'The Dalmatian that kept on giving' / Harriet Donegan
Classical style meets contemporary humour in this skillfully crafted, efficiently engrossing and achingly charming short-story. Velveteen nostalgia is solicited by what feels predominantly playful in tone, evoking the likes of Katherine Mansfield, or maybe Oscar Wilde. These seamless parings owe origin to Donegan's persistent feel for balance, be it between individualistic voice and proven literary devices, or, more blatantly, her precise rhythmic cadence; always prefiguring punchlines to reach their maximal potential.
If my sources are correct, this piece is inspired by a true story, which ranks up there with one of the more absurd occurrences period - if it really did happen then it damn well deserves to be immortalised. Now do yourself a favour, find a comfortable seat, and enjoy the luxurious pleasures that Donegan provides...
The Dalmatian that kept on giving
When the opportunity arose to housesit for the Verdier’s, Gretel was brief in packing her linen-laundry-tote, carrying the entire of her belonging eight pairs of underwear, four shirts, one skirt, two trousers, six odd socks and her mother’s one green wool coat. She wavered at the studio door, only to wade back through the moist makeshift room and gulp down the remaining half of the single refrigerator item. Sated, Gretel wiped clean the white mustache of milk onto her one wool coat sleeve, and headed subway-way across town to the first arrondissement.
Not all that long later a man answered Gretel’s knock, a man whose narrow figure engulfed Gretel in an ominous shade, a man as formal in nature as he was impeccably dressed. Mr. Verdier extended his right dainty arm indicating a rather unconvincing invitation inside. The girl faltered through the doorway and down a polished oak hallway. A hallway long enough to warrant her young legs tired, eventually arriving the pair in what Gretel would soon learn to be the smallest of the couple’s three living rooms.
‘Dear, she’s here’. Mr. Verdier announced
to the seemingly empty room.
A face appeared to prove otherwise, framed by a fluffy blonde mop of hair and in its centre protruded a set of insincere voluptuous lips. A little lower displayed a neck scarf of Dalmatian print and an elegant black dress that hugged a never-had-kids figure. Mrs. Verdier, Gretel recognized her from old couture campaigns. Across her lap lay a towel, with layer upon layer of short hairs, all of which were white and black.
‘We really must go dear’, Mr. Verdier stressed
looking toward his wrist.
‘I was just saying goodbye’,
as Mrs. Verdier returned her attention to the dog.
‘My handsome man my handsome Mister Pongo
Wongo’, Mrs. Verdier squawked in a nonsensical tone.
Gretel couldn’t quite distinguish if she were a Cruella or an Anita, perhaps a hybrid of the two. Anyhow as Mrs. Verdier high-heel-hip swung her way over, Gretel determined, whatever she was she was something.
‘Everything you need to know is in this bible,
including what to do if,’ Mrs. Verdier hesitated.
Gretel didn’t entirely understand what she was alluding to, and looked to Mr. Verdier, who was busy caressing the deep concave of Mrs. Verdier’s un-jutted upper back.
‘If… if the time comes”, she let out in dejection.
Mr. Verdier, while still generating a comforting gaze was sort of tugging at Mrs. Verdier’s shoulder now. With his other free and even daintier arm he busied in collecting their luggage and coats. Mrs. Verdier’s neck remained craned.
Lucky she chose black, Gretel judged watching Mrs. Verdier face run down well, her face. He mouthed to Gretel with imperil filled iris’ a wide and pronounced – T.H.A.N.K.Y.O.U. With that the two grew smaller down the hallway and eventually out of site, the weight of a large door being pulled and dropped onto young Gretel’s shoulders following moments later.
Alone now Gretel stood with the folder. It’s outside revealed a juvenile laminate job. Gretel stroked its textured pattern of un-uniform black circles on white. She looked towards Pongo, already within the depths of a comatose sleep. She realized this would likely be the summit of the Dane-Dalmatian’s activity; his dominate dormant state for the majority of Gretel’s stay. Though she was not really complaining, so long as he didn’t retreat into any less a state of conscious.
The two got off seemingly though Pongo only stirred at the din of pellets hitting his marble bowl. Gretel would drag his mat and force him to her lap, in greed of a little company for otherwise solitude evenings by the fire.
It was the dead of night number five when Gretel woke to the smell of something stale. Lingering at the threshold of Pongo’s living room quarter Gretel winced, fore absent was the sound of Pongo’s heavy breath. It was a thick silence, one of anticipated solemnity. The room had dissipated to just the sound of an outside southerly caressing the exterior of the house. Gretel’s snaggletooth had pierced her quivering tongue and her mouth had filled with blood, staining her palms of fingers a filthy black-red. She took two steps further.
Alas it was true, Pongo was dead.
Gretel at a loss returned to an unsettled sleep, a sleep plagued by dread and Mrs. Verdier’s sobbing head. She made her way; a good three-hundred-and-sixty toss and turn around the king size bed, but poor Gretel- she couldn’t lose the image of poor Pongo lying there so lifeless, so dead. Gretel murmured and soon sobbed until her tear ducts were wrinkled then completely disheveled. She could not delay it a moment longer. It was when moping about the kitchen that Gretel was reminded of the bible on the counter, of course, how silly had she been to forget the furry thing.
In our absence and in the grave event of Sir Pongo Verdier’s death, we wish for you to follow the following protocol in the respect that we would.
First, you must cover him in his favoured pink blanky.
Gretel fetched blanky, which was already in-twined in Pongo’s stiff grip and cloaked him appropriately.
Second, you must phone the ambulance to take him to our Vet, Dr. Henry Dobois.
Gretel phoned 112, but they spat that they would not take a dog and cursed Gretel for such absurdity.
Third, you must phone Dr. Henry Dobois and tell him the news and that you’re coming.
Gretel copied in the number of Dr. Henry Dobois to the phone. He did not answer.
Fourth, you must not leave Pongo’s side until he has been seen Dr. Henry Dobois and his cremation arranged.
Gretel turned on her tiptoes and through some squinted eyes peered over at Pongo.
Finally, enclosed you will find some 200euro for any expenses; we thank you and apologise for any strife this may have caused you.
- The Verdier’s
Now I must warn that the events that succeed don’t award as Gretel’s finest, though you must not be too quick to judge.
Cash in hand Gretel toyed with the logistics of the situation; Borrow one of their cars? No it’s far too far without a license. Chop him up into little pieces for her rucksack? How could she, Mr. Dobois would fright! Bury him in the backyard? Never, what if they refurbish the garden! Take him in a shopping trolly? Nay, people would surely stare. All of this bought her to an hour dawning on morning.
Gretel craned her neck, closed one eye and spanned her arms the size of the dead Dalmatian. Jarred armed Gretel paced to the garage, to a shop-worthy array of suitcases. Again Gretel craned her neck, closed one eye and with the Pongo size arm span surveyed a suitable candidate. Back and forth she hovered until finally Gretel arrived at one brown leather case some way up the wall and slightly right, which she deemed fit for the part.
If Gretel felt lugging a slightly cooperative Pongo to her lap was awkward, dead Pongo proved just arduous. She scooped, squashed, arranged then re-arranged, placed and settled for ramming Pongo inside. Finally the only thing that came between the two zips was his tail tip. Gretel settled for this.
The sun was just up and drinking the rain-paved streets of Rue Blanc, the iridescent patchwork product reminiscent of the shampooed coat within her very case. To think just twenty-four hours ago she had been bathing the poor dane. Gretel hesitated at the top of the station stairs. Despite her free arm braced to the railing and her rigid right angle figure Pongo still managed to propel the pair down the stairs. Gretel brushed her mother’s one green wool coat clean and soldiered on, some slightly bruised and somewhat battered.
The crisscross-chaos that was the underground did not resound well with Gretel being a diagnosed dyslexic. She opted for the Pontoise, trying to draw as little attention as possible as she heaved her luggage on board. It did not take long for Gretel to sense a pair of curious eyes tracing her green-wool back. She could smell their owner’s deodorizer; a dumpster-gin concocted odor. Indifferent to the visibility a train window travelling underground allows, the man did not give up, even had nerve to approach and lurk some four paces closer. Piss off. Gretel rolled her eyes, exclaiming her headphones on and stiffening her slender frame hostile.
Immersed in Ethiopian beat Gretel momentarily returned to the map. Again overwhelmed by all the criss-cross coloured lines and tiny congested text. Gretel removed her headphones to try and draw some sense.
“Madame, madame” a woman was yelling
“Madame! Vite, Vite! Il a ta valise!”
Gretel spun to see, through closing doors, her suitcase disappearing in the leggy crowd of the peak hour Paris underground. As she followed its handle she observed it, hand in tow of one wretched bin man. Gretel thumped her body against the glass, but the train was well and truly on its way. Much the same manner that Mr. Verdier had caressed Mrs. Verdier’s back, the lady caressed Gretel’s.
Gretel sulked into a seat as the train accelerated out of the tunnel, her hand tightened around a hefty paper package. Gretel unwrapped the envelope for the first time, chock-a-block with cremation crash. But with no Pongo to cremate Gretel soon arrived at a new and far brighter state, a state of contour clothing and artisan cakes. A grin grew on the girl’s young face.
Meanwhile the suitcase thief, who lets don Dreshawn, was busy lugging the brown leather case up the Pont de l’Alma stairs against peak hour foot traffic. Dreshawn did not take a moment’s rest and by the time he reached his street he was ravenous with greed. Dreshawn was hoping for expensive cosmetics perhaps some narcotics, Ah-ba-ba-ba. He stunted the idea of such victorious outcomes, fore the last time he had thieved he ended up with a rucksack of pre-loved children’s toys. Though this time was no child’s play; judging by the cases quality jewels were not out of the question.
Slimy with sweat Drewshawn collapsed on the eleventh landing and lugged the suitcase for one last time. As the white light distilled Drewshawn was back in the shallow space of his squat-hole existence, excited however for the first time since he took up the space because a makeover was on the forecast. Despite all his desperate tugs the zip would not budge. Drewshawn drew his pocketknife and shredded the brown leather apart.
Absent were the designer labels of rich material. Not a single vest of rabbit or wolf-coat bristle. “Not even a faux!” Drewshawn squawked. Absent were the electronic devices, not a singe cosmetic or the trace of a narcotic. Far out, not even a wallet or a wristwatch. Instead out fell a day old dead Dalmatian with one bloodstained tail.
Drewshawn’s complexion disgraced red.
Elsewhere Gretel glided off the train at Tuileries heading straight for Rue St Honoré. This was fond and not un-familiar territory for her. Gretel had spent lengthy hours marvelling at the chic stores that lined the perfect-paved streets. She still could not believe that there appeared not a single cobble lain out of place.
A vintage and antique store enchanted Gretel inside, the kind where the workers wore white silk gloves and where, asleep in the window, lounged a frilly-frocked Prince Charles Cavalier. With one hand gripping the wads of pounds within her jacket pocket, Gretel surveyed the jewellery cabinets.
A gloved man came between Gretel and a dazzling ruby ring.
“Lovely isn’t it Madame”, the same voice
repeated heavily accented.
Gretel looked up to see an elderly man in a penguin suit and circular fine-framed spectacles. The gloved man glided the ruby onto Gretel’s middle finger. Her eyes could not conceal an ounce of her unadulterated infatuation. They had even taken on the rich ruby of the jewels colour. Gretel, hypnotised, nodded wide eyed and made for the ornamented counter.
“And I’d like that too”. Gretel said,
pointing to a large, brown leather
suitcase, someway up the wall and
Image credit: "Dog smoking a pipe"
Adrien Alban Tournachon,
J. Paul Getty Museum