The dog was good at working things out. He had to be. The two people he lived with made a lot of noises that he couldn’t understand. He could catch the odd word or phrase, especially if it related to him, but a lot of the time the sounds they made were just a blur. Usually when they were making sounds that was a good sign. It was only if the tone of the sounds changed that he might start to worry, especially if they got louder. Then he would go to his bed. Nothing had ever hurt him while he was in his bed. Sometimes when he did that, they would look at him, the tone of the noise would change and the bad sounds would stop. He had learned to watch. Movements, patterns of behaviour, reactions- a lot of what they did was predictable. He liked that. He could use it to his own advantage, be in the right place at the right time, sometimes even get food that wasn’t in his bowl. They were always good to him, they meant well, but it didn’t hurt to give them a nudge, just to speed them up a bit if what he wanted wasn’t happening fast enough. If he could just get eye contact with them, make them look at him, that helped. Their faces were so far away. Mostly things worked well, life was good, but this morning when he had gone to his bed the bad noises hadn’t stopped. Something was wrong. Very wrong. He slumped down in his bed to watch and wait.The woman was sorting out some food on the kitchen table. Cutting a roll in half, getting ham from the fridge, squeezing mayonnaise. She wasn’t being very careful. He shifted slightly so that he could see if anything dropped on the floor. She might bring a bit of ham to his bed for him when she had finished- sometimes she did that. He gave a small whine to remind her that he was there. She didn’t bring any.
Sarah had wondered whether she should bother to make James a sandwich but she had ended up getting the ham and the margarine out of the fridge as she always did. No cheese- because she would have to ask him about that. When he was in a bad mood it was best to lie low, just make the sandwich, leave it on the table, bagged up in the way that he liked it, and then keep well away. She did this quietly and calmly before allowing herself the satisfaction of throwing the knife into the sink from a distance. He could hear that and make of it what he liked. There were times when James just wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t explain, and she needed him to.
The dog’s ears twitched when he heard the metallic bang of the knife hitting the sink. He looked carefully at the woman’s face, showing the whites of his eyes, and beat the very end of his tail. It was fine, the woman was not angry and she was not looking at him. There was a whirring sound from upstairs but that didn’t matter- he didn’t know what it was but he had heard it plenty of times before. He kept very still for a few seconds just to make sure that nothing else was going to happen then laid his head back down with a small sigh.
James stared at himself grimly in the mirror as he shaved. The razor buzzed over his chin, comforting, reassuring, exact. If he stood here for long enough his chin would be perfectly shaved. This was something that he could get right. Dealing with Sarah was difficult sometimes. She rushed at things that he had said and made them mean things that he hadn’t expected. It was confusing. Why should you have to explain away something that you hadn’t meant in the first place? Mostly he just wanted to be left alone to get on with things in his own way and talk about them when he was ready. If he could just be allowed to do that it would all be fine. Sarah was always on her phone talking to her friends for what seemed like hours, texting people he didn’t know. That was worrying. What did she find to say? What did she say about him?
When the dog heard footsteps coming down the stairs he shifted himself into position so that he could move quickly if he had to. He was perfectly still, but ready to bolt. There was always a chance that he might be going out through the front door. It wasn’t likely at this time, especially when the man was carrying a bag, but any time the door was going to open it could happen. If not, then this was one of the times when he absolutely had to stay in his bed. He watched and waited.
Sarah was not afraid of James. Of course she wasn’t. He was in the kitchen for all of five seconds. A fierce burst of energy. Just long enough to stuff the sandwich in the front compartment of his bag and say thank you without meaning it. She watched him leave and listened for the bang of the front door. He was gone. Gone, taking all his anger and his grievances with him. She sat down at the kitchen table, breathing in the still air and giving herself space.
The dog came to stand beside the chair that Sarah was sitting on, lowering his bum and wriggling. He wanted a hug. She looked down at him stretching out a lazy arm. Once he had eye contact he felt brave. He put his front paws up onto the chair seat and stretched out his neck, demanding attention now, not asking. Slowly he felt her warm arms curve round his neck and her face was right next to his. He shivered slightly, licking and pushing, glancing slyly sideways to see if there was anything to eat on the table.