Making the Best of Things – Part 3

Karma and Saf

Part of the Christmas with the Crooked Cats season. https://www.facebook.com/groups/737252102990447/

Making the Best of Things, or, Five Stay Home for Christmas

Part 3 – 16th December

“Halloo…” The voice rings in the crisp, still air. Val stops mid-sentence and turns to look. Behind them, Chantelle is striding up the road, dragging a reluctant Daisy at the end of her chain. Daisy wants to stop and sniff things. Everything.
“Hello, Ladies. May I join you?” Chantelle is pink-cheeked and breathless. She wears a multi-coloured woollen helmet that looks as though it belongs to one of her kids. Her tiny feet are encased in purple, knee-length boots and she wears purple gloves and a navy raincoat. Wisps of auburn hair escaping from the hat frame her face. She makes the other women feel old and frumpy.
“Sure.” Aggie’s gesture encompasses her friends. “The more the merrier.”
Daisy introduces herself to the other canine members of the group, by bounding over to them and licking each in turn. The dogs sort out their complex, scent-based pecking order with a minimum of fuss, apart from Karma, whose contribution to the communication web seems to consist mostly of howling. Saf nips him on the ear in a minatory fashion and he subsides, tongue lolling.
Today’s walk takes them up round the top of the old cemetery. Beyond its lichen-painted walls a wide, empty pasture stretches away to the skyline. The dogs are happy to slip their leashes and run, gambolling and frolicking in the December twilight. The women talk quietly among themselves. Daisy rushes back to nuzzle Chantelle’s fingers, hoping for a treat, and stays to have her ears ruffled and flanks patted. She walks at heel, without instruction, copying Saf who has stuck close to her mistress’s legs, uninterested in cow pats and rabbits.
Fliss, Max and Karma have chased off the rabbits, but they’ve worked out that at least one is hiding in the warren on the edge of the hill. Karma is beside himself with excitement, and keeps rushing at the hole, in the hopes of flushing some game. The rabbits are having none of it. They know exactly what to do when dogs as big and stupid as this are about: you sit still and wait. The dogs will get bored soon enough. It’s the little ones that a rabbit needs to watch out for: terriers and the like; dogs that are bred to go down a rabbit hole and haul out whatever they find there. These dogs are no problem.
Aggie whistles and shakes her bag of tricks. Fliss and Max respond instantly, charging down the hill to arrive, skidding into place in a tangle of legs and muzzles, precisely at Aggie’s toes. Saf is already there, eyes focused on the bag, and Daisy is quick to spot the opportunity of free food. Aggie makes her two wait while she feeds the others: one treat each, and Fliss and Max have to beg for it. They know what’s expected of them, and perform perfectly. Karma is still up at the warren.
Aggie shakes the bag again, just as Val calls. “Come, Karma. Come.” Neither action elicits any response, but Saf barks suddenly, and Karma’s head goes up to listen. One more shake of the bag and Karma finally gets the message, inhaling his treat as Val clips the lead back onto his collar.
As they round the top of the cemetery and approach the road again, a figure is seen to be waiting by the lych gate. Sara smiles shyly as the others come abreast of her, and Karma lunges at Sugar. The two dogs go into a paroxysm of mutual delight as Val takes charge.
“This is my friend Sara. I invited her to join us, because she’s trying to build up her walking each day. We met at a …thing… we both go to.”
Annette and Chantelle are too polite to say anything, but Aggie has no such compunctions. She snorts. “Weightwatchers, you mean.” A flicker of irritation crosses Val’s face. Everyone in the group has heard about that ‘last five pounds I just can’t shift’, but the truth is that the weekly Weightwatcher’s meeting is a fixture in Val’s diary. She loves to meet her friends, gossip about their week, and commiserate with those who, like her, have once again failed to shift a single pound.
Sara’s been doing better. She’s losing a regular one or two pounds a week, and she’s already succeeded in walking to the bus stop and back without a break. Her aim is to get to the point where she can walk right down the town to the shops, and back again. Val’s taken Sara under her wing – there’s only so much mothering Karma can take, and there’s plenty more where that came from. It’s Val’s idea to introduce Sara to the group, and she’s quite nervous about it. She walks along quietly at the back of the group, as Val propounds her latest Christmas plan.
Annette interrupts. “What is everyone doing for Christmas, anyway. We know Val’s going on a Portuguese coach tour, but what about the rest of us?”
Aggie snorts, as Val retorts. “I only mentioned that as a possibility. I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“I’m fine,” says Aggie. “I’ll be doing Christmas dinner for Malcolm, then he’ll go down the pub and I’ll take our four-footed kids for their walk. He can do the dishes.”
“I’m on my own this year,” volunteers Chantelle. “All my kids are going to my ex’s house, and he says he’s taking the dog too. I won’t know what to do with myself.” She falls silent as the truth of this washes over her. She can’t remember a Christmas that wasn’t full of kids, and husband, and work. What will she do with herself?
“It’ll just be me,” says Annette. “Michael’s around, but he’s working all day, and then he’s going to stay over at his boyfriend’s place. Saf’ll be there. We’re used to our own company. I did have an idea, though.”
Aggie interrupts. “What about you, Sara?”
“Oh, I don’t know.”
“Come on, what will you be doing on the day? Got any romantic plans?” Annette winces at Aggie’s lack of tact, but it seems to suit Sara. She squares her shoulders and answers more confidently. “As a matter of fact, I’ll be by myself on Christmas Day. I was thinking about eating out.”
“That’s exactly what I was thinking.” Annette grins at Sara, who smiles back, suddenly feeling more welcome. “I think we should all go out together for Christmas lunch. Who’s with me?”
“I’ll join you,” says Chantelle. “It sounds like a great idea.”
Val’s less certain. “I might not be here,” she points out. “But I’ll do it if I decide not to go away. What about you, Sara?”
“I’d love to. If that’s okay with everyone.”
“Of course it is.” Val blithely speaks for everyone. “What about you, Aggie?”
“I’ve already told you, I’ll be feeding Malcolm and walking the dogs. You can join me for a walk in the afternoon if you want. Go ahead and eat together – it’s no skin off my nose.”

“Hello, may I speak to Michael, please?”
“Who is this calling?”
“It’s his mother.”
“One moment.”
Saf bumps Annette’s leg and she strokes the dog absently, waiting for Michael to come to the phone. She doesn’t like to call him at work. You never know what urgent task you might be interrupting. However, two in the afternoon is a fairly safe time – midway between the busy points of lunch and dinner.
“Mum, how are you?”
“I’m fine, Michael. Listen, I’m hoping you can help me with something. Is Donald opening up on Christmas Day?”
“Yes, just from one to three in the afternoon. Late lunch. Christmas trad with all the trimmings.”
“Does he have many bookings?”
“Only two so far, I think.”
“Good. Could you pencil me in for a party of four. No, better make that five. Will you join us? It is your birthday, after all.”
“No thanks, Mum. I’ll be pretty busy. Donald needs me, and anyway it’s a good day to get tips.”
“Please yourself. I’m sure you can spare your old mother five minutes for a birthday kiss. So – a table for five.”
“Care to share?”
“Oh, just an idea I’ve got. Tell Donald I’ll let him know by the end of the week if the booking’s definite.”
“Will do. Love you, Mum.”
“Love you too. Bye now.”
Annette walks back into the living room and sinks into an armchair, positioned by the window looking out over the bay. Her hands run slowly through Saf’s coat, over and over again. It might just work. The others are mostly on board already. Aggie’s likely to be the most difficult. As always. Aggie will resist just for the sake of it. Perhaps the best approach is for Annette to pretend that she doesn’t care whether her friend joins the party or not: a bit of reverse psychology.
If she really thinks they don’t care, she’ll be moving her plans to make sure she is included. Aggie can’t bear to think she might be missing out. Annette grins to herself. You are a wicked witch, Annette Miller. The sun goes down behind the hills across the harbour, and the clouds glow crimson and gold as she stirs herself into action. Time for tea.

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