Read by Susan Moisan
The day Sophia found the last chair in her flat was down to three legs was the day she decided things had to change. She had nothing to sit on, no job, an ex-dog and an ex-boyfriend. The dog had gone. The ex-boyfriend had stayed.
“Go!” she had instructed the ex months earlier.
“No,” he had replied, staying exactly where he was.
The dog, well, she missed the dog. Fido, he had been called; a St Bernard who had arrived with the ex and with an appetite for four cans of dog food and half a box of biscuits a day. At night, as the lovers had snuggled down, starlight twinkling magic across their duvet, Fido pawed his way up the bed to lie between them. Laughing, the pair would disentwine to hold hands across the dog’s back as they fell asleep contentedly to the animal’s purring snores.
And so life for the three of them had passed in blissful harmony for many months until the day when Sophia had, as usual, tied Fido to the street sign outside Hari and Karim’s, patted him on the head and entered the super-convenience-corner store. That was the last she had seen of Fido, for when she emerged with her yoghurt only five minutes later, the dog had disappeared. Crying bitterly over her soured milk, Sophia had run home to be consoled by her boyfriend.
The anticipated loving embrace had proved, however, to be as absent as the dog. Her boyfriend said she hadn’t taken due care of his dog. He said she hadn’t tied him up properly. She said of course she had, she always tied the dog up properly. What was he accusing her of, not tying the dog up properly or something? Yes, exactly that, he had replied. And in a blink their relationship was over.
While the absence of the dog and the continued presence of her ex-boyfriend dispatched Sophia to a world of quiet anguish, the ex’s grief had taken an entirely different form. He sat on her sofa, day in, day out, and with the penknife an uncle had given him years earlier he began to carve small people out of four-inch sections of wood which he sawed from the legs of her chair.
“What the fuck are those things?” Sophia asked about the row of coarse wooden dolls with dollopy noses which appeared on the window sill.
“A dream carved in wood,” he replied. “Work in progress,” he added, doing the speech mark thing with his fingers.
Sophia decided the ex had gone mad and determined never to speak to him again.
With the ex spending all his time whittling, it came as no surprise to Sophia when his boss called and said that the ex needn’t bother coming in to work any longer if he couldn’t be bothered, which the ex said he guessed he couldn’t.
Seeing no chance of any rent coming her way from the now unemployed ex, Sophia took to nipping back from work at odd times and loitering outside her flat, hoping to catch him out so she could change the locks and banish him from her life forever. But the ex continued to sit and carve, and as he carved his face hardened, his movements stiffened and he seemed to shrink – perhaps a lack of nutrition, for she certainly wasn’t feeding him.
Sophia’s vigilance was to be her undoing as, not many weeks later, she was called into her boss’s office to be informed that she had been sacked for poor time-keeping, poor attendance and generally being crap at her job.
With no dog to walk or job to go to, Sophia devoted her day to cleaning the flat, methodically polishing with the finest beeswax polish anything that didn’t move, including the little dolls whose features were becoming finer and whose cute little hands were now almost lifelike.
In this way the pair passed their time; the ex maintaining his moral high ground over the loss of his dog while carving the furniture; Sophia silently cleaning. And so they would have remained, him content in his discontent, her in many ways simply content, until the day that Sophia discovered her last usable chair was missing a leg.
“Rent,” she broke her silence.
The ex shaped and shaved as though deaf, putting all his efforts into turning a small piece of chair leg into a woman with a cloth in her hand.
“Now, or you’re out.” Her voice was raised.
“You lost my dog,” he reminded her in a voice dusty through lack of use.
He did almost have a point except for one error in fact.
“Our dog,” she corrected, which was a mistake, as by responding she had foolishly indicated that she was prepared to discuss the issue.
“By failing to correctly secure him,” the ex continued.
Sophia recovered quickly.
“Out.” She pointed to the door.
“No.” The ex sat back, blowing the sawdust from the eyes of the little woman cupped delicately in his hand.
What could Sophia do in the face of such resistance?
“OK then,” she said and, with a quick polish to the ex’s small, knotty foot, she left the flat.
When she returned she brought Hari with her. Hari had assisted in the original search for Fido, partly as he felt somewhat responsible because the dog had been left outside his shop, but mainly as he had correctly foreseen the resultant drop in dog food sales when the animal could not be found. He had a fondness for the girl and a certain sympathy due to the ex’s systematic destruction of her furniture.
“Tell him, Hari,” Sophia instructed.
Hari took a deep breath.
“I am to tell you,” he started, “that this young woman here tied the dog called Fido up correctly outside my shop.”
“See,” said Sophia.
The ex failed to see anything, particularly what Hari had to do with the matter. He expressed his feelings by sitting tight.
“She tells me you will not go,” Hari continued, being forced by the ex’s intransigence to augment the rehearsed script. “That is not being fair to the young woman who needs to get on with her life. Perhaps she will meet another man, get another dog. She cannot be doing that with you here not paying rent and cutting up her furniture. Would you like me to say more?” he ended by asking Sophia.
Sophia shook her head.
“I will leave then,” Hari concluded.
After Hari had gone the ex’s head dipped forwards and a tear fell from the tip of his nose onto the head of the wooden doll. And in the subtle dusk light seeping past the dolls on the windowsill he appeared to diminish even further, become almost insignificant, and so very still.
The following morning Sophia awoke to find in the ex’s place on the sofa three delicate carvings; a man with his head inclined, his left arm around a woman who was smiling up at him, duster in hand. And in his right hand was a leash leading to a St Bernard dog.
(c) Ruth Brandt, 2014
Ruth Brandt is at Kingston University studying MFA Creative Writing. Her short stories have appeared in the Take Tea with Turing Anthology, Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology Volume 4, Litro,Candis, Yours and Ireland's Own. She lives in Surrey, has two delightful sons and is working on a historic novel.
Susan Moisan graduated from Drama Studio London. Credits: Lady Agatha Proudcock in Oswald's Return (OSO Arts Centre); We Are Gods (White Bear Theatre); Hatchepsut in Zipporah (George Wood Theatre, Goldsmiths) Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Central Film School's short film The Factory. She has also played a number of roles in new writing for radio.