“Oh, for heaven’s sake, let him out,” Mrs. Entwhistle said to her hostess, Pearl Entwhistle.
Pearl was her sister-in-law – Floyd’s “baby sister,” as he referred to her until his dying day. Within the family she was never called anything but Baby Pea, supposedly Floyd’s early effort to say her name. But Mrs. Entwhistle simply could not utter it. Baby Pea, for a person in her seventies? No, there was no way that name would ever pass her lips.
Mrs. Entwhistle was having lunch with Pearl, something the ladies did as infrequently as possible. Despite more than fifty years as inlaws, a certain distance remained. However, they kept up a token relationship out of respect for Floyd’s memory.
Seated in Pearl’s pink dining room, they dipped their spoons daintily into cold consommé that Pearl considered a hearty lunch. Mrs. Entwhistle thought longingly of the leftover beef stew in her refrigerator at home. Oh, well, she’d have it for dinner. Early dinner.
The captive in question was Pearl’s big, black Labrador retriever, Zeus. Like many Labradors, Zeus never left puppyhood behind. He loved to romp and run in circles, splash in any available body of water and then shake himself, soaking everything within a wide radius.
That Pearl should have a dog like Zeus boggled Mrs. Entwhistle’s mind. Pearl, with her sequined toilet tissue covers, her lace curtains, her floral dresses. If ever anyone was a teacup poodle person, it would be Pearl. And yet there was Zeus, throwing himself against the basement door, baying broken-heartedly at such volume that conversation had to be suspended.
“He might as well sniff me and get it over with,” Mrs. Entwhistle said resignedly. “That dog can’t stand not to be in the middle of things.”
“I’ll just get him, then, if you’re sure you don’t mind,” Pearl said, heading for the door with fussy little steps. She opened it with a smile of delight, unleashing eighty pounds of muscles and energy. Zeus exploded into the dining room and crashed into Mrs. Entwhistle’s chair, knocking it several inches off center.
“Zeus! Bad doggie,” Pearl cooed. “Sit! Sit!”
Ignoring Zeus’s disinclination to do so, Pearl sat down herself, shook out her napkin and picked up her soup spoon, as oblivious as if the Hound of the Baskervilles lived at some other address. Mrs. Entwhistle’s napkin went sailing, victim of an enthusiastic paw. Her consommé sloshed out of the bowl as Zeus put his saucer-sized front feet on the table to check out the menu. Doggie kisses fogged her eyeglasses and her lap was thoroughly inspected.
“Now, then, Zeus,” she said, with all the firmness she could muster. “That’s enough. Sit.”
Zeus’s rear end hit the floor as he looked up at her with a grin. He recognized an Alpha human when he saw one, but he couldn’t help that his tail, revolving like a helicopter rotor, propelled him once again into action. Mrs. Entwhistle endured Zeus’s spade-shaped head pushing up under her arm. She tolerated his furry weight when he sat on her feet and leaned on her legs. Finally, tired out by his own exuberance, Zeus stretched out on his side with a long groan and went to sleep.
Pearl stepped into the kitchen and came back with dessert: her signature lemon bars and Earl Grey tea in a blue china pot. She was famous for those lemon bars, and Mrs. Entwhistle perked up. Conversation flowed more easily, primed by sugar and relief that lunch was almost over.
Mrs. Entwhistle felt Zeus stir at her feet, but for once the dog left her alone. Her attention was firmly fixed on the lemon bars, anyway. Just as she accepted her third, she saw out of the corner of her eye that Zeus was walking around the dining room with a handbag dangling from his neck. Her handbag.
Created out of scraps from her old dresses and Floyd’s shirts, and even some of the kids’ clothes, Mrs. Entwhistle spent hours piecing, sewing and quilting that bag. It was precious to her, and certainly not meant to be soaked in dog slobber. Zeus wore a bemused expression, but he was nothing if not a good sport. Since he found himself somehow carrying a purse – well, he’d just make the best of it. His life, after all, was full of inexplicable surprises.
The ladies’ eyes met across the table, Pearl’s wide with apprehension. They turned their gazes to Zeus, who wagged his tail vigorously, sweeping a small scatter rug into the next room. He looked from one face to the other, his teeth bared in a doggy smile, then bowed over his front legs in the classic canine invitation to play. Mrs. Entwhistle never could resist the ridiculous. She leaned her face on her hands and laughed until tears fell on Pearl’s white tablecloth.
Zeus, delighted to be the focus of such goodwill, capered around the room tossing his head. Small objects were flung forth from the bag, orbiting the big dog like satellites – Mrs. Entwhistle’s lipstick, her coin purse, her address book, her ballpoint pen.
“I’m so sorry, Cora,” Pearl said, her hands fluttering. “Zeus! Bad dog! Come here!”
Predictably, Zeus ignored her. Mrs. Entwhistle finally lifted her head, wiped her eyes on her napkin, and regained her composure except for a few stray giggles. Zeus came to sit at her feet, gazing fondly into her eyes. She slipped the purse strap over his head and restored her scattered possessions.
“Oh, my,” she said. “A laugh like that – you couldn’t buy it with cash money.”
“You’re not mad, Cora?” Pearl asked, anxiety puckering her face. “Zeus didn’t mean any harm.”
“No, I’m not mad. In fact, I don’t remember when I’ve had such a good time. It’s a day to remember, Baby Pea.”
(This is an excerpt from the book, Mrs. Entwhistle, available on Amazon.)