Oswald shuffled along the hall to the kitchen. The door was ajar. He could hear his daughter and her husband engaged in a heated discussion.
About me, I shouldn’t wonder, thought Oswald, dismally. Since he’d moved in, his son-in-law had been perfectly vile. Complaining about everything and nothing. Making insinuations. “Oh, I’m sorry, my lord. We shall have to treat you kindly if we’re to get anything when you’ve popped your slippers.”
It broke Oswald’s heart. They didn’t know how frustrated he was, being uprooted from his own house, the home he’d shared with Elsie for almost fifty years. He knew he was an imposition. He knew he was in the way. He knew he was a burden.
They’re talking about putting me in a home, I know it.
I’d rather be dead.
But he had to stay put, eavesdropping. He had to know what he was up against.
“Well,” his daughter, Debbie, was saying, “he can’t help it. Not at his time of life.”
“Costing us a fortune in bloody air fresheners,” her husband, Damien, countered. “His guts can’t be right.”
Oswald blushed. His hands tightened into fists as much as his arthritis would allow.
“And the interminable whimpering and whining,” Damien went on. “All through the night. I’m surprised the neighbours haven’t complained.”
“Oh, they quite like him,” Debbie put in. “He keeps them entertained over the garden fence.”
“Huh,” Damien huffed. “I don’t find it funny in the slightest. The children won’t go near him. They say he frightens them. Look, love, he’s well past his prime. Time to put the old fella out of his misery.”
Out of your misery you mean, you nasty pup. Oswald sniffed back a tear.
“I mean, it’s disgusting. He’s weeping out of every orifice, and he moves so slowly now, every step is agony, you can tell. It’s the best thing for him. One quick prick and he’s out like a light. He won’t feel a thing.”
Just like you, you unfeeling bastard. Oswald wished he’d brought his walking stick from his room. He wouldn’t go down without a fight.
“Well,” he heard Debbie say, “If you think it’s for the best.”
“I do, love.” Damien pecked her cheek. “I’ll see you later. And we’ll—” he made a whistling noise. Oswald could imagine Damien drawing his finger across his own throat in a slashing motion.
He waited until he heard Damien’s Ford Focus drive away. Taking a deep breath, he breezed into the kitchen. “Morning, love!” he smiled. “I’ll put the kettle on, shall I? It’s about time I made myself useful.”
“It’s all right, Dad,” Debbie took the kettle from his shaking hands. “You have a seat and I’ll make the tea.”
Oswald lowered himself onto a chair at the kitchen table.
“Damien’s out early,” he observed.
“Busy as ever,” Debbie organised cups. “He’ll see you later.”
Oswald nodded. While the kettle boiled, he squinted through his spectacles, taking in the kitchen, drinking in every detail as if seeing them for the final time. His gaze fell on the tatty basket in the corner. Shep’s basket. Shep the smelly, dribbly, wobbly old mutt…
A great weight seemed to lift from Oswald’s chest. He sat up straight and laughed.
They were talking about Shep!
What a silly old fool I am!
“Taken the dog out, has he?” Oswald jerked his head at the basket as Debbie brought the cups to the table.
“Shep’s walking days are over,” she sighed, pulling out a chair for herself.
“It’s funny, love; I heard you talking before I came in. For an awful moment, I thought you were talking about me! I am a silly old sausage, aren’t I?”
Debbie reached across the table and squeezed her father’s hand. She gave him a sad smile.
“Of course we were talking about you, Dad. Shep hasn’t written a will.”