The Curious Case of the Convulsing Chihuahua (1450 words)
There was something mysterious happening. When Margaret Nettle got home, she was distraught to find her Chihuahua, Samson, alone in the garden in paroxysms of distress. His very skin seemed to be loose over his bones, as he heaved and trembled; and even his noble head appeared to have shrunk.
Spying him on the lawn through the kitchen patio doors, she dropped her shopping basket on the floor with a shriek and raced out to him.
“Samson! Samson! What ever’s the matter?” she cried, as she dashed towards him. “Everything’s going to be all right,” she crooned, scooping him up into her arms, just as one last convulsion, greater than the rest, shuddered through his tiny frame and he threw up all over her cardigan and the blouse beneath.
The stench of the ochre slime was disgusting; and, holding him out at arms’ length with her face turned aside, she carried him into the kitchen. Seizing a pail from under the sink with her free hand, she half-filled it with hot soapy water and dropped him in it.
“You stay there!” she commanded, depositing the bucket in the sink, while gingerly removing her cardigan and blouse and even her capacious brassiere and casting them one at a time, between forefinger and thumb, into the drum of the washing machine.
Having refreshed her wardrobe upstairs, she returned to the kitchen, where she rinsed the crestfallen Chihuahua and dried him first with a hand towel and then with her hair dryer.
“That’s my Samson!” she exclaimed as his fur fluffed up.
Clutching him to her bosom, she advanced once more into the garden. “Right,” she said, “what on earth have you been eating, that’s what I want to know.”
Starting near the vomit stained patch of grass near the middle the lawn, she walked head down in widening elliptical circles, the garden of her semi-detached house being longer than it was wide. By the time she had reached the borders on either side, she had discovered nothing.
“Well, daisies didn’t do it,” she told Samson, kissing his nose and shifting him under her arm.
At which point, looking up for inspiration, she saw her neighbour’s voluptuous black cat, Delilah (her neighbour’s infuriating joke) , sitting on an adjoining fence post observing her, it’s tail circling its paws – and so did Samson!
Squirming from her grasp and tumbling to the ground, he raced across the garden, barking repeatedly; except that due to his elfin proportions and to the alto register of his expletives, it sounded very much more like yapping. In vain, he leapt and leapt again at the fence, his yapping becoming more and more frenzied as the disdainful cat looked briefly down at him.
“Oh, for goodness sake, Margaret!” came the exasperated voice of her neighbour, Rita Luckpool, who was planting out her dahlias on the other side of the fence. “Why don’t you take him for a walk? He’s been treating us to that cacophony all morning.”
“You’re not a dog lover, are you, Rita?” Margaret retorted; and, as she said it, the truth dawned upon her: Rita had poisoned Samson, while she was out shopping. “Well, I…I mean…you…” she spluttered, rendered momentarily inarticulate by the enormity of her revelation.
Seizing hold of the hyperventilating little dog, she clamped her hand over its face and marched back towards the house, calling over her shoulder, “You’ve gone too far this time, Rita. Mark my words!”
“What do you make of that?” Rita asked Delilah, as she straightened up and arched her aching back.
The cat blinked and padded silkily towards her along the top of the fence, a low rumble growing louder as she came.
As far as Margaret was concerned, the vet was a fool. She had always thought so. His ears were too big and stuck out like radar dishes. According to her mother, it was a sure sign of dolthood.
“Just something toxic he ate, I expect, Mrs Nettle,” he said, handing her an invoice for £90. “Give him a little water until tomorrow; and then a couple of teaspoons of boiled rice and chicken. No skin or bones mind. And, if he keeps that down, slowly increase the amount over the next few days. You’ll be right as rain, won’t you, um…”
Forgetting the name, he put out his hand with a benign smile to pat the little dog’s head and just managed to whip it away again in time, as Samson machine-gunned a volley of yaps at him and lunged for his fingers.
“Quite right, too,” Margaret Nettle assured her diminutive companion, as she strapped him into his booster seat for the drive home. “He’s no idea what you’ve been through, has he?”
By the time she turned into the narrow parking space beside her front path, Margaret had made her mind up; and, having deposited Samson in his favourite armchair with a precautionary towel spread underneath him, she went straight round to confront her neighbour.
Climbing the short run of steps to the front door, she rang the bell and knocked firmly three times. When the door opened, Margaret was momentarily taken aback to find her neighbour dressed in a floral pinny and regarding her with a certain fierceness in her narrowed eyes. In her seventies, she was trim of figure with a full head of dark brown hair pinned back at the temples.
“May I have a word, Rita?” Margaret said, recovering her composure.
“As long as it’s quick, I’m baking.”
Although used to her neighbour’s brusque manner, Margaret had not anticipated having to deliver her homily on the doorstep.
“Very well then, I’ll come straight to the point. I have known for some time, although I do not understand why, that you resent my dear little Samson; but I had never imagined that you would be,” here Margaret paused for breath, her jowls trembling with indignation, “could be, so vindictive as to deliberately poison him.”
As Rita opened her mouth to reply, Margaret put up her hand to stop her. “It’s no use denying it. There can be no other explanation. Mr Chardry, the vet, has diagnosed the cause of Samson’s vomiting as being something he ate.”
“Remarkable!” Rita said, with the ghost of a smile; but Margaret, building to her climax, ignored her and sailed on.
“Here is his account,” she said, thrusting forward the envelope she was holding. “As you are responsible for this unseemly incident I expect you to settle it without delay and to give me your word there will be no repeat of this…this…,” struggling to find the right words, Margaret drew herself up and almost lost her balance, having to put one foot back on the step below her to regain it, “of this cruel charade. In which case, I will say no more about it.”
“I see,” Rita said, making no effort to take the envelope; so that, out of weariness, Margaret was forced to lower her arm, while still holding it. “Excuse me a moment; I’ve left a ring on.” So saying, she disappeared into the shadows of the interior, leaving Margaret glancing furtively up and down the cul-de-sac behind her, feeling both nonplussed and exposed.
“Now then,” Rita said, returning, “I have a point or two of my own to make, since you are here.” Margaret, who was unused to being stared down, flicked at an invisible speck on her cerise cardigan and cleared her throat. “Firstly, you have no idea of the Chihuahua brouhaha that ensues from your garden when you go out.” Margaret’s plump face creased in puzzlement. “I mean Samson’s noisy, overexcited yapping,” Rita explained. “I cannot tend my plants, read a book or just sit and enjoy the peace of my own garden, without being constantly subjected to your dog’s infernal racket.”
“Well, if you’re going to take that tone, Rita, there’s no more to be said.” Margaret moved back and down a step and then a second and then a third, until she was once again on terra firma and more sure of her footing. “I never expected this from you. I came here in good faith and you behave like a…like a banshee!”
Rita watched her go. “I’m not sure that’s what you mean,” she said softly, as she closed the door, “but it may be truer than you know.”
Back in the kitchen, she found Delilah sitting on the table by the china bowl, her tail curled about her.
“Who can resist chocolate cake?” Rita smiled, taking hold of the wooden spoon and beginning to stir the mix.
- Banshee – a female spirit whose wailing warns of a death in a house.
- Chocolate contains theobromide, an ingredient that is toxic to dogs. All chocolate contains this substance, but baking chocolate contains the highest concentration. Signs of theobromide toxicity include vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors, elevated heart rate and seizure activity.)
Copyright: Charles Becker, 2020.