As a general rule, librarians consider dogs to be something that are best kept on the street side of the door.
Precious was the exception.
The library staff at the East Side Library liked their job. It wasn’t well paid, but the hours were reasonable.
The south-east corner of the building had been damaged during the war — one of the many air-raids. The town council didn’t have the funds to carry out the repairs so that part of the building had been inaccessible to the public for many years. The government engineers had reinforced the structure with massive beams of oak — one of the few things that we had in abundance after the war. So the building was safe, but there were no plans to restore it, ‘books come way down the list’, was the official reply when the head librarian sent in her yearly formal request for building repairs. It irked her that the countries that had been defeated seemed to be benefiting from reconstruction while her library lay wounded all these years after victory.
Because the damaged part of the building was not considered to be officially part of the library, Jane Delbridge did not have a problem with Terry and Precious enjoying its privacy and comfort. It was cold in this section of the building, but not as cold as sitting out on the footpath in the snow — even if she was wearing the sleeve of one of Terry’s old army jumpers as a coat.
Mrs Delbridge lost her husband in North Africa during the war, and she looked upon ex-solders with warmth and respect. Terry and Precious went to the library every Monday and Thursday — regular as clockwork. Mrs Delbridge left the side door open so Terry and Precious could enter without drawing attention to themselves. The door frame was warped from the explosion so it did not open easily. Terry thought about repairing it but decided against it — too obvious.
The room that they shared was partially open to the air, but the roof was still intact and the hole was not on the ‘bad weather side’ of the building, so water was rarely a problem. None-the-less, time was eating away at the building and Mrs Delbridge was rightly worried that the council would use the deteriorating condition of the building to justify pulling it down. It stood on prime real estate and the council could use the resultant flood of money for desperately needed projects. Fortunately, many of the library’s customers were influential members of the community and they made it clear that the building was off limits.
The room with a view as Terry called it, had an old table and a dusty couch that had been rescued from a building that was being demolished. The hole in the wall let in more than enough light to read by. Preciousclaimed one end of the couch while Terry sat and read at the other end. Cups of tea would mysteriously appear from time to time and the rings of countless cups were imprinted into the unpolished surface of the small table.
Choosing a book was the most difficult task. The library was well stocked from before the war and they had inherited books from libraries that were more unlucky. The library staff spent many hours repairing damaged books because they knew that just like money for building repairs, money for new books was way down the list.
Terry enjoyed detective stories and Mrs Delbridge had introduced him to Chandler and Hamett. She also headed him towards Green and Maugham. She was looking after his mind. He had been spared and now she would show him the wonders of beautiful words.
Sometimes, just for the enjoyment of it, Terry would read to Precious. She seemed to enjoy A Moon and Sixpence, but he wasn’t sure why. She didn’t like Dickens, which was a shame, but she did like Conan Doyle. Terry did all the voices and tried to make it as exciting as possible. He worried that Precious might get bored waiting for him each night. The truth was that Preciousdidn’t need to be entertained. All she needed was to be close by — close to Terry. That was enough for her.
She doesn’t like me ‘wandering around’ as she calls it, so I only get to sneak out when she is busy. She sits at her desk and writes on most days but sometimes she gets wrapped up in her work and she even forgets to stop and eat. On these days I know I can go for a long walk and most likely I won’t be missed.
The lady in the window is Mrs Norris. I guess there must have been a Mr Norris, but I never saw him.
She seemed sad to me, and I know what sad looks like, but it was more than the way she appeared it was the way she looked, as though she was waiting for someone.
She rarely went outside and on the few occasions that I saw her, she barely noticed me, which is unusual. People want to pat me all the time. They say things like, ‘Aren’t you cute, and who’s a good dog then?” I’m not sure if I’m supposed to answer or not so mostly I just wag my tail.
Old ladies are the worst.
They come out of nowhere and start patting me before I know what is happening.
I’ve got a friend, a white Maltese named Zed and he tells similar stories.
The difference with Zed is he collects little old ladies. He just stands there and looks cute, and the little old ladies sneak up on him and pat him. He lets them come in but on the way out he gives them a nip.
He keeps count.
So far this year he has cleaned up 17 little old ladies, and it’s not August yet. You might think that he gets into trouble, but he doesn’t. His owner says, “Serves you right for patting the dog without asking permission. He’s wearing a bright red lead that says CAUTION. If you can’t be bothered to read the warning, then it serves you right.”
So far no one has complained to anyone and Zed reckons he can hit 30 by the end of the year, especially if the tourist season is a good one.
I took Zed to visit the lady in the window, but I made him promise that he wouldn’t bite. He said that he only bit little old ladies, it was a matter of principle, so she was safe.
Even with a cute white fluffy friend, the lady in the window did not pay us much attention.
She always smiled at me, but that seemed like as much as she could manage.
Once or twice I sat next to her in her garden. We sat there for ages; not saying anything at all. I think she enjoyed my company. I wanted to make her feel a bit better. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I didn’t make her feel any worse and sometimes that is as much as you can ask for.
I went past her house again today, and there she was, in the window, just looking. I wonder if she will find what she is looking for? I wonder if what she is looking for will find her?
I’m only a dog, so I may never find the answers to those questions, but that does not matter. Today is what matters; right here and right now. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on the lady in the window, but in the end, her happiness is up to her, all I can do is be there.