|Disclaimers and Warnings
This is fiction. I don't know any of the people portrayed; nor do I know the dogs.
There is no sex in this chapter.
English is not my primary language. Please be assured that any atrocity committed against your language is absolutely unintentional on my part and I regret deeply if such should occur.
Comments and Criticism
Hope you enjoy.
Hugs from Morgenfryd
* * * * *
The Tail Of The Tiger
The Wounded DragonArriving at Orlando's international airport was like mistakenly arriving in a theatre play.
People talked loudly. Since it was improbable that so many should suffer from hearing impairment, their conversations seemed fake and staged in my ear. The bright clothes made me think of costumes. Costumes like those they use in American shows on TV. They even spoke like the people in the shows.
There were doors with exit signs above them but it didn't look like they led off stage. Apparently I had landed myself in one of those modern kinds of theatre that takes place in public spaces, involving the passer bys. There would be no obvious exits from that kind of performance.
Sara, Mormor's friend, picked me up. She said hello with a lot of cheek kissing and arm patting. She spoke loudly even when it was just the two of us in the car. And she spoke a lot. The smiles were wide, matching the loud voice. Perhaps it was how people spoke around here - loudly and taking up a lot of personal space with their body language.
I must have come across as a dour and ungrateful fellow.
As we drove along I saw the first tall palms I'd ever seen in real life. They looked naked and wonderfully obscene. That was when I began realising I was where I was supposed to be. It was like part of me was torn away from a flat film and flung into real life.
Mormor's house was locked away with a lot of other houses inside a tall fence. A fenced community - that was a new expression I learned. I asked Sara if people were afraid that their houses would run away; she laughed and talked about crime rates and healthy precautions in that drawl of hers.
She took great care to show me around the house. She introduced me to the dogs. A bunch of friendly pugs that hungered for human company.
The dogs had some of the same effect as the palms had had - pulling me out of the theatre play and into reality. So did the List that somebody called Beth had made for me. Dogs and lists were fix stars on my new sky, well known from home.
Sara gave instructions, until my head was spinning. She spent a lot of time apologizing that the car had a stick and I didn't understand what she was talking about. For a moment I thought that the "stick" was some fancy-weird new trend in car accessories, that just hadn't made it to Europe yet. I was relieved when I found out that the fuss merely was about the car not having automatic gear.
It turned out that the car was her grandson's. He had bought a new one and had not gotten around to sell this one yet. I wished he had been there so I could thank him properly. Not everybody will lend their cars to strangers. Not car owning Danes, at any rate.
Finally she ran dry of words. I thanked her for all the trouble she and her friend Beth had gone through on my behalf.
"Oh, I wish we could have done more, Dear. But we have been quite busy with Karen's little ones." Meaning the pups her friend Karen's bitch had gotten. A litter of six that had to be bottle-fed every second hour. "Now, Dear, don't take too much to heart what dear Rose says when you visit her. She is quite frustrated, having been in hospital for so long."
She left her phone number and left. I followed her out and waved good bye. I had a headache. Food, I needed food. That took care of the worst sting of the headache. After I had eaten I spent time with the dogs and took stock of the house. My mother had been right - it was not a handicap friendly place.
I took some photographs of the house and of the dogs and printed the pictures out on Mormor's printer. Then I left for the hospital.
It was a private hospital. Clean and quiet inside, not like the run down place that they had put my grandfather when he had fallen from the ladder. Mormor had her own room. Room 321. I knocked and entered when I thought I heard a faint voice from inside. It turned out that it probably was a TV sound I had heard.
"Hello, Mormor," I said. She didn't answer; she was watching TV. After a moment the clear and hard pale gray eyes turned my way, studied me sourly for a while before returning to the screen.
Her blonde dyed hair showed a little gray at the roots. Her face was freshly made up; the skin was smoother than I had expected. Grandmothers are supposed to look oldish but Mormor apparently was not aware of that.
Grandmothers are supposed to be smiling and friendly. She obviously wasn't aware of that either. Perhaps she didn't care about what grandmothers are supposed to be like.
The fractured leg was not just wrapped in a cast - it was also tied up in an intricate construction. It didn't look like she got to get out of the bed at all. Which meant she needed help with almost everything, including the most intimate bodily functions.
The room was much like I imagined cells in a mental ward. Nice and clean. White walls. The decor was just a trifle too crisply neutral to be friendly. There were no cracks in the smoothness that the eye could play with and get lost in.
Had it been a Monty Python show then there would have been little hairy doctors giggling under the bed.
I finished taking a good look around the room. She was still staring at the TV. Now it was commercials. I pulled a chair over by the bed and got the coffee, milk sugar and mugs out of the knapsack. I poured both of us a mug before sitting down. She didn't turn her head. I put the print outs with pugs next to her and got my sketchbook out. I could wait for her to get used to me, didn't really see any choice. I made myself comfortable, sketching ideas for her house and drinking my coffee.
After some time I noticed her stealing small glances in my direction and at the printouts. A couple of times she met my eyes but she looked away at once, as if stung. So I sketched on and lost myself in it like I tend to do when I focus on something.
When I next looked at her she had put her glasses on and picked up the small pile of prints. She went through them very slowly, as if it she was only allowed to see each picture once. Her face was still a hard mask but her mouth had softened some.
"The small male pup has a minor infection in the right eye," I said, returning half my attention to the sketch. "I cleaned it with the stuff in the white bottle. Other than that the dogs looked fine to me, just a little starved of human company. Their claws need clipping but it's not bad. I'll be more thorough when I groom them tonight. Beth wrote down the schedule you usually go by. I'll go with that as much as I can."
I sketched, made little notes of what to remember, and tried to order my thoughts. Turning to a new page I began sketching ideas for the web site that the potter had ordered.
Her voice was rather deep for a woman's. "I told your mother I don't want you here."
"I know." I looked up. "She told me."
Mormor gave me another long scrutiny. "Are you still doing drugs?"
"No. That is, unless you count alcohol and hash as drugs. I take those, not in large quantities or every day, though."
"Hash is a drug."
I wasn't sure where she was going with that so I waited.
"I will not have drugs in my house." If I listened real hard it almost sounded like a welcome. After all, she didn't tell me to move out.
"Alright. I won't bring illegal substances into your house. Right now there isn't any, not that I know of."
She kept looking at me, so I closed my block and put it away in the knapsack. "Beth made this list for me." I found the pocket. "Here. The first four pages are about the pugs. Would you mind going through it with me? Some of it sounds a little odd and I would like to hear your comments. I don't know much about pugs. I'm used to border collies." I needed to know these things. But then there was a lot of information I needed. As it was I didn't dare push her, she could be real frail under that cold surface.
She nodded and reached for the List. I moved closer so that both of us could see.
"There is an awful lot of face grooming involved."
Yes! She smiled a little at that, not a big smile, but still. And she explained about pug faces, making comments on her dogs specifically and using the prints for illustrations.
It took almost two hours going through that list and emptying the thermos. After that we talked pug training and house rules for another hour or so. We would have continued it the nurse hadn't arrived announcing dinnertime.
I flung the knapsack over my shoulder. "I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. Is there anything you want me to bring? The video?"
"It doesn't work."
"Have you any idea what is wrong with it?"
"I'll see if I can repair it." I turned to the nurse who was still there. "Can we hang things up on the wall? We can just switch them with the pictures that are already there."
"Oh, you are welcome to do that," she smiled widely. "Hole drilling is not allowed, though."
I nodded and turned back to Mormor. "So, what do you say? How about some pictures - pugs, the winter landscape, the frog or?"
Mormor blinked. "The frog?"
"Yes. The abstract one with all the green in it." I moved my hand tracing one of the lines in it in the air. "Reminds me of a frog but there is a lot more to it. It's the kind of picture one keeps seeing new things in."
She hesitated, then she nodded. "Yes. Bring that and the big one of Frida from the library. And some of those pictures that can stand."
I nodded. "Will do. And?"
"Alright. See you."
She nodded. The nurse held the door for me and followed me out. I waited for her in the hallway. "Hi, I'm Mikkel, Rose's grandson."
"I'm Marian. Pleased to meet you." She gave me another wide smile.
"I know you are busy with dinner but is there anybody around that can tell me about my grandmothers situation? If not today then perhaps tomorrow."
"Sure. This way." She led me down the hallway. "We didn't expect to see any of Ms. Werner's family. She told she had broken with everyone..."
"That's odd. She forgot to inform my mother about that. We got word about what happened quite by accident last Tuesday. I got on a plane as fast as I could."
"Yes? Where are you from."
We arrived in front of an already open door. She knocked and the gray haired woman behind the desk looked up from some papers. "Rose Werner's grandson is here. He'd like to talk with you about his grandmother."
The woman smiled. "Please come in." She rose to shake hands. "Catherine Michael."
Behind us Marian left and quietly closed the door. Doctor Michael waved for me to sit down.
"A grandson. What a pleasant surprise."
"I hope so. Mormor took a while to thaw."
"Mothers mother - grandmother in Danish. My mother and I are from the Danish branch. To the best of my knowledge that is what family Mormor has left back there. There is supposed to be a brother somewhere in the South Americas as well, and two daughters somewhere in Florida."
"And you think they are not aware Ms. Werner has broken the ties?"
"I have no idea - I have never met or heard from them. I only remember seeing Mormor once before and that is way back when I was a kid."
She pursed her lips. "This is an odd situation. I will have to talk with Ms. Werner and perhaps our lawyers before I can talk with you about her."
"Certainly." I thought it over. "But you can tell me what care a woman with a leg fracture much like Mormor's will need once she leaves this place, right? I need to know what to do about the house belonging to such a woman; it's a split-level house. Also there is the matter how to go about the rehabilitation. I don't have any knowledge of the American medical system at all. Um. You do give free consultations like this or.?"
She regarded me for a moment. "I suppose I can give a free consultation."
"Perhaps you can throw in a few words about the care of depressed people as well?"
She smiled. "Perhaps."
* * * * *
I folded up my folding rule and looked at my audience. "So what do you say, ladies? I put the washing machine here and the dryer there. The cupboard will have to go into your living room."
The three dogs wagged their tails.
I squatted to pet them. "I'm glad you don't mind." It was after all their room we were in. It had been for humans once, had in fact been the largest bathroom in the house. The toilet and bathtub had been removed to make room for a high table at convenient height for grooming dogs and a cupboard. The sink had been replaced with a big shiny stainless thing.
Through the open door I could see the pups playing on the floor of the dogs' living room. This was the dogs' part of the house. The house was shaped like a T and the foot was left to the dogs. There was another room that opened up into the enclosure, where the dam and the pups were kept when there wasn't humans around. The floor of that area could be easily hosed down. Right now I had opened the gate to the enclosure and the outer door to the walled part of the garden. The dogs mostly stayed near me, though.
One of the pups looked like it was looking for something. "Hey, guys." I rose and walked into the living room. "This way, come on out." The five pups and three bitches followed me into the garden. Mormor had told me to rely only on positive reinforcement with pugs. So when the pup had finished its business I petted it and told it what an impressive thing it had just done.
Frida, the most active of the grown dogs, showed up with a blue ball in her mouth. One of the pups was with her, eagerly trying to take the ball out of her mouth and not succeeding at all. The ball was too big and Frida had a good grip on it.
"You think the gardener is coming at all today like Sara said?" Frida wagged her tail expectantly. "Alright, alright. Let's play throw-the-ball-and-have-a-stampede."
I was still playing with the dogs when I heard a small truck enter the driveway. The dogs formed an eager welcome committee; it looked like the people that usually came with that car were popular with pride.
Leaving the dogs in their enclosure I went to investigate. A slim black haired man had just gotten out of the truck. He was standing with his back to me, searching for something inside the cabin. His cut-offs hugged his strong buttocks in a most eye-catching way. Muscles shifted in the sinewy brown legs when he raised to his toes to reach better.
I was probably a little flushed by the time he turned around and saw me. His eyes widened and he looked scared. I hurriedly introduced myself and he relaxed and smiled. It was the gardener Emanuel, come to mow the lawn and cut the bushes.
"I really could use some advice. Do you have time? You must put the time on the bill, of course," I said to him and he smiled and nodded. "Let us go sit on the back porch."
He followed me into the walled garden. While he said hello to the dogs I got us both a mug of coffee.
"So what advice do you need?" he asked when we were sitting on the porch, face to face with the table, my sketchbook and the mugs between us. "This is not about women, is it?"
I laughed. "In a way. It's about my grandmother. Or rather her house. There is a lot that needs to be done before she gets home and, well, I thought maybe you could tell me how to go about it. I need to find workmen, tools and materials. I only have two weeks."
He looked curiously at me. "What do are you going to do?"
"Well, I need two ramps, one for the front porch and one in the living room. There are several doorsteps that will have to be removed. Then there is the problem with the bathrooms. Right now there isn't one where one can get around in a wheel chair. So I either have to reinstall a toilet and a low sink in the one in the dogs' part or move a wall a meter or so into Mormor's bedroom. There isn't much I can do about the third bathroom-"
We talked and looked at the house, discussing how things could be done. Frida and Leika followed us around. In the end Emanuel called his brother in-law, Miguel the carpenter, talking Spanish at fast forward on the phone. Miguel would come over the next day and talk things over with me. Emanuel promised me to call back and give me the phone number of a plumber. "He is crazy but he is good at plumbing," he said. I could live with that if the man could come.
Emanuel had a job to do and I left him to it. I walked the dogs, using the opportunity to investigate the neighborhood.
When I got back Emanuel was hoisting the lawn mower onto his truck. "I have to leave now," he said. "My wife will not be happy if I am late tonight. Her sister is visiting from Mexico."
"Thank you for your help. I really appreciate it."
"I'm glad to help. I have been wondering what was going to happen with the dogs and with Ms. Werner once she got home. It's good to know that somebody is here."
After he had left I made myself some lunch and ate it sitting on the back porch.
It wasn't long before Violet left her pups to climb onto my lap. "You really need this, hu." I looked at her. She gave a comfortable snorting sigh and snuggled deeper. "I have to leave soon but I'll be back." I scratched her neck and she snorted again. A pug sound. "Yes. I promise." It was nice sitting like that. Mormor probably missed it so much it made her crazy. "You know, I just got this idea-"
I smiled to the nurse, trying to look like the innocent boy I am deep down. She smiled back at me and apparently thought nothing of the bag I was carrying. Very likely the bag appeared a minor detail compared to the large framed pictures in the other hand and my big rucksack on my back.
Oops, another nurse. Smile. Luckily she was hard of hearing or perhaps she thought that little snort was mine. I took the staircase; not that there was anything unusual about that, I don't feel well in little closed spaces like elevators.
Finally there. I pushed to door to Mormor's room open with my shoulder.
There were no visitors and no nurses. Good.
I stepped inside quickly. "Hi, Mormor." The door whooshed shut behind me.
She blinked, her mouth thinned. "You should knock-" At the sound of her voice the bag went bonkers and began whining and moving. Mormor's eyed grew huge. "What.."
"Sh. Don't tell on me." I went over to the bed and opened the bag so that Mormor could fill her arms with one very happy Leika. "I figured you were long ripe for some dog therapy." She didn't hear me; she was too busy calming the dog and fighting tears, having more success with the first than with the second. She was babbling those stupid sounds that some people will pour over babies and dogs.
I went about the room, hooking up the video and hanging up the pictures. By the time I had finished she was partially back on-line, enough to register that I poured her a mug of coffee.
"See. You aren't forgotten." I smiled and sat down.
"You are such a bad boy." She kept her attention on the dog. Her hands were stuck in the coat, couldn't let go. Leika looked like she was in the seventh heaven.
"Mm. You want me to turn myself in?"
She chuckled and shook her head.
"How do you like the pictures?"
She looked around but didn't really pay attention. "Fine, just fine." Then her gaze was back on Leika, drinking her in.
When I had finished my coffee I got up and left to find somebody in white. I found one that by his nametag should be Doctor Hammer. Not an assuring name for a doctor, yet he seemed friendly enough, a nice looking blonde in his forties. He could tell me that Michael was off shift.
"You are the grandson of Rose Werner, right?"
"I heard about you." He smiled. "What did you want to talk with Doctor Michael about? Perhaps I can help you."
"Well, I wanted to ask about Mormor."
"I can probably answer your questions. Come, let us go to the office."
This time there was no hesitation answering all my questions. Apparently Mormor had accepted me as her grandson. He explained about the fracture in nauseating detail. I managed getting the information I needed and when he for the umpteenth time strayed into detail I cut him off. "You know, my vocabulary doesn't cover this subject at all. Besides, I am much more interested in the depression, that's the part where I may come in."
"Yeah, right. I lost myself there for a moment, I guess." He smiled. "Ms. Werner does seem to suffer from a depression. So far she has refused to let us treat anything but the bodily hurts she got in the accident. I tried to talk with her about therapy." He shrugged.
"I can imagine. You got The Glare."
He chuckled and nodded. "She has quite a temper. The thing is, there isn't really much you can do other than be there for her. Do not cuddle or pity her and don't put too much pressure on her either. If she will talk with you about how she feels that would be good. If you can make her face reality, just a little at a time, that wouldn't be a bad thing either."
"Right. You wouldn't happen to know if she has done anything like reserving a room in a rehabilitation home or finding a nurse?"
He shook his head. "Neither I or any of my colleagues or the nurses are aware she has done anything about her situation. She refuses to speak about it."
"Look, I have some material for relatives of depressed people. Why don't you take it, read it and come back with your questions?"
"Sounds good to me."
He gave me a booklet and a sheet of paper. "Doctor Michael wrote down some addresses for you."
"Thanks." I checked. The therapist that I wanted to look at the house was amongst them. "I better go back. Mormor is waiting."
This time I knocked before entering and waited for the sound of a "come in". Mormor looked tense, she had covered Leika with the sheet, but the sheet didn't really cover the lumpiness of Leika.
Mormor relaxed when she saw who it was and pushed the sheet away from Leika. I figured I would stay where I was, leaning against the door and acting like a doorstop. Leika send a couple of tail wags my way but didn't get up.
"So, what did the doctor say?"
"I'm not sure. He used a lot of big words when he talked about your leg; I didn't get half of it. It sounded like you are hiding a piece of ultimate fine art under that cast."
She shrugged. "Am I going to walk?"
"Yes. Probably with a limp, they cannot say for sure how badly. Does that match what they told you?"
"Yes. They wrapped it up more, though."
"You like the pictures where they are or do you want me to switch them around?"
"No. It's good." She checked Leika's paws. "I see you only fixed one."
"Yes. I'll do them one paw a day like you said. They really are sensitive about their claws. I went through the moves with the pups but didn't actually do anything about the claws. The dominant bitch wouldn't play along so I let her be."
She nodded and stroked Leika's pelt. "It's a pug thing. Their claws are real sensitive." The dog lay still, eyes half closed.
"Emanuel said to say hello. I had a cup of coffee with him on the back porch."
She nodded and once again checked the claws I had clipped. I waited for her to comment on either the quality of the clip or on Emanuel but she didn't.
"Mormor, I need you to make a decision or two."
"Why?" She raised a sarcastic eyebrow. "As if you'll listen to what I have to say anyway."
I couldn't stay by the door if I was going to have any form of report with her so I went over to sit down. "When you get out of here - where do you want to go? To a resort of some kind or what?"
She answered in an irritated voice. "I want to go home."
"Alright." I poured us coffee. "The doctor told me, that after you are released it will be a couple of weeks before you can begin moving around on crutches. There will be pain involved and you'll want to use the wheelchair when you are tired or in pain. It will be at least four months before you get the cast off. Does that match what they have told you?"
She nodded sourly, her mouth a thin line.
"You'll need to be able to get in and out of the house - if for nothing else, then to go to the rehabilitation center. Now, you can do that with more or less dignity. I thought, there could be a ramp in front-
"You are not to muck around with my house. Understand? I will take care of it when I get home."
"You can do that, of course. But would you please just listen to me before you tell me to do nothing?" Not that I was going to do nothing no matter what she said but she didn't need to know that.
She grunted and glared. Her hand kept stroking Leika. "I will not have my house look like a home for the elderly and senile!" It was a whip crack.
Some times my mouth does really stupid things. Like "I could litter the front yard with kids' toys. Should take care of that."
Her eyes widened, shooting a rain of daggers at me.
"Sorry. Um. A ramp made of wood in the same style as the house or an elevator wouldn't look too bad."
Wrong again, I got another shower of sharp things. I forged on. "It wouldn't be the cheapest solution, but you would be able to go in and out on your own, taking the dogs for walks and so."
I paused to drink coffee and waited for Leika's magic powers settle Mormor's temper.
She grunted and sharp things stopped streaming from her eyes.
"I have brought some brochures on elevators and on ramps built out of metal modules. I've made a couple of sketches of wooden ramps, but then I'm a joiner not an architect, no doubt it could be done more elegantly. The metal ramp is the cheapest solution."
She grunted. "What else? There is more you want to meddle with?"
This time she snorted. Sore subject, this.
"There are alternatives to mucking about with bedpans and having to wash in the bathroom in the back." We were back to the glares. "Of course the bathroom in the back could be re-established. Alternatively, the one next to your bedroom could be widened. As far as I can see, the wall originally stood a meter or so inside what is now the bedroom. It could be moved back. In both cases, I'd just have to put up a couple of bars and handholds, and you would be able to go to the bathroom on your own from day one."
She bent her neck, effectively hiding her face. Her fingers played slowly with Leika's short pelt. She sighed, sounding really tired. ". Show me the brochures."
Yes! "Of course." I dug out my sketchbook and the brochures.
She took her time, looking things over. Leika fell into a slumber and began snoring but her magic worked anyway.
"This one." Her finger finally came down on one of the sketches. "Forget about the architect. And fix the bathroom by my bedroom."
She blinked at me. "Was that it?"
"Mm. Not quite. How do we go about funds? The fund mother and I set up cannot cover this, I think. Perhaps-"
"I want none of your money!" Spittle and whip crack.
Leika woke up, whining softly. Mormor stroked the dog, calming both of them.
"Alright. What do you want then?"
"I'll have my lawyer set up an account for you."
"You will keep a book. I want receipts on every nail and bolt. And pictures like you took of the dogs."
It wasn't that I hadn't planned to keep a book or bring her pictures - I had. It was the way she said it, as if she expected me to cheat her. She could be rude to me and call me idiot to my face, if she wanted, I could easily let that slide past me in order to get things done, after all, it wasn't like she was a friend. But that one got to me.
It took me a moment to swallow the hurt and the anger. "Of course." I took a deep breath, forced myself to just look ahead. "When can this account be set up? I'd like to start today."
She spent a moment glaring at me before she reached for her phone and with an irritated finger punched a couple of keys. "This is Ms. Werner. Give me Mr. Miller, please."
I was too frustrated by her suspicion to sit still and listen. So, while she talked I unpacked the videos, fresh prints and books I had brought and packed the things I would be taking with me again. She was still talking so I picked the discarded reproductions up and carried them out and found somebody in white that promised to take care of them.
Mormor cut the connection shortly after I got back. "Mr. Miller will have everything ready for you. You can come by his office on your way from here; he'll go with you to the bank. Did you bring any ID?"
"Yes, my passport."
"That should suffice. Was there anything else?" Implying that there better not be.
"Perhaps Mr. Millers address?"
She gave it to me and I wrote it down. I would find it on the street map once I got back to the car.
I reached for a safe subject. "The video should work now. I brought a few tapes. One of them is from last night; I left the camera running when I groomed the dogs. It's in the video player now."
She was silent for a long time, stroking the dog and not looking at me. Then she lifted her head. "What do you expect to gain from this?"
"From coming here and butting into my privacy."
"A sore nose for sure." I shrugged. "Apart from that, I don't know. It's just something that has to be done. You are close family. I cannot leave until I am sure you are self functioning." I received The Glare. "So far the date on my return ticket is set to April the twentieth. It can be postponed another month at the most, if I am not to get in trouble with the official US."
"Two months! You intend to hang around here for another two months poking into my life! I will not have it. You will be out of my house the day I move back home."
"Very well. But to get me out of Orlando you need to get your fingers out of that dark place and show some initiative. Start thinking about your situation and do things and give me orders to act on."
"What! Orders!" she snapped. "I told you to stay away, boy, if that isn't an order then I'm a goat! You don't know how to take orders. Your mother has told me enough about you. I should have the police watching you day and night. I only let you stay because of the dogs."
There it was again, the suspicion. It still hurt. I wondered what my mother had told Mormor. "Whatever." I wasn't getting into this, I told myself that over and over, trying to quench the angry pressure inside me. After all, it wasn't like I could argue her into trusting me. But she had set up that account and she didn't need to that, not if she was just letting me stay because of the dogs. All this was probably just about hurting me and now she had found one of my sore places to poke.
I wished I knew what the war was about. At least I knew that with my mother.
I pulled the blanket out of Leika's bag and folded it up again to make sure the bag was as comfortable for her as it could be. Leika eyed the preparations. Mormor's arm around her tightened. They really needed a lot more time together, or better - not to be separated at all. "It's risky, but I could come back and pick her up when I have talked with Mr. Miller."
Mormor blinked and shook her head. "They will be in here as soon as you leave. To see the pictures or something stupid like that. They are nosy."
"Alright. I'll bring her back tomorrow, then, unless I'm discovered when I smuggle her out. Is there anything you want me to bring you?"
She described the binder she wanted. "I need to find names for the pups."
I nodded. "Just call if anything else comes to mind."
I slung the rucksack into place and put the bag on the floor, opening it wide. Leika looked at it, looked at Mormor, pleading silently.
"Sorry honey, but you have to leave. Now, be a good girl. Be a good girl." Her hands kept stroking and patting the bitch when I lifted it up.
"Come on, Leika." Leika let me put her in the bag, giving only a little whimper when I closed it. Then she fell quiet. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Mormor nodded and I left.
Evening came around, as it will usually do, even when one is that far from home. I had set up my computer in the library and hooked it up to Mormor's monitor and phone connection so that I could work through the list that Sonja had mailed me.
Around eleven the phone rang and I went into the kitchen to answer it. It was Mormor.
"Did I wake you up?"
Something wasn't right.
"No, no. I was in the library, working on a few things of my own. They didn't find dog hairs in your bed or anything like that, I hope?"
"No. No, nobody has said anything."
Was she crying? "Mormor, are you alright? What happened?"
"Oh, nothing happened. Really. I. I'm just being stupid..." Her voice was weak. She was out of it for some reason.
"I'm good at stupid. It's alright. Tell me what it is."
". No. I'll let you get back to your work."
"Wait a minute. I think I can guess what it is. One of the pictures I hung up aren't level and it's driving you nuts."
"What? No. They are fine. You were right about the frog. I always saw a troll there."
"A troll?" I closed my eyes and tried to visualize the picture. "The reddish strokes are hair?"
"Yes. The frog's back is the left eye."
"Um. I think I get it, yes." I sat down on the floor. Leika and Frida had followed me into the kitchen and now Leika scampered on board my lap. "Is that why you can't sleep - because the troll is looking at you?" Frida sniffed the phone and I pushed her away not wanting her face so close to mine.
"No. I like the troll. Who is that?"
"Frida. I'm sitting on the floor and she is interested in the phone."
"You should have seen the other dogs when I got back with Leika. They could smell you, I think. Violet and Frida were all over her. They have been in a mood all day. I had to hide all your shoes. You don't happen to have a pair they can have?"
"A pair of shoes?" Was that a smile in her voice? "I suppose. The gray and pink sneakers. I think they were by the kitchen door."
"Yes, there was a pair like that. They were really popular. You want one of their toys in exchange?"
"Which one? The teddy cat? It can go in the washing machine first. Actually it better, it's kind of grungy. I think it was Violet that buried it in the garden. Frida dug it back up."
She chuckled. Chuckled? Or maybe she was crying. It sounded more like a chuckle, though. Then it was quiet. I could hear her breathe. "Will you bring it?"
"Certainly. I'll put it in the washing machine tonight."
"Thank you." What? Thank you? "You must think I am stupid."
"Stupid? No. When I left Peter. Did my mother tell you about him?"
"The first two-three months after we had separated I slept with an extra duvet when I was sleeping alone. I needed something to hug or I couldn't sleep. You think that was stupid?"
"See. It wouldn't be stupid with the teddy cat either; it has a much more sensible size for one thing. And it is much healthier than chemicals when you cannot sleep."
"Yes. I really miss their snores."
"Honestly, it's driving me nuts."
She chuckled. "It's a good sound."
"Hmm. Tell you what, I can make you a CD with pug snores. I'll get a mike tomorrow. You have a CD player with you?"
"Actually, no. Don't bother. I'm fine. Much better now."
"You think you can sleep?"
"Well, yes. How about you, when are you going to bed?"
"In another couple of hours. I don't sleep that much. Besides, I am jet lagged, so I'm not tired at all yet."
"It was good talking with you."
"You know, I enjoyed it too. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yes. Good night, Mikkel."
I sat there staring at the phone, wondering what just had happened. "She chuckled!"
Frida and Leika just wagged their tails.
* * * * *