Fast Fic­tion

Hen­ri­etta had had enough of Miss Rose’ s yap­ping and in­sis­tent lit­tle dog

that's life (Australia) - - Contents - By Joanna Bar­rett

There it was again. Hen­ri­etta groaned. The lit­tle ter­rier with the tan eye patch was scratch­ing and bark­ing at her front door.

Scratch, scratch, scratch, yap, yap, yap. Hen­ri­etta closed her lap­top and stomped to the door.

She grabbed the dog’s col­lar and took the an­i­mal next door to Miss Rose. The old lady was sit­ting in a comfy chair in her liv­ing room.

‘Here’s your dog, Miss Rose. Again.’

‘Thank you, dear. Scam­per does like to wan­der, doesn’t he? Lovely day, isn’t it?’

Hen­ri­etta sighed, her mind still on the spread­sheet on her lap­top. She’d have to talk to the old lady. It’d be rude not to stay for a few min­utes.

‘I sup­pose so,’ she said grumpily, then bit her lip. ‘Yes, it is a lovely, sunny day, but some of us have to work.’

‘Oh, I know, dear. And I did work in my day! Up at dawn ev­ery morn­ing to milk the cows. Be­fore dawn in win­ter. So cold you could hear your breath crack in the air.’

‘Af­ter­wards you went in to a warm fire, no doubt,’ Hen­ri­etta said.

She was sick of her neigh­bour’s mem­o­ries of the tough old days. She twisted her hands to­gether. Her days were tough, too, es­pe­cially when she had a dead­line to meet and that silly lit­tle dog kept in­ter­rupt­ing her work.

Hen­ri­etta worked as a pub­lic re­la­tions con­sul­tant and she had sev­eral projects on the go. The most im­por­tant was the up­com­ing launch of a new range of Scan­di­na­vian light­ing prod­ucts. There was a di­a­gram of the venue to com­plete, the press re­lease to fi­nalise and the cater­ing to or­gan­ise for Fri­day evening’s launch. It was a big job.

‘A warm fire? Only if we lit it our­selves, dear,’ the old lady was say­ing. ‘And you can guess who had to chop the fire­wood. Yes, me!’

Hen­ri­etta es­caped as soon as she could and, back home, opened her lap­top with re­lief.

For sev­eral days in a row the ter­rier scratched and barked at Hen­ri­etta’s front door. Each time she took it next door to Miss Rose and each time she grit­ted her teeth and talked to the old lady as her heart ham­mered im­pa­tiently in her chest.

On the fourth day, the day of the light­ing prod­ucts’ launch, Hen­ri­etta heard the fa­mil­iar scratch­ing and bark­ing at her door and swore to her­self.

She slammed her lap­top closed and jumped out of her chair. She’d had enough.

The dog was bark­ing and yap­ping in­sis­tently, harder than ever. The noise shred­ded her nerves, which were al­ready at break­ing point with her dead­lines.

She swung open the door and shouted at the dog.

‘Go! Shoo!’

She pointed to­wards Miss Rose’s place and stamped her foot, then watched the crea­ture run away with its tail be­tween its legs.

In the af­ter­noon, Hen­ri­etta was dis­cussing the last-

She’d had enough – her nerves were at break­ing point

minute de­tails of the launch on her mo­bile phone when she heard sirens rac­ing along the street. The sirens stopped out­side Miss Rose’s house. Hold­ing her mo­bile, Hen­ri­etta ran to her front door and opened it.

She saw two paramedics with a trol­ley hold­ing a body along her neigh­bour’s front path. Hen­ri­etta saw the old hands on the white sheet and gasped. She threw down her mo­bile and ran out.

‘She had a fall, hours ago,’ the man told her as Miss Rose was wheeled out to the am­bu­lance. The old lady’s eyes were closed, her skin pale, her hands gnarled on the sheet. ‘The peo­ple who brought her lunch found her.’

Hen­ri­etta was so shocked she could hardly speak.

‘Is she – will she be okay?’ The para­medic smiled grimly. The am­bu­lance drove away with sirens still blar­ing.

Hen­ri­etta re­turned to her lap­top, but her chest was tight and she couldn’t con­cen­trate.

Guilt swept through her. Now she knew why the lit­tle dog had been yap­ping harder than ever that morn­ing.

He’d wanted her to go and help his mistress.

Ly­ing in her hos­pi­tal bed, the old lady smiled up at her vis­i­tor. Hen­ri­etta had stayed at the launch long enough to raise her cham­pagne glass in a toast, then she’d bolted to the hos­pi­tal.

‘I know it was wrong of me to let Scam­per go to your door ev­ery day, dear, but I have no-one else to talk to,’ Miss Rose said. ‘The peo­ple who bring my meals don’t have time to talk.

‘And, dear,’ she added, ‘you’re such a good lis­tener.’

‘I am?’ Hen­ri­etta had been called many things be­fore – ef­fi­cient, cool-headed, a real pro­fes­sional – but never ‘a good lis­tener’.

Some­thing in her soft­ened. She sat down on the bed and touched the old lady’s hand. Her skin felt like fine silk.

‘Scam­per likes you, too,’ Miss Rose said, smil­ing. ‘He does?’ ‘You al­ways give him a pat when you bring him back.’

Hen­ri­etta had a thought. ‘Who’s look­ing af­ter him while you’re here in hos­pi­tal?’

‘No-one.’ Tears welled in the old eyes. ‘I wasn’t con­scious when they brought me in, so I couldn’t tell them about him.’

‘Where is he?’

Now she knew why the dog had been yap­ping so hard

‘At home – I hope.’ A gnarled fin­ger touched hers. ‘Would you look af­ter him? Un­til I come home?’

Hen­ri­etta didn’t hes­i­tate. Look­ing af­ter Scam­per would in­trude into her con­sul­tancy time, but she no longer cared.

She found the lit­tle dog whin­ing in­side Miss Rose’s cot­tage. She took him for a walk to the park, then led him into her own house and gave him a bowl of chopped meat to eat.

Ev­ery day un­til Miss Rose was dis­charged from the hos­pi­tal, Scam­per lay on the car­pet at Hen­ri­etta’s feet as she worked.

When­ever she talked to him, the lit­tle ter­rier with the tan eye patch thumped the car­pet with his tail.

And when Miss Rose came home, Hen­ri­etta de­cided she’d visit the old lady ev­ery day.

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