So, there I was, just come out of the Castlehorn public ladies’ loo, when a woman stopped right in front of me. She was short and fat and clad in a flimsy two-piece summer outfit that looked as out of place as a homosexual in a monastery. Her face was bloated, and her lips were pale and thick. For all the world, she reminded me of Sheppard’s illustration of the toad, dressed as a washerwoman, in The Wind in the Willows.
“‘Scuse me, Luv, I’m bursting. Could you look after Angel here whilst I pop into the ladies? I’ll be as quick as I can, and he’s as good as gold?”
I looked down on a huge black dog at the end of the lead the woman was gripping with one pudgy hand. With the other, she clutched a large bag. I really didn’t fancy ‘dog sitting,’ but, having just done a ‘kindness workshop’ down at the local church, remembered their dictum, ‘Have faith in humanity.’ I wouldn’t want this woman to lose it, especially if she urgently needed the loo. “OK, sure, I’ll just take him to the bench over there.”
“Thanks, Luv.” She disappeared into the gloomy building, which smelt of mould and urine.
“Come on, Angel.” The dog trotted along, obediently and I sat down on a bench that faced a coffee shop. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone emerging from the toilet. They were similar in stature to the dog owner but wore jeans and a dark top with the hood up. Odd, it wasn’t cold, but some people, usually youngsters, seemed to like hoods, even when they weren’t vandalizing police cars.
Suddenly, Angel began to growl. I patted his head. “Shh, Angel, mummy’s just gone to the loo, she’ll be back in a couple of minutes.”
Angel began to bark, and then he was jumping up, barking and growling and pulling like crazy on the lead, I could scarcely hold him. The few passersby were looking at me curiously and giving us a wide berth. Suddenly, Angel took off, and I had no choice but to run with him, holding onto the lead for all I was worth.
It was market day, and Angel ran through the thin crowd surrounding the stalls, barking loudly. Then, at a butcher’s stand, he jumped up and snatched a piece of steak from the front of the display. He stopped and wolfed it down as if he were starving.
“Oi, you’ll have to pay for that!” said a red-faced man in a striped apron. “That’s best rump steak, that is. Five quid’s worth!”
I gasped. “Five pounds for that measly little piece of meat!” Then, Angel was off again, running over the cobbled paving and across a road, just as a car came along.
Pulled along by the huge barking dog, I barely noticed the blare of the car’s horn and the shouting of the butcher, “Oi, come back here and pay for that steak, missus!”
Angel ran down the side of St. Martin’s church, where he stopped at a corner of the building and raised a leg to let out a huge spray of smelly yellow urine against its ancient bricks.
“Hello, sweetheart, you look like you could do with some help.”
I looked up at a youngish man. He was tall, slim and had a cheeky grin on his face. He wore a flat chequered cap. “I’m Toby. That your dog?”
“No, it damn well isn’t!”
“OK, OK, sweetheart, keep your wig on!” He took the dog’s lead and examined its collar. “Good boy, Bandit, good boy.” He patted the dog’s head.
I felt indignant. “Bandit! She told me it was Angel. I mean, the woman who left him with me.”
Hearing his real name, the dog seemed to calm down a bit and let Toby lead him to a bench. We sat down, and I felt thankful to have the responsibility of chasing after the animal taken away from me.
Toby examined the name tag. “Look, there’s a phone number here. Tell you what. I can phone his real owner. Get him – or her – to come and collect him. You can leave him with me. I’ll wait here and look after him. I don’t have my phone on me, though.”
“Oh, that’s kind of you.” I felt greatly relieved. “Look, you can use mine.” I took it out. “I’ve got to put my fingerprint on this pad, ah … that’s it, now you can call.” I handed it over.
Just then, who did I see but someone in jeans and a dark top, hood down, closely resembling ‘the toad,’ coming out of the bakers on the other side of the market and boarding a bus. “Hold on,” I said to Toby. I ran to the bus, where the person was making their way upstairs. “Look,” I said to the driver, “there’s someone gone upstairs. I’m pretty sure it’s a woman who dumped a dog on me. A man over there’s looking after it for me. Can I go and speak to her?”
The driver sighed. “Oh, for God’s sake. I’ll give you one minute. I’m running late as it is.”
I ran up the stairs, and there she was, clutching a bag of cakes and gawping at me. It was her all right. I recognized her bag, no doubt holding the summer two-piece I’d first seen her in, and how could I ever forget those awful fat pale lips? “What the hell d’you think you’re playing at, dumping that wretched dog on me?” I exclaimed.
She grimaced. “What you on about, Luv? I ain’t never seen you before!”
“You bloody liar. I’ll call the police I will.”
She gave a laugh that reminded me of a toad croaking. “Do what you want, Luv, like I say, I ain’t never seen you before.”
Just then, I glanced out of the window towards the bench where I’d left Toby and Bandit. I could see Bandit tied to the bench but no sign of Toby. I dashed down the stairs and ran across the square. No sign of him anywhere. Recognizing me, Bandit began to jump up, barking loudly. In dismay, I watched the bus pulling away. I wondered what I would say to my husband about the iPhone SE he’d just given me for our anniversary. Yes, you could have faith in humanity all right. Faith that they’d lie, con, and steal from you!
Taken from the book, Flash Friction: To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. III: 72 Little Stories
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