The Invisible Dog
None of them could predict the far-reaching effects of their pretend puppy experiment…
A warm family tale
Things started off well. On day one, Laura lay in bed listening as Jack hurried across the landing to wake their ten-year-old an hour earlier than normal. “Come on, sleepyhead, time to let the puppy out. He’s not old enough to cross his legs much longer.”
“I’m awake, Dad,” came Izzy’s sleepy reply. “I am.”
She’d gone to bed extra early, so she wouldn’t yawn all day at school. She’d begged for a puppy for months.
“Pets are a serious business,” Jack had told her. “You need to prove you’re ready for all the work. A puppy will need walking, feeding and grooming. You can’t expect me and your mum to do it all.”
Now after yanking on her clothes, Izzy careened down the stairs. “Come on, Puppy,” she yelled in the kitchen as if to make a point. Her dad hushed her. “Don’t wake your brother.” As Laura listened, she heard them letting the puppy out into the garden. They’d give him breakfast, then he’d need a quick walk round the park before school. Jack would go with Izzy. He wouldn’t let her go on her own.
Pulling on her dressing gown, Laura drew back the curtains to watch them leave. They walked hand in hand. Only one thing was missing – an actual dog.
“This isn’t normal, you know,” came a dour voice from the doorway. Oliver, her thirteen-year-old son, stood yawning. “Most people don’t own an invisible dog.”
“Your dad just wants to make sure Izzy understands how much time and effort a real one will need. He doesn’t want her to think they’re all wagging tails and throwing balls. This is just a dress rehearsal to see how well she does.” Ollie’s voice turned gruff. “No, Mum, this is weird… and Dad’s usually the sensible one. He’d better still be taking me to football as usual this weekend. I don’t see why I should miss out just because he’s had a silly idea.”
That’s where the problems started…
It’s not even real,” Ollie complained at the breakfast table when just what he feared came to pass on Saturday morning. “How can you take a dog out for the day when it doesn’t even exist?”
“I promised your sister,” said Jack around a mouthful of toast. Izzy wanted to go for a walk in the country. That’s what you do when you own a dog. “It’ll be fun,” he explained.
Ollie gave the ceiling a big eye-roll. He’d never shown any interest in pets, real or imaginary, which might be why they’d never owned one before.
“Don’t tell anybody about any of this. I don’t want my friends to find out. They’ll think I have the strangest family on the planet.”
“I can drive you and your friends to the match. It’s not a big deal, is it?” Laura said to stop his whingeing. “Having a dog will be disruptive for all of us. We all need to get used to the idea.”
Before Ollie could come up with a reply, one likely slathered in sarcasm, Izzy came running in from the garden.
“I’ve groomed him, Dad.” She checked her watch. “For fifteen minutes exactly.” She smiled. Since she already loved make-believe, all this wasn’t such a big stretch to her. “Are we really going out for the day?” Jack nodded. A long walk across the fields throwing sticks and balls they’d have to fetch themselves? Laura smothered a grin. Still, she hoped Izzy would learn something about responsibility from all of this. She’d best not admit to Ollie though, that she would most likely avoid telling all her friends about it as well.
“Get your kit ready,” she told him. “I’ll drive you over now… and I promise not to ask about the offside rule.”
Laura SMOTHERED a grin. She HOPED Izzy would learn SOMETHING from it
She almost broke her vow. So, explain the-offside rule-in-great detail… she imagined herself saying. It might shatter the silence in the car. Today the junior squad Ollie played for had a match with another town. She’d be
stuck in the car with three taciturn teenage boys for at least half an hour. She twitched in her seat. What shall Italk to them about? If Jack was here they’d chat on about the opposing team’ s strength sand weaknesses. They’ d talk about cars, gaming and motorbikes.And girls… maybe? May benot.
You know what you should have done, Laura told herself. You should have offered to take the invisible dog out instead of Jack. Only as it had been all his idea he’d taken the lead, so to speak. “So lads, do any of you have a dog?” Ollie gave her a glare from the passenger seat. She guessed its meaning. Don’t you dare mention that my family’s gone totally insane.
“Yes, we have one,” said Harry, a ginger lad with freckles. “He’s a spaniel.”
“My mum has a Yorkshire terrier,” said Tom, a big lad who already towered over Laura. “It was supposed to be my sister’s but she got bored after a week.”
Laura raised her brows. See, Ollie, there’ s method in your dad’s madness.
“I tried to train it to jump over fences in the back garden once,” Tom went on. “But it only had little legs so it kept running underneath.”
Their shared laughter was such a relief. After that, the lads warmed up a bit. They nattered on about their pets, the mice, the rats and the guinea pigs. Most did seem to end up completely in the care of their parents.
Laura cast another glance at Ollie. He seemed to be relaxing. Maybe he’d realised she wouldn’t mention anything odd going on at home or perhaps… even better… he’d decided his dad had a point?
When she parked at the sports ground, the boys piled out of the car and charged towards the changing rooms at the side of the pitch. When the game started fifteen minutes later, she took to the sidelines.
She milled about with all the other parents. She watched her son run up and down and tried to remember if he played in defence or attack? Or was that netball? She learned quickly enough he must be in attack since he scored a goal. She threw up her arms and jumped up and down enthusiastically. “Yes! Good one, Ollie!” His head turned her way. Had he just smothered a smile? His dad definitely never jumps up and down, Laura
When he SCORED she threw up her ARMS and jumped UP AND DOWN
concluded. Half an hour later, she got to do it all again. “Two nil!” she yelled. At the end of their game, the boys appeared from the changing rooms, hair wet from the showers. Victorious, they nattered on excitedly about the game all the way home. Laura smiled in the driver’s seat. You see, this wasn’t too bad, was it, once they got past that awkward Why is Ollie’s mumhere? phase at the start.
Back at home, they found Jack and Izzy in the kitchen, Jack’s laptop whirring away. They sat studying all the different breeds of dog.
“Are we getting a real one, then?” Ollie asked. He tipped his football gear onto the floor and opened the washing machine. Laura had trained him to clean his own kit years ago. “I take it you’re driving me to football next week, Dad?” he added with a worried expression. “Yes, yes, next Saturday will be fine.” “Next week’s match is Sunday, Dad.” “Oh. Sorry then, there’s this dog show at a fête. I told Izzy we’d go.”
“You’re taking the invisible dog to see other dogs show off?” Ollie wore a scowl now. “How long is this going on for?”
Jack gave it some thought. “Three weeks should be long enough.” He wrapped his arm about Izzy’s shoulder. “I know that sounds like a very long time but a dog is for life, and you’re doing great, Izzy. Just wonderful.” He might not have jumped up and down to celebrate but you’d never have guessed by the grin on Izzy’s face.
Ican’t believe she’s played pretend for all this time,” Ollie said with a sigh. He stood by the window in Laura’s bedroom at the end of week three, watching Izzy and his dad return from their usual morning wander. “I thought she’d have given up on this ages ago.”
“She wanted to prove herself… and she has,” said Laura who watched, too.
Izzy had done very well allocating time to groom, walk and feed her make-believe mutt. Jack encouraged her all the way. Ollie, meanwhile, had continued to fume at the insanity of it all.
Still, at least now when Jack made plans with Izzy and Laura drove Ollie to football practise or to games, Tom and Harry beamed.
“Hello Mrs Hanson,” they’d both pipe up before engaging her in conversation about the common ground they’d discovered. Music – Tom loved the stuff from Laura’s era. Books – Harry was a big fan of his namesake Harry Potter.
“Your DAD will make a SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT this morning”
Laura had read all the novels.
Ollie, seemingly having adjusted to this new arrangement, joined in. His friends had even nicknamed Laura “Kanga” due to those jumps she did when any of them scored a goal.
In her room, she smiled. “Your dad will make a special announcement this morning. Izzy’s going to be thrilled.”
“We better get downstairs fast then.” Ollie headed for the door. “I’ll be glad when this is over.”
Downstairs Jack had sat Izzy down at the kitchen table. He tapped a spoon on the side of a cup, likely to make it feel like more of an occasion.
“Attention everybody, today sees the end of this epic… experiment. Izzy, you’ve done brilliantly. Your hard work has earned you… a real dog. Congratulations! We’ll find a puppy for you as soon as we can.”
Izzy sat beaming – only then her smile twitched and fell away. “What’s up?” Laura asked.
Izzy gnawed at her lip. “The thing is… well… I’ve sort of decided I’d rather have a kitten. My friend Hannah has one, you see.
“I only carried on with the puppy thing because I was having loads of fun with Dad. I don’t normally because he usually spends all his time with Ollie. Even when we all go out, he ends up doing stuff with him.”
Laura froze. Jack and Ollie? Her and Izzy? That did seem to be how things got divided up.
“Oh,” she said as Jack blinked at her. Had he been an invisible dad to Izzy, and to her son had she been an invisible mum? Even Ollie looked stunned. “Blimey, I think she might be right. I never used to spend much time with you, did I, Mum?” He gave Laura a rather critical study. “And you’re not that bad either, are you? Considering.” “Oh, thanks,” said Laura. He frowned at his sister. “So, we’re not getting a dog then? You just wanted more time with Dad?” He gave another of his famous eye rolls. “Sisters are weird … and so are families.”
I can’t argue with him there, Laura thought. She raised her brows at Jack.
“Right, I’ll walk Izzy to school,” he said, “and you drive Ollie, then I’ll… I’ll draw up a rota so everybody gets a fair share of everybody else.”
Laura laughed. “Good. Brilliant. That’s another of your amazing ideas.”
For once, even Ollie just nodded. He didn’t add, No, Mum that’s just bizarre. It seemed even he didn’t like the idea of having one invisible parent.
“Come on then,” he said, giving Laura a big smile. “Take me to school… Mum.”
Do I give a little jump to celebrate? Laura wondered. What the heck, why not?