My wife’s advice to friends who are thinking of getting a dog always contains a line that makes the hair on my arms stand up.
“If you get stuck, we can always have it,” I hear her say on the phone. I’m in the other room, but the hairs on my arms don’t lie.
“Who are you talking to?” I say, walking into the kitchen.
“Seriously, any time,” she says.
“Who is she talking to?” I say to the oldest one, who is sitting at the table.
“Dunno,” he says. “Someone who wants a puppy.”
“We’ve already got our one, so it makes no difference,” my wife says.
“We’ve got a dog,” I say. “That doesn’t make this a dog home.”
“You should definitely get one,” she says.
“I mean, we’ve got kids, but we’re not an orphanage,” I say.
Several of our friends got dogs during lockdown. It was inevitable my wife’s widely extended offer would have to be honoured at some point.
“They’re completely stuck,” she says to me. “Someone let them down.”
“I honestly don’t mind,” I say. “Having a puppy for a few days isn’t going to ruin my life.”
“It’s two weeks,” she says.
“Two weeks?” I say. “Where are they going?”
The puppy arrives three days later, with a cage and a bag of accessories. It’s smaller than our cat, with huge paws and teeth like needles.
Within seconds of its arrival, the puppy launches itself at the dog. The pair of them roll around the kitchen floor and out the back door. Half an hour later I see the puppy riding the dog across the garden like a pony.
“Problem solved,” I say, slightly prematurely. The play-fighting continues for five hours. As I watch the news, the two dogs roll back and forth in front of the television, snarling and snapping, claws clacking against the bare floor.
“Give it a rest,” I say. The dogs pause, look up at me, and then carry on.
I set my alarm for 7am to release the puppy from the cage at its accustomed hour, but when it goes off, my wife is already downstairs, the tiny dog running figures of eight round her ankles.
“I knew you’d be down here, sucking up to it,” I say.
“Did you want to be the one to let it out?” she says.
“No,” I lie.
“The extractor fan man will be here soon,” she says.
“That’s today?” I say.
Our kitchen didn’t come with an extractor fan. Even with the windows open, the smoke alarm goes off twice for every meal cooked. At some point during lockdown, I overcame my reluctance to pay someone to drill a big hole in the side of the house.
The extractor fan man arrives and immediately begins sawing away at the shelves above the cooker. The puppy follows me out to my office shed and helps itself to the dead flies gathered at the bottom of the door frame.
“I wouldn’t eat too many of those,” I say. The puppy looks at me in wonder.
The dog appears, and they resume the previous day’s fight. The cat takes up a position on the step, effectively pinning both dogs inside my office. The possibility of getting any work done seems remote. My wife crosses the grass with her needlework bag and sits down behind me. I spin my chair round.
“Can I help you?” I say.
“It’s noisy in there,” she says, nodding towards the kitchen. “Can we have the radio on?”
“I don’t have the radio on when I’m working,” I say.
“I can just do it on my phone,” she says. “What’s your wifi password?”
“The password is for clients only,” I say. The dog retreats to a hiding place under my desk. In the kitchen, an electric drill begins to whine. The tortoise heaves itself into view from around the corner. The puppy’s ears shoot up.
“Uh-oh,” I say.
“This is a very big day for you, isn’t it?” my wife says.