Fergus looks up at me, down at his empty dish in the corner of the laundry room, then back at me again. I could be imagining things, but I think his lip is curling.
“No,” I say to him, as I pull one lot of washing out of the dryer and insert another wet load. “Just — no. You can’t be hungry, not again. It’s impossible. And it’s no good trying to fool me. I know you don’t eat everything in sight when Maggie’s in charge of you. You’re just doing it to annoy me.”
At Maggie’s name, Fergus pricks up his ears, wags his tail, and goes to sit by the back door under the coat hook where I keep his lead.
“Later,” I promise him. “You can see Maggie when Jack has gone to school and I’ve gone shopping with the twins. And in a few days more you’ll be with her all the time. Won’t that be nice?”
Nice for him, and oh-so-blissful for me. I am counting the days until next Wednesday, when Maggie has — hallelujah! — agreed to take Fergus and I can rid myself of this hound for good.
Maggie, though, is looking forward to having him. A couple of burglaries in town last month made her nervous, and she thinks a dog barking around the place will be a good deterrent.
“Besides,” she said, sounding rather sad, “he will be good company when you move house.”
Oliver and I haven’t got a moving date yet, but Maggie isn’t looking forward to losing us as neighbours, although we’ll still be in Woodhaven. We haven’t even found a new house to move into, but lately I’m spending so much time and money in the local supermarket that I’m starting to think we should cut out the middle man and set up home in the checkout line.
When I first arrived here, all I heard from the other wives was how cheap it was to live in America compared with England. “I spend three-and-sixpence a month on food, and have money left over for a jar of caviar and some more diamond earrings.” That kind of thing. After a while I sussed out that the reason the wives spent so little on food from the supermarket is because they ate at restaurants, and the husbands hid the bills on their company expense accounts at the end of the month.
With Oliver being boringly honest and never putting items on expenses unless they’re work-related, my own grocery bills are astronomical. Add in disposable nappies and cans of formula milk for two, and even Wills and Kate in their starter flat at Kensington Palace would balk at the monthly total.
But that’s before we get to the pet food aisle.
Fergus, as I mentioned when I started this journal, is one of the most stylish dogs in the world. Never mind diamanté collars or fluffy dog sweaters like Dr. Lowell’s ridiculous chihuahua wears — for his fashion accessories, Fergus has food allergies. He went on a gluten-free diet long before Lady Gaga did. Not for him the cheapo dog kibble; only the best for Fergus. Special gluten-free dog biscuits, more expensive per pound than Black Angus filet mignon.
Hey. Those biscuits are nothing to do with me.
They were Oliver’s idea. Maybe coddling the dog she gave us is a way of assuaging the guilt he feels towards his mother for abandoning her, or for letting the cat out of the bag about her bigamist husband. Whatever the motive, the upshot is that while normal dogs are happily gnawing on bones and finishing the children’s leftover chicken nuggets, Fergus is lording it with grain-free, venison-and-cinnamon-and-butternut-squash dog treats, at 25 bucks a pound. To even things out, I buy the cheapest canned meat without wheat filler, but he turns his nose up at it most of the time. Only those doggie-deli-delights will do.
Not content with his food’s Michelin 5-star quality, Fergus also has to have it in Supersize Me quantity. It doesn’t matter how often I fill his bowl with these delicate morsels — when I look again, the dish is empty, and Fergus has a mournful expression on his face, begging for seconds.
I told Maggie she should rename him Oliver. Twist, that is, not Patrick.
“But he never eats that much when he stays with me,” she says. “He gets whatever meat the butcher has going cheap, and nothing else. Perhaps he’s got worms.”
I’ve given him enough worming tablets to eradicate the subterranean population of Massachusetts. It’s made no difference.
Fergus is still sitting by the back door, staring up at his lead. Every few seconds he lets out a little whine and shifts from side to side on his front paws.
What the hell. It’s nearly time to go, anyway.
I bundle the twins into their snowsuits and fasten them into their double pushchair. Then I tug Jack’s arms into his big winter coat, and pull the two sides of the front together to do up the zip.
The two sides don’t quite meet. Jack’s got an extra layer of fleece on, admittedly, because it’s so cold here at the moment, but even so…
“I need to buy you more clothes while you’re at school today,” I say to him. “You’ve grown again. You’ve eaten too many cookies. You’re the Cookie Monster!”
“No, Mummy,” he says. “Biscuit Monster!”
“Ah, that’s right. Silly me.”
Jack is rather particular lately about his vocabulary. It’s very sweet. He corrects his American friends if they say “Truck” (“Lorry!”) or “Chips” (“Crisps!”) or, in this case, he corrects his mother for saying “Cookie” instead of “Biscuit.”
I think his obsession started when I got into watching old episodes of Supernanny USA. Supernanny herself is unapologetically Essex and sounds like Jack’s Granny Sandra, even after filming with families in New Jersey for two weeks. But although she talks like my mother-in-law, I like watching the programme because it makes me feel superior after I’ve had a bad day, and I can think “Well, at least I don’t do that.” Occasionally, though, an episode will bring me down to earth, like the one a few weeks ago when this woman had about nine kids who kept diving into packets of fun-sized Milky Ways every five minutes, and then bounced off the walls all day, much to the mother’s bewilderment.
I watched one of the nine children having a tantrum just as Jack lay on the floor, kicking and shouting because I’d taken a clandestine Hershey bar off him, which he was about to eat five minutes before lunch was ready. From then on, all chocolate and sugary things have lived on the top shelf of the pantry where Jack can’t reach them, and I’ve doled them out sparingly, only once a day, in accordance with a big set of Mum’s Rules which I wrote in black marker on poster board immediately after the TV programme ended.
Jack seems to have adapted, though. After one episode on the naughty spot outside the landing linen closet on Boxing Day, he accepted it. I can’t say his tantrums have got much better, though.
With some pushing and huffing, I finally get his coat fastened.
“Ready to go?” I ask him. He nods, as best as he can beneath layers of woolly hat, hood, and scarf.
Fergus barks — once, twice, three times.
I open the back door, and the dog shoots out, straight across the road and up Maggie’s driveway. A Jeep coming down the street slows for him and honks its horn. Fergus looks back briefly. If a dog were physically capable of flipping the bird, Fergus just did it.
Next Wednesday can’t come a minute too soon.
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