The In­vis­i­ble Dog

None of them could pre­dict the far-reach­ing ef­fects of their pre­tend puppy ex­per­i­ment…

My Weekly - - Contents - By Jo Styles

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?

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