Sam, Cecilia, and Jacob had a collective odour. The smell of easy peelers, cheesy crisps, and open mouth laughing could smoke out any room. Today, in the conference space at the top of the shopping centre, wotsits were fused into the floor, and peel had been scattered. There was a cork by the feet of the big window that offered a prized view of London. A bottle of champagne was on the table, and though it was Jacob’s, it was closest to Sam. He’d prepared two glasses for the sisters.
“Brut to those lot,” Jacob had joked, “is surely like sparkling water to a dog.”
No one had truly understood, but Cecilia had shaken with laughter. Then Jacob added,
“Could’ve brought a blossom hill, had I known they were coming with, again.”
Sam had shushed him. And at that moment, the two girls entered. All smiled like cats— the sisters at the friends, and the friends at the sisters. Jade’s eyes flickered as she took in the room, it smelt drunk— carbonated, thoroughly used. Cleo tried to look impressed.
“How was Mummy?” Asked Sam.
The sisters had been to visit her.
“Better than I thought,” said Jade.
Their mother was neither uncurious, or emotional. They’d told her of their luck in finding somewhere cheaper to rent. Truthfully, there was no contract, or passing of money, but Jade and Cleo hadn’t wanted to frighten her.
“Do I know them?” their mother had asked, safely assuming that lower rent meant more bodies.
Jade had said no, and Cleo had poked a hidden index finger into the indent of her spine to punish her.
Their mother straightened her neck as she seasoned meat over the sink. She wanted her disapproval noted, but she would not question her daughters further. They needed to enter the world.
“And then where will you go?” she had asked.
“Why would we need to think abou—,” Jade had began, but Cleo interrupted.
“It will be okay Mum,” she had said pleadingly.
Their mother hadn’t asked them to stay for dinner, knowing they hated to reject her.
“I think she’s just happy,” Jade chose her words carefully, “that we could cut down the hours at work.”
It was a dangerous thing to make plain their struggles, to appear overly grateful or too deserving. The privileged had a taste for charity, but not always the stomach, Jade had found, and too that a conversation about her new responsibilities was a stones throw whenever she spoke about herself for too long.
Sam, Cecelia and Jacob found the dog entertaining, now that they felt better able to plead ignorance to its neglect. ‘It’ was now ‘she’, and ‘Martina’ was the name that she’d since been given.
“Martina,” Sam had decided, “because she looks Eastern European.”
“Those bangs belong to Martinas’ women-wide,” Jacob had said with a disgusted smirk.
The Tibetan terrier was a birthday gift to Cecelia, from a friend that’d been using it to breed pups. Cecelia never truly wanted her, but she’d initially enjoyed photographing her, and for this, she’d liked taking Martina to the groomers. She grew sick of this when it became obvious that the dog was unhappy with
circumstantial attention. All three felt the burden. Then came the sisters. And it was discovered that one good turn deserved another. Jacob, with a particular fondness for Cecelia, felt that it was owed. The house belonged to his father, which buffed his case.
When it was time to go home, the sky was lapsing into near complete darkness, so that the house, with its wide doorways and its tall walls looked like a half-shut eye. Stairs had led them to the doorstep of a Victorian townhouse. Inside, the remodeling had been minimal, and long enough ago for paintings to be uninteresting for being indistinguishable with dust. They morphed into paperless walls to induce a sadness about the place. The wooden floors made everybody sound heavy. The door’s purple rug, Persian and once much desired, was clotted with muddy footprints and forever askew.
The girls’ belongings were still in boxes in the undecorated, hollow space they’d been given. A wide bed and a chest of drawers drowned the room. Neither one had encouraged the other to unpack. It felt like an overstep to suggest they were anything more than squatters. The dog lived in the small space that was left, in a blue carrier by the window. It quaked in the darkness when the girls entered the room. Jade sighed, and Cleo felt her eyes roll.
“It smells,” said Cleo, “wow, poo.”
The room always had a musty cast, where tbe smell of old house had merged with animal. It was a reason to resent the dog that felt more prominent than others. Jade lowered her bag to the floor, dried by the champagne and an evening of talking about other people. She remembered to think of the dog’s meal when she had been out, her memory, though she argued against this, never was the problem. The shop was always in the other direction, the wrong direction.
Jade reached for her phone and shone it into the holes of the carrier. Eyes glared out with a watery turquoise glow.
“Is there enough bacon for tomorrow morning, do you know?” Jade asked Cleo.
“Even if there was,” answered Cleo, “you know I can’t say. You must seek permission from elsewhere,” her voice was starchy as she said this.
“I wish you wouldn’t,” said Jade, annoyed, “this isn’t a joke.”
“Make sure it’s Sam,” said Cleo.
Jade went to the kitchen.
The water bowl was in the sink, underneath several plates. It was best to start there. Jade’s hands became moisturised with grease and the slime of food that hadn’t found its way to the bin as she dug. She willed Sam to enter the room. The desire was so palpable, it was as if Jade had opened her mouth and called for him.
“Are you washing up?” Sam appeared in the doorway.
“No,” said Jade, “well yes,” she recanted. The right answer was unclear.
Sam’s eyes glinted. He folded his arms and relaxed into the doorframe. He half laughed before stopping himself.
“Please don’t,” he said.
Jade held up the orange bowl to save face, “the dog needs the bowl.”
She hadn’t realised how well Sam hid his contempt for the dog behind that of the others. She’d barely been alone with him. He seemed a different person on his own.
At this point, he sauntered into the kitchen and pulled open the fridge without saying another word. Jade hovered for a little while, not knowing exactly how to squeeze Sam for the dog’s meal.
“Have you fed it?” Sam asked with his back to her, feeling that she was still there.
The truth felt consequential. There was too long a pause, so that Sam turned to look at her. When he did, Jade allowed a guilty smirk to be her answer.
“Tut tut,” said Sam smugly.
He shut the fridge with one hand, while balancing a pot of stuffed olives with a fistful of parma ham in the other.
“Dogs eat anything,” he said, before leaving Jade alone, still clutching the bowl.
She found that was better than she could’ve hoped for. She opened the fridge to retrieve the parma ham she’d seen Sam take. She took one last look at the kitchen, and stole herself for the following morning.
In the room, Cleo was in a towel, disrupting folded clothes in the full suitcase. She ignored Jade as she entered and sat cross-legged in front of the carrier. Jade dragged her nails against the holes, then unbuckled the lock on the side of the door quickly. She thought it might lunge at her, bite open her face. That’s what Jade would do if it were her. But the dog never werewolfed. It only ever cried sometimes.
Reaching in boldly, Jade tried to slide the dog out as gently as she could muster. The two didn’t know each other, not really. Instinctively, it imprinted itself into the bottom of the carrier, ignoring the warmth of the human hand. But when it smelt the metallic saltiness coming from Jade’s other palm, it leant against her arm, and allowed itself to be guided.
It took its place in Jade’s crotch, letting its already wet face fall into the orange bowl that balanced there. The dog’s smallness felt wrong, she knew it. The pertruding bone reminded Jade of its true nature- something sweet, light and forgivng. She wanted to, but she couldn’t promise it anything, not a bath in the morning, and not a salty bone in the afternoon. Still, Jade had invested something that evening, and she and Cleo would go to bed on a clean slate. Anything that did happen tomorrow would stand alone, rather than adding to a heaped pile.
“That’s you done for a while I think,” said Cleo from somewhere behind.