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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Life's a Bitch
by Moira McDermott

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The bathroom tiles rubbed cold and hard against the skin on my back; the bit between the waistband of my jeans and my T-shirt had rolled into a sausage as I slid down the bathroom wall into a heap on the floor. The tears were coming thick and fast and making little splashes as they fell onto the rubber gloves in my lap. How would Fran, the floozy, like bleach seeping into her rubber gloves through puppy teeth perforations? Well, George has gone and he can damn well come and take this puppy with him. I've had enough!

As usual, the luxury of feeling sorry for myself was short lived as the door flew open. "Mam, mam, you gotta see this!" Josh's voice was a mixture of astonishment and excitement.

"For goodness sake Josh, what now?"

"Milly's doin' green poos!"

"This better not be a wind-up Josh..." I hauled myself off the floor and trudged into the garden. It wasn't. Hell! I rang an emergency appointment with the vet and after waiting nearly two hours in the surgery - some emergency - I returned home with Milly, some laxatives and a bill for £45. The rest of the week was spent picking up, and hosing down, runny excrement in varying shades of green from every surface habituated by Milly: the garden, the paving, and yes, joy of joys, the kitchen floor. This is what he had reduced me to, the swine!

"Mam," called Josh from the garage. "I've found out why Milly's been doin' green poos, she's been eating the cloth off my snooker table!" Some telephone calls later and an estimate of £250 for recovering the table, add to this the vet's bill and the cost of renewing the wiring from the chewed cables to my computer equipment, and George will wish he had never been born, or at least had had second thoughts about lumbering me with this damned puppy and buggering off with his floozy!

George had bought the puppy as a present for the kids, which I realised later was to soften the blow of him leaving them. A puppy instead of their father! Get real George! I can hear him now, mouthing his excuses. "But Jo, we just drifted apart, you were never there for me, always rushing about doing God knows what."

"God knows what? I'll tell you what George! I was going to work, keeping the house going, bringing up your kids, looking out for my mother, while you were where George?"

"Me? I was only keeping our heads above water, working all the hours God sends, making contacts to keep the business going that's where I bloody well was!"

"You forgot to mention shagging Fran, George."

"Oh yes, that's right, bring everything down to your level Jo; let's face it we just had nothing in common anymore..." Well, we do now George, we both live with bitches, only mine's the four-legged variety!

"Mam, can you come here a minute please?" Lucy sounded harassed. She was standing on her bed struggling to hold up a four foot poster of the Black Eyed Peas. "Milly's pinched my ball of blue tack, can you get it off her?" Milly shot under the bed, tail thumping on the floor, peering at me defiantly. I grabbed her front paws and dragged her out feeling fleetingly guilty about the two inches of grey fluff that came with her. I demanded that she drop the blue tack, now. She looked me in the eye and with an exaggerated gulp, she swallowed it.

"What happens now mam?"

I sighed a resigned sigh. "Don't worry Lucy, we still have some laxatives left and I imagine they will have the same effect on blue tack as they do on snooker table cloth."

"I meant about my poster mam!" I shrugged, I was losing the will to live.

I had nearly reached the top of the stairs and the thought of throwing myself down them seemed like the best idea I'd had all week, when; "Mam come back quick, urgh! Milly's bein' sick, urgh!" I looked at the puddle of frothy green vomit with the ball of blue tack in it and it suddenly confirmed what I had been thinking for some time now, I had to have been Lucrezia Borgia in another life and it was payback time.

Lucy and Josh had metamorphosed into hooligans overnight. Lucy was thirteen, clever and full of herself; she had lots of friends and her aim in life was teasing Josh to the point of reducing him to tears, especially when her friends were around. Josh was eleven, dyslexic, shy, quiet, found making friends difficult and took everything Lucy threw at him to heart. I told him to ignore her, but they always ended up squabbling or even rolling on the floor trying to kill each other. They were driving me crazy! I rang George and asked him if he remembered the two children he had fathered? Well, the ones to me anyway. I told him these children were lunatics and I demanded to know what he intended to do about them. I told him about the new mortgage he needed to take out to pay for dog damage, and to come and get the dog.

"Well, it's like this Jo, Fran and I are going to be on holiday for the next three weeks, so I can't do anything about anything just yet, especially the dog. Fran's not a dog lover anyway, so this is going to be a bit tricky."

"Not a dog lover? So you haven't got that in common then George." Surprisingly, George didn't hear that.

"As soon as I get back I'll be in touch, see if you can cope till then, there's a luv." There's a luv! The patronising pig!

The day started as it normally did with the kids yelling that their school books had been chewed, that they couldn't find their shoes before they had even looked in the dog basket, the usual sort of thing. I had ushered them out the door and had just sat down to a cup of coffee when the phone rang. "Do you own a little tan coloured, scruffy looking dog called Milly? I've got her here in my van, she was running around the school yard chasing the kids." I hesitated, did I have to own up to knowing her? "Hello, are you there? her name and your number's on her tag." Drat!

"Oh yes, sorry, thank you so much, I'll come for her now." The kids had obviously left the gate open when they went to school and she had beaten them to it. I carried her back as it had seemed like too much effort to try to decode Josh's thought process as to where he might have left her lead. As I walked through the door dumping Milly in the hall, the phone rang; it was Joyce, mam's home help.

"Jo, can you get over here ASAP? I suspect your mam may have had a bit of a stroke. I've called the doctor and there's an ambulance on its way." A bit of a stroke! I tried to stay calm and rushed over in time to see mam wrapped in a blanket and being wheeled into the ambulance in a wheelchair. I climbed into the ambulance with her and held her hand and stroked her hair. I looked around, had Milly followed me and jumped into the ambulance with me? I sniffed my cardigan. Hell's bells! I should have made more of an effort to look for that bloody lead. Too late now!

Mam was admitted to a side ward until they assessed her condition. When the tests had been completed, the doctors said it had been a fairly mild stroke and mam should make a good recovery. However, she would need to stay in hospital for a while and then there would be aftercare.

As I now had hospital visiting duty, and as the nights were still light, Josh was assigned the job of walking Milly on the green at the back of the house after school. One day he came back with Leo. Leo was a year older than Josh and they had become friendly while walking their respective dogs. Leo's mam and dad had just split up and his dad had taken the dog with him as his mother didn't want it. (Welcome to my world.) Leo however, had been devastated when his dog went and he still walked on the green to see Josh and Milly, especially Milly. Leo became a regular visitor to our house, practically in residence really. Lucy was quite taken with him, she really fancied him. I suspected it was actually Milly who attracted Leo, but I couldn't tell Lucy that of course - who wants to be in competition with a dog! Anyway, I was enjoying the peace and quiet that prevailed when he was around. Lucy's behaviour had changed dramatically towards Josh, she had become much nicer, undoubtedly to impress Leo, but hey, the atmosphere was much more congenial and I felt I could go hospital visiting without the risk of them killing each other.

Mam was in a modern offshoot of the main hospital, providing exclusive care for the elderly and infirm. On one of my visits to the hospital, I noticed a sign which said 'Patting dogs welcome.' It showed a picture of a smiling, middle aged lady wearing a tweed skirt and Barbour Jacket, with an obviously well trained, also smiling dog, lying at her feet. I was intrigued and when I enquired, the Staff Nurse said that a lot of the elderly patients in mam's new ward who had general degenerative conditions of old age had been dog owners. She said it was recognised that for some of the patients, interaction with dogs was proven to be beneficial. I vaguely wondered if Milly would fit the bill as a patting dog, but immediately decided I must be as stupid as Milly to think it would be a possibility.

Maud was in the next bed to mam and it transpired that even though she had been in hospital for some time, she had only had visits, few and far between, from an elderly neighbour. Maud beckoned to me as she took some photos from her purse. Most of them were of her husband as she hadn't any children, but some of them included a dog remarkably like Milly. I asked Maud about the dog and tears ran down her face as she talked about her. The dog was called Nell and after her husband's death, Nell was all she had. Sadly Nell had passed away. She had obviously loved the dog very much.

At home, I looked at Milly and thought of Maud! Could I risk taking Milly into the hospital? Would she cause havoc? There was only one way to find out. Milly wasn't the best behaved dog in the world, by any stretch of the imagination, but she did love being petted and fussed over. I decided to bite the bullet and chance it.

Milly took to hospital visiting like a duck to water, she was in her element, she loved it. From the very first visit, she knew three streets away where she was going and could hardly contain her excitement. The patients loved her. She rolled onto her back to have her belly tickled, stood to attention to have her head stroked, loved the custard creams and gingernuts, the smell of pee and vapour rub. Milly was a star!

Mam came out of hospital and stayed with us till she was well enough to go home. Milly hardly left her side and mam found her good company when she was in the house on her own. Josh and Leo had trained her into rolling over, sitting and begging and crawling on her belly. She could hunt and retrieve and walk without pulling on her lead. I still had to be first to get to the post as it dropped through the letter box or there was a risk it would be shredded, but, hey ho! It was usually only bills anyway.

The doorbell rang, it was George. He had a mega tan, a heavy gold chain around his neck and his teeth looked like they had been in a bucket of bleach for a week. He was medallion man! I felt decidedly queasy. "Hi Jo, I've brought presents for the kids and I've come to take the dog to the pound." I definitely detected an American accent. Okay George, I know you've been in Florida for three weeks, but to come back with an American accent, please. The nausea was growing.

Pound? Did he say pound, as in Dog Pound? Milly! The saviour of my kids! The companion of my sick mother! The hospital patting dog extraordinare! The chewer of school books, computer cables and rubber gloves! The vomiter of blue tack! The pooer of snooker table cloth! My Milly!

As I put my hand onto George's chest and pushed him out of the still open door, I suggested Fran might be more at home in a Dog Pound. I closed the door and called through the letter box in my best American accent. "Y'all have a nice day..."

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