It started like any other Sunday: sleep in, shower, drink coffee, read the news on her laptop. Today though, when she finished reading the news, she took one look at the time and hurried to get ready. She had a special meeting with at friend La Muse, the coffee shop favoured by students in the community. Today the world was a little different: she had a plan.
As a Drama student she was in love with her life: people with like minds, a great program, lots of opportunity to hone her craft. In fact, her life was so good right now she could almost forget that she had, basically, no money. She arrived at La Muse and slid into her usual booth shooting a smile at Sheena who nodded and started preparing her Café latte in a bowl.
The door opened again admitting Henri who grinned and made a bee-line for her. Henri was another Drama student and while he was a tad more reserved than she was they had found common ground in their poverty. He also adored her although she wasn’t supposed to be aware of that. That was ok though – him being in love with her would make him a more eager assistant.
As Henri dropped into the booth, Sheena came over and plunked down Quillan’s bowl.
‘I don’t suppose you are going to pay this morning?’ she asked, shaking her head in mock exasperation ‘if you weren’t such a charmer I’d ban your ass’
Quillan grabbed Sheena’s hand and brought it to her cheek ‘You know I only come here to admire your beauty’ she said, batting her eyelashes ‘the coffee is only incidental.’
Sheena’s laughter boomed and she reclaimed her hand ‘Get away from me with your flattery!’.
Once Sheena was back behind the counter, Quillan turned to Henri ‘Well? It’s decision time! Are you in or not?’
Henri frowned and shook his head ‘well, you got balls, that’s for sure’ he held her gaze, ‘are you sure you want to do this?’
With an exaggerated grimace, Quillan sat back in the booth and glanced to the heavens for support ‘Honestly, Henri, how can you doubt me? Have I ever led you astray?’
Lowering her voice, she continued ‘we need the money and this isn’t stealing it. If people want to donate to a sad situation, well…’ she shrugged ‘we’re making them feel better about themselves. How can boosting their self-esteem be anything but good?’
She enveloped Henri’s hands with hers, gently tapping them on the table top to emphasize her words ‘We help them, they help us – no harm, no foul’
Henri stared at Quillan’s hands as he wrestled with his decision. Abruptly he squeezed them. ‘Fine’ he said nodding ‘Fine. I must be crazy but I’ll do it’.
Quillan sat back releasing Henri’s hands and the breath that she did not realize she had been holding.
‘Think of this as our Magnum Opus! Our Chef D’oeuvre!’ With ill concealed glee she confirmed ‘I’ll meet you outside the student union building tomorrow at 1:00pm. The Mayor makes her speech at 1:30 and we need to be there before she arrives’
Henri nodded ‘I know. I meet up with you, you hand me Chester’s leash, and I wait till you give me the signal. Oh! And I need to bring an empty backpack.’
‘Exactly. When it’s all over you head back to my place and I’ll meet you there as soon as I can’ Quillan scooted out of the booth and grabbed Henri in an impromptu hug ‘And then our money problems will be over!’ she sang into Henri’s ear.
Henri squirmed and pushed her away, face going bright red ‘Quill! Let go – geeze!’
Quillan planted a big kiss on his forehead then released him. Dancing backwards excitedly she waved ‘See you tomorrow!’
She burst into her apartment, slamming the door, and throwing her purse and jacket on the floor. ‘Chester!’
The skittering of claws on hardwood heralded the arrival of her Chihuahua. ‘OMG!’ she shouted.
The dog dropped to the floor so suddenly his momentum kept him sliding across the wood, eyes closed, tongue lolling: lifeless.
‘Chester! Chester!!’ she raced to the dog, dropping to her knees.
Quillan ran her hands over the animal, feeling his chest, leaning down and listening for breath. Not a twitch.
She picked him up and the dog hung from her hands: head down, limbs limp and totally unresponsive. Quillan held him for a few seconds, then smiled.
‘Orange’ she whispered into the prone animal’s ear.
Obediently Chester’s eyes popped open and his tail started to wag. With unrestrained enthusiasm, he squirmed around and started licking Quillan’s face. Falling back with a giggle, she allowed the dog to adore her as he should. Months of training had gone into that trick. Weeks of patiently working to overcome the dog’s instincts and leverage his need to please.
Initially she had no idea this trick could be anything other than a great attention getter. Now? She snuggled the small dog against her chest
‘You have something very important to do tomorrow’ she crooned, ‘time to earn your keep!’
Quillan bounced out of bed early the next morning, both excited and nervous for the adventure that was ahead of her.
Chester, picking up on her mood, was showing her all his tricks: walking on his back feet, rolling over, bowing. She smiled at his antics
‘I’m glad you are ready’ she scooped him up. ‘You will only be on stage for a short while but your performance is the most important one!’
He licked her face enthusiastically – she was his world. Dropping him on her bed, she raced through her morning preparations and soon was ready. She glanced at the clock and frowned. It was noon and she was meeting Henri at 1… was it too early to leave? She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and texted him.
‘Everything ok? Will you be on time?’ She stared at her phone impatiently, willing his answer to be instantaneous. Finally, a chime signalled a reply had been received.
‘As ready as I’ll ever be. You’re sure about this?’
She snorted, ‘Absolutely! In for a penny, in for a lot more money! Meet you outside the centre by the gazebo.’
He texted back ‘K’
It had been drizzling earlier in the day and the maple leaves from last year were still here and there on the sidewalk adding a bit of bright orange to an otherwise grey spring day. Students were milling around, waiting for the Mayor of their small town to come and announce the beginning of Good Neighbour Week. She was watching for Henri in the throng of students. Suddenly she spied him.
‘Henri!’ She called, holding Chester up and giving him the signal to bark ‘We’re over here!’
Henri waved and made his way across the sidewalk in front of the gazebo, setting his empty backpack on the ground. He fidgeted a bit, looking nervously around.
Quillan wove her arm through his, pulling him closer. ‘It will be fine’ grinning up at him she squeezed his arm, ‘in what, maybe half an hour? Your part will be done’
Before he could answer, there was a commotion at the entrance to the gathering area.
Ok, it’s time. Watch for me and wait for my signal’ Shoving the dog into Henri’s arms, she turned and hurried across the walkway towards the student center. Henri watched as the Mayor’s Cadillac moved slowly through the crowd towards the gazebo. When the limo was almost in front of him, he saw Quillan appear across the walkway and nod to him.
With a deep breath, he set Chester down on the ground. It took only a second for the dog to see the love of his life across from him. He whined and started to dance at the end of his leash. Watching Quillan carefully, he waited for her signal. And there it was.
While all eyes were on the Mayor, Quill squatted down on her haunches and held her arms out. That was all he needed: Chester whined and lunged to the end of the leash which Henri ‘accidentally’ dropped. Chester was off like a shot and ran in front of the Cadillac, yipping and bouncing along, happy to be rejoining his mom.
Just as he was passing the second front wheel Quinlan stood and screamed “OMG! Chester! NO!’
The dog obediently dropped like a stone, sliding to a stop against the curb of the walkway. Many students screamed, a few surged forward. Quillan ran over and fell to her knees beside the small dog, tears streaming down her face.
Henri ran over ‘He pulled the leash out of my hand! There was no warning’
Quillan shook her head ‘No.’ She ran her hands over the apparently dead dog, keening ‘He can’t be dead!’ She scooped the dog up, his head lolled to the side, tongue hanging out, limp as only Chester could be.
At that point the crowd parted and a very worried Mayor made her way to Quillan’s side.
‘I have no idea what happened’ She exclaimed ‘He came out of no where’
Quillan jumped up, dead dog in her arms ‘That doesn’t make it ok!’ she screamed, snot and tears dripping down her face ‘he was my baby!’
She sank to her knees again. Henri, bent down, ‘Baby’ he said softly ‘Why don’t we take Chester to the vet?’
She shoved him away unceremoniously ‘What is a vet going to do?’ anger and fresh tears, ‘Unless it’s Frankenstein I think we know there isn’t anything he can do!’
She burrowed her face into the dog’s fur, assessing the situation, trying to decide if it was time to move to the next phase. Henri apparently thought so as he took her firmly by the arm and pulled her to her feet.
Gently he pried Chester’s lifeless body from her arms. This was a tricky moment because if Chester felt that the ‘game’ was over he could miraculously come back to life and that would be very hard to explain.
Quillan released the dog, as was the plan, while Chester remained profoundly dead. When Henri stepped back, hugging the dog to his chest, Quillan started the redirect.
‘No!’ she shouted, lunging at Henri. As she had hoped, one of the people from the gathered crowd stepped forward and grabbed her arm, stopping her. Shaking his grip off, she rounded on him and yelled ‘let go of me you creep!’
She looked around wildly but as agreed, Henri had melted into the crowd; he and Chester were no where to be seen. Without a moments hesitation, Quillan fell into a dead faint.
‘Omg!’ Yelled the Mayor while people gathered around Quillan ‘Bring blankets and a bottle of water! ‘she directed her assistant ‘Hurry!’.
Henri, head down, pushed through the crowd carrying the dead dog. People reached for him, squeezing his arm, patting his back, wordlessly giving their condolences. Once he got around the side of the student center, he stepped into an ATM booth and quickly opened the empty backpack he still carried.
‘Orange’ he said quietly to the dog.
Chester’s eyes popped open and his tail started to wag. He licked Henri’s face and then looked around.
‘She’s still working’ Henri laughed knowing the dog was looking for Quill. He took a couple of dog treats out of his pocket and put them in the backpack. Chester jumped into the bag willingly, and Henri flipped the bag closed.
‘Ok Henri’ he muttered ‘One more thing to do, then I’m out of here’. He checked to make sure the key to Quill’s apartment was in his pocket. ‘She better have some beer in her fridge’ he thought ‘it has been quite a day already…’
When the Mayor tucked the blanket around Quillan, she allowed herself to be revived. ‘where is my dog’ she whispered.
Mayor Ness frowned and took Quillan’s hand. ‘Your friend took him away’ she said gently ‘But let’s worry about you right now…’
Quillan affected a tremor and started to cry again ‘He was all I had left! My parents are gone; I have no brothers or sisters… I lost my job, my tuition is overdue… he was all I had left. And then you’ the crying became louder and her words were punctuated with sobs ‘You… ran… over… my… d-d-dog!’
Mayor Ness sat back on her heels distraught ‘I’m so sorry’ she said wringing her hands ‘I don’t know what we can do’.
From back in the crowd someone yelled ‘lets do a collection for her!’ Quillan had to steel herself to keep the smile from her face. Good old Henri, his timing could not have been better.
Mayor Ness clapped her hands ‘A wonderful idea!’ She stood and motioned to her assistant again ‘Bring me my bag and the ice bucket from the back of the car – we can use that for the donation tin’ She turned back to Quillan ‘Don’t worry my dear, we can’t bring your dog back, but we can get you back on your feet’.
Henri shouldered the backpack and turned, relief that his part was done overshadowing the niggling feeling that something was wrong. He took two steps then spun around, shaking the bag from his shoulder, pulling it wide open and looking frantically for a dog that was obviously not there. Chester was gone.
Quillan struggled to a sitting position, pulling the blanket from her legs and wrapping it around her shoulders. She gave teary smiles to the people around her, patting the hands that were on her shoulder helping arrange the blanket. Since the Mayor put her $200 into the tin, students had been filing by steadily, dropping loonies, toonies, and bills into the rapidly filling bucket, murmuring their condolences and wiping some of their own tears.
This was going exactly to plan; she could not wait till she got back to her apartment. In a while she and Henri could celebrate with a beer and, of course, some steak for her little star.
‘Hey!’ someone yelled.
She looked up to see the lolling tongue and cheeky grin of Chester seconds before he barrelled into her chest.
‘He was only stunned!’ someone yelled. A cheer started in the crowd and the Mayor turned to look at Quillan with relief ‘Amazing!’
In a few days when Quillan had the time to reflect on this moment, she would realize that she could have pulled this out of the fire – she could have feigned the same amazement as everyone else, been reunited with her beloved pet, and still managed to get a bob or two out of that crowd. But hindsight is always 20/20.
In the moment, Quillan reflexively pushed the dog away from her ‘OMG Chester!’ she shouted angrily. And the dog, wanting only to please his mistress, fell to the grass, dead.