missus, I nudged under her arm so she could grab my neck and heave herself upright. I nearly choked in the process, but she made it. She bent to pat my head and I grinned at her for all I was worth, fervently licking her hand. Out the corner of my eye I saw Ginger sneaking towards us, but Chicken Fingers, who had regained his composure, stopped him in his tracks.

'Stay, boy. Stay where you're well off.'

Now that her skirts were settled, Missus was all set to obtain justice. Pointing at Ginger, she yelled at Chicken Fingers, 'First light tomorrow, that fiend's off. And don't think you can protect him, 'cause I won't allow it.'

Chicken Fingers drew himself up to his full six feet and, although his gut protruded like a balloon, he looked impressively forbidding. He summoned Ginger and me to his side and then he bellowed, 'You'll do no such thing, woman.' Ginger and me folded into a profound cringe and we struggled for shelter behind our master's fleshy legs. My picture of Gaffer grew larger. I could almost hear him asserting that he knew we wouldn't be long returning.

A strange thing happened then. The phone began to ring. Sensing the worst, expecting Ginger to take off, I pressed closer to master's lower limb. I felt movement. Indeed I heard it, but it wasn't Ginger's howling I heard. It was a sort of rustling, shuffling sound. I didn't want to look. I didn't want to see Ginger frisking like a spring lamb and constructing the fastest return to starvation.

Chicken Fingers' strident laugh prompted me to peer round his leg in time to see Ginger shambling silently towards Missus, wearing a great stupid grin, and Missus bearing down on him, hands outstretched ready either to embrace or to throttle him.

'Come here, silly boy,' she said, and proceeded to smother him with kisses. Can you credit that? And all the time, the phone rang and rang. No-one went to answer it, and there wasn't a peep out of Ginger. 'You're a good boy, Ginger' Missus said. 'I knew sooner or later you'd learn that the telephone wasn't going to harm us.'

You could've knocked me out with a blade of grass, 'cause I'd never reckoned on Ginger having the capacity to learn things, but then he glanced at me, sort of sideways, and I knew I'd been wrong about him all the time.


12 June 2010


It was the way he stroked my ears through the bars that gave me the idea he fancied me rather than Ginger in the next run, though by the clamour Ginger was making it sounded as if he thought otherwise. I'd never seen him so active, galloping aimlessly round his enclosure, only stopping to issue those attention-seeking howls. The man had given him a cursory glance, then came to scrutinize me, shunning Ginger as if he was the worst captive canine he'd ever seen. And all down to the howls. I had to admit they were greatly off-putting, that's why, now I was the butt of the man's inspection, I was staying cool and not trying to win him over with silly tricks.

Somewhat experimentally I sneaked my tongue out to lick one of his fingers. It tasted kind of interesting, as if he'd been gnawing chicken legs with bare hands. I knew about chicken legs. That's why I was caged up in this unholy place; because I ate the old lady's supper when she was out. Not an adventure I ever had an urge to dwell on with all the caning and outraged bellowing that went on.

The man crouched to get a better view, then stared me straight in the eye. It was a strange thing to do to a dog and I wondered if he was being hostile. If he was, I was in trouble, but he looked genuine enough so I ignored it. If he'd a mind to offer me a home I didn't want to spoil things, especially if there was chicken in the offing. I had a vision of chicken scraps in a huge brown bowl (with mixer and gravy the way the old lady served it in the old days) until the iron gate at the end of the pens crashed open and knocked the image away. I could hear the Gaffer pounding towards us, his hobnailed boots striking the concrete like a salvo of bullets.

'Fancy him do you, Buddy?' he yelled as he approached the man.

'How much you asking?'

'Fifty, providing you can give him a decent home. And I'll need references.'

I planted the ears back in amazement. Since when did buying a Staffordshire need references?

Ginger's tethering chain began to rattle as he clawed that damned ear of his; he'd been plagued by dreaded mites for a while. Well he could keep them to himself if he didn't mind, an invasion this side of getting adopted was out of the question. It wasn't every owner who could tolerate infestations, I realized that when the old woman brought me in and stridently advised the Gaffer to scrub my ears with Lysol. The mere sound of the word sent me dithering into a corner, but to give the Gaffer his due, he simply used drops to cure the irritation. 'So, if you can hear me Ginger, quit showering me with your bugs.'

Chicken Fingers said, 'I really wanted a bitch.'

A bitch? He had to be joking. What use was a bitch to a bloke like him. Slurping water from the steel dish as if it was a cure-all for shock, I pinned the ears further back so as not to be distracted when I studied his face. A dog's man if ever I saw one, beefy and hard. Suddenly he bounced upright, his thighs quivering with the exertion. I followed the curve of his leg until my eye rested on his corpulent gut, and thought of all the meat it must have taken to make it grow so big.

'The wife wanted a bitch.'

Dejectedly, I lay down and put my muzzle on my paws. The fantasy was over. Chicken Fingers had a wife, which meant I was doomed to stay forever with Irish Ginger and the wretch who looked after us.

Chicken Fingers stooped again and poked his hand through the bars. 'He's a fine looking animal,' he said.

I raised one eyelid.

'I'm sure the Missus will understand when she sees his funny grin.'

Scrambling to all fours, I began to pant with excitement, but I didn't run about. Good behaviour was of paramount importance if I was to be salvaged from this dump and transported to a place where a Missus cooked chicken and fed her man until he could hardly move.

The Gaffer reached up and drew the bolt on the gate. Merciful heaven, the gate swung open and liberty loomed. Producing a leather strap from his trouser pocket, he rapidly slid it over my bonce. 'Come on, Butch. Go walkies with the nice gent.' Turning to the nice gent, he added, 'And don't let him pull you. He'd tug a bus to the ground if he was let.'

Chicken Fingers laughed and scratched the spot between my ears, making me go all gooey inside. 'Don't worry,' he said. 'I'm used to dogs.' Then he rubbed the tip of my ear, little knowing it was another of my sensitive spots. 'Things'll be fine when he's found his bed and had his first bite of grub.'

Spinning my tail to show I approved of his plan, I immediately looked up and down the gully trying to remember the way out. Ginger shoved his nose through the railings and gave a subdued bark, and I woofed at him: 'Hey, Ginger. It was my funny grin that got me placed. Now, if you really want to get out of here -'

'How much for the Setter, mate?'

I shot my head round to stare at the new man in my life. He was surely not thinking of taking Ginger as well as me. Him and Missus must live in a mansion.

'Same,' Gaffer said. 'Fifty and a good home.'

'They'll have that all right. We live on a farm. Fields to run in and a barn to share.'

'Won't the wife create if you buy two dogs?'

'If she saw the mutt's downcast expression, she'd be cross if I didn't. I ask you, in all conscience how could I leave him behind?'

As if he had the sense to know what was going on, Ginger yapped wildly and started to chase his tail, taking no notice of my warning that if he didn't behave he'd be left behind; however, since he hadn't been incarcerated as long as me, I suppose he hadn't had to learn the hard way.

A similar strip of leather went over Ginger's head, stopping him in his tracks. Gaffer said to him, 'Okay, Ginger. You're off as well.'

And with that the nice gent clipped a lead on my collar and looped it through Ginger's so we couldn't help but walk as one, and we were led away, my short legs racing to match Ginger's stride. I didn't care, I'd have slid on my belly if needs be.

So we vacated the squalid billet that had been our home, glad to go yet grateful for the shelter it offered when no-one else would take us in. Perhaps one day we would return, but in the meantime we'd have Chicken Fingers for boss and chicken legs, if we were lucky, for our rations.


05 June 2010

All Change (repeat)

Martha strutted along the window sill, head erect and tail held high. Closing the new-home card, Jenny reached out to fondle her ears. There was a lot to thank her for. If it hadn't been for her twitching her whiskers at Steve and fashioning those symmetrical markings into the feline grin that had so captivated him, Jenny might still be living in her former home. Alone and thoroughly miserable.

Moving house in the middle of a blistering summer was not an ideal operation in Jenny's book, though it wasn't so much the heat she disliked as coping alone with the upheaval. The nation was enduring an interminable period of water rationing, peevishness, short sleeve orders and teenagers barely dressed at all. It was unfortunate that contracts had to be signed while August scorched.

Jennifer Cavell was moving to a new flat, leaving behind the pre-war property that had seen the demise of her mother, her father's emigration, two burglaries, and her husband's dereliction. With a history like that she should have been glad to go but whenever she checked the cardboard boxes containing the paraphernalia that represented her life, her despondency deepened. She had lived with the boxes for weeks; she felt as if she'd still have them around for the next few months.

Jack's flight into her best friend's arms had forced her to take stock. The house was far too big and too costly to run on a typist's remuneration. It was a sad house, teeming with nightmares, yet she was bound to it by the fact of being born there. It was Steven Brice who persuaded her to leave. Two tearful years was more than enough, he said, referring to the period of Jack's absence. It was time to move on.

As removal day approached, Jenny's mood had improved. The sight of packing cases seemed less daunting, her stomach stopped its silly plummeting every time her friends broached the subject of the move, and by the time the actual day arrived she was as excited as a teenager on a first date.

Working her fingers through the bunch of mouse coloured hair, Jenny gazed pensively out of the window. A woman was gathering washing from a rotary line. Behind her a frustrated toddler yanked his bicycle in an attempt to free the stabilizing wheels from the wooden fence. The woman stopped her chore to fuss the tearful child, soothing him, her lips forming reassuring sounds.

Beyond the three-storey development block, squirrels skipped across the lawn in the direction of the stream. Picturesque location. It didn't matter that the flat was on the top floor and the only access by means of stairs. Easy access. Everyone said it was a mistake. All those stairs and no lift; not even a balcony to dry clothes on rainy days. Jenny had ignored them, telling herself they were resentful because their homes were lower down the Desirable Residence market. Older and nowhere near as posh. Not one of her colleagues could boast the luxury of en suite, let alone one in avocado.

Jenny removed the band that secured her hair in a bunch, shaking curly locks to freedom. Martha lifted her paw to swat a flagging fly. Stunned, the insect dropped to the sill, buzzing noisily as it spun frenziedly, upside down, trying desperately to recover. The heat affects all creatures, Jenny thought, letting her mind wander over the day's occurrences.

The move had been like a scene in a Laurel and Hardy film. Momentarily, she was pleased Steve wasn't there to witness the chaos. Workmates had convinced her she could do without the expense of a removal firm. They would help, they said. Leave it to them. The distance wasn't far and they all had cars. No-one reckoned on the sweltering heat. Men in shorts and women in skimpy frocks passed goods and chattels one to another in a human chain: thirty feet from road to entrance, a thousand up the stairs, someone said. Another professed it to be at least forty miles from car to flat.

Dressed in stonewashed jeans, the white of her T-shirt enhanced by a broad, black leather belt, Jenny rushed here and there in an absolute fever of happiness. She delighted in her new surroundings. She felt welcome, as if the building had taken her under its wing.

Touring the apartment, Jenny was amazed at how quickly the rooms had assumed a new identity, switching from consummate bareness to sunny occupancy. So well did her possessions fit in, one could imagine they had been there forever. Even the inherited curtains and carpets looked brighter

In the bedroom, she tracked down the suitcase that held what she termed her better garments. She selected a blue organza dress, plain, but classy, bought to wear at a dinner party given by Steven's boss. Tearing off the T-shirt and dropping it in a wicker linen-bin, Jenny went into the bathroom to wash. A stone's throw compared to the trek along the landing at the last house. She filled the sink with as yet unheated water, welcoming the coolness. Though her mouth was dry, she did not attempt to drink. The noise of an aeroplane droning overhead was more distinct now that she was nearer to the sky. 'Closer to God, too.' Chuckling, she returned to the bedroom.

Freshly made-up, aware that she looked her best, Jenny went to the kitchen for a drink. Martha was already there, meowing to remind her it was feeding time. Jenny giggled as she hunted through countless cupboards. 'I'll have to label the doors,' she said, finally locating the one in which someone had shoved the cardboard box marked Cat Food.

Carrying a glass of blackcurrant cordial, sipping as she walked, Jenny returned to the sunlit lounge. Tiredness threatened to dampen her exhilaration but she didn’t give in to it. Hearing a car outside, she deposited the glass on the mantelpiece and rushed to the window. Disappointment engulfed her. A delivery van was reversing into a marked parking space. She would much rather have seen Steve emerging from his silver-grey Volvo. Forgetting her drink, she leaned against the sill, positioned so that she could see the cars entering the estate. Predatory starlings searched the lawn for leather-jackets, fearless now the gardeners who tended the orderly flower beds had gone. The stream glistened, rippling gently. A squirrel nibbled an acorn beneath a burly oak. Jenny wondered if it was the one she saw earlier, abandoned by its mate.

Her thoughts rambled through recent months. Separation had its compensations, she decided, starting slightly as Martha leaped and landed effortlessly beside her, so close her fur brushed Jenny's bare arm. If Jack hadn't run off like a lovesick baboon, she wouldn't have pursued him, and she wouldn't have run across Steven, estate agent and cousin to her ex-best friend. He offered drinks and a meal and a sympathetic ear. He was her mainstay when her heartache overflowed, steadfast in his determination to pull her through. Unlike Jack, Steven Brice was a man of integrity.

Jenny picked up the new-home card and opened it, reading again Steve's message: an expression of hope and a testimony of his eternal love. Tenderly, she pressed the card to her lips, cherishing it, wondering if it would be infantile to thank Jack for the part he played?