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At the same time, elsewhere. In Mount August Square. Where lies a tennis court round which looming lodgings stand stern, their brickwork choked by ivy, by vines that clog the fissures and strangle stone, and a glum dark park where, from the branches of the trees, dangle ropes tied into nooses. A fit site for suicides. In summertime, floating through air of square, one sees billowing by the blossoms of cherry trees, clogging the gutters, breezing into one's nose, stirred to dance by gusts of wind. But there are none now; the court is empty; the trees are bare. Dead leaves, hangovers from the party's close, lie around in a dull litter of sad damp clumps. Darkness reigns.
And into Mount August Square, a padding animal comes, with crooked back and burning eyes, coming through the soft night prowling mid the damp, with tentative scuttle. Hear the sound of the tread of its paws, to which some wet leaves stuck. Where are you going to, snowy my son? Where are you going to, my handsome young one? Many miles have you wandered, let loose from lair unwitting. You shiver as you stalk - for the spring your master hath wrought has not yet made it eastward. With the tang of meat in your mouth, the fangs and canines smeared by blood of man, mandibles you wetly scrubbed with all the floppy length of your tongue, licking quite clean your chops.
And towards one especially westerly residence something draws thee now, a mumble in your mind's ear, a murmured hint on the lapping breeze that nips. Meander over, puppy. Accordingly, by the foot of a foggy lamp casting light of pea soup, the creature paused at the dour blue door, its steps and eyes driven downward from the panelling that people admired, to ogle the rusty gate barring the steps to the basement beneath, the way down littered by potted plants, dying flowers and ferns, winding vines and sometimes thistles. Descending now, slab of stone by worn slab, in the quiet night wagging its ragged tail, pottering down the steeping walkway toward his sullen door.
Pausing there to scratch the boards, to poke a cautious paw, a curious snout, nosing and sniffing the letterbox's creaky flap, through which so few messages so seldom were passed, bar the bills, tedious bane of listless life. Scratching met with silence bare within - did he then slumber unknowing? Poor form, the hungry mongrel growled.
Looking down then, a pot of milk you saw on the doorstep, a rude and badly burnished bowl of chipped china, for it was the owner's way to leave an offering available for the sundry little kitties who flocked the square, wandering cats astray by starry night and cloudy day, rushing to lick and slurp up the moony pool in the creamy bowl he left them, some of which vagabond mogs he would admit enter into his grubby abode, and keep him company while he drank and dozed. He loved to watch their curling backs and vaunting tails, their glossy hides dappled by his flickering lamps, their shiny whiskers bristling as they warily eyed him from afar, stalking round beneath his tables and his shelves, vaguely afraid of the pack of tomes he hoarded in his silent keep, wary of the books that crammed his dismal den, dodging the bottles and cans that strewed his laden floor, all such things so blunt and heavy by which they lightly passed, weightless refugees from the terrain of his dreams. Moved, upon occasion he would rise from his slump, and all would scatter at his blobby approach, taking flight like geese or gulls, all whom would flee save for the friendlier, who suffered him to snatch them and catch them, and clasp them to his fatty bosom, to whom he would croon dimly remembered ditties from long-lost days best forgotten, scraps of old songs and childhood tunes. And sometimes, staring into tawny dubious eyes of liquid emerald as he sang, he would see himself mirrored, a fat and flabby drunken man singing badly to a sleek and pretty cat, whose cold and unforgiving glare would move him to drop them, away from his bulk from which they bounded, a man feeling sad and fat, forlorn and alone again.
He had been dreaming of the cats when the scratching of the dog at his door awoke him. He awoke, by degrees and blearily, to find himself ensconced on his couch, awash with a medley of tins and tang of staling booze, his mobile phone numbly clutched in his porky palm, the metal now wet with the sweat of his clasp, glistening from the slimy balm that fell from every oozing pore all over the skin of his body. For he had fallen asleep in the midst of a message he had been typing, with no small struggle (so fat were his fingers, so tiny the keys), intended for Arsene, which so far read:
Good game or 2 tonight. When will you be up next? We must play again. Good chess in this town is hard to
To find or to come by? He opted to let it lie, for the sound of scratching forbade him ponder further. So the text remained unsent, as the phone was tossed aside, carelessly dropped into a cranny of the bloated couch, in which tight niche it would remain a week unfound. Up to his feet he heaved his heaviness with prosperous huff and gasp, and to his door he lumbered stately across the carpet. Such a sound of scratching augured a visitor of the animal kind, since a human body would be more apt to knock, though as likely as not they would not, as witness the case of the landlord's son of yesterday's morn - but was it really so far away as only yesterday? And such a noise of scratching, he figured more as he paused at the doormat, did not signal a guest of feline shape, not one of those purring ghosts who haunted his dreams, for they were wont to mewl or keen, rather than waste their precious claws in crude chore of scratching at the door. And so, all unassuming, he took his key from his pocket, stuck it in the lock, unlocked and opened.
Sniffing the air with an initial apprehension, looking down in the dark, from the stooping mound of his bulky height, the eyes of Mr Albert Potter met with those of a dog. A small dog. No more than a pup. A puppy lost and starving. Doleful and plaintive were those hungry burning puppy's eyes with which his measured scrutiny met. Snowy white of tarnished alabaster was the hair of that hound, whose lustrous furs glowed in the dimness of that quiet hour, some fine dark time to go before grey dawn was due.
The puppy looked up at him, and whined, pleading mercy. Beguiled, the fat man melted, stepping aside by way of invite. And the white hound took up the hint, and shuffled inside, sniffing the musty carpet, and nosing the kitchenette's cracking tiles, wagging his tail in weak and famished joy. And Albert Potter, sucking his jelly lip he bit to help him think, closed and locked his door again, observing mildly the erratic circling of the pale pup, scuttling about his cluttered floor. Of what breed? Bloodhound or basset? It was hard to say. Sometimes the ears were pert and pricked, sometimes they flopped and drooped. Bright eyes turned upon him appealing. To feed, yes.
He ambled over to a cupboard, wherein hid many cans of beer and beans, past which ranks he dug and delved as he bent, 'til he brought up some slices of queasy ham, and drippy bits of bacon past its best, the worried remains of a buried chicken, some curls of mince and pockmarked sausage, all the odds and dregs of such meat he could supply, dumped upon the tiles in a tidy pile, toward which bound the hound to scramble and gorge, for his empty gut to fill. A slobbering noise of munching and slopping, with long dropping pink of tongue, and spitting gnash of gleaming canines, gladdened brush of tail wagging up and down in the air, up and down slapping the dust from the rugs with every smack, feathery motes arising in a pillowed cloud with every thrash of the tail.
Mr Potter pulled up a stool upon which to sit, and looked upon the creature kindly as he chewed, with an inkling of growing warmth in the man-frog's bulbous eyes, happy to find company of a kind, such as here had come to him in the secret night. He had not kept a dog for some years, never since his stepfather's pet labrador had died, the handsome black the ailing elder bequeathed him, in a rasp from his deathbed passing on ownership of the friendly beast to Albert, that dog who was his constant companion for several seasons, who daily lead him on the leash roundabout the square and city, such energetic perambulations as kept his frame chipper and trim, as gave him something other to do than drink. And though the crowded lodgings were not ideal for an animal, let alone a dog so large as was his labrador, the two of them had made do, and merrily so, the man and dog who were kindred in their creature comforts, loving the company of one another since neither had a thing to prove to each other, happy only to breathe and be. Then the labrador died of a pox, reduced to frothing quivers, writhing piteously until it croaked.
Thoughts of his dead dog of yesteryear swam back up before his brimming sights, from which welling threshold he was called back to earth by a lick -a lick on a dangling palm from a plump tongue, furry tongue of whom from him had sought and found such easy sanctuary. Mr Albert Potter gravely blessed the beast in pseudo-solemn benediction, and then patted the bright skull, tenderly scratching the ears and temples, stroking fondly the smooth body of the alabaster puppy he lifted to his lap and hugged.
'You're welcome to stay so long as you don't have rabies,' he mumbled dryly to the cheery dog in his arms, as he drowsily began to swoon and rock and dream again. And the White Dog, whose shape was shifting, barked but once and briefly, as if in tacit approval or agreement, and thereafter fell sweetly asleep, snugly nestled on the pillow of the giant's lap, the voluminous lap of corpulent Potter, whose blubber lips were leering as he smiled upon the dog's repose, and gently stroked his tufts, leering like the grimacing mask of a gargoyle, stony custodian of all the city's sorrows.