Something a little different this week. This was my entry to the Verb’s Chekhov competition. I thought I would post it here for #fridayflash. Please forgive the paraphrasing of Chekhov’s great story in the opening and closing. And maybe the story would have done better had I listened to Jodi Cleghorn’s comments about the ending. I should know by now that editor knows best.
The Lady with the Dog
A lady with a bull terrier moved into the repossessed house at the end of the terrace. Each morning Sebastian sat in his chair, just to the side of his front room window, and watched the houses opposite his, their lights flashing on just long enough for the gulping down of cereal and slurping of tea. Banging front doors and the footsteps of working adults and school age children sound-tracked the emptying street, leaving just the very old, the very young and their carers behind.
Sebastian was none of these things, yet, like them, he remained behind. Hidden from view in his chair by the window, he watched the ululating morning activity of postmen, refuse workers, couriers and Better-ware reps and, every so often, he dipped into the novel beside him on the arm of the chair.
Each week day lunchtime since the lady moved into the repossessed house, Sebastian watched the dog drag her past his window, the furious muscular motion of the terrier threatening to yank her feet out from under her at any moment. Each day the dog stopped outside Sebastian’s front door to squat out a huge and steaming turd almost on his doorstep.
Each day he watched the lady struggle to keep the dog from dragging her off up the street as she fumbled a plastic bag from her pocket to pick up the steaming pile. And each day the dog juggernauted away towing the lady in its wake. Sebastian saw the embarrassment in her face as she stared back helplessly at the mound left on the step each day and in a small way began to love her for it.
The dog had been dumped on her by a friend who went on holiday and never came back. The text message Sonia received simply said, Met someone, not coming home. She took the dog to her friend’s parents but they refused to even open the door, speaking to her through a window instead. The couple stared blankly out of their bay window as Sonia bundled Marko, the bull terrier cross, back into the boot of her hatchback.
In addition to early morning and evening runs, Sonia had to walk the dog every lunchtime. She had learned the hard way that it required a release of energy to keep it from tearing her kitchen apart while she was out at work and now rushed home through the lunchtime traffic. She allowed the dog to drag her round the streets for twenty minutes as there simply wasn’t time to head into the park or the woods for a longer run, as she did every morning and evening.
Each day the pair barely made it halfway down the street before Marko stopped to squat out a dark coil of excrement. Each day Sonia worried that someone would appear to enforce the fine threatened on the tiny circular signs fixed to every other lamppost, but no one ever did. In fact, in the time it took Sonia to race about the backstreets with Marko, between his leaving the feculent deposit and their return, the mound was always removed. On each homeward visit, the dog sniffed the now clear spot, the confusion of his furrowed doggy brow mirrored on Sonia’s human one.
One lunchtime, at the bottom of the street and determined to solve the mystery, Sonia gripped the red brick of the corner terrace and peered back up at the pile once more left behind. Marko strained the lead, eager to be on his way but she stood firm and watched as the door up the street opened and a young man stepped out, a carrier bag over his right hand like a mitten. He bent and scooped the crap up in one fluid motion, his frame shaking as if from nerves or fear, then straightened and glanced down the street after her. She saw him see her.
Sonia held her breath, expecting him to shout and give chase in his slippered feet, hurling the bag of faeces after her. But he didn’t. He simply smiled and she felt herself smile back before, with a terrible yank, Marko dragged her round the corner and away.
The next day Sebastian sat with a clean carrier bag already gloved over his right hand. When he saw the dog dragging the lady down the street he made his way quickly to the front door and opened it to find the dog squatting as it always did.
‘I’m so sorry,’ the lady said, her face glowing.
Sebastian looked at the dog who still had yet to finish.
‘It’s fine,’ he said, smiling.
‘It’s not my dog, I’m watching it for a friend.’
Sebastian nodded. ‘Really, it’s okay.’
Its business finished, the dog, scrambled off down the road, dragging the lady behind it.
‘Sorry,’ she called back, as Sebastian bent to pick up the mess.
‘No problem,’ he said, smiling after her, the fresh turd warming his hand through the thin polyethylene of the carrier bag.
In this way days passed. The pair snatched half-conversations as Marko squatted and strained between them, the brief moments at Sebastian’s doorstep always ending with Sonia yanked away by the muscular dog, Sebastian unable to follow. Sonia wished for her friend to return, left emails and texts at every address and number she had, in the hope that she might free herself from her responsibility to Marko. Sebastian prayed for a simple miracle, the strength to leave the house.
‘How? How?’ he asked himself, in the hours alone in his chair. ‘How could they be free from this intolerable bondage?’
And each day, with each brief visit, it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then, for both of them, a new and splendid life would begin.