Fia Lux, 9 weeks, 6 days
You might think that on puppy number two, you've got it all down. Everything is going to be just perfect, according to the books this time. Of course, you would be wrong, the books don't even agree, but you have learned and you are, most importantly, vastly more patient and serene, arguably the two most important qualities to possess when teaching a new puppy.
You discover just how lame you are when you take your little one out to relieve herself, being very certain to practice "the tree" when she tugs at her leash and twists like the Black Stallion on the other end, which she does just past the corner of the France Telecom utility building, while you bend down and use your goofiest voice to get her to take a step towards you and release the tension on the leash so you can praise her "enthusiastically" -- even, and especially, if she is in the middle of doing what you don't want her to do, but she wants to do; the smallest move in the direction of your will is to be recognized with gusto and rewarded --, when her attention is captured by an unseen object or occurrence around the corner.
"Fia, viens ici, Fia! Fia, Fia, Fia, viens! Viens, ma petite, allez, viens, Fia! Allez, allez -- Fia? Hunh?" Even more suddenly than she stopped looking at you, she is suddenly no longer on her leash, and you are staring at the clasp where your puppy was a heartbeat before. Unbelievable, you think, I attached that. I am certain I did. You spring from where you are crouched to make certain she doesn't dash off in front of the one car per hour that passes at that time of the day, and you see a man running off, holding something in his arms.
I ran after him, just about to call out, and thinking he looked an awful lot like the cantonnier, or the village caretaker, when the man whirled around to face me, barely controlling his urge to laugh out loud, a smile from ear to ear.
"Mais tu m'as fait peur!" I said, stopped in my tracks and feeling like a bit of an idiot, when he should have been feeling like a much greater one, a positive lout for playing such a trick on me -- and teaching me unintentionally how easy it is to steal a valuable and beloved pet. Suddenly, I felt like one of those parents in China, who watch their little boys swept away by desperate parents, unable to produce anything but worthless girls, or the despicable people who take them to sell to those desperate parents. Fia sat cuddled in his arms, perfectly at ease. She had met him the day before, and he had been entirely charmed by her warm tummy, soft fur and puppy eyes, and there he was, laughing like he had executed the perfect plaisanterie.
"Ah, c'est trop drôle!" he crowed, "C'était tout ce que je pouvait faire de ne pas rire tellement ça a marché! Tu ne te doutais de rien!"
"Et oui, mais on a peur quand on vois quelqu'un en train de se sauver avec son chiot, tu sais. Et puis, je n'ai pas pu comprendre pourquoi sa laisse avait lâché comme ça."
I didn't have the heart to tell him how truly rotten that was of him, when Fia was well and he was having such a jolly time of my vulnerability. There was no pretending. I had been scared, and who on earth wouldn't have been, but how could I hurt him by making him know that his trick was just a little bit appalling, when he had never intended to do anything that wasn't perfectly innocent? Ah la-la la-la.
He placed the warm bundle of puppy in my arms, and crossed the street back to the old school they have converted into apartments that still haven't rented, these 3 or 4 months later, to finish repainting the wall the adjoint mayor, who showed up for job meetings in our tiny village in the middle of the countryside, with not even a street light or a boulangerie and no regular bus service, in her fur coat, made up and in heels, said was still not the right color, infuriating François, who had been assigned the job of the repaints, when the painting contractor had probably informed her that the consequences of her indécision was not included in the contract. Au revoir, et merci.
I had listened to him grumble yesterday and was up to date on relations at the mairie, and the opposition ticket forming for the 2014 elections in our village of under 400 residents. He does not appreciate this new adjoint mayor, nor the fact that under the leadership of the present maire and his équipe à la mairie, "il y a plus de bruit au cimitière que dans le village." Asked what constitutes his idea of pleasant village animation, and he answered "Plus de fêtes à la salle des fêtes."
Sigh. And here I was, thinking there were more than enough fêtes at the village salle des fêtes. And that is what passes for important political decision-making in this village, where gay rights have already been established as a matter of course by the government's provision since years gone by for gay couples to "se déclarer en couple reconnu à la mairie" and receive the benefits married couples do, while leaving the matter of gay marriage as hotly debated here as in, oh, say, Western Texas, and the general knowledge that our cantonnier does not live with his nephew, the ghost of which pretext he has finally given up understanding that no one whatsoever has the least problem with this.
Now, my husband and I, at least, thought that the 1 am rollerblading in his ex-wife's collants and débardeur -- sans pantalons -- engaged in by our neighbor further up the street, the one who befriended Baccarat in the early days of her life here and prepared a pheasant a hunter had presented to my husband and I for being nice people one Sunday when we were out walking the dogs (Stéphane said he had been a chef and restaurant owner, in addition to an accomplished golfer, an expert in detecting counterfeit bills for the Bank of France -- sort of a money spy, he liked to imply --, so who better to prepare the pheasant? He insisted I join him for lunch the mets fins he prepared of it, and where I learned he was also an aspiring composer with a Mylène Farmer fétiche and his own boots to complete the image.), was bizarre, and I am nearly certain there was peau léopard involved in his outfit as my husband described it when he came back inside from whatever he had been doing outside on the sidewalk at 1 am, arriving just in time to see Stéphane sail up the street and fall flat on his face in his remarkable get-up. Acting for all the world as though this was perfectly ordinary in the life of a minuscule village, pommé dans la campagne, he stood up to chat
with my husband, checking his collants for damage, blithely unaware that his credibility had taken a sharp downward turn.
I wondered at the cantonnier's want of greater animation in the village, except it was true that Stéphane was finally gone, and no one was mourning his ignominious departure. This was, after all, the same Stéphane my husband chided me for no longer stopping by to visit with the dogs and failing to return his hospitality by inviting him to dinner. Stéphane had also distinguished himself in the first weeks he lived in the house he rented by serving free cocktails from his kitchen window, complete with hors d'oeuvres, or amuses bouches, if you like, and music. Often enough, l'heure d'apéro coincided with the hour of walking the dogs, and since Baccarat and he were such great friends, I had to stop by. I am not sure this did my image with my husband's colleagues next door to Stéphane any good, but I hoped my dignity and status held me in good (enough) stead and listened to Stéphane's stories, while Robert and another neighbor, sometimes the cantonnier or his "copain" joined the little group at the window.
It was rather sympathique in its intimacy, a candle burning on the counter behind him and music wafting out into the dark fall evening air, and his amuse bouches were phénoménales.
One evening, I had gone to fetch mon mari and bring him for a finger of Scotch. I was feeling guilty, knowing that he was sitting in front of the TV, while I was having a drink up the street with my dogs, Robert and l'homme aux collants. God only knows why, but he joined us, and in a moment when the conversation was at its merriest, Stéphane leaned toward me over Baccarat and said, "Tu sais, j'aimerais coucher avec toi si jamais tu veux."
And then, he smiled and winked at me, like we were in on something together (as if!), his round belly protruding over his jeans (I had checked his attire before going to get my husband; it could have been his hot pants and bare hairy legs).
I am sure I involuntarily tightened my L.L. Bean anorak around me and looked terribly confuse, while trying to maintain my polite social smile.
I did not hear you, I did not hear you, I DID NOT HEAR YOU.
Of course, it is perfectly clear now that I should have said, "Chéri, tu sais ce que Stéphane vient de me proposer?"
"Non? Encore un délicieux plat au faisan, ma chérie?"
"Mais non! Il vient de me faire une proposition indécente! Ce n'est pas gentil?"
And, then, my husband would have knocked him out, just as he has longed to all these months since I finally caved to his chiding that I had been unkind to Stéphane and really ought to invite him for dinner, the fateful evening we proposed that he buy our old Volvo, the cadeau empoisonné given to us along with a 1991 Chrysler Voyager by one of the midwives at the hospital when her father died, as a gesture of her gratitude for his medical services that resulted in her children, because he had no car to get to the train to get to work, and he accepted. We even lent him our other car until the Volvo underwent a few necessary repairs and agreed that he could pay us at the end of March. It was early December.
Had it ended there, my husband would have felt no real urge to violence, but there was the day long after late March, when we still had not received un centime for the car, when I ran into Stéphane outside the bar across the street from the house, where he was accustomed to run up the bill that prevented him, apparently, from paying for the car, and he told me that he had accumulated 94 parking tickets since he had been driving our cars, but don't worry, he said, brandishing a photocopy of an article from Le Journal des Yvelines that reported that the Tribunal de Versailles had decided in favor of a plaintiff who argued that the law does not actually require one to put the proof of payment for parking on the dashboard, and so you don't have to pay for parking after all, we'd never have to pay!
I had turned as white as the Volvo and felt like decking him on the spot, but I got back in the Fiat, rolled up to my parking spot and showed my husband the copy of the article Stéphane had provided me. He had many ready, one for each batch of tickets he returned unpaid to the Trésor Publique. His argument was made of concrete.
Since then, there was the speeding ticket, the chickens he kept dying of starvation in the entry to his house behind the closed gate when he failed to ever return again, he had another gullible woman to take him in, while he emptied her bank account, and drover her daughter's car, while she was away in South America, or somewhere, the rooster that finally flew out over the gate in his search for food and landed at our neighbor's feet while he washed his car, giving him a fright, and the dog, the poor Brittany Spaniel Nuts, who he had left for months already and then all the following winter alone in a cave behind his house with nothing but a bit of straw on which to sleep and someone to come and fill his food bowl. He barked long into the frigid nights, and we cursed Stéphane out loud.
Eventually, Nuts found a way to escape, like the rooster before him, and the cantonnier took him to the animal refuge. I called the woman there to tell her what I knew. She asked if we knew how to reach the owner, and I gave her the number we had for him. She thanked me, furious with Stéphane for his neglect and abuse of this poor dog. I thought a moment after I set the phone down and called her right back.
"Madame, quoi que vous faites, il ne faut surtout pas lui rendre son chien. Il va l'abondonner à nouveau. C'est un homme sans scrupules qui ne vie que pour lui."
"Le chien a déjà 16 ans," she told me. I knew what that meant. A 16-year-old dog is impossible to adopt out.
"Il vaut mieux le faire piquer," I told her. Putting him to sleep would be a mercy next to what he had lived through.
And so, the police canceled the parking tickets and fined him. The owner of the house he rented, and for which he never paid, involved the authorities, and his belongings were seized and taken away in two trucks a month ago. We had already, with the permission of the police, entered his property and removed our poor car, its front seat broken, the battery dead, and had it taken to the dump. As for Stéphane, he'll be lucky if he only spends 3 months in jail when they get their hands on him, and he is even more fortunate still that the police will and my husband didn't.
This is not enough animation for one small village?
But, I began with Fia's misadventures, which might be better called my own.
This morning, I had taken her out to relieve herself and all was well when I heard noises in the kitchen behind me. I went to look and find her dragging her soaking wet nylon rope -- she learned to ignore the string yesterday, and has progressed to trailing a 1/4" rope from her collar as part of her leash training -- away from a large puddle of pipi. From the pattern on the floor, it was clear the rope was sodden from pipi.
"Fia! Mauvais pipi!" I said in my sternest, most displeased voice, grasping her and showing her the puddle before carrying her out to where she may relieve herself, which she did, just a little bit, before trotting over to the bit of gravel and dirt at the hedge along the sidewalk to do a popo, and stepped directly into the one she had left an hour before.
And Stéphane will never be Mylène Farmer, no matter how hard he tries.
"J'aimerais le voir essayer ça en prison," chuckles my husband.