Sheilagh, in Kelowna, lights up a smoke and sticks her feet up on the coffee table. "Mother loves the little dog. It's about the size of a very shaggy roll of toilet paper, and about as trainable. I mention toilet paper because, since the dog showed up, Mother has started carrying a spare roll around the house like a new fashion accessory. Anyway, it's company for her, y'know? Since Dad passed away? And it's really cute."

Teresa, in Tacoma, is cleaning out her refrigerator. She's just pulled out a bowl of porridge that one of the kids stuck in the back of the second shelf and ignored. The milk has turned to cottage cheese. It also spilled down the back of the fridge, congealing into lumpy mold-coloured cement. She suppresses her impulse to retch as she tips the old porridge into the garbage. Sheilagh would take it personal. The sound, that is, not the throwing out of rancid food. "So, with a family the size of ours, why does Mom need company all of a sudden?"

"You know how it is, Terry. She don't have the energy and patience for long periods with the tiny ones, not with those veins in her legs. And the older grandkids, they're into their own thing. Meg and I manage a visit about once a week. And sometimes, we take her out."

"What about Joel? Or Nathan?"

"They go over once in awhile. You know how guys are. My Al's a pretty great guy, and I have to keep on top of him to call his mom on her birthday and other holidays."

"So, you reckon they don't make it over very often." Teresa uses a steel-wire potscrubber on the congealed porridge, even though the appliance manual says never to use anything that abrasive. She figures the people who built this thing must not know what it's like to have kids.

"Heck, Teresa, you see Mother more than Joel does. Nathan's a bit better because he works in the city. He stops by to help her out with the heavy stuff once in awhile. But he never was a big communicator. He'll come in, mow her lawn or shovel her walk, move whatever needs moving, and throw out anything that looks unfixable. He's really great for that. Otherwise, he just watches TV and grunts when she asks him something."

"Are you saying Mother talks to that dog?"

"I'm sure she does. Nonstop. She's alone most of the time. You can just tell that the two of them dote on each other. If the dog gets tired of her yakking, it gives her a little look as if to say, "Hey, I'm trying to take a nap here." And she apologizes and turns on the TV or reads a book. It's like they're married."

So far Sheilagh hasn't mentioned a word about Maureen, which is how Teresa knows this phone call is really all about Maureen.

Sheilagh takes her cigarette and stomps it into the ashtray. The thing's full of butts. She gives an involuntary shudder. Ashtrays spilling over. Papers, books, junk strewn over all the surfaces. Dog hairs coating the furniture. It's time for the weekly overhaul.

"Say, Teresa. You don't have a problem with Mom keeping the dog, do you?"

"No. Why would I?"

Big sigh. Here it comes.

"It's the old freaking allergies thing all over again. Jeez, the most she ever comes is once, maybe twice, a year!"

"What's she done this time, Sheilagh?"

"She demanded that Mother get rid of the dog. Or else."

"Or else, what?"

"She's never gonna come and visit again."

"Oh."

"Mother'll never choose the dog. Right now, she figures she's gonna have to take it to the Humane Society. I've never seen her so upset."

As Teresa aims a squirt of bleach at the mold, she thinks of Maureen's puffer. Two pictures of Maureen always jump up for Teresa when she remembers: the puffer she sucked on so often it was like a permanent fixture to her face, and the sour, pinched look which came over that face during all the fun times. Sheilagh's graduation party, Nathan's wedding, Joel's first car, Teresa's firstborn. Every time the light shone on someone else.

For Sheilagh, it's the voice which sticks in her head. A peevish, entitled tone: "Why d'you have to go and wear perfume?"

"Uh, I'm not wearing any."

"Oh, c'mon Sheilagh! I can smell it. My sinuses are already acting up. How could you be so inconsiderate?"

"And I tell you, I'm not wearing any. Not today. But yesterday, I forgot and did wear some. Oops! I notice you didn't react back then."

"No, and you weren't going to tell me about it, either, were you? I don't react to every kind of perfume---"

"And sometimes you just react when we're wearing none at all. And sometimes you just react arbitrarily."

"Well, it's got to be something. Maybe it's your dog."

Now, whenever Sheilagh hears a dry rasp, a saw cutting through wood, someone snoring in another room, cloth being torn into strips, she feels like punching someone.

"The dog doesn't even shed," she tells Teresa. "It's one of those Llapsa-pasa—Llaspo-aspa—"

"Llasa-Apso?"

"Yeah, one of those."

Teresa flicks a dried up lemon into the garbage pail.

"So, don't tell her."

"Don't tell her what?"

"That Mom's keeping the dog. Whenever she visits---if she ever visits---just go collect the dog for a couple of days. Or, if you're going away, ask Nathan to stick it in a kennel until Maureen leaves."

"Right, of course. That's simple. Do-able." Sheilagh heaves herself out of the armchair, lights a stick of incense, and shoves it into a plant. She loves the way it smells and the way the smoke curls like fronds. She read somewhere that certain kinds of incense are made with dried cow dung. She hopes this isn't the kind, but doesn't care that much.

In Tacoma, Teresa pulls out the meat drawer and wrinkles her nose as a whiff of old meat juice hits her. Baking soda time.

fiction non-fiction poetry art sounds
ABOUT BIOS STAFF PAST
©