I turned the key in the lock, entering a pristine hallway filled with two cats ripe with a sense of urgency.
No purring: just dirty looks. They strode around silently demanding their breakfast and the opening of the cat flap.
The note from my neighbour sat on the working surface.
“Dear Kate,” it said, “Thank you for looking after the cats while we are away. Oh, and we thought your dog might like the lamb bone in the bottom of the fridge.”
I opened the fridge: and there it was. If Macaulay our disreputable terrier had been present, I swear that angels would have been singing. A lamb bone. Complete with real lamb.
I took the bone, made everything secure and pottered back home. Macaulay! I hollered. Silence: it takes the dog a while to process any information, no matter how inviting or pregnant with possibility. After a doggy age, he appeared at the top of the stairs. He waited, a faint aura of enquiry hanging somewhere between his over-shaggy ears. No need to come all the way down until my demands had been assessed for urgency and attractiveness.
I waved the bone. “Look! A bone!” I enthused, as if I were trying to interest a teenager in coming to the theatre to see a bit of Ibsen. “It’s tasty!”
Can smells travel upstairs? The lamb-bone’s essence was not travelling rapidly, if the dog’s stolid face was anything to go by. I waggled it again, distributing smelly particles, gung-ho, about the hallway.
But the particles stayed with me.
I do still hold enough clout, however, to get a dog down a set of stairs, and I persuaded him to flollop grumpily down to accommodate whatever weird and whacky scheme I might be cooking up on the ground floor.
And then he smelt it.
A lamb bone. The Holy Grail of the dog kingdom. Something dead, decaying, and exclusively the dog’s.
And now the decision: to gnaw or to inter?
This is always a thorny one for the dog. For years I have been buying expensive filled marrowbones, only to find them borne off to the garden, buried, and nicked the subsequent night by the neighbourhood fox.
The fox exists just to bait Macaulay. He will prowl around the other side of the garden fence intimating:”This fence is mine, not yours.” And that’s sacrilege to Macaulay. The first law of the Terrier Kingdom is: This Fence Is Mine and I’ll Bark Fit ToWake The Dead If You Try And Pass.
Of course, it’s not just one-sided. Mac steals the fox’s buried bones in the forest the other side of the fence, and brings them home to bury in our pristine leather sofas. So it stands to reason that anything the dog buries in the garden constitutes Payback for the fox.
The lamb bone was not just any bone, though.
This was evidenced in the dog’s solemn decision to gnaw for a precious half an hour before consigning the bone to the underworld.
But consign it he did, digging a hole with great energy and solemnity and dropping it in ceremonially.
That was two days ago. Today, he dug it up.
No: the fox is not on his mettle, and had not found it as yet. Mac’s delight at foxing the fox was tempered by the acute anxiety of a creature with treasure: to gnaw? Or to bury safely once more?
As I write this, the dog is acting out the very essence of what it means to be on the horns of a dilemma. He gnaws unhappily and then buries it; digs it up, gnaws, buries.
If it’s sense of smell the fox uses, finding this thing is going to take him all night.