It was my mother’s idea.
Mum was never short on ideas, bless her soul.
Somehow, she had found out that no one in our family had ever had their portrait painted, which didn’t surprise me. In our world, only rich people had the spare change to pay for a portrait painter. We had more significant problems, like food and electricity and dog biscuits if it came to that.
Which brings me to Eric. Eric the dog.
He doesn’t like to miss out on stuff.
Mum suggested that my new business venture, supplying rich people with household staff who could also play a musical instrument (more of this a bit later), could use a boost. “Imagine the impact on your prospective client when they come into your office and see a portrait of you, done in oils.”
The idea appealed to me. Despite my left wing leanings on most subjects, I’ve always liked the trappings of wealth and privilege.
Eric, on the other hand, just likes being where I am, doing what I’m doing.
So, when it came time to travel to the city for my first sitting, Eric wanted to go as well. He had no idea where we were going or that it involved a trip on the number 12 tram and even if I had explained to him that he would probably have to sit quietly in some outer office for more than an hour, he would still have liked to come — that’s Eric. He does not want to miss out.
“I like your dog,” said a delightful creature in a chiffon dress.
“And I’m pretty sure he likes you too,” I said facetiously.
“How can you tell?” said the delightful creature, who was in danger of catching cold, as my mother would have said.
For a moment, I thought she was kidding, but it turned out that she had left what remained of her intelligence in her other purse.
I have to say that I took advantage of the situation and we were going to be getting off the tram presently.
“I know, he speaks quite softly. I’ll get him to say it again, only a bit louder,” I said.
“I saw his lips move, but I didn’t hear anything. What did he say?” said the scantily clad creature.
“He phrased it differently, but the sentiment was the same. Oh, and he added a bit.”
“Yes. He reiterated his liking for you and suggested that if you were a dog, he would suggest a mating session — doggy style, of course.”
The beautiful creature blushed and stroked Eric on the head.
I love being out with Eric.
The artist studio was in an apartment on Little Collins Street, a costly part of town. Based on his fee, I could see how he was able to afford this address.
I expected his secretary — (yes he had a secretary, and I wondered what she did all day), to ask me to leave Eric with her.
I wondered what they would talk about.
As it turned out, the artist squealed like a little girl when he saw Eric.
“The dog is, how shall I put it, perfect!”
So that was that. Eric is now part of the company, and it has to be said that he gets more attention than I do, especially since we started using the portrait in our advertising campaign.
Eric has his own section on our website, and we share a secretary so that he has his fan mail answered.
You are probably still wondering about the ‘could also play a musical instrument’ bit.
Well, the idea has been around for a while, and it all started with an old interview with a famous Scandinavian film director who has his own production company. In a throwaway line, he said that he would not employ a lawyer who did not play a musical instrument. Considering how many lawyers a film production company would need, the interviewer tried to pursue the point. No one has ever been able to find out if the director was just outrageous for the sake of it or if he was serious. For our purpose, it does not matter, because the press picked up on it again many years later, and so did the people who like to design personality tests. The best selling book, “And Can You Play A Musical Instrument?”, established the idea in people’s heads and you know what happens when people get an idea into their heads — it stays there, and no amount of logic will shift it.
So, God help any domestic servant who is looking for employment without the ability to at least pound out ‘Chopsticks’ on a piano.
Sitting for a portrait is not as much fun as you might think. My neck got a crick in it, and my arm ached from hanging on to Eric. Eric wasn’t any too pleased either. He wasn’t having it, so I had to hang on to a cushion for most of the session.
I was happy when it was done, and I loved how the painting came out, and as with childbirth, I forgot about the pain.
There is talk of doing another one every five years so that we will end up with a bunch of them showing the permanency of the business, but I’m sure I can think up an excuse to not be available for the next one, and Eric agrees.
Image: Aaron Westerberg
A chance encounter on a country road and Rufus’ skills are put to the test. Rufus is wiser than his diminutive stature might suggest. Wisdom and size do not always correlate.
It has to be said that Moonlight was easier to see at night.
She was still there during the day, but she was harder to see.
Emma wondered about this, but only for a moment. Considering all the strange things that had happened around her over the past year, not being able to see her dog clearly during the day seemed like a small concern.
Emma’s second favourite part of her day was sitting on the old leather couch in her aunty and uncle’s lounge room watching a movie. She could have gone to her room and watched it on her computer — been alone with Moonlight, but she sensed that Moonlight enjoyed being with the grownups — hanging out. Considering Moonlight had defended her when she needed it most, Emma felt it was the least she could do.
Moonlight didn’t watch the screen, she watched Emma — head on her lap, sitting at her feet. Emma stroked her head and scratched behind her ears — Moonlight liked having her ears scratched, not because they were itchy, but because she knew this touch was full of love.
“Why do you do that Emma?” asked her aunty.
“No reason,” said Emma as she stopped stroking Moonlight.
Mrs Brown had been told not to make Emma feel like she was doing anything unusual. “Try not to notice when she does things — strange things. It’s all part of her healing process.”
Emma was slightly ashamed that she took advantage of the advice she overheard her psychologist give. Nevertheless, she took full advantage when it suited her, particularly around bedtime. Unfortunately, this only worked for a few weeks, and she learned not to overdo it — too precious an advantage to waste.
After a few months, the police stopped ‘dropping in for a chat’. They were hoping that Emma could remember more of that night, but there wasn’t any more to add to what she had already told them. Her mother told her to hide, and Emma was very good at hiding — she knew all the best places. She remembered the adults shouting — strange voices she didn’t recognise — Moonlight barking and growling, then silence. Emma stayed hidden until the policewoman in the white overalls found her. Two men were arrested at the Emergency department of the local hospital. Moonlight had inflicted severe wounds on them both — had driven them off before they could search the house — before they could hurt Emma.
The police said Moonlight was badly injured when they found her. She didn’t know who these people were so she tried to drive them away as well, but she was too wounded to put up much of a fight.
The policewoman in the white overalls told Emma that Moonlight had been taken to a Vet.
Moonlight was fine now. She came to Emma that first night — the night Emma rode in the police car to her uncle’s house. They turned the flashing blue lights on for her, but said they couldn’t turn the siren on, “It tends to wake people up, and people need their sleep.”
Emma didn’t sleep much this days.
In the beginning, it was strange to sleep in a new bed in a new house, but then she got used to the all the new things. Moonlight kept her company on those sleepless nights.
Emma didn’t have to go to school for several weeks, and when she did, it was a new school, and she had to start all over again — find new friends.
No one at her new school knew what had happened, although Emma sensed that her teacher knew something — they never talked about it.
Emma was the only girl at that school who was allowed to have her dog with her during the day. No one said why and she didn’t ask — she didn’t want them to send Moonlight away, so she didn’t bring it up.
Sometimes, Emma lost sight of Moonlight at school, but soon she would turn up with an old tennis ball or a bone and lay it at Emma’s feet.
“Not now Moonlight, I’ve got an essay to finish.”
Emma’s best friend, Josie, knew Moonlight, but sometimes the other girls would ask Emma who she was talking to.
“Don’t you talk to your dog?” Emma would ask.
Josie would usually change the subject and suggest that they all play a different game.
Emma didn’t catch the bus when it was time to go home from school because the long walk home with Moonlight was a highlight of her day.
Their usual route took them past Maccas, and if Emma had any pocket money left, she would buy a small ice cream cone and share it with Moonlight.
Moonlight loved ice cream almost as much as she loved Emma.
“You wait here Moonlight while I go and get an ice cream. Be a good girl.”
Sometimes Emma didn’t say why she was going into the shop because Moonlight would get very excited and spin around in circles at the thought of ice cream. It took her a long time to settle down and even when she was sitting, her bottom wiggled with delight. Even when she didn’t say the words, Moonlight knew what was about to happen — Moonlight was a bright dog — she knew stuff — what she didn’t know she could sense. She knew when Emma was happy or sad. She tried to lick away her tears, but Emma scolded her when she did. She wasn’t really mad at her and Moonlight knew it.
Mostly, Moonlight knew that her job was to stay close by because Emma needed her.
Moonlight knew that something was different after that night, but she didn’t waste time thinking about it — she had a job to do and a girl to whom she could give all her love — that was enough for her.
After ice cream, they would cut through the park and sometimes there were other dogs to play with. Some were hard to see in the daylight, and some weren’t, but dogs don’t worry about such things — they live in the moment.
After the park, there was Mrs Jenkins.
Mrs Jenkins was ancient, and she smelled like eucalyptus lollies. Moonlight liked lollies, and so did Emma.
Mrs Jenkins would be waiting for them, every day, standing at her front gate. When the weather was warm, they would all sit on her front verandah and drink milky tea. Moonlight would rest her head on Mrs Jenkins’ lap — she knew that Mrs Jenkins had a cat, but the warmth of a dog is unique. Moonlight knew that Mrs Jenkins was coming near to the end of her life. It had been a good life — full of wonder, but all of her friends were gone, and she was looking forward to seeing them again.
When Emma and Moonlight said their goodbyes, they walked the rest of the distance to their house, but they did it very slowly, not because they didn’t want to go home — they liked being there, but because they didn’t want the experience to end.
The days rolled into weeks and the weeks rolled into months, and as they did, Emma and moonlight settled into their new life — far away from their old home.
Emma’s aunty and uncle were kind, and their house was warm and comfortable, but it wasn’t their home — not really.
“You miss your mum and dad don’t you, Emma?” said her aunty. They had been watching a movie together, and the movie had gone into an annoying bit.
“I miss them every minute of every day, but Moonlight is still with me, and I don’t get too sad when she is around.”
“You do know that Moonlight died that night — defending you?”
“I know she was hurt, but she got better and came to me. I know she is a bit hard to see in the daylight, but she is always with me.”
Emma patted Moonlight and Moonlight licked her hand and went back to dreaming about walking home from Emma’s school and ice cream and playing in the park and Mrs Jenkins and her eucalypts lollies — life was good.
That’s right. RUFUS is now available as a paperback from Amazon’s US store (and their UK store and a bunch of others, but not the Australian store as yet).
RUFUS is a good and wise dog. I know you will enjoy his company.
As a general rule, librarians consider dogs to be something that are best kept on the street side of the door.
Precious was the exception.
The library staff at the East Side Library liked their job. It wasn’t well paid, but the hours were reasonable.
The south-east corner of the building had been damaged during the war — one of the many air-raids. The town council didn’t have the funds to carry out the repairs so that part of the building had been inaccessible to the public for many years. The government engineers had reinforced the structure with massive beams of oak — one of the few things that we had in abundance after the war. So the building was safe, but there were no plans to restore it, ‘books come way down the list’, was the official reply when the head librarian sent in her yearly formal request for building repairs. It irked her that the countries that had been defeated seemed to be benefiting from reconstruction while her library lay wounded all these years after victory.
Because the damaged part of the building was not considered to be officially part of the library, Jane Delbridge did not have a problem with Terry and Precious enjoying its privacy and comfort. It was cold in this section of the building, but not as cold as sitting out on the footpath in the snow — even if she was wearing the sleeve of one of Terry’s old army jumpers as a coat.
Mrs Delbridge lost her husband in North Africa during the war, and she looked upon ex-solders with warmth and respect. Terry and Precious went to the library every Monday and Thursday — regular as clockwork. Mrs Delbridge left the side door open so Terry and Precious could enter without drawing attention to themselves. The door frame was warped from the explosion so it did not open easily. Terry thought about repairing it but decided against it — too obvious.
The room that they shared was partially open to the air, but the roof was still intact and the hole was not on the ‘bad weather side’ of the building, so water was rarely a problem. None-the-less, time was eating away at the building and Mrs Delbridge was rightly worried that the council would use the deteriorating condition of the building to justify pulling it down. It stood on prime real estate and the council could use the resultant flood of money for desperately needed projects. Fortunately, many of the library’s customers were influential members of the community and they made it clear that the building was off limits.
The room with a view as Terry called it, had an old table and a dusty couch that had been rescued from a building that was being demolished. The hole in the wall let in more than enough light to read by. Precious claimed one end of the couch while Terry sat and read at the other end. Cups of tea would mysteriously appear from time to time and the rings of countless cups were imprinted into the unpolished surface of the small table.
Choosing a book was the most difficult task. The library was well stocked from before the war and they had inherited books from libraries that were more unlucky. The library staff spent many hours repairing damaged books because they knew that just like money for building repairs, money for new books was way down the list.
Terry enjoyed detective stories and Mrs Delbridge had introduced him to Chandler and Hamett. She also headed him towards Green and Maugham. She was looking after his mind. He had been spared and now she would show him the wonders of beautiful words.
Sometimes, just for the enjoyment of it, Terry would read to Precious. She seemed to enjoy A Moon and Sixpence, but he wasn’t sure why. She didn’t like Dickens, which was a shame, but she did like Conan Doyle. Terry did all the voices and tried to make it as exciting as possible. He worried that Precious might get bored waiting for him each night. The truth was that Precious didn’t need to be entertained. All she needed was to be close by — close to Terry. That was enough for her.
It’s important to know how much is enough.
Having a Blackbird for a friend is a little unusual.
I know it.
I’m not ashamed, and when you know how it came about I think you will understand.
Her partner disappeared in the middle of last spring and she was left to bring up her two chicks all by herself; not an easy task.
She managed it very well and they flew off into the world happy and healthy and a little bit wise. Not too much though; you know how young ones are.
She had been mated to George for several years and each spring he would risk his life to bring back enough food to feed his insatiable family. I couldn’t understand why they did it, year in and year out; it seemed like such a hassle.
I’ve seen exhausted blackbird parents run into windows and get hit by cars. Blackbirds seem not to care about their own safety when they are feeding their little ones.
I don’t have any pups; at least, not that I know of.
I’ve never been partnered up with a bitch; I’m a love ‘em and leave ’em kind of dog.
Mind you, I nearly settled down with Sophie.
She was a gorgeous little blond Maltese and she lived quite close by. Her mistress wouldn’t let her out of the yard but I often went around there anyway.
We would sit by the fence and I would imaging making love to her, doggy style, of course.
She was up for it.
That’s one of the good things about being a dog.
If we see someone we REALLY like, we suggest it, and if she is willing, we get stuck in, so to speak.
I don’t have to buy her dinner and she doesn’t expect me to call her the next day but she does expect me to find a good, juicy bone and bring it by.
It’s the least I can do for a pretty bitch.
But, there was none of that with Sophie; I just couldn’t get at her. It was driving us both nuts, but I was too short to get over that fence, so now I just dream about her.
Her mistress moved away and Sophie went with her.
That’s life I guess.
I suppose you are wondering about the blackbird I mentioned earlier. She was different to all the other birds.
For starters, she didn’t steal my fur when I was sleeping in the sun.
She would fly down and sit on that plant pot that is just by the pond and tweet very softly so as to wake me up gently. “May I please have some of your old fur so that I can line my nest?”
How could I refuse such a polite request.
“Sure thing lady. I’ll try and keep the bits that fall out in one place, and if that isn’t enough, just let me know and you can have a little bit of the fur that hasn’t fallen out. But just a little, mind you.”
“That won’t be necessary. The bits that fall out will be sufficient for my needs.” She spoke beautifully.
I could tell that she was well-educated.
It was sad when George didn’t come home that night.
She waited for him for days and days.
She must have been very hungry but she was frightened to leave the nest in case her chicks got cold.
In the end, I had to do something, so I stole one of my mistresses wooly socks.
The nest was not too high up but I can’t climb for shit so I yelled out, “Hey lady. Take this sock and put it on your chicks and then go and get something to eat while you still have enough energy to fly.”
I pushed the sock as high up the trunk of the tree as I could but she was too weak to fly with it.
Fortunately, it was late in the day and the flock of cockatoos was close by. They come our way late in the day. They make a terrible noise and I tend towards the school of thought that says we should bark a lot and frighten them away, but today I needed help.
The problem with cockatoos is that they all look the bloody same, and I needed to find one particular cockatoo.
Jeremy wasn’t born in the wild.
He escaped from a backyard cage and joined the flock a couple of years ago. He told me all about it one sleepy Saturday afternoon and it’s a hell of a story but I don’t have time to tell you that one just now.
It took a little while but I eventually found Jeremy.
I told him what I was trying to do and he said he would help.
He’s a big bird so getting the sock up into the tree was no bother for him.
He’s a bachelor, like I am, so he doesn’t get the whole ’family’ thing but he’s a mate, so he doesn’t mind helping out.
When he first escaped he didn’t know much about looking out for himself and he got pounced on by a large tabby cat.
He lost a few tail feathers and was putting up a pretty good fight when I stepped in.
Cats don’t mess with me, they know I mean business.
I’ve got a reputation.
Jeremy was a bit embarrassed about the whole thing and he said he could have taken that cat on his own, but he did say thank you, and we have been friends ever since.
I introduced him to the flock.
They don’t like me much due to all the barking and the chasing, but they took him in anyway; which was good.
The sock did the trick and the Blackbird got stronger and the chicks got bigger.
You can still see that sock if you look really carefully, it’s way up on the right; in that fork.
Do you want to know the nicest bit?
She brought me the longest piece of red thread, just to say thank you.
I don’t know what I’m going to do with it but I was very touched.
Maybe I’ll loan to her so that she can dress up this years nest, and if she doesn’t need it I know this Robin who collects red threads.
By now, you probably know that Rufus has an interesting life for a small black dog. He has been on many adventures and you can find some of the here…..