Thursday, 16 June 2011


The living room in the students’ flat was a tip, a mess of gargantuan proportions with a carpet begging to be vacuumed, windows desperate for the loving touch of a chamois leather, and piles of books, magazines, newspapers and take-away menus strewn on the furniture and the floor.  The furniture itself would have provoked a coronary in the Llewellyn-Bowen household, as it was a mixture of styles, designs, conditions and prices.  With three students bringing their own contribution, the living area looked like the afternoon after the morning after the night before when the domestic chores were consigned to last place on the day’s necessities whilst the residents fought off the last pains of their hangovers.  Domesticity was definitely not high on the agenda for the three academics.
It seemed that each had chosen a wall for their pictures and other stuff they wanted to display.  Matt had a giant poster of the Rat Pack in the centre of his space, with the super-cool images of Sinatra, Martin and Davis Jnr exuding their bizarrely powerful Las Vegas aura across the room from all those decades ago.  It never crossed his mind that boozing, smoking and gambling, popular in the 1960s, were the trio of social devils to a growing majority in the 21st century.  He just liked the swagger.  On the left, he had stuck the iconic picture of Steve McQueen as Hiltz on his motorcycle contemplating how best to jump that barb-wire fence in his great escape attempt.  On the right hand side, Matt had taped another movie poster, this time showing the airport farewell scene from Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart, bedecked in trilby and trench coat, and Ingrid Bergman, beautiful and dewy-eyed under a wide-brimmed hat.  The girls thought it was a novelty at first but it soon became very annoying when Matt walked passed the poster he would touch it and say in a bad Bogey impression: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”  It was clear that Matt liked stylish cool.
Maxine’s wall was a gallery of front covers from Your Dog magazine.  She never read newspapers or other magazines and, as a result of her concentration on canines, she had developed an encyclopedic knowledge of dogs.  The wall had room for about four years worth of monthly covers and it was just over half-full.  Her favourite picture was of an old English sheepdog, but she was affectionate towards all of them, the Sealyham terrier, the sad-eyed miniature poodle, the cute King Charles spaniel, the loose-skinned jowly Neapolitan Mastiff and the ugly mug of the pug.  The gallery was neat and tidy with every cover placed and stuck perfectly.  Maxine often said that if she had the money, she would have liked the whole collection framed, but at the moment she reckoned that would not be deemed as a good use of her student loan.
Cass had pinned three large flip-chart pages to her wall.  One was headed “LIKES”, another “CONCERNS” and the third “SUGGESTIONS” and she used them to jot down how she felt about the world, society and life in general.  Anyone looking would see that she liked good manners, frosty mornings, salt and vinegar Pringles and red apples.  She was concerned about the environment, crime, people in power who lie and the seemingly unstoppable growth of the rat population.  Her suggestions read rather like the Advertising Standards Authority handbook in that she just wanted people as a minimum to act legally, decently, honestly and truthfully.
The flat, despite its untidiness, was warm and comfortable.  The three students had been sharing for about nine months and, by and large, they got on well together with only the usual moments of friction about who was doing the washing up and how long the bathroom was being hogged.  But the arrival of the fox terrier, no matter how transient an arrangement , was about to add new tensions to their relationships.
It was a few days before the arrival of the dog from the vet’s but Maxine was getting a little incensed as she read Cass’s flip-charts.  “I like the thought of looking after a poor, unfortunate animal,” declared the “LIKES” chart, “it feels such a humane thing to do.”  Moving on, Maxine read the “CONCERNS”, “I am afraid of the unpredictability of all animals and worry that this seemingly innocent dog will attack one or all of us, or get us thrown out of the flat for breaking the rules.”  Cass’s “SUGGESTIONS” included the thought: “Even if it hurt’s M’s feelings, I feel that she needs some straight-talking sometimes.” 
Maxine could feel herself bristling but she decided to keep quiet as Cass emerged, wrapped in a towel, from the bathroom.
Hi Max,” she almost sang in a jolly voice, “I’ve got the morning off and I am going to do some shopping.  What about you?”
“I’m just leaving.   I’ve got a lecture to endure, and then I can pick up the dog. Maxine bit her lip and waited or Cass to react.
“Bit sooner than expected, but whatever,” shouted Cass as she went into her bedroom.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”  ventured Maxine.  There was silence and then Cass stuck her head round the door.
“Well, a part of me minds, you know that part that doesn’t like dogs, but another part nags me into taking a more relaxed, humanitarian view.  Anyway, if it breaks the rules, it’ll have to go, that’s the deal.”  Cass winked at Maxine.
Maxine put on her coat, grabbed her bag and a couple of folders, shouted goodbye to Cass and left the flat.  As she waited for the lift she wondered why in this crazy world that it was quite difficult to be a warm, loving human being.  Caring for something or someone should be a piece of cake but instead of simplicity being divinity, complications always seemed to set in.
As she walked out of the lift on the ground floor, she saw Sophie’s dad.  He had his back to her and was talking on his mobile phone.
“I couldn’t believe how clumsy I was.  One minute, head in the air, minding my own business and the next minute, crash, bang, wallop, fell over something, nearly demolished a cafĂ© and almost killed a stupid dog.  Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,” Jonathan was saying and laughing loudly.
As she passed, Jonathan turned and gave Maxine a wave.  Her sneer back at him was the sneer of an assassin.

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