Friday, 28 January 2022

Perkins

 by Gill James

americano

 The vet scratched his head and frowned. "There's definitely no chip."

"Aren't most dogs chipped these days?" said Phil.

"Yes. It's the law. It's a real puzzle. He's not that old so he ought to have been."

"How old do you think he is?" I asked.

"Three years tops, I would say." He ruffled the dog's head. "He's in a good condition. He's been well looked after. Owners who care this much for their pets generally get them chipped and registered. He's not a pedigree, though. The breeders usually get it done as a matter of course."

"What do you think he's made up of then?" I asked.

The vet nodded. "Straight mix of Labrador and German Shepherd, I'd say."

That made sense. He was the colour of a golden Labrador but had those deep eyes that make German Shepherds look so sad all of the time. And yes, he was more or less the shape of a German Shepherd.

He'd literally knocked at the door just over an hour before. I'd gone to answer it and there he was, sitting on our door mat, politely wagging his tail.

"Hello," I'd said. "What do you want?"

He must have understood "Do come in." He barged straight past me and into the lounge where he'd immediately curled up on the hearthrug and fallen asleep.

We've never been dog owners - we're cat people really. But we did realise that the best course of action was to take him to a local vet and see if he had a chip that would help us locate the owner.

It had been quite a job to get him into the car. He hadn't wanted to move from the fire and he'd snarled a bit. But he'd walked into the vet's happily enough. He had a collar, but of course we had no lead. We'd improvised with a bit of string.

"So what should we do now?" I asked the vet.

"Well, you could take him straight to the shelter. Or you could keep him at home and let the police know, maybe put an ad in a local shop if his owner doesn't turn up quickly. We'll put a notice up here as well." He patted the dog again. "I don't think you'll be missing for long, will you, old chap?"

The dog licked him.

The vet looked up at us. "The shelter is open 24/7 but Pet World shuts in thirty minutes. If you decide to keep him, even if it's only for a few hours or a day or so, you'll need a few supplies." He nodded towards the string. "Including a decent lead."

 

"Do you know where this Pet World is?" asked Phil as we drove out of the vet's car park.

I did. So, it was a given then. We were hanging on to him. We'd talked for a long time about getting a dog. We'd always talked ourselves out of  it: we'd have to walk it three times a  day, what about vets' bills, wouldn't going on holiday be awkward, it wasn't fair on the animal if we were both out at work. I couldn't believe Phil had capitulated so quickly.

 

"I think we should call him Perkins," said Phil when I got back to the car from my trip around Pet World. "He looks just like him, don't you think?"

He did? I wasn't so sure. Alf Perkins was Phil's former boss. He'd retired six months ago. He was a quiet and gentle soul. Was this dog going to be quiet and gentle? 

"There's a boy, Perkins," said Phil.

Perkins barked softly.

So Perkins it was to be. I shrugged and started loading the shopping into the car.

"What's all this then?" Phil's eyebrows were raised.

"Lead. Food bowl. Water bowl. Doggy treats. Dog food, dried and tinned. Doggy duvet. Basket. Toys. Chews. Poo bags."

"Oh."                            

 

That first night Perkins slept on the landing outside our room. We tried to make him comfortable in the kitchen with his bed but he himself started to drag it up the stairs.

"We shouldn't let him sleep in our room," I said.

Phil had shrugged. "I think they usually make up their own minds about that."

In fact, though, he didn't want to sleep in our room. He stayed just beyond the door. Once we'd made his bed up there he settled down nicely.

Friends who have dogs have reported that they often whine a lot the first night. Not so Perkins. Well he wasn't a puppy. But he might have been missing his owner. He wasn't any trouble at all. He woke up at the same time as us the next morning.

"Do you want your breakfast?" I heard Phil say on his way back from the bathroom. 

Perkins answered with a soft bark.

He had his breakfast and then we let him out in the back garden while we had ours. He had a good sniff around, cocked his leg up at a few of the bushes, then came back in and had a drink of water.

"I suppose we'd better take you for a walk," Phil said to him after we'd washed up. 

Perkins looked at his lead that was now hanging off a hook on the kitchen door.

 

He walked beautifully.

"The vet was right," said Phil. "This dog has been well brought up."

We'd taken a ball with us. I was nervous about letting him off his lead. "Suppose he runs off and doesn't come back?" I said.

Phil shrugged. "Then probably somebody else would have to look after him. Or he might find his way back to his owner. That would be a good thing, right?"

I nodded. But it was clear that we were both getting attached to Perkins and he hadn't even been with us a whole day yet. 

He didn't run off and he enjoyed chasing the ball.

Over the next few days we jumped every time the phone rang. But the calls were never anything to do with Perkins.

Perkins was ours for the time being.  

         

We established a routine. We were both able to work flexitime and could often work from home. So, with some careful planning, we were able to arrange that there was always someone around to take Perkins for a reasonable walk after breakfast and again at lunch time. Most evenings we'd take him for a longer walk, the two of us together.

So, two of our earlier arguments didn't hold water. We actually enjoyed the exercise Perkins was giving us. And there was no problem about us being out at work. There was always one of us, or sometimes both of us, in the house with him.

As for vets' bills - there were none. Perkins seemed to be super fit.

Weekends were different from what they'd ever been before. They were all centred on finding somewhere we could take Perkins and let him off the lead. And where there was a dog-friendly pub we could visit afterwards. We got even fitter. The fresh air and the exercise were wonderful. We found out a lot about the area we lived in that we'd not known before. And we made a lot of new friends who were dog owners.

Perkins had been with us three months when we decided to go on holiday. We found a lovely cottage that allowed dogs. There were more wonderful walks. And cosy evenings curled up with a good book, a nice bottle of wine and a tired dog.

We began to think of ourselves as dog owners.        

 

"So, his owners never came forward then?" It was the same vet we'd seen when Perkins had first turned up six months before. 

It looked as if he was our dog now. So we'd decided to get him chipped. The weeks had flown by. We'd seen them turn into months and now here we were.

"There's a good boy." The vet patted Perkins.

The dog had hardly flinched as the vet had inserted the tag.

"How's he doing?" asked Phil.

"He really is a fine specimen. You've done well with him."

"He was pretty fit when we first brought him here, wasn't he?" I asked.

"Yes, he'd definitely been well cared for."

Which was a bit of a puzzle and perhaps a warning.

 

It was the same when we took him to dog training.

"Beautiful dog," said the woman who ran it. "And so well-behaved that I don't think we can do much for him. Aren't you a darling?" She ruffled Perkins' head. "Though it's a pleasure to have him here and your good selves, of course. I hope you'll carry on coming but I had to say something. I didn't want you to feel that you were wasting your money."

Well, we did carry on, because Perkins enjoyed it too. We made some more new friends and we were so very proud of him.

 

Our neighbours' daughter befriended him too. Or maybe he befriended her. Jenny was a lonely child. A severe disability kept her mainly housebound and she had little contact with other children. She called occasionally and asked if she could play with Perkins. He was so gentle with her. She would sit on the rug and talk to him or very occasionally she would throw a ball for him in the back garden. He was a real gentleman. He somehow knew he shouldn't be too boisterous.

 

He was here to stay, or so it seemed. But we were wrong.          

 

I'd woken early that day because Perkins was downstairs and was scratching at the back door. I guessed he had an upset tummy. I hoped he wasn't really ill. We'd been very lucky with him up to this point.

He hardly looked at me as I let him out of the back door. He bounded into the garden then ran to the back. He then sprinted towards the gate and in seconds he was over it and galloping up the street.

We'd talked about getting a taller gate but had never bothered because Perkins was so well behaved.

"Come back," I shouted. "Where are you going? What's the matter?"

By this time Phil was up and about. We both got dressed quickly and then started looking round the neighbourhood for Perkins. There was no sign of him.

We let the police know. We told all of our dog-owner friends. We put it on all of our social media channels. Our beloved Perkins was gone.

We mourned him, just as if he'd been a family member that had died.

Jenny from next door was inconsolable. She looked so pale and more poorly than ever.

"It's really set her back," said her mother. 

The colour had gone out of our lives as well.   

 

The days and weeks and even the months started slipping by again. Once more we jumped every time the phone rang. But it was never anybody saying they’d found Perkins. They were just the usual junk calls: had we been involved in an accident recently, did we want to change energy provider, did we know our names were associated with a tax fraud? We wanted to ignore them but we kept on answering just in case.

While we were out and about we kept on looking at dogs. We saw some German Shepherds and some Labradors and even some that were a mixture of both. But they were never the right mixture and of course they were never Perkins.

We thought about getting another dog. We visited some dogs' homes. We looked at ads in reputable dog magazines. We even kept our ears open for news from our dog-owner friends about litters of pups. The old arguments came back: all of that exercise, the possibility of vets' bills and how unfair it was on a dog if were both working. The overriding argument was that there could never be another dog like Perkins.         

 

Then one day we went to the local farmers' market and while we were looking at some interesting free-range meat we heard a familiar bark. A sloppy big German Shepherd / Labrador cross came bounding up to us.

"Perkins! Come here," a man's voice called.

Seconds later a straight-backed well-built young man, probably in his mid-thirties was clipping a lead on to Perkins' collar.

Perkins continued to make a fuss.

"Who are you?" I hissed. "What are you doing with our dog and how did you know his mane was Perkins?"

The young man frowned and bit his lip. "Let's go and have coffee, shall we?"

We reluctantly agreed.

It was quite a story. Des had been mugged and had been unconscious for several weeks. When he came to he had completely lost his memory. It gradually came back but many things remained hazy. He'd had to go through weeks of rehabilitation as well. Then just a day after they'd released him from hospital, Perkins had turned up on his doorstep. Then a lot more of his memory came back. He had had Perkins for three years before the mugging.  One of Des's mates had a bitch that had pups and Des had been given the pick of the bunch. He'd always been a fabulous dog. Of course, he'd had no idea how come the dog had been so well looked after whilst he'd been in hospital. He'd never had him chipped. He knew nothing about dogs when he'd first got Perkins and then he'd never got round to it.  

"Where did his name come from?" Phil asked. 

"He looked like one of my teachers. Perkins, who taught Latin."

It was all decidedly uncanny.

But we agreed to keep in touch with Des and Perkins. Sometimes we would go for walks with them at weekends. We'd end up having a good meal in a dog-friendly pub. Once or twice when Des had to go away for the weekend we would dog-sit. Perkins was as compliant and friendly as ever, and Jenny next-door was delighted, but it was very clear that Des was his real owner.

Then one day the doorbell rang and there were Des and Perkins. Des was holding a wriggling puppy. "I thought you might like to meet Perkins mark two, son of this old chap. Mum is also a German Shepherd / Labrador cross but she has the shape of a Labrador and the colourings of a German Shepherd. He's yours if you want him."

Perkins barked softly.

Of course we had him. We've called him Perky. He is already chipped and tomorrow we're having the chip registered and letting the vet give him the once over. So far so good. He's not quite as well-behaved as Perkins yet but he will be soon. We're starting dog-training next week. And when he's a bit more settled we'll introduce him to Jenny.       

About the author

Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.  

She edits CafeLit.

She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation

She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing    

http://www.gilljameswriter.com  

https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B001KMQRKE

https://twitter.com/GillJames


 

 

Thursday, 27 January 2022

The Museum Rebellion

 

The Museum Rebellion

by Jane Spirit

breakfast tea 

When the postman handed George a bumper clutch of Christmas cards that morning, he decided to take them through with his cup of tea to the sitting room to enjoy its view over his small, well-ordered garden. Here he could settle comfortably to enjoy opening his post with its usual images of festive robins, reindeer and holly sent by the usual people. Only one card caught his particular attention. It featured a snowy photograph of a building that was both picturesque and so familiar to him that he scarcely needed to read its caption: ‘Appletree House: formerly Lemton Museum’.

He paused, ruminating about the time he had spent as the rather quaint sounding ‘Lemton Museum Supervisor’. This had been the role into which George, an amateur but avid local historian, had stepped so appropriately after retiring from his office job. The five or so years that followed had been happy ones for him. The post had provided a pleasant structure to his days, a small stipend and, most importantly, autonomy. The committee had allowed him free rein over the running of the museum and supervision of its volunteers. There had been quite a few of those over the years, but only three remained by 1999; Betty, a retired teacher with a keen eye for arranging the displays; Sarah a postgraduate student who was fascinated by handling the smaller objects and then Barney who had been an affable type, particularly good with families who visited the place.

George would not have called himself a stickler, but he had been happy to be known for the thoroughness with which he approached the task of managing the museum.  It was not that he had inflated ideas about the place. The museum was nothing special in the grand scheme of heritage collections. It had no one single item of outstanding archaeological, historical, or artistic interest, nor had it been founded to house the bequest of some eccentric local donor. On the other hand, the place always rewarded those who took the trouble to explore its inner recesses by pulling the dangling light cords to illuminate a glorious mishmash of contents. George thought fondly again of the Turkish rug, a souvenir from some distant Eastern trip undertaken by a Victorian son and heir; of the Edwardian man trap happily donated by the family of a local belligerent farmer, and of the 1960s orange nylon dress discovered in a wardrobe by some rootling executor in the early 1990s. For George the joy of the place lay in the discovery of its hidden connections and patterns. The rug, the mantrap and the dress for example had all come from different offshoots of the Newlove family whose various descendants still lived in the town.

By now George had finished his tea, but he sat on musing. He watched several blue tits landing on the wooden bird table half-way down the garden as he rehearsed the rhythm of the museum year in his mind. In the darkening days of November once the winter closed sign was on the door, he and his volunteers would enact the annual ritual of draping the larger objects, display cases and shelves with their dust sheets. The funereal atmosphere created was simply a prelude to that magical moment in spring when he would sanction the raising of the sheets and conjure afresh the objects for the wonderment of potential visitors.

The exceptional two-day millennial celebratory opening had been entirely his idea. He had been determined to create a small exhibition in the entrance foyer that would be both educational and entertaining enough to entice in passers-by. He had moved his carefully chosen pieces to the front of the museum, set them on their stands and placed the appropriate information cards beside them. Then he had wafted the dust covers gently over each exhibit in readiness for their unveiling on New Years’ Day. He recalled that, as was customary he had politely ignored all suggestions and offers of help from Betty, Sarah and Barney. It had felt, he supposed, as if the display should be his responsibility alone … the glorious culmination of his second career.

He wondered afterwards quite why he had found himself returning to the museum on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve to peek at the exhibition again. He supposed that he must have felt a little nervous about the whole thing.  Lifting the first dust sheet he had smiled at the reassuring sight of the 1900 child’s shoe that he had placed perfectly flat on its grey podium. Then he realised that the shoe was now mounted at a jaunty angle with the heel raised upwards on a bright yellow silk covered plinth. Its instep had been adorned with the tiny red Victorian bow that belonged in one of the locked display cabinet drawers. Next to his information card there was now a large multicoloured stack of paper sheets. These were headed ‘Children’s quiz’. George had felt dizzy with confusion, but he had maintained an outward calm as he lifted off each sheet in turn to examine what lay beneath. Every item of his display had been modified in some way; there were bright blue quiz numbers standing upright against each object and each was now exhibited in a different position or against a different background colour. Distributed across the main objects were unexpectedly intriguing smaller items, enhancing the whole effect.

George was dumbfounded. He was also defeated. He had no time to reverse the tweaks. Perhaps even more importantly when he stood back to take in the whole display, he could see that the new version was indeed much better than his original. He knew immediately that the volunteers had put him firmly in his place. Methodically he put back the covers, turned off the lights, locked the doors and went home. He stayed there on New Year’s Day, claiming that he had gone down with something and would be too ill to inaugurate the exhibition. He did not confront Betty, or Sarah or Barney. Citing ill - health he resigned from the museum with immediate effect. Within a year the museum had been closed, the building sold, and its contents transferred to permanent storage in a portacabin beside the new community hall. Things settled down.

George stood up at last and carefully arranged his newly received cards on the sideboard. He moved on slowly, into the kitchen, turning on the radio to distract himself. Then, all of a sudden, he found himself chuckling at the ludicrous nature of the events he had set off all those years ago. He laughed out loud remembering how his pride had made him complicit in the situation when he was congratulated on the little millennial display at his hastily arranged leaving drinks. He had only smiled serenely across the room in the direction of the exhibition’s actual curators who had all avoided eye contact with him and with each other. Their small conspiracy at his expense had been the stuff of comedy, not tragedy, he saw that now. George hummed happily to himself as he picked up the bag of sunflower seeds from the window ledge and set out to replenish the bird table. After that he thought he would enjoy a little walk into town, perhaps taking in Appletree House on his way, if the weather stayed fine.

About the author

Jane Spirit lives in Suffolk and has written academic articles and edited academic books from time to time, but has only recently ventured into writing fiction