‘Mum, it’s my birthday tomorrow! Only one more day at school! Only one more sleep!’
‘I know, Callie,’ I said. I looked over at John. ‘The years are flying by…’
‘’Finish your cereal, sweetheart,’ John told her, as he pulled on his puffer jacket. ‘I’ll drop you off on my way to work if you hurry up. Let’s see if your schoolbag’s ready.’
‘Will I get my present tomorrow?’ Callie, sitting at the kitchen table, spooned milk into her mouth.
‘You see, the thing is…’ I turned away to share a guilty glance with John. ‘Her sandwiches are still there on the worktop, darling…’
‘It is a puppy, isn’t it?’ Callie’s face was full of anticipation but I avoided her eyes as I passed the plastic container to her father.
John cleared his throat.
‘We have something to-’
‘Oh please, mum, dad!’ Callie got up from her chair and took her bowl over to the sink. ‘I have to have a present, it’s my birthday!’
‘We did get your present,’ I said, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, ‘but-’
‘I know I’ve to wait till tomorrow,’ cried Callie, capering around the kitchen, ‘but I’m so excited. It’ll be so cute…’
‘Well…’ I said.
‘What is it mum?’ She stopped in mid-caper and turned a wondering gaze up at my face.
‘It’s a surprise,’ I said, and dabbed at her school sweatshirt with the washing-up sponge to remove traces of milk.
‘Come on, Callie,’ said John, scooping up his keys.
Callie skipped out of the kitchen, hugging herself.
Callie always knew exactly what she wanted. And what she had wanted was a puppy, a labrador puppy like the ones on the TV toilet roll adverts: cuddly and cute with heart-melting eyes.
But it had been too expensive to think of getting one.
‘With the price of petrol these days, and the grocery bills going up, and the electricity, we can’t buy a labrador,’ I’d said to John.
‘But her heart’s set on it.’ He’d sighed. ‘She’s even thought of a name: Murch. Every morning in the car she’s talking about how she’s going to take Murch to the park, to the woods, to the beach. It would be so good for her.’
‘My redundancy money’s running out and we can’t even afford a holiday this year.’ I hated having to be sensible. ‘We can’t spend hundreds, maybe even thousands, on a pedigree puppy. Don’t forget we’re going to have to pay for food and vet’s bills as well.’
In the end I had prevailed.
But we had found Murch. Murch had proved to be a rescue dog from the dog’s home, full of personality but no longer a puppy, and certainly not cute.
‘He seems to be the one,’ the dog’s home lady had said, as Murch nuzzled against my leg, wanting a fuss. ‘He’s had all his inoculations, he’s been neutered, and he’s fine around children. Sometimes it’s not a case of you adopting the dog, it’s the dog that adopts you.’
The next morning Callie was up and dressed by seven-thirty, and tore the wrapping paper off her grandparents’ presents with impatience. She barely looked at her birthday cards.
‘Eight years old.’ I pinned the badge on her T-shirt. ‘Keep still!’
She was fizzing over with excitement as she got into the car. I stooped to fasten her in, then straightened up and looked at John over the car roof.
‘I don’t know if we’ve done the right thing,’ he said. ‘I should have done some more overtime, got her what she really wanted. That dog’s a good dog but he’s an ugly mutt.’
‘What will we do if she doesn’t like him?’
He raised his eyebrows and looked wide-eyed at me by way of answer.
‘I suppose we’ll have to leave him there,’ I said. ‘It’ll be a disaster.’
My heart sank as we drove Callie to the dog’s home, John responding to her eager questions with perfunctory answers. If only I had found another job, we could have afforded what Callie really wanted. I had registered on scores of websites, sent out hundreds of CVs, yet I still cringed with guilt. What have we done? I thought, dreading the moment when she would see the dog.
‘Oh!’ Callie took one look at Murch and bent down for a hug. He wagged his tail joyously and tried to lick her face.
‘Oh Mum, Dad, he’s lovely! I’ll love him forever!’
©M Wallis 2022