I lazily watch her as she struggles to peg the wet bed sheets to the washing line. The wind is blowing hard today, whipping the material like sails up and around her arms and face. Even from my vantage point, I can see she has goosebumps. Still, I know she’ll manage. She always does, very independent is Alison.
Next door, the elderly couple has the radio on as per usual. It sound like jazz, surmised by the horribly discordant frequencies that bombard my ears. They like having the speaker on top volume, and it is nearly always this crazy so-called music, or talk radio. Maybe they don’t speak much themselves. Well, who could with that cacophony going on.
I notice the cooker alarm is going off, and go to fetch her. Whatever is bubbling on the stove smells pretty good actually, which is saying something because Alison is not much of a cook. In my humble opinion, of course. Rushing indoors, she pushes the kitchen door against the freezing gusts. I can feel the atmospheric pressure dropping and with the gloom of the skies I suspect her washing will get wetter before it dries.
My appetite isn’t as big as hers. Not that she is a big lady, but she is certainly nearly twice my weight. Guess it is something to do with her love affair with the sofa. Books, knitting, doing something her friend Greg calls ‘surfing the web’ on her laptop… it always involves firm contact between her sumptuous behind and the saggy couch, threadbare and faded where she likes to root herself like a giant pot plant at any opportunity. Give me the outdoors any time, that’s what I say. Not that it’s my choice when or how much, Alison being the boss of all things in this household.
After dinner, we warm ourselves by the fire. She loves her wood-burning stove, though I always feel nervous that the fire might spread outwards and consume us. She laughs quietly when the kindling suddenly crackles with a bright ember shower that makes me flinch. Still, it is not unpleasant, these winter evenings indoors. I count myself lucky really. A roof over my head, regular meals… I don’t ask for much. Simple needs make for a good life.
She gets up to go to the bathroom. I nick some of the cheese off her plate before she returns. I’ve a bit of a weak spot for all things dairy, but Dr Gordon says I’m getting fat so it’s sadly been off the menu for some months. When the doorbell goes. I race upstairs and tap on the door, which swings open to reveal her on the loo. Even there she has a book in her hands. She looks quite annoyed as she peers at me over the top of whatever it is she can’t put down even to defecate. “The door, the door!” I say.
“What is it?” she says, raising her arms stupidly.
I repeat myself while she wipes and flushes, and mumbling something incoherent under her breath, she comes down the stairs with me. It’s her friend Greg. He’s another quiet soul, that one, and I leave them together in the lounge, sneaking off to see if she’s left any of that vintage cheddar out in the kitchen. No such luck this time. I sigh, and return to join them. I stretch out, and soon my eyes are heavy though I fight to stay awake in case I miss anything.
When I wake, the room is cold, and I’m all alone. It’s still dark, and I trudge to bed myself after a quick wee in my bathroom. She has hers, I have mine. It’s all quite luxurious you could say. I do wonder why she doesn’t prefer mine though, being massively bigger and much better ventilated. But who am I to judge.
When her alarm clock beeps the next morning, I head into her bedroom and greet her. I can sense him too, cloaked in his usual scent that is reminiscent of leather and wet wood. I don’t think he likes me much, hardly ever looks me in the eye. Fine with me. His eyes are still shut tight, his stubbly mouth partly open.
“Morning, Bruce,” she says, with her sour morning breath of last night’s half-digested chicken chasseur. She clicks off the annoying beep and starts to roll over to cuddle with Greg. What is the point in an alarm if you go back to sleep, I wonder? And it really gets my back up when he comes over cos all of a sudden she never has any time for me. I start to say something but she fixes me with one of her stern looks and a finger to her mouth so I sulk off. I don’t know why I stay, really I don’t.
I am quite relieved when Greg shuts the front door behind him, and we can get back to our usual routine. Call me blinkered, conditioned, whatever. I like to know what’s happening, deviation upsets my compass. Teeth brushed (her, not me, I prefer to drink plenty of water and not risk the artificial mint and sweeteners in that manmade crap), we are soon on our way out for our morning constitutional. Side by side, we are a fine looking couple, and even though I’m shorter I am the one who keeps her safe from unexpected traffic - it gets busy round here - kids on bikes, even grown men on electric skateboards having a second stab at childhood. I feel proud and when our Alison and I exchange looks, my heart is as light as a feather.
At a coffee kiosk at the outskirts of the local nature reserve, a young man with a bun and goatee passes her a coffee and a banana and walnut muffin, a different sort of bun I think. He has a different smell from Greg, marijuana and unwashed clothes. Doesn’t bother me though I see Alison wrinkle her nose after the transaction. As I am still on the blasted diet, Alison only lets me have a quarter of the muffin. I unashamedly gobble it down. You have to take what you can get. Tough times indeed.
Something large and round rolls towards me whilst Alison is dissecting her breakfast. “Watson, Watson, come over here!” calls a skinny redhead in a suede jacket and jeans. Toddling after the football is some tiny creature, waddling like a duck, pudgy hands outstretched towards the ball. Alison is too interested in her grub to notice, so it’s up to me to help but just as I get close, the redhead shrieks and my brain feels like it has been zapped (I have actually been shocked by a frayed electrical cord, in my younger years - you never forget it).
“Bor-lee!” says the creature, face scrunching up as it realises I have his prize.
“I’ve got it, don’t worry mate,” I say, not too loud so I don’t scare him. It doesn't work. The zapping starts all over again with his crescendo of fear? frustration?
The redhead whom I presume to be his mother sidles up to the table and rudely taps Alison on the back of her hand. Alison startles and almost knocks over her polystyrene cup. “What?”
“You should keep that thing on a lead,” huffed the woman, scooping up the kid in one arm and ball in another.
I shake my head as they go. Alison bends down to scratch me behind the ears and lovingly adjusts my fluorescent Hearing Dog vest.
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