Harry woke up. His flat still stank, his bones still ached and he’d pissed himself again. The pain in his chest was back and Harry waited patiently for it to pass.
Sonia, his wife, was still alive. He could hear her snoring in the next room. Even asleep the bitch wouldn’t shut up.
He squelched to the bathroom, beginning the now familiar ritual of peeling off the sodden pyjamas and easing himself into the bath. He’d put them in the bin later, he couldn’t face explaining to his wife that he’d had another ‘accident’. The water was cold; they couldn’t afford any unplanned uses of the boiler.
Clean again, Harry shuffled his way to the kitchen. Dirty plates were stacked up at the sink, an unsteady china skyline. He tutted at the mess, things were getting worse. He put on the kettle hoping a cup of tea would stop his hands from shaking.
“Woof!” Yelped Bertram enthusiastically.
Harry sighed. He hated dogs. And of all the dogs in the world he hated Bertram most of all. The Labrador was such a blatant substitute for the grown up children and their grown up children that Sonia might as well have hung a sign on it, saying: My husband is not enough. She spent most of her money on the dog. It even had its own shelf in the fridge.
As Harry took the milk out for his cup of tea, he eyed the shelf greedily, wondering what the carefully wrapped parcels contained. He knew he wasn’t supposed to touch Bertram’s things but this morning he didn’t’ care. What was she going to do anyway?
Seven cold plastic bags were stuffed with fresh meat: bacon, sausages and… “Hell’s teeth!” He exclaimed; there was even a steak in there! Well, bugger this, he was going to have a nice sausage sandwich and Sonia could lump it.
The sausages sizzled cheekily in the pan, filling his nostrils with the promise of future happiness.
It was hungry. It needed the toilet. It needed a walk. He didn’t like how much he was relating to the bloody dog these days.
Ten minutes later they both sat munching in companionable silence. It was only when he’d finished, mopping up a stray splodge of brown sauce with the crusts that he noticed the oddity.
It was quiet.
Leaving the dog to munch, Harry crept over to Sonia’s bedroom, pressing his ear to the door. Nothing: no snoring, no clumping about on great fat feet, no creaking hips. She wasn’t even talking to herself, not that she admitted to such things. She maintained that she was chatting to Bertram to keep him company. If the dog wasn’t there she talked to the plants and if there were no plants to talk to she talked to the neighbours or people in the street. It was so embarrassing. The woman never stopped! That was why he’d given up on conversation. It was his way of restoring the karmic balance of their home. Besides she never paused long enough for anybody else to say anything anyway.
A key in the back door downstairs distracted him. Maybe Sonia had gone out for some early gardening. He used to like it when they were in the garden together; him mowing the lawn or cutting back the hedges and her planting or pruning. She did have a knack for making the garden pretty. He didn’t mind her talking so much then. Her twitterings would mingle with the other birds, a pleasant background music to work to.
It wasn’t Sonia, though the greying woman bore a passing resemblance to his wife. Had they given Sonia’s sister a key? She came in with a big brown bag full of groceries. Bertram ignored her, licking the last of the sausage off the floor.
Harry grunted a reply but she didn’t notice; her attention had gone to the sink. “Oh Dad, this place is a tip!”
Dad? He looked at her again, realising with a shock that this was his daughter, Daisy. She was a lovely girl, always checking in on them. She’d let herself go though, just like her mother had.
Daisy pushed last night’s dinner plate to one side and set the groceries down on the table. She leant down to ruffle Bertram’s ears. He glanced up hoping for more sausage. “The dog’s eating off the floor again. Euw, that’s disgusting!” She looked away from the floor. “Where’s his bowl?”
She went over to the sink, shaking her head. “You know you really can’t live like this Dad.”
“I know,” he mumbled, embarrassed, “it’s your mother. She’s bone idle these days.”
Daisy paused, resting her hands on the sink’s edge. Harry felt a twinge in his chest.
“I’ll come round later, ok, after work. I’ll give you a hand round the house.” She came over and gave him a hug. “Love you Dad.”
He squeezed her tight. Lovely girl, she’d always been his favourite.
When she’d gone he returned to Sonia’s room. It was still quiet. Frowning, he knocked on the door. There was no reply. He knocked again and then pushed the door open.
Sonia’s room was the cleanest room in the house. The bed was neatly made, the pink fluffy slippers placed next to it, ready to warm her feet when she got up, and her dressing mirror shone.
The twinge in his chest grew sharper, and he gripped the doorframe to keep from falling. Patiently he waited for it to pass. He closed the door quietly, deciding to let her sleep a little longer.
He walked into the kitchen, pulling on his coat. Bertram wagged his tail and Harry rested his hand on its head.
“You’re a good dog.”
Bertram barked his appreciation.
“Come on then,” he said gruffly, “let’s go for a walk.”