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Canine Vanities

by MissP`smisdemeanours 

Posted: 29 January 2005
Word Count: 3443
Summary: What starts as frustration turns into deep psychological trauma.

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“What are you doing!” potato peeler in one hand, potato in the other.
”I’m a policeman, Maggie. Look!” How sad, a child in an old man’s skin.
“I am looking at you and you look ridiculous. Take the hat off and help me peel these potatoes.”
“I’m only having a bit of fun”.
“Get it off, Aubrie!”
“You used to love it when I dressed up”.
“That was many moons ago, love. I don’t care how you look now so long as you’re here to help me with the supper. Now get on with it, please?” pink slippers scuffled out of sight and down the stairs.
Aubrie looked at himself in the wardrobe mirror. I used to have the pick of the ladies on the factory floor. He slid his sailor’s cap off and dropped it onto the bed with a sigh.

Peeling and slicing to Radio 3 with five o’clock shadows over the kitchen floor, Aubrie glanced over at his wife every so often. They had been married for over 41 years. In his eyes, she still looked as beautiful as when he first met her, only more fragile. He missed seeing her eyes crinkle with laughter and her head thrown back at the sky. Their pace of life was slower now and it was all they could do to remember whether they’d been to the loo but that didn’t stop him longing to whisk her round in a foxtrot like they used to do at the Palladium. He paused peeling and stared over at her for a few minutes. Taking in every little curve of her powdered face, watching her eyelashes blink as she concentrated. Suddenly, he snatched a peeling and threw it over into her lap.
“Aggh! What in god’s name …?!” up she jumped, knocking over the wooden chair.
“What in god’s name are you laughing about man?!”
Aubrie slapped his hand onto the table and laughed loudly, his shoulders shaking.
She resumed her position, tutting and banging the peeler on the table as she fidgeted into a comfortable position. Pursing her lips together she glared over at her husband followed shortly by a little smirk. “Honestly, Aubrie!”

“Have you fed her yet?”
“Look! She loves it! She loves it!” Aubrie rowed in a make-believe boat in the middle of the living room.
“She’s winding, that’s all, love.” Maggie waddled into the kitchen carrying a full bag of shopping in each hand.
Emily gurgled on the sofa with her foot in her mouth.
“You think Grandpops looks handsome as a sailor, don’t you, babe?” but his fun was interrupted by Maggie shouting in from the kitchen,
“Put those blimmin’ hats away and give her this milk will you?”
Aubrie sccoped Emily up with a heavy sigh and raised eyes to the ceiling.
“That granny of yours….she needs to have a bit more fun doesn’t she?”
He wished he could be his own man. Enjoy the things he enjoyed without being ridiculed all the time.
“Take that stupid hat off will you? You’re not on the boats any more, concentrate on what you’re doing, man!”
“Oh shut it, Maggie! Bloody moaning and whinging all the bloody time, gets right on my wick it does”.
“You shut your mouth Aubrie! Not in front of Emily!”
He was an old fool. And she was a right pain in the backside.

She looked over at him, asleep on his back with his long wee willie winkie nightcap on. He looked so peaceful, his frosty eyebrows and his wide rubbery lips slightly parted. She put her book gently down and switched off the light. As she snuggled down, she wished he was someone else. Someone more sophisticated. Like Wilson. She wondered what had happened to him? They were set to marry until he slept with that Nurse. What a to-do! had he been killed in action? Maybe they were both looking up at the same moon. Right now. And neither of them even realising the other were still alive and reminiscing.

“You’re not wearing it! NO!”
“Oh come on will you woman! What in heavens name is wrong?”
“We’re going to church, not blimmin’ fox hunting. I’ve had enough of this now, last week was the last straw when wore your deer stalker.”
“Give over! I’m wearing it.” Aubrie patted his top hat angrily and yanked opened the front door.
“You’ll show me up!” Maggie shouted after him.
“Shut the bloody door on your way out!”
He walked proudly down the path, turning into the road. Maggie locked up with an eye on him. He passed pleasantries with Harry, the neighbour, and glanced over to see if Maggie was following. In his tweed Sunday best with his black top hat. His eccentric ways had got worse as he grew older.

In the kitchen, Maggie tried to ignore the drone of the news from the other room as she sat watching the shadows shrouding her. Radio 3 was on quietly and she sat, just staring into space. She wondered how she had gone from such a bustling mother of two to a lonely old woman of 72. What had happened to her life? Aubrie had his obsessive browsing round flea markets for his hats, his trips to the pub with Harry and his war books. What did she have? At one point, her weeks were filled with quilt-making on a Monday, her painting club on a Wednesday, and theatre trips with Connie and Beatrice at the week end, bringing her children up. Connie had moved to Ireland with her daughter some years ago and Beatrice had passed away now. Maggie knew she should have kept her hand in there, continued going to social events, and kept herself active. But she couldn’t. She cried so hard when Connie moved away and then she and Beatrice tried to carry on without her but it was hard. Connie was the energy behind them both. Then B suddenly got cancer and went into a hospice and so her other best friend left her too. Maggie knew she shouldn’t have let her life slip into such a lonely decline but it was hard. She didn’t know anyone now. Her children had busy lives, ok, she looked after Emily but is that all she is good for? She envied Aubrie. Envied men. It was so easy for them. Just pop down to the pub and form an instant rapport with the man on the next stool because you both share a common bond: nagging wives and real ale. Maggie wished she could find something, anything to fill the void.

“sssshhhhhh, ssshhhh……”
Aubrie left the front door open and tiptoed up the corridor. He grabbed one of the walking sticks from the umbrella stand and held it in front of him as he tiptoed into the living room.
“ssshhh…isn’t he beautiful?”
There, in Maggie’s lap, lay a sleeping 10-week old black poodle. Curled up like a ball of black mohair.
Aubrie dropped both his jaw and the cane onto the carpet with a thump and went to join Maggie on the sofa.
“Where did you get him, love?” he ran his large hands over the pup’s tiny fragile body.
“Penny next door gave him to us. Her Olly had pups”.
“Is she selling them? What shall we call him?”
“There are five of them and I thought we could call him Pip, as he looks like a pip, doesn’t he?”
Aubrie picked him up and looked into his sleepy white eyes. He walked with him in his arms into the kitchen, got a bit of last night’s stew and fed him a little from his finger. Maggie watched from the doorway. Aubrie never looked into her eyes like that. She wanted Pip back to cuddle. Something to love of her own.

The hat-collecting had developed in a flea market. Aubrie would inhale the smell and imagine the adventures while Maggie looked for old lamps and teapots. In the beginning, the odd hat or two was fine but now five years later, after 45 of them hanging in the specially built cupboard like a dead showman’s dressing-room, it had started to annoy Maggie. Aubrie seemed to find more joy with those hats then he did with her. Evenings would be spent trying on the new purchase and discussing the enemies and the oceans that it must have seen. Maggie was confused about her irritation. Was it justifiable or did it go deeper? Why would anyone get so upset by their husband having a healthy appetite for hats?

“Aubrie, come and sit with me. Our favourite programme is on now, love”.
“I will, I will. I’m just showing Pip my Beret!” Maggie knew to ask was futile. Look at her. Walking round Sainsbury’s every night for dinner and then Coronation Street with a cup of tea. Hardly an enviable life. She thought of her sister living in London. Out most nights with her over 60-s club going to the theatre, going to tea-dances, visiting friends in Yorkshire. If only Maggie could make friends easier. Perhaps she wouldn’t be here pining for Aubrie’s hand in hers. Perhaps she wouldn’t take things so personally. Perhaps is a very good word.

“Just off to the pub, love”
“Well, leave Pip here, he can keep me company while I watch corrie”.
“No, no, no…he goes everywhere with me, you know that love, and everyone adores him down there now, don’t they Pippy? eh? eh?”
“Oh go on then go.” And she turned back to the television in a huff.
Maggie listened for the closed door and then watched them through the nets as they walked down the road together. Pip skipping next to his dad. Aubrie with his deer-stalker on. There was silence in the house. Absolute silence. Corrie was on but she wasn’t interested. The lamps were on and there was a warm glow in the living room. But she didn’t feel warm. She felt fed-up. Fed-up of being second best. She got that dog in the hope of being able to share him, love and care for him together. But Aubrie and that dog are tied at the flaming hip.

She walked out into the kitchen.
“Oh my god!” Maggie, for once, had slipped out of her slippers and walked into one of Pip’s little parcels in the hall.
“That bloody dog! That bloody bloody dog!”
On her knees scrubbing with hot water and kitchen towels, she suddenly burst into tears and screamed out loud, “THAT’S IT!” she threw down the soiled kitchen towel, threw the bowl of hot water down the hall, water cascading onto the walls and all over the back of the front door, the bowl bouncing off the door.
She stormed into the living room, slammed the door closed causing a picture above to fall crashing onto the carpet. She opened a bottle of sherry ignoring the splinters of glass from the picture and poured herself a large measure. Maggie sobbed as she sipped. Sobbed with frustration. Sobbed at being ignored and forgotten. Fed up with her life and fed up with being the cook, the cleaner and the fishwife. Retirement wasn’t supposed to be like this. She cried like a baby.

When Maggie woke up, the lamps had been switched off and the living room was in darkness. A blanket was now over her and her legs were up on the cushioned stool. She eased the blanket open. On her lap lay a pile of used tissues and an empty sherry glass on its side. She remembered the tears. She lifted herself out of the chair and walked into the hall. The bowl was gone, there were towels on the floor and there was the remainder of Carpet Vanish on Pip’s stain. Upstairs, she stood in the doorway of the bedroom and tears sprung to her eyes. Pip and Aubrie were fast asleep. Pip lay on her pillow stretched out and Aubrie’s body was lying diagonally across the bed with his arm over Pip’s body. Maggie wished her husband would lay his arms over her like that. Protecting her in the night. Maggie lifted Pip off of the pillow and dropped him onto the floor, “Basket Pip!” and sleepy Pip strolled into his basket, whining, and flopping down. As she got comfortable, Aubrie shifted over to the other side. You could fit the world and his wife in-between them. And Maggie fell asleep looking out to the stars.

“What in god’s name are you doing now?”
“Well, I thought I would make Pip a hat!”
“A hat?! He doesn’t need a flaming hat, Aubrie. Good lord! And where did you get all that material from? If that’s the stuff left from our Jenny’s wedding dress, I’ll swing for you!”
“Will you give it a rest woman? Jenny doesn’t need this any more! What are you keeping it for anyway?”
“Never you mind. And where is that dog of yours?”
“He’s in the living room.”
Maggie walked in to find Pip enmeshed in reams of red wool as he rolled over and over wagging his tail, “OH MY GOD! AUBRIE! AUBRIE! GET IN HERE NOW!”
Maggie picked up the wool and let Pip fall to the floor from in-between the tangled mess.
“I can’t leave you alone for 5 minutes can I?”
“Mags, this is stuff in the attic you haven’t looked at for over 5 years!”
“It’s my wool! Not a game of toys for your flaming dog!”
“Oh shut it woman! No harm’s been done!”
“Get out! Get out! Take your bloody dog and get out of my sight! Go on!”
“What is the matter with you? You’ve gone mad!”
“Get out! Get out! You’re under my feet!”
Maggie stuffed the reams of wool back into her old dusty knitting bag and stormed around replacing scattered cushions. She tutted up the stairs slammed the bedroom door and sat on the bed crying silently into her hands. Downstairs she could hear Aubrie cooing over Pip, “come here my babe, come here and have this bit of chicken…”
Maggie couldn’t take much more of this. She threw her knitting bag across the room which flew into the dressing table sending her bottles of perfume and hairbrush flying off. Then she lept up, heaved open the window and threw the knitting bag out into the quiet road. Next she flung open the wardrobe doors and went through her clothes, scraping metal hangers along on the rail furiously. She grabbed clothes off hangers that she hadn’t worn for many years tossing them onto the bed in one big heap.
“Love….?” Aubrie stood with Pip in his arms. He watched his wife. He had never seen her so angry before.
“Leave me alone! Leave me alone!” and Maggie went and closed the door on Aubrie. She turned on the wireless and turned the volume up so that Radio 3 was blaring out Tchaikovsky while the curtains flapped in the winter wind. Maggie gathered up all the clothes in the heap, yanked open the bedroom door and threw the clothes over the banisters sending them parachuting down on top of the stairs. Next came shoes. Shoes she hadn’t worn since the children were small. Tumbling down the stairs.

Aubrie sat in the armchair by the door. He and Pip watched as items of clothing shot down. He was scared. This was a side he hadn’t seen before. But Pip lept out of his arms and raced over to the pile on the stairs and buried himself, rolling over and over, barking and thinking it was a marvellous game. Maggie came storming down, shook open a bin liner and scooped everything up tying knots in the bin liners and putting them out for rubbish.
“I’m having a clear out. Leave me be, Aubrie. Just leave me be.”
“I’m going to the pub…come here Pippy…come on!”
“No! leave Pip here. I….I want him for company….”
“But he always comes with me, Mags”
“I said leave him HERE! Why don’t you ever listen to me!”
Aubrie stood staring. The woman had clearly gone mad.
“Are you still here?” Maggie was sitting on the stairs huffing with her head in her hands and Pip sitting by her feet.
The door closed and Maggie cried. She cried and she cried and she cried at the memories she had just thrown away. And Pip nuzzled against her ankle and whined.

“There you go, Pippy. Eat it all up. Lovely fresh chicken, how daddy does it for you.”
Maggie watched as he gobbled up the meat and she threw the remainder of a little pot into the bin and soaked the pot in a sink of boiling water. The five o’clock shadows had come. Pip gobbled and gobbled and gobbled. Then he strolled to his basket by the back door and flopped down, sighing and licking his lips. Maggie rubbed the pot with a scourer removing the label. Unusually, behind her the remnants of cooking were left. The house was almost in darkness. Curtains had not been drawn, Radio 3 was not on, and the house had not been tidied. Fragments of the label floated on the surface like flaky skin. Maggie scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. She looked over at Pip. He had fallen asleep. Warm and cosy in his basket. She watched as the water sucked it all away down the plughole. Then she went out into the garden without her coat on and began planting the crocus bulbs that had been left by Aubrie. It was 7 o’clock and was already quite dark. She had to feel her way in the earth. She ignored the ringing phone and hummed to herself loudly as she dug and dug and planted. And from her apron pocket she put something into the soil with a crocus bulb and patted it all over. She stared at the flower bed until the ringing phone, again, woke her and she strolled inside.
“Hello love. Are you alright?”
“Fine, fine. What are you doing?”
”I’m just in the middle of something, can I catch you later? Are you all OK? Is Emily ok?”
“All fine, mum, all fine. Are Pip and dad down the pub?”
“Dad is, Pip is here…..he’s sleeping now.”
“Sleeping? I’m amazed you managed to separate dad and Pippy. Good on you, mum. Well, I’ll let you go, will you phone me later on, after we’ve put Emily down?”
“Course, course. Must go. Love you.”

Maggie listened as Aubrie crept in. She looked at the clock. 2 a.m. She knew where he’d been. Having a lock-in at the pub with Arthur, the landlord and his mates, playing poker. He hadn’t played that for years. She switched off Radio 3 to listen. The bedroom door was ajar. She could hear him padding down the hall, calling out, “Pippy, Pippy”. She heard the kitchen light switch on. She heard him mumble in his drunken stupor, “what’s this?”. He’d seen the present she had left for him. She heard the rustle of the tissue paper and heard him mumble again, “how beautiful, how beautiful!” She heard the chair scrape back, she heard him again, “how beautiful, how beautiful!” Aubrie fingered the wide brim, ran his hand over the crown again and again and felt the silky fur. So shiny and curly all over.

She heard him padding up the stairs and her heart beat faster. She could hear her heart beating in her ears. She licked her lips and looked up at the moon through her nets. Aubrie came in.
“Psst…Mags…Mags….are you awake?....”
“I am”
“I’m drunk, love…I’m drunk”
The darkness hid each other as Aubrie snapped off his braces and pushed off his trousers.
“I know…..do you like it then? I heard you open it”
“Mags, it’s beautiful. It’s just beautiful. Where did you get it?”
“From that flea market in town. I ran out of energy clearing out the cupboards……”
“…what happened Mags? Why did you throw away all your old clothes?...” Aubrie slid under the covers and lay on his back.
“……and I saw the perfect hat for you….a hat that you could treasure for life.”
“I love it…I love it…It’s so soft, feels like Best Stuff like dad used to have. Remember dads Best Stuff that he used to wear for special occasions? ” and he turned over away from her.
“Where’s Pip, love? He didn’t come to me when I came home.”

And Maggie turned and put her arms over her husband.
“Night, night, love. Night, night”.

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Comments by other Members

Marj at 20:50 on 29 January 2005  Report this post
Hi there,

Wow, this wasn't what I expected! She didn't really do that to Pip did she? :() This was really enjoyable to read. I could feel for both characters and, although, it was extreme, I felt like I understood why she felt the way she did. I liked your style of writing very much. Not overly fussy or flowery, which I can't stand. I think you really do have en eye for picking up peoples personalities. I could really see this old couple - tired of each other but too old to do anything about it.

Really good story (in my humble opinion!):)

Colin-M at 10:39 on 30 January 2005  Report this post
Hello Lois,

I don't know how much detail you really want, so I only looked closely at the first two chapters. The reason I stopped at that point was because I couldn't picture the scene (on first reading) and found a few stumbling blocks.

Starting in mid conversation is handled well. I especially liked the detail of the potato peeler to establish the scene. It's much better than saying "in the kitchen". I liked the dressing up bit, an old man still acting like a fool, but I stumbled on the line:
How sad, a child in an old man’s skin.

I get it now, but at the time I was thinking about potato skins, so it stopped me in my tracks.

The line:
pink slippers scuffled out of sight and down the stairs.
is a good end to that first paragraph. The next line is a major hiccup because it changes Point of View (POV) from the woman to the man. There have been several threads on this site discussing POV. Some people like to change within a story, some don't, but it is generally agreed that you shouldn't change POV within a paragraph. It confuses the reader. A simple trick to get out of it is to decide who's story this is. Is it Aubrie's, or is it Maggie's? If it's Aubrie's story then only tell us his thoughts. You can still convey Maggie's thoughts but it might be better to do it through actions:
She shook her head and got back to peeling

The repetition of "What in God's name" seems clumsy. Dialogue has to be much tighter than real speech, and although people repeat themselves in real life, it can look odd on the page.

I'll leave it there, though I did skim through the rest. The dialogue seems to drive this story; the narrative holds it back. Particularly, paragraphs like the one beginning, "In the kitchen, Maggie tried to ignore the drone..." (paragraph six) is a long narrative, telling lots of background information. There might be a way of trimming this, or including it in coversation, or even better, an argument, and letting the reader find out that way.

One last thing: far, far too many mentions of Radio 3. If you establish that channel as her favourite, or preferred channel early on, you can just say "went back to her radio programme" the rest of the way through.

Hope this helps.

Colin M

Beadle at 12:48 on 02 February 2005  Report this post
Hi Lois

I felt you created a very good feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness in old age, so I could sympathise with Maggie's plight. Aubrie was an annoying old so, but it also meant that reading about him was annoying. I didn't have any sympathy for him.

I think you overplayed Maggie’s unhappiness. This was clear by the interaction between the pair, but then you rammed it home with her inner thoughts about her lost friends, walking around Sainsbury's etc. It probably would have been more effective just to describe her lonely shopping trips, or empty spaces at the sewing club.

There seemed to be a lot crammed into 3,000 odd words and I found it a little exhausting to read. Personally I did not like the way you often started a section in the middle of dialogue, and I was completely thrown by the first par about dressing up and pink slippers. I thought that maybe Aubrie was a tranny!

At first I thought this was going to be a gentle little story and then I saw the anger rising, which shifted the atmosphere. The twist was unexpected, but it wasn't completely clear what she had done. Maybe that was your intention? Perhaps if you slipped in a mention of her making hats earlier, thus feeding Aubrie’s fixation, the ending might have been punchier.

The line you plot from lonely wife, to child substitute dog, Aubrie effectively taking to dog from her, and then Maggie's revenge is a great story. I think it needs to be trimmed down to a stronger, slimmer narrative with perhaps a few more twists or shocks along the way.

The exchanges between the pair are very realistic at times - I have heard my aged parents having similar 'rows' - but I think if they were less frequent and used them to convey important plot points and her unhappiness, it would make it all the more stronger.


Kara at 08:58 on 04 February 2005  Report this post
I enjoyed the story but found the bit about the baby a distraction- because of the title I thought this was the dog. There's a lot of good stuff in this story, it would show up better if it was made a little less complicated, best wishes

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