By John Pilling
“Remaining mainly windy.”
Harry Snow nodded thoughtfully as he caught the concluding words of the weather forecast. Switching off the radio, he reached for the tide tables on the shelf by the phone, he nodded again as he confirmed high tide had been at four a.m. that morning.
Harry was a keen beach comber. It had begun shortly after his wife had died the previous year. Unable to bear the silence in the cottage he’d started taking long walks along the beach. The things he found aroused his interest and his little cottage just across the dunes from the beach was full of bits and pieces he had picked up. He knew that the combination of a high tide and strong onshore winds meant all sorts of things being thrown up by the sea.
With a keen sense of anticipation he put on a coat and made his way onto the beach. After a few minutes however, his pleasure was spoilt by seeing the body of a small white dog tangled in a mass of seaweed. Poor little beggar he thought I wonder how he got in the sea, wouldn’t have stood a chance last night. Moved by sudden compassion he bent down to brush some weed off the dog’s face and was astonished to see its eyes flicker.
It’s still alive he thought and kneeling down gently pulled the little body free, it was icy cold the fur matted and soaked and streaked with oil but he thought he could just feel a very faint heartbeat.
“Well doggie,” he said, “I reckon I’d best get you home and warmed up.”
Back at the cottage he removed the dog’s collar and rubbed him dry with a warm towel. Underneath the salt and oil stains his coat was a mass of tight white curls. Probably some sort of miniature poodle he thought maybe a Bichon frise.
Putting the dog on the rug in front of the Rayburn, he sat at the table to examine the collar. There was a small disc with the name “Ollie” engraved on one side and a telephone number on the reverse. Making a mental note to try the number later, he went into the kitchen and warmed up some milk. Pouring it into a bowl he picked up a couple of biscuits and went back into the lounge where he was pleased to see the small curly head lift and two bright black eyes regard him solemnly.
“Hello Ollie,” he said, “feeling better are we?” Putting the bowl and the biscuits down on the rug he stroked the little dog gently and was rewarded by a lick from a small black tongue.
Over the next few days, he tried several times to get through to the telephone number. Finally he settled for leaving his name and address and a brief description of Ollie and where he found him.
To tell the truth he was beginning to hope there wouldn’t be any reply. He hadn’t realised just how empty and quiet his life had become. Once he was back on his feet Ollie changed all that, it wasn’t just his lively company on their daily walks, he was everywhere in the cottage. From the first night when he insisted on sleeping on Harry’s bed, he was a demanding affectionate little presence, impossible to ignore, and day by day Harry felt his loneliness receding.
It was about three weeks later when they had just got in from their morning walk that things changed. Ollie had been in and out of the sea chasing the seagulls and Harry was giving him a rubdown with a towel when the little dog suddenly wriggled out of his grasp and ran to stand by the door listening intently. He began to bark and whine, scratching at the door. Wondering what was bothering him, Harry went to the door and opened it only to see Ollie, barking ecstatically, dash out and start jumping up at a grey haired woman walking up the garden path. No doubt who she is he thought ruefully as he watched her bend down and, half crying, half laughing, pick Ollie up hugging him close.
After a few moments she looked up at Harry. “I’m so sorry… Mr Snow is it?” she said. “I thought I’d lost him for good, I’m Jean Burnett, Ollie’s owner.”
“I rather thought you might be” said Harry, “Would you like to come in? I’ll put the kettle on.”
Ten minutes later, comfortably ensconced in Harry’s armchair with a cup of tea she explained what had happened.
“I had to go away and boarded Ollie with a couple in the village but he got out one day and just disappeared. I was devastated until I got home and picked up your message, I’m so grateful to you.”
“I shall miss him” Harry said quietly. Jean looked at him,
“Are you on your own then?”
“Yes, my wife died last year, I didn’t realise how lonely I was until I found Ollie.”
“I am sorry” she said “I do know what it’s like, I lost my husband. You never really get over it, do you? That’s why I got Ollie for company.” She paused for a moment then went on, “Look, why can’t we share him? After all you saved his life so he’s your dog as well.”
“You mean share walks and so on?”
“Well why not? He’d be company for both of us then. I’ll bring him round tomorrow and we can both take him for a long walk along the beach.”
Harry smiled as he waved goodbye, he thought he’d be seeing quite a lot of Ollie in the future …and his owner.