Plus Bim Adewunmi’s First take
My wife has a lack of scruples when it comes to the path of victory, which has spoiled many a parlour game
My wife and I wake up on someone else’s lawn, somewhere in the country. When we arrived at the party the previous evening in the driving rain, everyone laughed at our tent, which is the sort young people leave behind at festivals because they can’t figure out how to fold them back up.
“I might sleep in the car,” my wife said. “It’ll be fine,” I said.
Having survived the night, I feel as vindicated as anyone who’s just spent seven hours lying on the ground could.
“Ow,” I say.
“Get up,” my wife says. “We need to be at the dog show back at home.”
From my vantage point, staring up at the roof of a damp tent, the dog show doesn’t seem like that much of an emergency. But it’s a neighbourhood thing and we’re new to the neighbourhood, and we said we’d go.
That afternoon, I find myself walking down our road with my wife, all three boys, the oldest one’s girlfriend and the little dog on a lead. The late-lamented old dog was once a regular prizewinner: Nicest Eyes, Waggiest Tail, Dog the Judges Would Most Like To Take Home. I can’t imagine what sort of category this dog could triumph in.
“I think we’re going to win,” my wife says. “Win what?” I say. “Third Smallest? Neediest In Show?”
We turn the corner into a street full of people, pets and bunting, with a band playing at one end and a book stall at the other; there’s also a stall selling bow-ties for dogs, for Africa.
“Charming,” my wife says, putting a tie on the dog backwards.
My wife goes off to register, leaving the rest of us standing in a little clutch in the road, knowing nobody. After four minutes, the middle one decides the dog show isn’t his scene. The oldest one and his girlfriend head to the shop, leaving the youngest one and I together. “I don’t have any money,” I say. “Do you have any money?”
Our dog is a late entrant; possibly too late. Over at the registration table, my wife appears to be pulling strings. She has a competitive streak and a lack of scruples when it comes to the path of victory, a combination that has spoiled many a parlour game. I find myself wondering if it’s possible to cheat in a dog show. “What’s she doing?” the youngest one asks. “She might be bribing someone,” I say. “At least it means she’s got money.”
I see my wife heading back our way. “We’re in,” she says. “Don’t ask.”
There are three judges in white coats and 28 dogs to be appraised. Some are no-shows; most of the rest are cockapoos. There is another dog that looks exactly like our dog, only nicer. Some dogs are accompanied by cute children. One is a puppy, and elicits a melting sigh of admiration from the crowd. That, I think, is how you cheat at a dog show.
Our dog is among the last to go. My wife walks it up the red carpet laid along the street. The dog sits at the feet of the judges, then rises into a begging position. My wife winks at the judges, turns and leads the dog back.
“Whoa!” the youngest says.
“That was actually sort of impressive,” I say. The oldest one, his girlfriend and the youngest go home. I wait by someone’s front gate with my wife while the judges deliberate.
“I should have made it clear we were new,” my wife says. “Then they would have let us win.” “I’m not sure that’s how it works,” I say.
The boys are sitting in the kitchen when we return home an hour later. My wife chucks her keys on the table.
“Unplaced,” she says.
“Nothing?” the oldest asks.
“I heard that one of the judges was prejudiced against terriers,” I say. I sit down heavily, not quite knowing what lesson to draw from my afternoon.
The dog sits at my feet and looks up me expectantly. “She hasn’t been fed,” my wife says. The dog rises into the begging position, as if on cue.
“Dinners are for winners,” I say. “What are you?”