Lyn still wore her green paramedic uniform. She sipped from a cup of tea, and sat in silence. Some days she turned on the TV, to watch cooking shows, the second she got home. Some days she just rested in the quiet. It all depended on what calls she’d gone to and what they’d done to her.
The cup of tea was half drunk and cold when Nigel’s BMW pulled up outside. Nigel got out, still in his work-stained blue overalls. Lyn opened the door for him, and they hugged. He kissed her on the side of the neck. He heard the silence, and saw the cold cup of tea. They moved inside and sat together. Their hands came together and interlinked. The ridges and callouses of his were still dark with the grease and dirt of his day’s work.
“I have a bit of sunburn here,” said Nigel. He pulled down the collar of his shirt. He had a small red patch in the hollow at the bottom of his throat.
“How did that happen?” asked Lyn.
“My welding visor broke so I used a different one which doesn’t cover quite as low. The welding arc has ultraviolet light in it so it causes sunburn.”
“Oh, I see. I think I’ve got some lotion in the cupboard somewhere.”
“It’s a bit late now. I tied a bit of cloth around my neck after it got burned but by then it was already scorched. How’s your day been?”
“Fine, Fine. Hey would you like to get a dog?”
Nigel was silent for a long moment. They both liked animals, and they had thought about getting a dog or a cat after they’d moved in together. They hadn’t gotten round to actually getting a pet. They had agreed to talk about it after moving and settling in. That had been a year ago.
“I’d like a dog. Sure, I love dogs. How come? I mean, what’s brought that question on? Anything?”
“I went to a hanging at work today.”
“Oh…are you okay?”
“Yeah I’m alright. It was the second ever one I’ve been to. Someone phoned up to say their neighbor hadn’t been out for a while, and there was no sign of life in the house. I was with Aisha; she’s my favorite friend at work. We got sent around and the police broke the door down for us, because we’re not allowed to break the door down ourselves, not even if someone’s dying. Anyway, we went in and the house was a total tip. I mean it was a right dog-hole. Everything was dirty and there was crap everywhere; loads of litter and stuff; cigarettes, cans, bottles, rubbish…and there was the chap in the kitchen hanging by his neck from the curtain rail. He’d tied a rope around it and hung himself to death; suffocation, not neck-breaking.”
“That’s not good.”
“No. He’d been dead a couple days and he didn’t look too good; already starting to go bad with the swelling. He looked about thirty or so. Normal looking. He had some tattoos on his arms that look a bit like my brother’s, you know like playing cards and a snake and stuff? Aisha called in and said he was deceased. I checked the pulse and breathing, but you could already smell the rot setting in. I just checked for procedure, so we could say we had. Then we left the police to do their thing, and we left the body as it was. They started looking at things and inspecting them and what-have-you, looking through his draws and stuff. I don’t think they can take the body down until a senior officer has approved, but I don’t really know. I guess it was a potential crime scene even if common sense says it was suicide. They left him up as long as we were there anyhow.
“Aisha asked if I was all right and if I wanted a minute. I said I wanted a minute, just to reset before we go back to work and another call, so she called up and told them to give us a minute. I walked into another room near the back, to look at the garden just for curiosity sake, and a dog came up to me.”
“The bloke’s pet? What breed?”
“Must be his. It was a staffie, male. Looked like Bradley. You know my nan’s dog? You’ve met Bradley haven’t you? He’s a staffie he is, and it looked a lot like him but a tiny bit bigger and more white colored.”
“Why would he kill himself if he had a dog? That’s not fair. It’s just not fair on the dog.”
“Sure. We both said hello to him, and we went and got some dog food. He had cans in the kitchen so we fed him one of them. It didn’t touch the sides. We fussed him and he was licking us and going nuts. He said hello to the police lads as well. We took him out to the front room and played with him a bit. He had some toys, ropes and stuff. We played tug-of-war and threw a ball for him. He was a lovely dog. Friendly as you like.”
“And you want to have him, I take it?”
“I asked the police lads what would happen with him, and they said that they’d ring the dogs home to come and get him. If the dogs home had space then they’d come and pick him up. If the chap had put something in place, like a will or something then they’d find out later, and get it sorted. Otherwise he’d just be in the dog’s home, and stay there as usual. He’d get assessed and whatnot, then adopted whenever someone wants to adopt him. They have to see if they are good with other dogs, or kids, or have canine HIV and everything.”
“He won’t have put nothing in place, I guarantee it. Why kill yourself if you’re going to worry about that kind of thing? Defeats the whole purpose.”
“Probably. So you know what I think? I reckon he’ll be in that dog’s home in Blackwood. You know the one we drove past? That’s the closest one to where the dog was. I was thinking, why don’t we go there and apply to have him? I’ve met him, and I know I’ll get on with him. He was friendly. Seemed to come when you call. Even did ‘sit’, and rolled over when I waved my hand around.”
Nigel thought for a moment. He looked for problems and couldn’t really find anyway. He sat silent for another moment, to make sure she didn’t think he wasn’t taking things seriously. He had to do that sometimes: pretend to think when really he’d already done all of his thinking. He stroked his chin, and wondered whether to buy bourbon with the next load of shopping, or a pack of lagers. It wasn’t really lager weather, but lager lasted him better and was nice to drink while he was watching a film.
“We can go there and meet him and talk to the home,” he said. “Might as well. Yeah, go ahead. Call them up and make sure he’s actually there at Blackwood first. That’s step one. Do it.”
Lyn smiled. “He was a nice dog,” she said. “Perfect size. Not so big that you’d have to walk him for miles and miles. You’d be able to pick him up easily enough if you had to. I could as well. Not like a huge German Shepherd or anything.”
“I’ll not be saddled with soul walking duties,” said Nigel. “We’ll take it in turns, or go together. You know my feet hurt if I walk too much.”
“Dogs like things nice and regular. We can walk him at the same time every day, whichever one of us is home. If we’re both home then I’ll do it, unless I’m too busy.”
“Okay. If I end up walking the dog most days then that counts as housework. Just bear that in mind. It’s an offshoot of our chores, and it would count.”
“If you say so. You’ll be able to fit in an extra Maccies each week with the calories you’ll burn from walking and playing with him.”
They took turns getting showered, then made dinner together. After they’d eaten their nuggets and chips, they sat watching a documentary about people manufacturing cocaine in South America. Lyn drank a can of cider. She didn’t drink normally. Nigel drank two cans of cider and had a large glass of brandy. That was slightly more than normal. He anticipated making love to Lyn that night; they hadn’t had the chance yet that week. They’d both gone to bed every night spent of all their energy, and elected to allow the other to make the first move.
Warmth spread out from the brandy in Nigel’s stomach and kindled a forgotten eagerness in him. It didn’t live long enough to come to fruition; Nigel dropped off to sleep a couple of times on the couch. They went up to bed and he fell asleep quickly. Lyn stayed awake in bed reading about dogs on the Internet.
They gave him the name Pablo. Nigel had had his heart set on something Italian or Spanish sounding. Lyn wanted something like ‘Alfie’ or ‘Archie’. Nigel had dug his heels in, and the dog was called Pablo. He’d suggested ‘Valentino’ and ‘Fenucci’ as well, but agreed that they had too many syllables and would be replaced by nicknames in everyday use. He insisted that staffies were partial to cubism, so ‘Pablo’ was most appropriate.
The day after Pablo’s first night in the house, Nigel took him out into the back garden with a bag full of treats and started training. Lyn watched from inside the kitchen for an hour while she kept an eye on their Sunday dinner.
“Pablo!” called Nigel. “Come here! Here! Heel!”
“How’s it going?” asked Lyn opening the door slightly.
“He comes whenever you have a treat in your hand, but I don’t think he knows any commands except ‘sit’. He’ll sit so long as you have his attention.”
“Oh well, he can learn all of the important ones like ‘lie down’ and ‘stop’ and all that. A dog’s never too old to learn. That’s what Dani at work says. He knows his stuff as well; his dog Ralph can balance treats on his nose without eating them. Dani’d take Ralph along with him in the ambulance if he could.”
“Sounds like a good idea; a dog could get trained to sniff out which drugs someone’s overdosed from, or whatever. I wonder if that’s been done? Good idea I think. Anyway, I don’t think Pablo’s ready to be a paramedic yet, but let me just train him a bit more. He’ll be qualified in no time, won’t you?”
Nigel knelt down and started running his hands up and down the dog’s sides. Pablo lay down on the grass and rolled onto his back. His tail wagged and his tongue lolled out of his mouth as he panted.
“Look at that tummy!” said Nigel scratching the dog on the stomach. The dog growled and swished his tail and his eyes closed. “Are you going to be a paramedic dog? You going to run up and lick people on the face while they’re dying? That’ll make it better for them won’t it?”
“I think he’s had enough training for one day. Tea’s ready. Let’s all eat together.”
Lyn went to bed early. She had a shift starting at six in the morning. Nigel sat downstairs with Pablo. The dog lay across his lap with his eyes drooping.
“You like it here? Huh?” asked Nigel scratching Pablo’s ears. “You like your new house? You think you’ll stay? Sorry to hear about your old dad, it’s a shame about him. I won’t hang myself, I promise. Stay here with me and mommy, Pablo. We’ll have a little brother or sister for you some day. You’ll like that won’t you?”
He stroked Pablo’s snout. The nose felt cold and rough, but the breath was warm and soft. Nigel thought about getting up and heading up to bed, but Pablo had gone to sleep and Nigel didn’t want to wake him.