by Lesley James
dry Martini, stirred not shaken
She had to make the perfect picture, in order to demonstrate that She Was Doing It Right. She hired an official photographer. He circled the birthday party guests, snapped blowing out the candles and cake-eating and posed chaotic six-year-olds in a few shots here and there.
She had pinned the girl’s hair tight to her head in an effort to restore the baby curls, long gone. The Pocket Beagle puppy birthday present arrived by train from Cornwall, in a label-plastered tea-chest, having bitten the guard on the journey. A hand scrawled note: ‘Vicious dog inside’, was stapled to the top of the crate.
And the chicken-pox pock-marked child sat, still as a painting, with the tiny dog in her lap. ‘For God’s sake, try to look grateful,’ said her mother between cigarettes. ‘None of your pussy cat smiles.’ She could have been talking to the dog who cowered, petrified. No-one had ever heard of a Pocket Beagle. The girl hadn’t asked for a dog. Both girl and dog were too tiny and frightened to enjoy the party much. They looked at each other in shared misery.
Over the shoulder to an aunt: ‘Did I tell you that she invited the whole bloody class? Several of the invitations had to be cancelled.’
Another cigarette. ‘And that guitar birthday cake? I ask you, only she would want a guitar! Well, that’s never happening again. I’ve worked my fingers to the bone...’
Among her things, when we cleared the house after she died, we found thirty-two identical black and white, pristine card-mounted photos of the girl with the dog.
On her fifteenth birthday, the girl bought herself a guitar.