“Mum’s in the loo,” the young girl told him. “She takes forever. I mean literally for ever.”
Frank sat. This had been his mother’s idea. “You’ve got to meet people, Frankie Boy. You’re thirty-five. Upload a photo. Invent something about yourself. Look how it’s helped me.”
Frank wondered whether Leslie, his internet date, would be like his mother. God, he hoped not.
“Is this your first time?” the girl asked.
“You don’t know what she looks like, do you.”
“I saw her photo.”
The girl laughed derisively. “Did she tell you she was Buddhist?”
“That’s her Buddha.” The girl pointed with her varnished toenail. “After dad drowned she got totally into reincarnation.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
The girl shrugged. “They never, like, actually dredged him up. His flipper washed up on the beach with our phone number on it. Probably a shark.”
“Mum thinks his soul’s come back in Monty.”
“Our poodle. She swears it’s dad. She lets him sit in dad’s chair and everything. She’s nuts. But don’t say anything unless you want to blow it.”
Frank heard a toilet flush, then woofing. A woolly eared creature bounded in and sat on the recliner, followed by an older, larger, blonder version of the girl.
“Oh hi, Frank! I’m Leslie. So lovely to meet you. Please, sit down. I see you’ve already met my daughter. Let me introduce you to Monty, the man of the house. Monty! Please don’t mind him, Frank. Monty thinks he owns this place. Silly Monty! Don’t get upset about Frank. He’s just visiting. For now…”
Leslie bent forward and reminded the poodle of the bargain she’d struck with it — that it could spend time with other lady dogs so long as she could date other men. The daughter winked behind her mother’s back. Frank gulped as Monty bounded to him, pawed his crotch and stared with doggy eyes as if about to speak.
When Leslie asked where Frank was taking her he stammered. “I don’t know. I don’t eat out much.”
“Oh, there’s a lovely place in Bondi Road. We used to go there a lot. They always give me doggie bags. Monty loves it. Don’t you, my darling. Yes, you do. That’s right, you do. You do love Pierre’s.”
Frank watched his date lavish attention on the animal as it danced around twanging its toilet brush tail. Every pet expression, every kiss she blew, seemed to indicate a deeply intimate relationship.
“I’m not sure about French food. My cholesterol’s a bit high — I mean it’s not really high — but it sort of runs… and French…”
Monty interrupted with a loud yap and then high tailed it from the room.
“Monty. Monty! Oh, that animal. He’s my husband all over again. Completely ignores me.”
The poodle trotted back triumphantly clenching between his canines an object that made Frank do a double take. It was a black Voit scuba diving fin with a phone number daubed on its underside in white correcting fluid.
“Oh, Monty! Where on earth did you get that old piece of rubbish?”
“He found it in the garage with me the other day,” the daughter explained. “He was chewing it.”
“Oh, you silly thing, Monty. What are you going to do with that?”
In answer Monty released the flipper in Frank’s lap then stared him in the face.
“You can’t play catch with that,” Leslie admonished. But Monty wasn’t having a bar of it. He pawed and growled. “Monty. Oh dear, I’m sorry, Frank, I think Monty’s taken an interest in you. What are you going on about, Monty? Do you want to tell Frank something? What is it?”
“Excuse me, but can I use your bathroom?”
“Of course, Frank. It’s down the hall on the left. Mind the lock,” Leslie called after him. “Sometimes it jams.”
He slammed the door. From the outside Monty worked the knob with his unclipped nails while Frank stood rooted to the bath mat, the howls of doggie frustration sounding like a werewolf in his ears. He clapped his pockets, fumbling for his inhaler.
There was only one way out, it seemed. The window. He’d seen this in cartoons. True, this window wasn’t one of the opening variety. But he had his Leatherman and the putty was weak. He scaled the rear fence without looking back.
Leslie gave her date ten minutes before she tapped. “Frank? Are you okay?” She saw the lock had jammed. “Help me, can’t you?” With her daughter’s aid she performed the lifting and twisting manoeuvre needed to release the latch, only to discover Frank had bolted. “I don’t believe it! He’s pissed off out the window. Why on earth would he want to do that?”
“I don’t think he liked Monty,” her daughter remarked with a curled lip.
“What do you mean? They were getting on fine.”
“When you were in here he told me he lived in Korea once and ate dogs in restaurants.”
“Oh, yuck. Really?” said Leslie. She sighed with frustration. “Now who am I going to get to put this glass back?”
“Ha, ha. Very funny.” Back in the lounge room Lesley kicked the black flipper out of her path. “God, I wish your father would come round and collect all that junk of his in the garage. I’m sick to death of it. There’s not even any room to park the car.”
“I’ll tell him next weekend. Can I go on the internet?”
“Again? What for?”
“To download some more shows.”
“Why didn’t you do it earlier?”
“Because I just thought of it now.”
Violations of copyright at short notice were this young lady’s speciality.
Simon Barker is an Australian living in Sydney, though for a number of years he lived in the Bay Area of California. His writing has appeared in Eclectica, Word Riot, Identity Theory, Storyglossia, Faultline, Water~Stone Review and elsewhere. His 2009 story ‘Tarzan of the Danube’ was nominated by decomP for a Pushcart Prize.