When Frank Met Mabel
I thought I was his one and only. It seemed not – but there might be a solution to make everyone happy…
Frank takes up most of the bed. He snores, he sighs and he stretches – but when I reach out my hand and feel his warm coat against my skin it’s the most reassuring feeling in the world.
Frank adores me. His love is total and unconditional. He asks so little from me yet gives me everything.
OK – not everything. He can’t cook me dinner, arrange surprise meals at my favourite restaurant or load the dishwasher. But he also doesn’t disappoint or hurt me. He doesn’t decide one day he can’t “do this any more” and pack his bags. How clichéd is that?
Frank gives me the best welcome and sits on my feet to keep them warm. How many men would do that? He snuggles up close when I need it and barks every time there’s a knock on the door.
I like that. It makes me feel safe. I have a protector. I am living with someone who thinks the world of me.
I don’t need a man. I have the love of my life. I have Frank.
When James decided he needed to “find himself” – another ridiculous cliché but I promise you he said it – I soon realised the only thing I really missed about him was his ability to negotiate Netflix and find something decent to watch on the television.
Once I’d mastered that technicality for myself, Frank and I settled into a comfortable routine of working, eating, walking, sleeping, repeat. Our days were easy. Frank will eat anything. Frank doesn’t get bored. Frank simply loves being with me.
Saturday mornings we meet Frank’s friends. There are four of them – Jasper, Bentley, Sonny and Rufus. They are an assortment of breeds, colours and sizes and their sole enjoyment for two solid hours is running and playing together.
I can’t say I know their owners. We ramble along in a sort of group but I don’t even know their names. We chat about non-important things that don’t require an opinion. We smile and say goodbye after two hours, knowing we will all meet the following Saturday. But they are not my friends. They are Frank’s friends.
“I don’t know why you don’t all meet up for coffee one day – or better still, the pub.” That’s my actual friend Sally’s opinion. She worries that I spend too much time on my own. She thinks I should get out more and meet people. What she really means, of course, is that I should meet another man.
“I don’t want another man,” I told her. “They’re not all like James, you know.” “I’ve got Frank. He’s all I need.”
“Laura – Frank’s a dog!”
I smiled and stroked his big brown head. “He loves me.”
Sally made a weird noise at the back of her throat and shook her head.
“Eight tonight – The Cricketers.
You’re coming to the pub with me whether you like it not. Don’t be late – and don’t bring Frank.”
I’m not a recluse. James leaving didn’t turn me into a dog-whispering, odd hermit. Meeting Sally at the pub Saturday night was fun. We enjoyed some drinks, shared our news, definitely laughed a lot – and then I went home to Frank.
He bounded up the hall the second my key hit the door, favourite teddy firmly in his mouth. Then he dropped it at my feet and looked up at me adoringly with silky brown eyes. I tickled his ears, told him he was a good boy and we climbed the stairs together.
I drifted off to sleep to the rhythmic sound of his heavy breathing, his warm furry body next to mine, ears occasionally twitching when he heard the cry of a fox outside. A light touch of my hand as I murmured “it’s OK, Frank” would soothe us both back to sleep.
So life continued for Frank and me in a contented bubble of adoration and recovery – because I suppose I always knew, deep down, that I needed time to recover from James’ departure.
The following Saturday was chilly. The early morning mist hadn’t lifted and I knew it would be a thick coat, wellies on kind of walk.
“It’s time to meet the boys, Frank,” I told him, slipping on his lead.
Frank wagged his tail and stood still while I wrestled with the head collar. “Come on then – let’s go.”
The fog hung over the park like a see-through blanket. High in the sky a watery winter sun waited for its chance to break into the bleak February morning. In the distance I saw the dog walking brigade, shadowy ghosts in the mist – their voices and excited yelps getting louder and more visible as Frank and I trudged towards them.
“Good morning.” I said with a generic smile. I was rewarded with a smattering of “good mornings” and several dogs leaning against me in welcome. I removed Frank’s lead and watched him with my usual surge of delight as he ran off at speed. The dogs were having their normal rough and tumble, playfully barking at each other, good-naturedly daring one another to be the leader of the pack. I peered into the mist and smiled, like an indulgent mother watching her child take its first steps.
That’s when I noticed the new addition. In the midst of the canine madness was a white cockapoo jumping around. She looked tiny compared to some of the other dogs.
“Oh – there’s a new dog!” I exclaimed to no one in particular.
I looked in the direction of the voice – a figure in a black hoodie, big boots and rubbing his hands together in the cold. I smiled at his outline in the mist.
Dog etiquette requires all new members to be welcomed.
“Welcome to the group.” I said. He
Inthemidstofthe caninemadness wasatinywhite cockapoojumping around
nodded in reply and we all walked on – following the dogs, picking up their mess, making casual unnecessary comments to one another.
When it was time to leave, we rounded up our dogs. Little Mabel sat quietly at her owner’s feet, and at Mabel’s feet – drooling in admiration – sat Frank.
Frank didn’t eat his dinner that night. I felt his nose – it was cool and wet. Maybe he just wasn’t hungry. I slipped a little of my shepherd’s pie on top of his dried food to tempt him – but he turned away and slunk back into his basket.
“What’s wrong, Frankie?” I crooned. “Aren’t you feeling well? Poor baby.” I stroked his head. If he didn’t look brighter tomorrow I’d have to take him to the vet. Great – a vet’s bill. That’s all I needed.
He didn’t eat his breakfast. He sort of mooched around our flat, disinterested in his usual selection of toys. I ended up taking him to the vet’s for a check-up, and £45, one hour and a parking fine later ( I didn’t notice the new yellow lines) I was home with an expensive diagnosis of ‘nothing wrong’.
The misty mornings cleared and the next Saturday dawned cold but bright. The sky was paintbox blue and the grass shiny green with dew. I drew in a breath, glad to be out on such a lovely day.
Taking off Frank’s lead, I gave him an encouraging “Go on, boy, have fun.”
I needn’t have worried. He shot off like an arrow from a bow towards the dogs.
Some ran to meet him, desperate to begin their usual games, but Frank kept running. He ran straight past Jasper, Bentley, Sonny and Rufus. He ran round in a circle – sniffing and searching. And then he saw her – standing quietly in the grass – resting maybe – catching her breath after running with the male dogs – the pretty little cockapoo called Mabel. Frank ran to her, lay down at her feet and didn’t move.
“Your Frank likes Mabel,” someone said. A few of the group laughed.
“King size crush!” Another voice. A deeper voice said something like “Yeah – looks like it” and I looked up at the owner with the black hoodie and big boots. He was smiling. His hood was down revealing sandy hair. He was taller than I remembered, about my age. He had a friendly face and was looking at Mabel the way I looked at Frank.
Eventually when the time came we all managed to retrieve our dogs. Frank gave Mabel one last look as I lifted him into the car and we drove home.
Frank didn’t want his dinner. He didn’t want to play. He put up with my cuddles but no longer sought them out. If he hadn’t looked so dejected, I might even have been a little jealous. Frank, it seemed, had dumped me and fallen deeply in love with another.
When Saturday came round again I approached the owner with sandy hair, black hoody and big boots. I was seriously worried now about Frank and something needed to be done.
“Hi.” I said, suddenly feeling a bit silly. Everything I had planned to say about my dog being in love with his dog now seemed ridiculous.
“Hi.” He had a nice smile. I liked that. James only smiled if something amused him. He would never greet anyone with a friendly smile. Funny – I’d forgotten that.
“This sounds really stupid but – well – Frank seems to really like your dog. And, well, he’s not eating or anything and I sort of wondered – well, to be honest, I don’t quite know what to do about it.” The owner with a nice smile nodded. “Yeah – I think it’s reciprocated.
Mabel loves seeing Frank.”
I don’t know why I felt relieved. I couldn’t have coped with poor Frank being desperately in love with someone who didn’t love him back. OK, they are dogs. But I knew how that felt and I didn’t want Frank to ever feel that way. OK – ridiculous.
“If Frank’s really pining, perhaps we should get them together more often,” Mabel’s owner suggested. “Let them get it out of their system.”
“That might work.” I said.
“Worth a try.” he said.
And so we started meeting – sometimes up the park – sometimes at my flat – sometimes at Jonathan’s house. Well I couldn’t keep calling him the owner with big boots could I? I don’t know who suggested it first, but one day Jonathan stayed for dinner. Soon we fell into a routine of eating together whenever we met with the dogs – and then there was the time we actually went out to eat without Frank and Mabel.
“You never answer your phone these days!” Sally said.
“Sorry Sal – I’ve been busy.”
“Big boots?” she said with a grin. “Jonathan.” I gave her a playful dig. “So how’s it going?”
“Great,” I told her. “Frank and Mabel are so lovely with each other. Frank’s his usual happy self again.”
“I didn’t mean the dogs, Laura – I meant you and Jonathan.”
“Oh. Well – to be honest, there’s a bit of a problem.”
Sally frowned. “What’s that?” “Jonathan absolutely refuses to sit on my feet and keep them warm.” I smiled at her. “Apart from that, it’s actually going pretty great too!”
BY LYNDA FRANKLIN