18+ Pepper gingerly slides a paw over the line his owner has painstakingly pointed out as uncrossable.
Like many humans, Rosemary purchased a pandemic dog during the loneliness of lockdowns. Though paying two months' wages for this poodle-cross-something-or-other and the breeder pointing out, 'You do know they're indoor dogs?', nothing would deter Rosemary's determination to stick to her vow, 'I will only ever own an outdoor dog.' The thought of canine genitalia rubbing on interior surfaces, especially textiles, instantaneously triggers her gag reflex.
Now, several years later, Pepper, despite being poodle smart and adorable – 'Those eyes, look at them will you. How can I be mad at him?' – has never once not tried to surreptitiously edge his way over the door tread that forms the boundary between the back deck, 'Your space,' and the hallway, 'My space.' She couldn't be any clearer, could she? With El Nino raging, Rosemary desperately desires to have the door open to allow the nor'easter to flow through.
'What am I to do with you?'
Pepper elicits a doggy noise which translates to, 'Please don't make me stay outside. I'll be good, I promise. I'll keep my balls off your cushions.'
She couldn't sell him. With the depreciation of pandemic pets, she'd be lucky to get a hundred bucks. She could drop him off at the pound, it's just that the smell of the place rules that out. But, worst of all, she couldn't stand what her mother would say: 'I knew you were not a dog person.'
As a child, Rosemary incessantly begged her mother about getting a dog. One time, she claimed, 'It is every child's rite of passage to experience the phenomenon of pet ownership.'
'Rosemary! You don't know what you're talking about. Rite of passage. You wouldn't know what that was from a bar of soap. I think you meant to say, "It is every child's right." Now, in my opinion, children these days are all too quick to assert their so-called rights, and more importantly, they are completely ignorant of the concept of responsibility. That's what they should be teaching you in school. Responsibility, not bloody rights. What has the world come to.'
'Come on, Pepper. Let's go to the beach.'
Pepper runs crazy-like around the deck. He knows the word, beach. Yes, he's a smart one. And what joy he has brought. Rosemary seriously doubts whether she'd ever find a human as loyal as her dog.
Halfway along the dogs-off-leash section of the beach, Pepper spots something. 'What is it, Pepper?' He rockets off straight over to a man swishing a pilchard-filled stocking in the shallow wash. Pepper circles the fellow, yelping madly. The man drops the stocking, holds out his arms and up jumps Pepper. Wow, thinks Rosemary. Pepper is friendly to all, but not like this.
'Hello,' says the man, 'you must be Pepper's Mum.'
'I guess you could call me that. How do you know Pepper?'
'He sleeps in my laundry every night.'
'Oh no! I'm so sorry.'
'Don't worry, he's a joy.'
'Yes, he certainly is.'
They exchange names and work out that they share a back fence.
'Hey this might sound weird. I'm not getting any worms, so I'm heading home to make a pudding for Christmas, and I don't have any allspice. Do you?'
Frantically rummaging through her kitchen drawers, Rosemary hears Pepper whimpering at the back door. He's wet and sandy and has one paw over the line. With the jar of allspice in one hand, she moves into the hallway, looks at her companion and says, 'Alright. In you come.'
© 2023 Sean Crawley
I wrote this for the Not Quite Write Prize for flash fiction, that challenged writers to create an original piece of fiction of no more than 600 words, which:
- Included the word RITE
- The action "crossing a line"
- And broke the writing rule "avoid all adverbs".
And though I didn't make the longlist, I enjoyed the writing process. Plus my story has a dog in it!
In his shed on the east coast of Australia, Sean Crawley writes short stories, songs, non-fiction and the odd angry letter. He has three short story collections published by Ginninderra Press. When not writing, Sean can be found fishing, swimming, cooking, teaching, renovating an old house and yelling at cars that speed down his suburban street.