Smitten to Spitten
by Madeline McEwen
If only we’d had a prenup, none of this would have happened, but we didn’t and it had.
The first hint of something amiss was when I couldn’t pay the hackney cab driver with my credit card. The second hint, after I paid with cash, was when my latch key wouldn’t fit in the lock. It took a few seconds for the light to dawn.
I stuck my finger on the bell and hammered on my front door. Nothing. No response. Was anybody home?
Bending down, I lifted the flap on the letterbox and peered into the empty hall.
“Kevin! Are you in there? Open the bloody door, I’m freezing out here.”
Turning, I checked the street. Where was his precious car, a prestigious, gold colored Infiniti? Our two-story, Edwardian terraced house had no garage, and only a tiny garden the size of a picnic blanket currently full of Kevin’s dismembered motorcycle—a Royal Enfield Bullet, which lay buried beneath a season’s worth of soggy leaves. The man had a million projects, none of them ever finished. Although, changing the locks might signify the start of task completion and the end of our stagnant relationship.
I grabbed my phone, dangerously low on power, called Kevin, and put my ear to the letterbox. If he was hiding, I’d hear him since he never switched his phone to vibrate. Like a surgeon on call, his inflated ego demanded 24-7 availability. CyberTex, his fledgling business enterprise, swallowed his attention and energy.
Listening to the silence, I sighed in defeat. Where was he? Then I remembered the app—TrackMyPhone—which Kevin installed even though they’re illegal in the UK unless the trackee consents. The red battery icon flashed and died, the screen turning black.
Typical. Now I was stranded, powerless, homeless, and carless—my battered jeep was in the local repair shop–on the coldest February evening I could remember.
How had this happened? Where had I gone wrong? What should I to do next?
That’s when I heard a snuffling sound from inside the house. Oscar must be waking from his late afternoon nap. I’d come home early, thirty minutes earlier than my schedule permitted. Usually, Oscar was awake and ready to play for a few minutes before I prepared dinner and tackled the other chores I had to conquer. But now I couldn’t get in, entry barred, and banished from the house I’d learned to call home over the last eighteen months.
What would happen to our little family? Divorce was inevitable, but Oscar was the innocent party. He didn’t deserve to suffer. Somehow, I must maintain his routine and stability. Obviously, that goal was best achieved if Oscar lived with me, his primary caregiver, in a new home, somewhere far away. No chance of accidental meetings causing endless grief and unnecessary heartache.
Hearing the clunk of a car door, I glanced behind me.
“Kevin! Where have you been?” He stared at me, his expression unreadable. “No matter. Don’t tell me, I don’t care.”
“You’re home early.”
“Shut up. I’m not here for a debate. Just give me Oscar and you’ll never have to see me again.”
“You’re spitting in the wind if you think I’ll give up Oscar without a fight.”
“I’ll take you to court, sue you for custody.”
Kevin leaned against the front door and swallowed hard. He spat a wad of phlegm onto the concrete.
“That’s all you’ll get from me.”
I fled without further pointless protestations. His words were lies, but I didn’t want to make a scene for my neighbors’ entertainment. Instead, I opted for a safe harbor, walking distance from home until I could collect my jeep.
I charged along the road and into the next street where the old terraces had been torn down and replaced with luxury, single-dwelling homes with double-garages and generous gardens. Lydia, my friend since childhood, lived in a mock-Tudor monstrosity with her numerous, obnoxious children.
What can I say our friendship?
Things were great until the twins were born, but after that I couldn’t compete for her attention, the woman caught baby-fever. At least this meant she was almost always home.
On the doorstep, I listened to a peel of bells announcing my arrival.
Lydia threw the door open and gaped at me open-mouthed.
“Clare! What have we done to deserve the honor of your presence.”
Sarcastic as always, Lydia’s face broke into a hospitable smile. I missed her company and her witty mind, but I’d given up on our friendship when her brain was over-taken by child development milestones and a never-ending pile of baby related trivia. No longer a corporate lawyer, she’d betrayed her sex and settled for domestic suburbia. But as ever, Lydia was a sucker for a sob story. I dabbed my eye with a crumpled tissue.
“What’s wrong, Clare? What’s happened? Come in.”
I picked my way over the carpet strewn with discarded toys, sippy cups, and assorted primary-colored clothing while Lydia cooed words of soothing solace to me. She swept the sofa clear of detritus, and I sank into its soft, supple warmth.
“It’s Kevin,” I explained. “We’re finished.”
“Oh dear. How ghastly. Are you sure? I always thought he was the one.” A frown fluttered across her face. “Let him cool off for a couple of days and maybe you can patch things up. I’ve always liked Kevin, he’s so good for you, so stable, so calming.”
“You know what I mean. Your personality traits are complemented by his. Together you make the perfect couple. Yin and yang.”
“Don’t give me that romantic claptrap. We’re like chalk and cheese, incompatible, and now we’ve have an irretrievable breakdown. But I need your advice, legal advice, on what to do about Oscar. What are my rights? Will you represent me in court?”
“In court? I don’t practice any more, and even if I did, that’s not my field of expertise.”
Damn. I’d spat it out too quickly. I should have played the pity card first.
“But,” I said, using the gentle tone of a sympathetic plaintiff, “I remember you saying that everything in law boiled down to contracts, didn’t you?”
Lydia’s deep wrinkle of concentration distracted me, which was when I noticed the palpable silence.
“Why is it so quiet, Lydia? Where are,” I trawled my memory for the kids’ names, came up blank, and whitewashed my question, “all the children?”
“On Wednesdays after school, kindergarten, and day care, they spend the evening with their paternal granny. Why do you ask?”
“I’m interested. Being a mother is such a huge part of who you are and because of that, I’m hoping you can understand my desperation about Oscar.”
Lydia’s eyebrows jumped. She pursed her lips.
“It’s hardly the same thing.”
“It stems from the same desire to nurture.”
“I don’t wish to be unkind,” Lydia said, “but you can’t equate giving birth to six children with buying–”
“I thought you of all people would be aware of the politically correct terminology. I didn’t buy Oscar. I adopted him.”
Lydia raised her hands in a gesture of exasperation.
“Whatever,” Lydia said. “The point is, no matter how smitten you are and how cuddly he is, Oscar is still a dog.”
I spent the rest of the evening in Lydia’s luxurious guest bedroom ostensibly weeping in private while watching Netflix on my phone. Fortunately, Lydia lent me a posh, silk nightgown—price tag still attached–and a charging cable. She’d also called the repair shop and paid the bill for my jeep’s repairs—ready for collection tomorrow.
After a fitful night’s sleep during which I had formulated a plan of action based on Lydia’s advice, I crept out of the house before dawn with a sheaf of paper from their copier machine. If I used my flexi-time hours at work by starting at six, then I could clock off at two leaving the afternoon free and clear. With luck and a handful of intimidating copied receipts, Oscar, once again, would be mine exclusively.
At the park, I left my jeep at a discrete distance and lay in wait for my victim, Hamish, a self-employed dog-walker, as wiry as a whippet.
Before too long, Hamish appeared, or rather eight dogs barreled into the park like a pack of working huskies dragging Hamish behind them.
Oscar, my favorite, ninety-five-pound, Old English Sheepdog puppy was flanked by three other large dogs, none of whom I had seen before. Judging by Hamish’s struggle to control them, they, or rather their owners, were new clients.
I stepped into their pathway. The dogs surrounded me, a single sheep in an overgrown litter of barking, bouncing, salivating dogs frantic in their excitement.
“Clare! You shouldn’t be here. Kevin warned me.”
Hamish was flushed, sweating, and breathless from exertion. He was both outclassed and outnumbered as I had hoped.
“He said you might try to dog-nap Oscar.”
I unrolled my sheaf of papers and flapped them in front of his face.
“These,” I said, “prove Oscar belongs to me.”
“No, no, no.” Hamish wrestled with the tangled leashes. “I can’t get involved in another custody dispute.”
“There is no custody issue.” I unhooked Oscar’s leash, and he leaped free. I hurried away, Oscar following my outstretched hand dangling a bag of his favorite treats. I called over my shoulder, “I’ll let you know my new address”—if I ever found a dog-friendly landlord.
My jeep chirped and unlocked, which was when Kevin’s tires screeched into the curb. He stomped toward us, fists clenched, jaw locked.
I had a spare leash in the jeep. Without it, I had no chance of reining in my powerful puppy. Instead, I dodged around Kevin, dashed toward my car, and yanked the rear door open.
“Enough,” Kevin shouted, spittle bubbling at the corner of his mouth.
He blocked the dog’s path as Oscar ran toward the jeep. Kevin grabbed him by the collar and lugged him toward the Infiniti.
“You can’t take him,” I said, stuffing the treat bag in my pocket.
I was yelling too. A man wearing a bike helmet leaned against his motorcycle, arms folded across his burly chest, enjoying the show. A group of mothers and children in the play area stood gawping at us too. Kevin bundled Oscar into his car and gripped his key like a lethal weapon.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said.
“No, UK law treats pets as property. Money changed hands. I’ve paid for his food,” I counted them off on my fingers, “his vet bills, the microchip, and all his other paraphernalia.” I saw Mr. Motorbike striding toward us. “In contract law, he’s mine, and I have the proof in this paperwork.”
“Hey, you!” Mr. Motorbike stood too close, spitting distance from Kevin. “Is that her dog?”
“No,” Kevin said, “get the hell away.”
“Wait a minute, Mate.” Mr. Motorbike opened the Infiniti’s door.
“Take your hands off my car.”
With his shoulder, Kevin shoved Mr. Motorbike, but the guy barely flinched, an immovable buffer.
“Call your dog,” Mr. Motorbike said. “We’ll see who’s his owner.”
I slipped my hand into my pocket–a secret, visual cue to Oscar. “Here, boy!”
Oscar bounded toward me. I flung the treat bag inside the jeep, and Oscar followed. Sometimes I too acted like an animal, thoughtless and instinctive, occasionally unkind when I was with Kevin, but Oscar brought out the best in me and made me a better human.
With Oscar’s tail safely inside, I slammed the door, jumped in the driver’s seat, and reversed. I sped off in triumph with my love-smitten pup drooling on the backseat, showering gravel in our wake, and Kevin, no doubt, spitting nails in defeat.
Madeline McEwen is the author of three stand-alone novelettes, numerous short stories published both traditionally and online, and is a contributor to several anthologies. Currently, she is focused on two cozy mystery series, one set in the UK and the other in San Jose, USA both featuring a significant character with a disability, and a senior female amateur sleuth. She is an ex-pat from the UK, now settled in San Jose, California in the heart of Silicon Valley. Bi-focaled and technically challenged, she and her Significant Other manage their four offspring, one major and three minors, two autistic, two neurotypical, plus a time-share with Alzheimer’s. In her free time, she walks the canines and chases the felines with her nose in a book and her fingers on a keyboard.