A shaft of morning sunlight brightens a sliver of the room through a gap in the curtains. Shining onto my eyelids, it disturbs my drunken sleep and I wearily awaken. The light highlights the floating specks of dust in the room. Closing my eyes again, I wonder if she did what I imagined she’d do; if she got to know that man a little better.
I savour the moment, the moment of coming out of a deep slumber before fully awakening. It’s the first time I enjoyed not thinking about her; the only moment of the day which I would not think of her. It was like I had forgotten about her.
Opening my eyes, I see her kneeling in front of me, but the image disintegrates. I sit up straight and look to the wall. The images of Cindy have gone; all that remain are the photos of the woman from the dog walks and my nocturnal visits to her house.
I stand up and stumble, my balance is off and my head is spinning. I look down to see whiskey spilt on the floor, I couldn’t even drink half the bottle.
I look at my watch and see I’m running twenty-six minutes late. I need to get ready in a hurry if I’m to see her. I have a wash, get changed and clean my teeth within minutes. As I go to fetch Ella’s lead, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror in my room. I look scruffy. Why would she ever pay any attention to me when I look like a vagrant?
I pull a clean white shirt and smart black trousers from my wardrobe. Instead of wearing my normal dog walking jacket, I wear my smart jacket. Cindy used to make me wear it on nights out.
Ella and I walk along the higher grounds and I notice the familiar patterns left by the overnight drinker. He changed his routine last night, swapping to a different tree to pass out under. The shining slug trail ends prematurely, the beer bottles scattered in front of it and there’s a darker pattern where he pissed up the tree.
Ella and I follow the path she usually takes and something catches my attention; there are a number of leaf stems spread across the ground. It’s something she does; she twists the stems and drops them on the floor, a habit of hers.
We enter the lower area of the woods and move into the deeper woodlands. I put Ella on her lead and crouch down to watch the paths of the lower woods.
If nothing disrupts her day-to-day ritual, she will walk the higher ground within twenty seconds and it will take her five minutes. Then she will walk the lower grounds.
I stare down at my watch and look at the hand move. As it moves to each notch, I count a second. The minute hand flickers with each movement of the second hand. I look up to the higher grounds.
“Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nine…”
She appears on the higher grounds, with a bounce in her stride and Bussy leaping ahead of her.
They must have parted ways yesterday. Maybe he tried it on but she saw straight through him. She said no. She’s sensible and careful.
I look to Ella’s dark, loving eyes. I see my own face in the reflection of her eyes. I taught her a trick once, a long time ago. She would do a lap of the higher woodland and lower woodlands on her own. I’d point into the air with my index and middle finger, whistle and say, “Go girl.” And that’s what I do; I give the command and she leaps away, kicking up the dirt behind her. I wait a minute until I hear the jangling of Bussy’s collar. As I hear it; I emerge from the deeper woodlands.
“Ella? Ella?” I shout.
I walk backwards. From the corner of my eye, I see Bussy leaping towards me, the woman behind her. As Bussy runs behind me, I take an unnaturally long step and trip over Bussy. As I allow myself to fall, I let out a surprised yell.
“Oh my god.” I hear her say. “Oh Bussy watch where you’re going.” Her boots stomp towards me, vibrating through the ground as she gets closer.
“Oh dear, oh god,” I say, bewildered.
“Are you ok?” she asks.
“Oh yes. I’m fine thank you,” I say, and let out a small chuckle. “Just lost my dog Ella. She ran off, must’ve seen a deer or something.”
“Oh no, here, let me help you.” She wraps her arm under mine and helps me up off the ground.
“Thanks,” I say.
Ella comes bounding towards us and but goes straight to Bussy. “Hey! Hey you,” Ella stops and stares at me. “Good girl. Good girl for coming back,” I say, as I pull out a treat.
I look to the woman; she has a grin on her face, a grin that says, ‘he seems like a softie.’
“She came back, that’s the main thing here,” I say in a relieved tone.
“I guess you’re right, at least she’s safe.”
“Exactly. I’m Billy by the way, Billy Allen and this is Ella.”
“I’m Eve and this is Bussy.” She seems shy; she crosses her legs and twiddles with her hair.
We continue to walk, but together, letting Ella and Bussy play and run up ahead.
“So how long have you been living around here?” I ask Eve.
“Well not too long really. I moved her pretty recently, but I’ve lived in the area for a while now. How about you?”
“Oh well, I’ve been here a while. I grew up here actually, so I know the area extremely well.”
“Oh wow you must love it here then?”
“Definitely, what’s not to love?”
“That makes me feel good about being here; knowing you love it makes me feel like I can relax a bit more now.”
“You might find this interesting, but my favourite time of the day is the morning, walking through these woods with Ella.”
“Oh really, why is that?”
“I know these woods so well; I used to play in them all the time as a kid.”
“Oh well that’s lovely. I can tell that you and Ella have a really strong bond.”
“We do, but doesn’t every dog and its owner?”
“Yeah, sure they do, but certain people care for their dogs more than others.”
“Do you mean in a disgusting and morally wrong way or?...”
“God no! I mean, you just know some people do more for their dogs than others.”
“I don’t follow,” I say, confused.
“Well for example,” Eve hesitates for a moment.
I watch her blue eyes hover around, staring at the field and the trees.
“I cook for Bussy, and I’m sure you cook for Ella.”
“Afraid to say, I don’t cook for Ella.”
“What really?” Eve begins to smile.
“No. I give her the scraps from my dinner sometimes but…”
“Oh my god, never buy dog food from supermarkets.”
“They’re terrible for your dog. They’re the blandest, tasteless and unhealthiest option of food for your dog. I feel sorry for Ella.” Eve begins to laugh. Her laugh sounds cheeky and endearing.
“I’m astonished. What do you cook for Bussy?”
“All sorts, Billy, all sorts.”
We leave the field and come to the road.
“I can’t believe that you cook meals for Bussy.”
“Of course I do, she’s my baby.” We both laugh. “It’s dead easy to do,” she says.
“Well I’m no chef so it may be quite a task for me.”
We laugh again and stand on the path staring at each other for a moment. I make the first move.
“I’m this way,” I say, inclining my head to the left. “I’ll catch you some other time, I’m sure we’ll bump into each other again.” I turn away and begin to stroll up the road.
“Billy - If you don’t have anywhere to be, I could quickly show you how to cook that meal for Ella?” Eve says. “I only live down here.”
I turn back to her. “Ok yeah, sure.” I walk towards her. “If it’s no trouble?”
“No, not at all.” Eve says, smiling. “I can’t allow Ella to keep eating junk!”
We walk back to hers, continuing the conversation. As we walk up her drive I say, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen these homes along here before.”
“Oh really? It’s quite nice here. The land behind the house is an open field where I ride my horse. I know the guy who owns it. He’s called Graham, you may know him actually; he walks his German Shepherd down the woods.”
“No I don’t know him but I’ve seen him.”
“Yeah he’s a funny man; he’s very flirty but I have to keep in with him so I can keep my horse in his field.”
It makes sense now, he’s not a love interest; she doesn’t even like him.
We enter the house through the front door. I take off my shoes and jacket and she leads me through to the kitchen. As we walk through, I look into the sitting room and remember her lying on the chair.
We enter the kitchen and my first thought is that it needs to be modernized. The walls are a hazel colour and the worktops are cream.
“Tea? Coffee?” she asks.
“Oh a tea for me please. Is it ok for me to use your toilet?”
“Yeah, yeah upstairs, second door on the left.”
I leave the kitchen and go upstairs.
Staring at myself in the mirror, I look at my crinkled face. It’s the first time I’ve properly looked at my face in a while; it looks withered. I see newly formed wrinkles on my skin, and flecks of grey in my hair.
I look down to the sink to see brown smudge marks on the edges of the sink and around the plug hole. I press my thumb against it and rub, leaving a slight stain on the sink and on my thumb.
The bath tub is clean. At one end are Eve’s shampoos and body wash. I kneel down and I pick one up. I flick open the lid and breathe in the scent; a sweet coconut smell.
I close it and pick up another one. I look at the label of the bottle; ‘Simply Red Heads’.
I place the bottle down and open a small tub; a sweet lemon scent wafts up.
I stand up and notice a small bin next to the sink. Opening it, there’s a cardboard box and an opened foil packet. I pull out the box and see the brown hair dye. Placing it back into the bin, something string-like behind the bin catches my eye; moving it, there’s a purple thong. I pick it up and twiddle it between my fingertips. I hear Eve from downstairs laughing. I place the thong back where I found it.
The walk home was an unfamiliar experience. I am happy. I look up to the encroaching dusk and thank fate.
Eve is lovely, she’s similar to Cindy in the way that she’s so relaxed, soft and really witty. I can’t even remember the last time I cracked a smile before today.
We spoke about such random things, we didn’t speak too much of our past, I didn’t speak of Cindy and she didn’t speak of any previous love interest. We simply had a laugh and cooked food for the dogs together.
Ella and I get home and I let her off the lead. She goes straight to her bed and snuggles down. I drop into my armchair and sit in front of the wall, staring at the photos of Eve. The photos are old now; it feels like I am staring at photos of someone I don’t know. Although she looks beautiful in them, I feel like I actually know her and they don’t show how beautiful she truly is. So I take all the photos down, except three. Two of the photos look as if she is looking straight at me, which I like.
I wake up in my chair; I must have nodded off after I took the photos down. I look at the time on my phone, 23:56. Not as late as I thought. I stand and move away from the chair; there are footsteps outside the house. I walk over to the window and look out onto Lavingsham Close; only one house has a light on. I look at my car, then across to all the houses again. There’s no one about.
I let the curtain flop back across the window and make my way to my room but again I hear footsteps. I realise that it’s coming from around the back of the house. I creep over to the back window, listening. I hear the footsteps making a hasty retreat from the house. As I pull the curtain back, there is a dark figure running toward the tree line behind my house.
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