She was no beauty.
A scraggly, ungainly creature with strange bluish eyes, Griselda lived in uncomfortable and jealous promiscuity with a woman; herself dark, smart and selfish who occasionally and carelessly invited a man into their home. She called him Bill and he smelt rather nice. Evenings with Bill followed always the same pattern. He brought flowers and a bottle. The woman had spent time cooking and dressing and she pretended not to be quite ready, going at him with her claws painted red. They kissed lightly and he sat down on Griselda’s couch, unfeelingly. She did not mind. Not too much anyway. He let her come close to his legs and fondled her. Then the woman shooed her away, and, grudgingly, she retired to that place under the kitchen table where she liked to take her nap on the old blanket, with her food-basin and water-cup close at hand, or rather close at paw.
Griselda’s father had been a pack of nondescript mongrels, and her mother had for sure an Irish collie and a husky sledge-dog in her ancestry. The rest of her family tree was anybody’s guess. Everybody could see she was a nice and friendly body, quite social, and with few inhibitions. She even let strange men call her a nice doggy, knowing they did not mean anything by that, except that they wanted to ingratiate themselves to the woman with her. But they never came in to their place. There was only Bill, and the unimaginative ritual of his mating with the woman: they fed together, they kissed again and again, then he tried to cuddle and she escaped with a laughing yelp, to take off carelessly the things she had so carefully put on a while before, and then they did their noisy business without any consideration for Griselda’s loneliness.
Once, she had tried to have her share of the fun, but Bill had shown considerable anger and strength to kick her away. Luckily with a bootless foot. Now she never went into the bedroom when they were together. She wondered mildly at their ever-readiness to mate, but it was none of her business really.
Every day, she took a walk in the park with the woman, but as they were leashed together it was not much fun. From time to time she managed to escape and stroll alone in the quiet streets, nick a nice bit of meat or a bone from some garbage pail, and enjoy friendly banter with other dogs. Everybody loved her. She was a very ready mixer but she could flash a fine set of teeth to warn off any unpleasantness. It was southern France and a stray dog’s paradise. The sidewalks were peppered with turds and every cornerstone was fragrant with piss ‘ not always canine, it must be said. Nobody seemed to care. The strutting men in blue bullied only those dogs who had a dirty man in tow. Old ladies offered things from their shopping-bag ‘ lumps of sugar, bits of cheese, nice enough. One crazy man would doff his hat when a dog sniffed at him and say ‘Good day to you!’ very politely. There were not many cars and you could hear them coming soon enough. When Griselda came back, she just scratched at the door and gave a short bark , and the woman let her in, with a half-hearted scold.
One night, after Bill had come and gone, Griselda found that now she was the one who needed a mate. The neighbouring dogs learned the news soon enough and, when she came out with the woman, she had quite a canicade of suitors. The woman, as selfish as ever, did not give them any decent sort of welcome. She shouted and kicked and threw things and the cowardly males ran away, what could you expect? A nice dachshund in the park tried to make a pass, but the brutish man on his leash pulled him away, gargling and spluttering. Griselda thought it was a pity, because a friend had told her that small dogs could be very hot indeed, and of course dachshunds are ever so smart and clever, and they have such a charming voice.
Then she realized that one lone dog from the pack was following her silently, far enough to go unnoticed by the woman. A rather unprepossessing dog, rather wolfish and hungry-looking, with the most improbable mottled coat of yellowish grey and black. She pretended not to have noticed him, but after a few circles and double-takes around trees and bushes, very annoying for the woman, she made sure that he was trailing her, and was it not lovely?
They went out of the park and back along the familiar streets and the dog was still behind them, treading silently his love-path. After they had gone into the house the dog came to the door, sniffing gently, and sat down on the mat. Of course she knew he was there and he knew she knew. She looked up at the woman, with a hospitable wink, but the selfish creature refused to take the hint. When Bill came, the dog tried to follow him into the house and there was an exchange of cursing and growling. And again when Bill went away. He made a threatening gesture and the dog jumped back into the street. A car swerved and braked to avoid him, and there was more cursing and threatening exchanged, now between Bill and the motorist, both acting very brave and very fierce across the protecting bulk of the car. Then everything was quiet again, and Griselda went to sleep under the kitchen table, acutely aware of the presence of the dog outside.
He was still there in the morning, lying on the doormat, with seemingly not a care in the world, except his dumb desire for the scraggly bitch. He looked up indifferently at passing people, showed no inclination to fight off inquisitive dogs, and refrained even from attacking the postman. Whenever the woman came to the door, she chased him away with nasty words. And when Griselda came out with her, he followed them patiently, and the woman kept Griselda on the shortest possible length of leash. Life was becoming painful for her. She tried to escape, but the woman had become wise to all her devices, and all her exit routes were blocked. Barking was no help, either, because that woman could be very nasty indeed.
All that day, and the day after, and several days after ‘ Griselda did not count them ‘ the dog never moved from the doorstep. Except, of course, to attend to his hygienic necessities in a neighbouring vacant lot. Morning, noon, and night found him here, sitting or lying down with that single-minded indifference of the mad, and the saintly. People looked at him and wondered if he was lost. Some said kind words to him. Some said bitter words about people abandoning their pets. The old lady at #28, who always doused liberally her section of the sidewalk with a stench of chlorine and Lysol, threw him pieces of cheese and meat ‘ never coming too near of course, he could be dangerous or sick or something. Somebody suggested that somebody should have the police called and the dog taken to a home. But there was too much indeterminacy in the sequence of the bodies involved, so none interfered. The refined bachelor of #15, always pretending to ogle the girls ‘ not fooling anybody – engaged conversation about him with a wiry-looking young man in overalls who might have been a plumber or an electrician.
The dog had a piece of frayed rope tied around his neck, and a metal tag with perhaps a telephone number on it. Number 15 made a great show of trying to get at it, but the dog escaped swiftly with a derisive snarl, not unlike that of the young man who watched the performance and went his way.
Then Griselda became again her usual self. And mysteriously warned that the source of the philtres of love had gone dry again, the dog went away and was never again seen in the neighbourhood. Perhaps he was run over by a bus, or perhaps he was not. Griselda wondered some time about the colour of his eyes. Brown, or perhaps more like golden. Shifty. Positively shifty. A no-gooder if she knew one. One of the losers of this life, certainly. Good riddance! What did the poor brute mean with his silent courtship? Love indeed! Pshahrk.
And yet ‘ when she went out to the Park with the woman, she kept all the way a discreet lookout for him, and if she was disappointed, nobody guessed.
One night, when Bill sat down on her couch, she turned on him and closed her teeth on the hem of his trousers. Perhaps she had always meant to do it some time. Bill swore and tried to kick her but she escaped, growling, to the kitchen. He swore again and then the woman rose her voice. Then he went out, banging the door, and Griselda could hear him swear again outside. She padded softly to the living room and jumped on the couch. She watched the muttering woman pour herself a drink and knew there would be a nice, crisp, salty cracker for her.
Was that a flea on her hip? She decided it was not. She closed her eyes and relaxed. Know what? Happy.