Copyright is held by the author.
ARNIE NEVER missed a day visiting his mother in the retirement home I ran. The two of them had lived in the city together until her admission here. She was widowed early in her life, left to raise Arnie alone. Arnie had never married, never left home really. Oh, he was away for a stint in the army, managed to come back intact, and then focused on making a home for his mother while he worked at the local auto factory. Never missed a day, got the gold watch and chain, and when he retired splurged on an old camper van he drove around town. It was his first vehicle, so late in life. He’d walked to work every day — rain, sleet, hail or otherwise, just like the postal service. Then his mother had taken ill, and Arnie could not keep up with the medications, the appointments, the personal care. It was too much and both of them agreed she would be far better off in an assisted living facility. God knew, he had the money for it. So did she, left with a fat pension from her banker husband. They had lived frugally; Ella, being a war bride from the UK, wasted nothing.
Today Arnie was taking Ella to see the leaves. It was late September, and the views even during my short drive to work were breathtaking.
“Top of the morning, Madam.” Arnie always called me “Madam.” Made me feel like the facility was filled with young girls waiting for their nightly customers. Quite the opposite, it was filled with elderly residents waiting for their nightly sleeping pills and laxatives.
“And to you, Arnie. What are you hiding under your jacket?” He usually stopped to joke around a bit on his way to Ella’s room.
“Why, it’s a huge big gun. I’m about to rob ye blind! Har Har Har!” His eyes twinkled with mischief as always.
“Good luck with that, Arnie. Deposit was yesterday, and all I have is a Tim Horton’s card with 52 cents on it, and four whole dollars in the petty cash jar. Have at it, my friend. You don’t even need to bring out the gun. No, seriously, what’s under the jacket? I saw it move.”
“Why don’t ye pop yer wee butt off that chair and come see for yourself.” Flirting as usual, totally harmless, but an inveterate flirt. I could not believe some unsuspecting female had not fallen for his charm in all these years.
I took him up on his offer and groped inside the jacket, hoping it wasn’t a pet boa or some such reptile. I would have fainted dead away on the spot. But no, my hand was being thoroughly licked by a tiny tongue. A bat? Kitten? Too small for a puppy. Least I thought so. I was wrong.
“Meet Amber, Madam. She’s a miniature Chihuahua puppy, just left her mother. Fits in my coffee cup don’t you know. And fierce! She near sent the mailman to hospital this morning, tore a hole right through his pant leg. Just protecting her old daddy, the sweet thing.”
Well I wasn’t much for yappy lap dogs, much preferring Labs and Collies for pets — dogs with substance and a purpose. But even I had to admit Amber was a cute little handful. Arnie was completely and utterly taken with her. He had tied a pretty pink bandanna around her neck, and gazed upon her with adoring eyes.
“I’ll just take her down to Mother for a wee peek, if you don’t mind. We’re going out for a drive and I don’t want Mother to be surprised at her new seat mate.” Confident I wouldn’t stop him (there were no pets allowed here, but she hardly qualified as a pet, more like a bit of pocket lint), Arnie strode down the hallway, his prize hidden from view of the other residents. They would have descended upon him had they seen Amber. Many had had to give up pets on entering the residence, and I felt bad about that. I was doing my best to throw that silly rule out the window. The benefits of residents having their pets would far outweigh the disadvantages, and I felt the board was close to making a decision in the residents’ favour. The Residents’ Council was meeting tonight with the board, and I was fairly certain by the end of the week, Amber would be allowed to sit in Ella’s room or wander the halls ad lib.
“I’ll be back to sign Mother out in a few minutes.”
I got busy with the phone and paper work, as is the lot of the facility boss, and almost forgot that Ella was leaving until she and Arnie appeared in front of my desk.
“Kor, she’s going to love this ride, Madam!”
I heartily agreed. It had been a hard winter for Ella, and months since she had felt up to going out at all.
“You take good care of her, Arnie. Are you stopping for lunch anywhere?” If he hadn’t planned on that, I would get Ella a bag lunch from the kitchen.
“Ach, no. She doesn’t eat that much, and what she does eat I have in a bowl for her in the back. I thought about a cage, but I think she would rather ride up front with me and see the lovely scenery.”
Indeed. “Of COURSE she should ride up front with you. It would be mean to have her rattling around in that camper by herself in the back.”
“Yes, and I like to keep her beside me so I can see when she has to ‘go’ you know. She has this little wiggle I have learned to recognize.”
Well, only Arnie would know that. They had lived together for a lifetime. Ella was totally dependent on him when she arrived at our doorstep.
“But Arnie, if you’re going way out the back highway, there won’t be any toilets or anything. Should you maybe make sure she has a pad on?”
“You women. I’m certainly not putting a pad on her. No, I’ll just stop at the side of the road. She can go in the bush. That’s the way she was trained, none of this pad stuff. A good strong leash is all we need. Although in her case, she is very obedient for her age. I don’t need to put a rope around her neck. ”
“Trained?” I now felt I knew why no woman had been lucky enough to be Arnie’s wife. He was a monster.
“Ella, are you fine going on this trip with Arnie? I can send a staff member with you, you know.”
Ella smiled sweetly at me. “No, no. No worries. Arnie takes such good care of me. I am looking forward to this ride. If I were a few years younger and my eyes were better, I would grab the wheel and drive myself, but I will have to settle for the front seat beside little Amber.
“Amber?” I croaked. Of course, Amber. Who else would he be taking to the bush for a pee. Why else would he need a leash? With a huge sigh of relief, I waved goodbye and settled back to work. Arnie, Amber and Ella would have a great day. But visions of Ella squatting to pee with her neck chain and leash took a long time to disappear.