by Sandra Arnold
Harmony at the bottom of the stairs, ear on the door. Aunty Belle’s words drift down from the landing. A new litter of miniature Yorkshire terriers. Ready two days before Harmony’s birthday. Her mother’s muted response. Her father asks about house-training and exercise. Harmony claps both hands over her mouth. Aunty Belle again. At twelve, Harmony is old enough to be responsible for the puppy’s care. Having an animal to look after will pull her out of her bubble. While Harmony wonders what bubble Aunty Belle is referring to, an indignant flow of words from her mother blocks clarification. Silent seconds. Then her father coughs and asks how much a puppy would cost. Aunty Belle says she’ll find out.
For the next two weeks Harmony spends every lunchtime in the school library reading up on dogs and their training. She memorises every detail to make sure she knows exactly how to care for the new puppy from the moment it becomes hers. She spends her pocket money on a puppy brush and a bright red puppy collar and leash and keeps them hidden in her desk at school. She’ll make sure her mother is impressed with her knowledge and the way she trains the puppy to have good manners. She’ll make sure her father’s belief that dogs are filthy and flea-ridden will evaporate as he watches Harmony brush the puppy’s coat every day until it gleams and he’ll realise that dogs aren’t dirty if they’re properly cared for.
She finds photographs of miniature Yorkshire terriers in the library books and her heart swells so much at the sight of them she has to hide in the deserted reference section for the whole of one lunch hour while she sits on a box and weeps.
In class she pretends to listen to the teacher while her head swirls with puppy names. She settles on the most beautiful one she can think of. Despite her best efforts she can’t keep a secret of this magnitude to herself, so she tells her classmates that she is getting a puppy for her birthday. A miniature Yorkshire terrier. Name of Silver. She shows them the brush and collar she will use on Silver and takes them to the library to look at the photographs in the books. The classmates ooh and aah and stare at her in a different way. They aren’t usually in the habit of talking to her at all unless it’s to tell her she’s weird, but when they hear the news about the puppy and see the brush and the red collar and the photos they beg her to invite them to her birthday party so they can see Silver for themselves. They promise to bring puppy biscuits and a blanket as birthday presents and ribbons to tie back the hair from Silver’s eyes. Harmony explains that her mother doesn’t like people coming to the house because of the mess and noise they make, so no, there’ll be no party, but she promises to take a photograph of Silver and bring it to school.
On the morning of her birthday Harmony leaps out of bed after a night full of dreams. She dresses in a flash and heads straight for the kitchen. Her mother is busy setting the table for breakfast. In Harmony’s place at the table a card and a small parcel lean up against her cup. She opens it. Pictures of balloons. Happy birthday Harmony. Love from Mum and Dad. Her mother smiles. ‘Dad had to go to work early,’ she says, ‘but he’ll be back in time for a small lunchtime celebration and so will Aunty Belle.’ Harmony opens the parcel next to the card. Two dead hands lie inside. Harmony jumps backwards in fright before it dawns on her what she’s looking at. She glances around the room. No sign of a puppy.
Her mother frowns. ‘Harmony, I have the impression you’re disappointed with your birthday present.’
A splinter wedges itself in Harmony’s heart. A lump threatens to close her throat and cut off her breathing.
Her mother is staring at her. ‘Harmony?’
She knows the drill. ‘Of course I’m not disappointed. Thank you. They’re beautiful gloves.’
‘Try them on.’
She pulls them over her hands. ‘Perfect fit. Thank you.’
‘Good. Now put them back in the box and help me to tidy the house before Aunty Belle arrives.’
Harmony goes to her room, leans against the door and closes her eyes. After a minute she takes all the pens from inside her desk and arranges them on the lid in a row according to length from longest to smallest and places each pen the same distance apart, checking that the top line is perfectly straight. Then she goes to the laundry and takes out the window cleaner and a couple of cloths. She’ll clean every window in the house, inside and out. She’ll vacuum the whole house. She’ll scrub the kitchen floor until it gleams. Her mother will tell her she’s a good girl. When Aunty Belle arrives, Harmony will show her the new gloves and turn them this way and that as if she’s admiring them. She won’t ask Aunty Belle about Silver. She won’t utter a single word about miniature Yorkshire terrier puppies. She’ll tell her classmates at school that she has changed her mind.
Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in Canterbury, New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent are a flash fiction collection, Soul Etchings (Retreat West Books, UK, 2019) and a novel, The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell (Mākaro Press, NZ, 2019). Her flash fiction and short stories have been widely published and anthologised in New Zealand and internationally. www.sandraarnold.co.nz