Lucy dropped her schoolbag in the hall and ran through to the kitchen.
“Where is he, Mummy? Where’s Fluffy?”
Lucy’s mother turned from the sink and dried her hands on a tea towel.
“Sit down, sweetheart; I’ve got some news.”
Lucy’s young forehead creased. She glanced around the laminated floor; it was clean and had the freshly-mopped fragrance of pine disinfectant. There was not a trace of Fluffy to be seen.
“Where is he?” she repeated, folding her arms and remaining where she was.
“If you’ve done something to Fluffy…”
Lucy’s mother was quite taken aback by the eight-year-old’s warning. It was almost funny – if the little girl’s voice hadn’t deepened, if her eyebrows hadn’t dipped in such a severe V-shape… Lucy didn’t need to complete her threat; she could see her mother was suitably shaken.
“Fluffy’s fine,” Mum wrung her hands in her apron. “Honestly.”
“Where. Is. He?” Lucy took a step towards her mother with each word.
The eyes of both mother and daughter fell upon the bread knife on the chopping board. Mum snatched it up and put it into a drawer. She swallowed a ball of nerves and made eye contact with the scowling little girl.
“We’ve spoken about this before,” she began, wishing her daughter would stop staring so unflinchingly. “Fluffy was getting too big. Under my feet. It’s not fair on him to keep him penned up. You know he’s been breaking things. And he’s become unpredictable. I can’t control him. He’s too much for me.”
“You’re not meant to control him,” Lucy’s nostrils flared in contempt, “He’s my Fluffy. He’s my friend!”
“Well, I’m sorry,” Mum wiped her brow, hoping Lucy wouldn’t see how much her hands were shaking. “Fluffy’s gone away for a while.”
“Hah!” Lucy looked thoroughly disgusted. “Don’t give me that bullshit, mother.” She adopted a mocking, singsong voice, “Ooh, Fluffy’s gone to live on a farm, darling! He’s happy there, running about in the fresh air.” She sidled to the drawer – the drawer with the knife. “You’ll get Fluffy back right now, Mother. And if that’s not possible, well…”
Another unfinished threat left hanging in the air.
Lucy’s mother felt sick. She moved across the kitchen to the pantry door.
Lucy’s eyes widened. “Fluffy’s in there? You’ve shut Fluffy in the pantry? Is that all? Oh, silly Mummy!”
Lucy ran and yanked the pantry door wide open. “Fluffy?”
Three men leapt out, covering the little girl with a thick blanket, which they quickly bound around the wriggling, screaming figure with thick, durable rope. One of the men handed Lucy’s mother a clipboard to sign.
“She’ll be no more trouble,” the man assured her, putting his biro behind his ear.
Lucy’s mother gasped in relief. “I’m so sorry to have troubled you.” Tears of happiness coursed down her face. “I couldn’t manage on my own. And with that dog in the house, I’d never have got near her.”
“Well, she’s safe with us now,” the man tipped a salute. The other two bundled Lucy out through the hall and down the path to their large black van.
Lucy’s mother hurried to the garden gate. She had one last question before the men took her daughter away.
“There will be fields where you’re taking her, won’t there? She will have some fresh air?”
The man grunted and got in the driver’s seat.
They always ask me that, he thought.