Maxine put a bowl of food on the kitchen floor for the dog. She had christened him Billy Bob. The dog, hearing the metal dish touch the floor, scuttled in from the lounge and immediately stuck his head into the bowl, wolfing down the contents as if it was the last meal on Earth. Maxine watched Billy Bob and smiled, giggling occasionally at the slopping and slurping noises. She loved him so much and even more so now that she knew the identity of the man who nearly killed him. She branded Sophie’s father as an animal assassin and vowed to find a way, even a tiny, little way, to get revenge. She was not malicious enough to do anything drastic but she would find a way to irritate or embarrass him before too long.
“Hi Max,” said Matt. “I see the mutt is still in residence.”
“He’s not a mutt, he’s a proper dog and his name is Billy Bob.” Maxine looked annoyed.
“What’s the difference between a mutt and a proper dog anyway and why would anyone in their right mind call a dog Billy Bob?”
“Oh, you’re just being awkward today, Matt. Anyone can call a pet anything they like. It’s a free country.”
“I think you’ll find that it is almost a free country,” said Matt pursing his lips in an authoritarian way and pointing a dictatorial finger in her direction. “I don’t know what’s wrong with Rover.”
“It’s my dog and its name is my business, okay?” Maxine changed from annoyed to angry.
“Calm down, Max, I’m only teasing you, but you know the arrangement. The dog is here only as a temporary resident. Have you thought what you will do with it?”
“It’s a he, not an it and, no, I haven’t figured out what I’ll do with him. My heart wants to keep him forever but my head knows that he is on borrowed time here.” Maxine’s eyes started to water and Max moved closer to comfort her. They hugged and the dog growled loudly before biting Matt’s trouser leg. Matt stepped back from Maxine and started shaking his leg to dislodge the dog. Maxine began to shout.
“Stop it, stop it,” she bawled, “stop shaking your leg or you’ll hurt the dog.”
“Sod the bloody dog, “ cried Max in a slight panic, voice raised to an abnormal pitch for him, “this monster is trying to chew my leg off.” He was kicking his leg more vigorously and every now and then the dog would fly off the ground in a crazy swinging game. With one final thrust, Matt shot his leg out with all the force he could muster and Billy Bob suddenly let go, flying across the kitchen before hitting the fridge, eventually scurrying back into the lounge.
“You animal,” screamed Maxine, “you’re no better that Sophie’s father, mean, cruel and heartless.” Matt was aware that his lower jaw had slackened in disbelief at Maxine’s fury. She rushed out of the kitchen, into the lounge and found the dog hiding behind an armchair. Matt checked for teeth marks and rips in his jeans before walking into the lounge. He saw Maxine cuddling a shivering dog.
“Max,” Matt ventured, ”none of this was my fault. It was….” He was cut off in mid-explanation.
“Not your fault, not your fault! You kicked this poor little dog against the fridge door and it’s not your fault. Pah!” She spat the last word and cuddled the dog even more.
“But it attacked me, I mean he attacked me.” Matt was looking dejected, convinced that whatever he said he was guilty in the eyes of Maxine. “What can I do to make it up to you?”
Maxine looked away for a few seconds and said: “There are two things that would make a difference. Firstly, I want you to apologise to Billy Bob and kiss him on the nose. Come on then.” Matt looked horrified but in the interests of future peace he walked over to the sofa. He knelt down, looked at Maxine and then at Billy Bob.
“Billy Bob, I am very sorry.” He moved towards the dog, apprehensively, and kissed it on its cold, wet nose. The dog gave out a tiny yelp of approval. “And the second thing?”
“I want you to promise that you will support me when I try to convince Cass to agree that Billy Bob can stay in the flat for the foreseeable future.” Maxine looked straight into Matt’s eyes. He stood up and paced around a little.
“Wow, isn’t kissing a dog’s nose and apologising enough of a humiliation? Cass can be very stroppy about things like this. She’s not happy about the dog being here in the first place.” Matt paused, hoping that Maxine would relent and withdraw her proposal. But she remained silent but kept her eyes fixed on him.
“Okay, okay,” Matt sighed, “you win but that’s it. If anything else happens, all promises and bets are off. The dog has to behave.”
Maxine got up from the sofa, dog in her arms, and moved to kiss Matt on the cheek. The dog barked, Matt stepped away, gave a little wave and Maxine smiled the broadest smile of her life.
Matt returned to the kitchen to make a sandwich. He noticed that his hands were shaking but took a deep breath and steadied himself. He had never liked dogs and had come to the conclusion that there was only one degree of separation between pet and pest. He had a puppy once but a bully had drowned it in front of him and a few of his friends. It was a sad incident but Matt vowed in his young head not to bother with the practicalities and emotions associated with dog ownership. Besides, he was annoyed with himself at being weak, manipulated into agreeing something he didn’t really agree with. Apart from kissing a dog on the nose, he had spoken to the beast as if it was human. It was shameful and he had little doubt that Maxine would use this altercation in future moves to get him to comply with her little schemes.