“You don’t have to come,” said Ben.
“I’ll come,” said Merlyn. “I’m pleased that you are seeing someone. I just didn’t know.”
“She’s a shrink,” said Ben. “Not a date.”
Merlyn ignored that comment.
“She sent my next appointment time,” said Ben, “and suggested I bring you because ‘the therapeutic process can then be applied to current relationship issues.’ Her words. Not mine.”
Both Merlyn and Ben were silent at the prospect of what that might mean. Feeling that the heat of the sessions could be partially diverted onto someone else, Ben was more in favour of couple therapy than he would have previously imagined. He secretly hoped that Esther would find things in Merlyn that he was unable to articulate.
“You said she’s younger than us,” said Merlyn.
“Yes,” said Ben, “but don’t let that put you off. She’s easy to talk to. The whole thing is easy.” Ben felt the lie of that bubble up through his stomach.
The one-hour counselling session went by very smoothly and rather pleasantly. For some reason, Esther approached this session in an entirely different manner. Towards the end, she asked both of them to say three good things that they honestly valued about the other person.
“You first, Ben,” said Esther.
“Okay,” said Ben gathering his thoughts. “You are kind. “
Merlyn smiled appreciatively.
“You are smart,” he continued.
Merlyn raised her eyebrows.
“I mean,” said Ben, “you’re not smart like Esther.”
Merlyn lowered one eyebrow.
“Because Esther is very educated,” said Ben. Feeling that the conversation needed to be redirected, Ben added, “You are smart, in yourself, Merlyn.”
Merlyn accepted that.
Esther urged Ben on, “And one more thing.”
Ben became quiet and said, “You love me.”
“And you, Merlyn?” said Esther.
“You are funny,” said Merlyn. “You make me laugh.”
“You are handsome,” said Merlyn.
Ben straightened his posture.
“Actually, it’s not so much that,” said Merlyn introspectively.
“It’s that you are handsome to me,” said Merlyn.
Ben frowned more.
Esther intervened in a matter of fact way, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
“I know good-looking women,” said Merlyn following that train of thought, “who are not good inside and…”
Deciding to abandon that conversation, Ben said, “One more thing, Merlyn.”
“You are a wonderful dancer.” Merlyn said it as if that would, obviously, be at the top of anyone’s list.
Ending the session, Esther said, “That’s enough of a good thing for now.”
“Are you staying?” asked Ben as they left E. G. Psychology and walked the few streets back to the State Ballet.
“I can’t,” said Merlyn. “We haven’t had a chance to talk lately but I have things to tell you.” A chance to talk was used very loosely.
“Yes?” said Ben.
“I found somewhere to rent in Waldmeer,” said Merlyn. “Actually, I didn’t find it. Malik from Waldmeer Warriors did. When I was last there, I mentioned to him that I was looking for somewhere. There are no long-term rentals available in Waldmeer; only holiday houses and they are way too expensive. I thought Malik might hear of something available to local people. He said the family across the road from him had an empty granny-flat because the old lady who lived there recently died. When he asked the owners, they were reluctant but said yes on one condition.”
“What’s the condition?” asked Ben.
“The lady had an old dog,” said Merlyn. “It comes with the flat. It’s a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.”
“A what?” asked Ben.
“You know,” said Merlyn, “a Cavalier. Those little brown and white dogs with long ears. They’re not the smartest dog in the world but they love everyone and are very gentle. Her name is Bella.” Ben didn’t look like he cared what her name was. He didn’t want a dog. He certainly didn’t want an old, dumb dog.
“You know I don’t want a dog,” said Ben. “I thought we were supposed to be working together. And I don’t want a tiny flat on someone else’s property.”
Merlyn knew that Ben had a point…or two.
“There isn’t anything else available,” she said. “I need to be in Waldmeer. It’s important. To me.” After a pause, she added, “And Bella was pleading with me to take her.”
Seeing the emotion in Merlyn’s eyes, Ben groaned.
“Can you please give it a try?” said Merlyn. “If it doesn’t work, we will think of something else.”
Ben wasn’t so sure that she would think of something else or that there was something else to be thought of.
“I’ll come this weekend,” sighed Ben. “Anyway, I have an offer on Store Creek and I need to stop there on the way to you.”
In Heaven and On Earth
When Merlyn arrived back in Waldmeer, late that afternoon, she let Bella out, fed her, and continued with the task of cleaning the granny-flat. Although the bulk of the old lady’s things had been thrown out, some memorabilia were still scattered between the few rooms. They were mostly dog-related. A mug which said, A dog is the only thing on Earth that loves you more than you love yourself. (Josh Billings). On the wall was an old-fashioned picture of various dog breeds which said, If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went. (Will Rogers). Merlyn hoped that wherever the lady was, there were dogs there.
“You probably miss her,” said Merlyn as she patted Bella on the head. “Never mind, I’ll look after you.”
Bella didn’t look particularly sad. For all their love, Cavaliers are accept-the-moment-as-it-is type dogs. Given an open door or a hole in the fence, Cavaliers will happily trot off, blissfully unaware of danger, trusting that the world is merely waiting for their smiling appearance.
On the opposite end of the scale are German shepherds. Ever alert for the slightest trouble, they are not at all trusting that the world is fine. Errant open doors and fence holes are cause for stress; not for happy adventuring. And therein lay a problem. Bella was not the only dog that the lady owned. Bella had a German shepherd brother, Albert, or Bertie as the lady was fond of calling him. The owners of the flat had given him to the Waldmeer car yard to use as a guard dog. Although Albert was a senior citizen, himself, he still had the German shepherd fire. He was capable of guarding but he did not consider the car yard his to guard. At every opportunity, he escaped the yard and found his way back to the granny-flat. He would lie at the door, waiting patiently for his mistress to return. He could not accept that she was not coming back. German shepherds get heartbroken about things like that. This had already happened twice and, each time, the car yard owner came to fetch him.
That evening, Merlyn settled into her snug bed and looked at Bella already asleep on the mat. She was fairly sure that the lady let Bella sleep on the bed but Merlyn was strict about that.
“Beds are for humans only,” she would scold at the bottomless, brown eyes.
On hearing muffled scuffling outside, Merlyn hesitantly opened the front door to a large dog. She assumed it was the German shepherd that had lived there. The owners of the flat had already told her the story. Albert looked at her cautiously and seemed to be deciding something. Dogs decide things very quickly and instinctively. They rarely change their minds. He relaxed his ears, put his head down, and went inside. He was big for a little house but was accustomed to manoeuvring his Heffalump body in and around the tight space. Bella’s arthritis didn’t allow her to easily jump up. Heading straight for her, Albert curled around Bella so that they made a circle like Yin and Yang. Albert stared at Merlyn, breathed out, closed his eyes, and went into a deep sleep. He was home. He knew it. Bella knew it. Merlyn knew it. It was only Ben who was yet to find out!