Learning from Dogs
Philip was about to pick up his case and return to the cool of the airport concourse when out of the corner of his eye, right at the last minute, he saw a tall, elegant, blond-haired woman heading for the airport doors in a manner that suggested she hadn’t seen him. Before he even had time to draw breath and sing out a caution, she careened into his right shoulder almost knocking him into the pillar besides which he had been standing.
She stopped, turned towards him, and reached out to hold his right forearm in her right hand.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Mr. Bond. It is Mr. Bond, isn’t it? Mr. James Bond?”
In Philip’s most wildest of dreams he would never have anticipated that his first new minutes on Mexican soil would turn out like this.
He guessed who this attractive woman was. The smooth English accent was a bit of a give-away, the laughter in her voice confirming it was planned.
“Oh, you must be Molly? Lisa had mentioned a few times that she had an English friend here in Mexico.”
Then from out behind another tiled pillar popped Lisa.
“Hi Philip, welcome to Mexico.”
Lisa came over and gave him a long hug.
He picked up his case and followed the two of them the short distance to the car-park. He noticed the gaiety between them. Within moments they were alongside Lisa’s car, a Ford Explorer according to the badge on the rear of the vehicle. Of course, a make unfamiliar to him. He would have described it as an American version of a compact Estate car; apparently known as an SUV in this part of the world.
However the make and type of the vehicle wasn’t so much the focus of his attention. It was rather how on earth he was going to get in. Because, as Lisa opened the tailgate, there was revealed more large plastic sack-bags of dried dog food than he had ever seen in his life.
“Hopefully there’s just enough space at the top for you to slide your suitcase in. Will it fit?”, Lisa enquired.
He pushed a couple of the topmost bags to either side and just managed to squeeze his case in over the top.
He backed out and straightened Up. Molly had now opened the right-hand door to the rear bench seat.
“Sorry if it’s a bit cramped. We’ve had a bit of restocking of dog food.”
Molly wasn’t kidding, Philip thought, as he shuffled onto the nearest remaining piece of the bench seat that wasn’t covered from seat to roof-lining with clear-plastic wrapped cardboard trays of canned dog food.
Molly sat down on the front passenger seat, Lisa started the engine, doors were slammed close and they eased out of the designated parking area. Within moments they were clear of the airport zone and heading more-or-less South. Well that was Philip’s estimate looking at the setting sun low down off to his right; its golden rays accentuating the dry, desert landscape that seemed to run all the way to the horizon.
His eyes were drawn back to all the dog food. “Gracious, someone’s got a few pet dogs at home.”
He noticed a look pass between Lisa and Molly. It was Molly who replied.
“Lisa has five dogs and I have fourteen.”
“Did you say fourteen! My goodness, that sounds like a story.”
As they sped along what appeared to be signed as Highway 15, Lisa chatted away to Philip explaining the story about the dogs. How for many years she and Molly had been working together in rescuing dozens of feral dogs, so many of whom roamed the streets of San Carlos. Then them finding homes for the dogs most often with Americans coming down visiting San Carlos.
He looked across to Molly sitting in the front. “So how long have you been living in Mexico, Molly?”
“Oh, for almost twenty-five years. I came down here with my husband when he and I wanted a change from the USA.
As he listened, he started to focus on her accent. English it was, without any doubt. But better than that, for if asked, he would have guessed a London accent, even perhaps an East London or Essex accent.
“Molly, hope you don’t mind me asking but I’m hearing a London accent. Is that correct? Where were you born?”
“In Essex,” she replied.
“Ah, thought as much. I know Essex pretty well from my years as a salesman in that part of the world. So in which part of Essex were you born?”
There was a pause before Molly answered, a lovely tease in her voice, “The worst part of Essex.”
He stopped and thought about his memories of Essex. There were quite a few places in Essex that might qualify as the worst part. But listening to Molly’s accent was giving him a clue. He took a stab at the place.
“I think you were born in Dagenham. You know, where the huge Ford factory is.”
Molly’s answered with a giggle, “Yes, that’s right. How very clever. What made you guess Dagenham?”
“Well, when I was selling for IBM, I got to know that part of Essex especially well. Called on many of the Ford suppliers that had businesses in and around the Dagenham area. Places such as Romford, Rainham, Barking. I heard something in your voice that suggested Dagenham or close by. Because, as you go further out, to places like Basildon, Brentford, even Chelmsford, the local Essex accent starts to take on more of an East Anglian twang.”
“You mean posher than Dagenham.” Molly put on a thick Cockney overlay that, nonetheless, only accentuated the underlying playfulness in her voice.
“So, your turn. Where were you born, Philip? Have to say you sound too posh for East London or Essex.”
He was tempted to play games in return but didn’t have time to think of a cheeky retort. “I was born in North Acton in North London but almost from my first year lived and grew up in Preston Road, about a mile from Wembley Stadium. In fact I could see the stadium buildings from my bedroom window.”
Molly’s gift for accents was obvious as she came back in a pseudo upper-class tone of voice, “Oh, Wembley. Oh, I do say, how delightfully charming.”
They chit-chatted back and forth for some time as the miles sped by before Philip sensed, not quite sure how, that Lisa was feeling a little left out.
“Lisa, so back to the dogs. Is it normal for you and Molly to have so many dogs at home?”
Lisa replied, “Not really. A short time ago the local animal shelter in San Carlos, where both Molly and I used to help out, closed down. Many of the dogs were at risk of being put down. So the ones that could be placed elsewhere we took them in ourselves.”
The conversation in the car fell silent for a while. The flight down from Los Angeles on top of some residual jet-lag from his flight across from London, the smooth motion of the car and the approaching dusk all conspired to make him just want to close his eyes for a few minutes.
He was suddenly awake with the turning off of the engine.
“Whoops, sorry about that. Obviously dozed off.”
Molly turned and looked at him. “Don’t worry, you were snoring so very prettily.”
Philip felt himself blush as he got out of the car with the two of them.
“Sorry, Philip,” Lisa said. “We’re not quite home. This is Molly’s house and we are just going to put her bags of dog food in the back of her car for now.”
Philip went around to the back of the Ford and removed his suitcase. Molly opened a large pair of brown-painted metal doors to reveal a rather grubby white van-type car parked in her driveway. She opened the tailgate and he watched as Molly and Lisa carried the bags and trays of cans from one vehicle to the other.
He looked around him. It was now early night. A warm, sub-tropical night that, quite suddenly, reminded him of nights in Darwin, Northern Australia. There were a couple of street lamps shining their sodium light along an unsurfaced dirt street with properties to both sides. He walked a few paces so he could look down the side of Molly’s house and saw the black surface of a sea possible only twenty yards beyond the far edge of the property. The architecture of the house itself looked very non-European. Philip reflected that in more ways than one this was a very long way from Devon.
He jumped into the front seat where Molly had been sitting as Lisa started up the car.
“Looks like quite a location where Molly and Ben have their house,” he mused aloud.
“Just Molly now, Philip. Ben died back in 2005. He was a great guy. He and Molly had the house designed and built for them by local Mexicans when they first came down to San Carlo more than twenty-five years ago.”
He noticed just a hint of something slip across his mind, something not even as clear as a thought. Some tiny patter of emotional excitement that Molly was a single woman.
A few minutes later, as Lisa drove up the hill to her house, a combination of Philip’s exhaustion and the darkness of the night made it difficult for him to really get a clear idea of what the house looked like. For sure, it gave the impression of being a grand place but, then again, the feeling of it still being very much a working construction project.
Half-an-hour later, that was confirmed by Don as all three of them sat around a table alongside a grand motorhome.
Lisa explained that they still hadn’t moved in to the house but that they had made him up a bedroom in the bodega. Frankly, he hadn’t a clue as to what a bodega was but presumed that was the large awning with sides that he had been shown to when they arrived. So after a light snack, all that his stomach could take, he excused himself and promptly got settled into his nominated bed and barely before he could register the comfort of the bed and the wonderful night sounds around him, he was gone.
He slowly awoke, looked at his watch that was still on his left wrist and saw that it was coming up to 7 a.m. It had felt like a week’s deep, dreamless sleep; the sleep of all sleeps.
There was a hint of the coming dawn in the sky as he went outside and took in a few lungfuls of clean, fresh air. This pre-dawn light to the sky was on the horizon to his left as he stared out over a bay with the calmest of sea surfaces one could imagine. There wasn’t a breath of wind. Total calmness. He pondered about the strange interface between a calm, benign sea that had not even a single fishing boat upon it, together with the steep, barren slopes of mountains pressing up almost to the edge of the town and then elsewhere the views housing lots, construction projects, more smart homes and a golf course.
The air was noticeably cool so he went inside the bodega to find a sweatshirt. He went back outside and quietly sat on a garden chair and just allowed the peace of the surroundings to wash over him. It had all been quite a year. Here he was sitting in the most different of settings he could imagine, a little over a week before Christmas Day but, much more significantly, only four days from it being exactly a year since Maggie dropped her bomb into his life.
Lisa’s ‘what are you doing for Christmas’ question some seven months ago had certainly set some wheels in motion.
“Hi Philip!” It was Don coming across from the motorhome to say good morning. He stood next to Philip and said how he never got tired of the view across the bay.
Don turned to him, “Hey, Lisa says that we should take breakfast over at Rosa’s Cantina. As you can see, we really are not yet set up for cooking arrangements.”
“That’s fine, Don. Very happy to let you run my life.”
Lisa stepped down from the motorhome, telephone in left hand, “I was going to give Molly a call to see if she wants to join us at Rosa’s.”
She pressed a button and raised the phone to her ear, exchanged a few words and called out, “All arranged, she will see us there at 8 a.m.”
Lisa then came across to Philip, asked him how he had slept and showed him the bathroom and showering facilities.
They had just seated themselves at a table at Rosa’s Cantina when Molly breezed in. She was wearing a white cotton blouse over white jeans and a straw Stetson hat over her blond hair, the hat sitting a little way back on her head. Despite Philip not being the best observer in the world of what a woman was wearing or her make-up, he couldn’t help noticing Molly’s rich red lipstick on her lips. There was something about Molly that signalled she was one-hundred-percent woman.
She parked her sunglasses across the front rim of her hat as she came into the shade of the Cantina.
“Hi everyone. Did you sleep well, Philip?”
“Thanks Molly. Yes the sleep of a lifetime, I’m glad to say. Heavens, what with your white jeans and your Stetson hat there’s a bit of an equine look about you today.”
Molly laughed, “Are you saying that I look like a horse! Not much of a greeting to a woman, if you don’t mind me saying.”
They caught each other’s eyes as Molly sat down at the table. The laughter in her eyes was unmissable.
Breakfast was ordered and an hour passed by in an easy and gentle manner. At one point, Lisa asked Molly whether she had had a result from the auction. Molly replied that she hadn’t but that she expected to hear today and had her fingers crossed it would be a winning bid.
Molly turned to Philip who was looking quizzically at her .
“I’ve put in a bid at a silent auction for the most incredible carved dining table and chairs that you can imagine. Genuine Mexican hand-carved and just stunning. If I win it, I’ll invite you all round for dinner.”
After breakfast and back at the house, Philip was introduced to Lisa’s dogs. They were all lovely animals that were both curious and affectionate towards him. One of them, a creamy coloured, short-haired, bright-eyed dog, perhaps eighteen inches to her shoulders, looked as though she wanted to jump on his lap. Lisa said that her name was Shilo and that she was a dear. He was sitting down and patted his lap; Shilo jumped up without hesitation.
As he cuddled Shilo, Lisa explained how she had been found on a local street one evening, going through a pile of rubbish. She had been very thin and very wary of humans. However, Lisa put some food down for her and very slowly was able to coax her into her arms. As Philip stroked Shilo and felt her settle into his lap he suddenly felt very guilty that until this moment Pharaoh hadn’t even entered his mind. He realised how much he was missing him.
Later, towards the middle of the afternoon, Lisa came across to where he was sunbathing, on the sixteenth day in December as he could hardly believe, and announced that Molly had, indeed, won the silent auction, that the huge table was being delivered tomorrow and on Tuesday evening they were all invited to dinner.
“Let me tell you, Philip, Molly can cook up a storm of a meal. It’s going to be quite an evening.”
“Can I go and buy some wine for the occasion?”
“No, but you can do me a favour. That same day, the 18th, I need to take the Ford into the repair shop over at Guaymas; about fifteen minutes away. There’s a potential issue with the steering. The local Mexicans are brilliant with cars, all types, and most likely will fix the problem in half the time and half the cost of doing the same thing in the States.”
She paused. “But whereas Don can follow me in the morning in his Jeep and bring me back, later in the day that’s going to be a challenge. Because I will have dogs to feed and getting myself ready for Lisa’s dinner. So wondered if you can you go into Guaymas with Don to pick up my Ford?”
“Sure, I can. No problem.”
“If you follow Don back into San Carlos and go straight to Lisa’s house, just a single turn off the main road, then Don can come and collect me and we both will then come over.”
So it came to pass. Philip drove Lisa’s Ford back from Guaymas and arrived at Molly’s house a little after 5 p.m., the setting sun still allowing him time to be shown around the house. It was a magnificent property without being ostentatious, with glorious views out over the bay. The main living room had a wonderful domed ceiling and the new carved table that Molly had acquired at the auction set the whole room off in the grandest of styles. He could hear the dogs elsewhere chattering happily. Molly said that the next time he came across during the daytime she would introduce them all to him.
She offered him a glass of wine and, together, they sat on the verandah and made small talk. Philip was aware how easy it was to be with her. Not only was she a good listener, she was, as he would say from his sales days, an active listener. He found that very flattering.
As Lisa had accurately predicted, the meal was outstanding; beautifully cooked and beautifully presented. Later they all sat outside on the verandah savouring their glasses of wine before Molly went and prepared fresh coffees for all. Much to Philip’s surprise, a little before 8 p.m., Lisa turned to Don and apologised saying that she was feeling too tired to stay much longer and could Don take them home.
Lisa turned to Philip.
“Listen, there’s no need for you to come back now if you don’t want to. You got my Ford and you know the way across to the house.”
Just to check, Philip talked the short route to the house over with Don, who nodded, and a few moments later, with Lisa and Don gone, Molly came back out to the verandah.
“Do you want to come into the living room? Don’t know about you but it’s starting to feel a little too cool for me.”
He took the few steps into the living room and sat back in a comfortable wide easy chair. Molly refreshed his glass. Two of her dogs came up to his legs and looked up at him with longing eyes.
“That’s Dhalia to your left, and the other is Ruby. They are both Mexican street dogs that were rescued which I was unable to find homes for.”
He looked at Dhalia and Ruby. They were both similar in height and fur colouring; shortish, light-brown, straight hair with bright-eyed attentive faces on bodies of about eighteen to twenty inches paw to shoulder. Ruby, the slightly heavier of the two, jumped up on to the free part of the seat cushion next to where he was sitting. Dhalia stood up on her hind legs, tail wagging fit to burst, and placed both front paws on his knees. He idly stroked each eager head with each hand. Ruby, without meeting the slightest resistance from Philip, softly shuffled her body so that her front legs were across his thighs and laid her head down on her front legs.
“They’re beautiful animals, with such gentle natures,” he said to Molly. “I would have expected feral dogs to be, oh I don’t know, more wild, more feral.”
He went on to add, “And there’s something else I’ve noticed about your dogs, Molly, and that is how you have many more female dogs.”
He sensed he may have touched on a sensitive issue.
“Philip, some of the locals around here are very poor. They will sort through bins looking for anything to sell, trade or eat; not even immune to stealing stuff to sell on, and so on. While in some ways I can understand what the poorer Mexicans have to do, there is one practice that still hurts me even to think about it. I’m referring to their habit of impregnating mother dogs so that when the mother has puppies, they may be sold for a few pesos. But because they can’t afford to keep that mother dog, frequently I find them thrown out on the street not long after she has had her puppies, often with milk still in her teats.”
She paused before saying, “That’s why the majority of the dogs I have taken in are females. That’s why they are such beautiful creatures. Dogs understand.”
There was a long silence. He was surprised to find himself empathising so strongly with the pain of these mother dogs. As though his experiences of having Pharaoh in his life and the intimate ways that Dhalia and Ruby were connecting with him just now were opening something inside of him; something older than time itself.
Molly cleared her throat. “So, it sounds like it’s been a bit of a year for you. Lisa filled me in on the details. Must have been a tough period for you.”
“Well, from what Lisa mentioned I’ve not been the only one hurting. She told me that it wasn’t too long ago that your husband died. Damn sight worse losing a long-term loving and devoted husband than what I went through, me thinks.”
Molly replied in a quiet, reflective voice. She talked about her late husband who she had known and loved for years, how he had died of dementia brought on by burst blood vessels in his head, how she had looked after him, non-stop his last few weeks.“Ben and I were married for over twenty-five years and he was so good to me all that time. But in the end, the dementia turned him into a man I didn’t know and, I hope you’ll forgive me saying this, I was grateful when he eventually died.” He heard the conflict in her voice.
“How old was Ben when he died, Molly?”
“He was much older than me, some thirty-two years my senior, so he was eighty-eight when he died. I know what you are probably thinking, that I was some young, blond bimbo who grabbed hold of an older man for his money and all that. But it wasn’t like that at all. We were genuinely good to each other over all those years and he loved me and I truly loved him, right up to the last.”
“Molly, did you say Ben was thirty-two years older than you. Because, Maggie was eighteen years younger than me. Interesting pair of age gaps.” He paused, “But I’m sure, indeed certain, that Maggie and I had nothing like the relationship that it sounds as though you and Ben had.”
There was something about this evening, something about Molly’s openness, her seemingly sincere interest in his past, that led Philip to open up his heart and his soul. He talked, talked and talked, his flow of recollections of past times broken only by questions from Molly. Questions that always seemed the most exquisitely pertinent ones to ask of him. Questions from this woman who two days previously had met him for the first time.
There were several moments in his recounting of his past years when the emotion caught in his throat; when the corners of his eyes became moist. Unerringly, each time this happened, Ruby looked at him directly with her soft, brown eyes and licked the fingers of his nearest hand. And each time that Ruby licked him Dhalia uncurled herself from the carpet just in front of his feet, stood up and put her paws on his knees.
Molly spoke of how all her rescue dogs offered her so much love and affection. How they seemed to know that this particular human had saved their lives. At a deep, inner level he sensed a common thread. A thread of unconditional love from Molly to these dogs, Ruby to Dhalia, who, in turn, were offering him a feeling of being accepted as worthy of their unconditional love. He started to understand the potential bliss of living with so many dogs in one’s life.
It was an unbelievable evening in which he lost complete track of time but not only that lost the need to even know the time. Thus hours later, when he did look at his watch, he could not believe that it was fast approaching eleven-thirty at night.
“Oh, Molly, I’m so sorry. Seems as though I have just dumped my life story and more on you. How embarrassing. Just look at the time; I’d best be going.” Ruby completely of her own accord slipped off Philip’s lap.
Moments later he stood up and was immediately struck by how far away from everything once familiar to him it all felt now.
They stood just inside the front door.
“Molly, thank you so much for this evening, for letting me practically talk non-stop like that.” There was a pause before he said, “May I ask a favour?”
“Of course, what is it?”
“I would love a hug.”
She silently opened her arms and he just melted into her body. He knew that it had been a long time since he had needed such a hug and a lifetime since a woman had hugged him like this; being hugged by a woman who seemed to be accepting every part of this torn-up man. There was a deep compassion and acceptance flowing from her. Ruby and Dhalia watched them; each vigourously wagging a tail.
4,434 words. Copyright © 2013 Paul Handover