As Stella started to peel the potatoes for tea, she glanced across at Rocky’s old dog box still in its spot next to the back door where it had been for as long as she could remember. Peeling the potatoes with a lot more vigour than was necessary, she winced as Craig, her youngest son, thundered up the stair and began thumping around in his room before all went ominously quiet.
If Rocky were here, she could grab his lead and they would head off to the park to stretch their legs. Rocky would inevitably chase things that existed only in his doggie mind and if the weather was warm enough, she would sit on the bench.
Sometimes, in the winter she would take an old loaf of bread and feed the ducks although that usually created chaos because as soon as Rocky saw the loaf, he became convinced he was a duck. He would chase the pieces of bread into the pond forcing the ducks to retreat to deeper water where they would patiently wait until Rocky had finished. Over the years it had become a kind of game to see how much bread she could feed to the ducks before he noticed. Rocky, on the other hand, just wanted to see how much bread he could get away with eating. It was fun for all concerned. Well, perhaps not quite so much fun if you unlucky enough to be one of the ducks.
Turning her attention back to the now tiny potatoes, Stella realised that the time she had spent alone with Rocky was the only time she had to herself. She loved her family to bits but sometimes she just needed to get away from the endless rounds of cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing not to mention the endless demands of growing teenagers.
It was almost 5 o’clock and Stella hadn’t had a single moment to herself. In fact, she still hadn’t found time to drink the coffee she had made after dropping Craig off at school? Speaking of Craig he was entrenched in his bedroom playing a new game on his Xbox.
Susan would be home any minute and insist on having a shower before tea. And to top it all, there would moans and groans if tea wasn’t on the table at the allotted time. It never used to be this bad.
Rocky would have insisted on having his evening walk before they sat down to eat. She would have prepared everything for tea with Craig laying the table and Susan dishing the food out. When she got back from walking Rocky, she would feed him and he would crawl contentedly into his box while they ate.
Tonight was a typical example of how a changed system resulted in a cold dinner. It started with the forgotten potatoes and by the time she had remembered them they were congealing and welding themselves to the side of the saucepan.
A drop of gravy on the top and Rocky would have been in doggy heaven viewing anything that came off the table as a special treat. Instead, they went in the bin – along with everything else.
In the end, they had fish and chips. A walk that Rocky would have loved. As it was Tony and Craig had an argument over who should have to go out in the cold they both went – in the car.
That night Stella was exhausted as she crawled into bed but then lay there staring up at the ceiling thinking about how much she missed Rocky. His nice furry body would be warming her toes about now and his snoring would be lulling her to a night of peaceful sleep. Quickly she turned on her side so that Tony wouldn’t see she was crying over the dog she had never wanted.
Stella was in a baking frenzy when the front door slammed and Craig marched in dropped his bag and then flung himself down in a chair. He grunted something that might have been hello but equally could have been another language entirely. Stella rolled the pastry with far more force than was necessary. If Rocky were here, they could have been walking on the common now enjoying the late winter sunshine. But no, she was up to elbows in flour baking cakes for Susan’s college Christmas Fayre. She could no longer use her perfect excuse that with Rocky she didn’t have any spare time.
'Hi Mom,' she hadn’t even heard Susan come in but there again Craig had made enough noise for both of them.
'You’re home early,' Stella remarked wiping flour across her face as she attempted to brush her hair out of her eyes.
'One of my classes was cancelled so I thought I’d come home early.' Stella was just about to make some comment that it was a shame her husband never came home early from the office when the front door slammed again.
'Hi Love,' it was Tony.
In the kitchen, Stella frowned. What was going on here? It was unheard of for all of her family to be in the same room at the same time. Her heart sank. It had to be bad news. Tony had been sacked. Susan was pregnant. Craig had been expelled. What if it was all of the above?
She sank heavily in a convenient chair as her heart began to race along with her imagination. All three of them would be at home, all day every day. They would get under her feet, leave dirty washing scattered throughout the house, and make unreasonable demands on her time.
There was a lot of thumping and shuffling going on but Stella couldn’t bring herself to go and see what they were doing. In fact, she told herself sternly, she was probably better off not knowing. On shaky legs, she returned to the pastry. It was a good thing she wasn’t making a sponge cake or it would be turning out like a brick, only fit for propping open doors.
'Stella!' Tony yelled at her from the other room.
'What?!' Stella demanded. 'I’m busy.'
There was a heavy silence.
'Mom,' it was Susan’s turn. 'We need to talk to you.'
Throwing the pastry back in the bowl again, Stella tried to get the flour off her hands. 'Can’t it wait?' Cascades of flour showered the kitchen floor.
There was a mumbling of voices. 'Stella,' Tony sounded stern. 'Just get in here.'
Stella grumbled and once again gave in to the demands of her family. As she appeared at the door, Tony put his arm around her and gently led her to the sofa. Tony sat down next to her and held her sticky hand.
'We all know how much you disliked having to take Rocky for walks and so on. Cleaning up after him and what have you.' Tony was about to go into full speech mode.
'So,' Craig interrupted. 'We have decided to do something about it.'
Stella fought down the urge to run screaming from the room. She loved them all dearly but they were completely hopeless. Visions of flower arranging and belly dancing courses at the local college flew through her mind.
'Why don’t you go and get it?' Craig and Susan both shot out of the door, leaving Stella with Tony.
'I’m not doing a belly dancing course,' Stella told him flatly. ‘Or flower arranging.’
There was a lot of bumping and banging going on in the hallway and Stella tried not to think about the damage being caused to her paintwork. The door crashed open and they struggled through precariously balancing a heavy-looking box.
'This,' Tony told her. 'Is for you.'
Stella wiped her hands nervously on her black trousers. 'What is it?'
'Open it Mom,' Craig encouraged.
Stella looked at their excited faces. What on earth had they done now? There was no way out of this. Not like when Rocky had been here. He would have sniffed, dribbled and pawed his way into the box by now. Stella approached the box now on the floor, she could hear something scratching inside. Suddenly her heart soared. Was it what she thought? She calmed herself down. It was probably a rabbit. An enormous rabbit. Please let it be what she thought. Tentatively she opened the box and a small furry bundle with a wagging tail catapulted itself into her arms and began furiously licking her face, flour and all.
'We all know how much you miss Rocky Mom, so we’ve got you another friend,' Susan told her smiling broadly.
Tears were streaming down her face as she tried to hug them all. They were all so special. 'What’s his name?' She managed to ask.
'Thought we’d leave that to you,' Craig said. 'Seeing as you’re going to be responsible for walks, feeding, cleaning etc.'
Stella tried to contain the ball of bouncing fur long enough to get a look at him but all she could see was fluffy fur and a big blue bow. He was a handsome fellow though with a droopy ear and she fell in love with him at the spot.
'I think I’ll…' They all looked at her expectantly. 'I think that I’ll take him for a walk.'