When the phone rang Donna finished sewing to the end of the seam before she picked up.
“Hrguagh?” she said, realizing too late that she was still holding three pins in her mouth.
“Um… Donna?” her daughter-in-law Elaine asked.
“Sorry,” Donna said, removing the pins.
“I can call you back?”
“No!” Donna said. “I’m glad to have a break. I’m not cut out for sewing. I think I’ve sewed a pocket into this blanket.”
“That sounds like progress,” Elaine said.
“It’s not supposed to have a pocket,” Donna said.
Elaine tried not to laugh, but failed.
“I don’t mean to make fun of you, Donna. But you’re usually so good at everything you do.”
“I didn’t think sewing would be such a frustrating winter project,” Donna said.
“I hope you’re not running out of things to do yet,” Elaine said. “There’s a lot more winter to get through.”
Donna sighed. She was doing her best to stay positive, knowing she couldn’t leave Saskatchewan this winter, and she’d only have a few opportunities to see her friends.
“Anyway,” Elaine said, “I was only calling to see if Connor’s at your house. I thought he was out in the shop with his dad, but Jeff says he left with Dale. In the truck, a couple of hours ago?” Elaine wasn’t terribly worried; 10-year-old Connor would be safe with his grandfather. But she’d already made him a grilled cheese sandwich, and if he didn’t come in soon, Connor would complain that it was soggy.
“If I see Dale, I’ll make sure he sends Connor home for lunch,” Donna said.
“Thanks,” Elaine said. “I’ll let you get back to your sewing.”
Donna sighed again. “Maybe I should trade this new sewing machine for a treadmill.”
Donna was still unpicking stitches from the accidental pocket when Dale came home.
“Where’ve you been?” she asked. “I’ve had lunch, but I left some soup on the stove for you.”
“Well… ” he said.
Donna came out of the office where she’d set up her sewing machine to see Dale still standing by the door, looking nervous.
“What’s wrong?” she asked. “Are you okay? Did something happen to Connor?”
“Connor’s fine,” Dale said. “Still out in the truck.”
“You’d better get him home,” Donna said. “Elaine’s looking for him.”
“Well… ” he said. “Connor’s in the truck for a reason.”
“Did he misbehave?”
“No, no,” Dale said. “It’s… Well… we drove out to that farm north of town… And things got a little out of hand.”
“What?” Donna asked.
Before Dale could stall any longer, the door flew open. “Grandpa!” Connor yelled.
A flash of black fur streaked through the open door, across the porch and down the hall.
“What was that?” Donna asked, jumping back.
“You were supposed to wait until I explained!” Dale scolded his grandson.
“She got bored!” Connor said.
Donna heard the clicking and thumping of four feet sprinting through the house. Seconds later the black streak was back, on the floor in front of Donna, Dale and Conner, chewing one of Donna’s new leather boots.
“Her name’s Flora,” Connor said. “Isn’t she a beauty? She’s smiling.”
Of course the German shepherd puppy wasn’t actually smiling, but it did look content, teeth dug deep into the boot Donna had brought home from the post office that morning.
“I know we didn’t talk about this,” Dale said quickly. “And she won’t have to live in the house for long… ”
“In the house?” Donna interrupted. “We can’t have a German shepherd inside!”
“Not forever,” Dale said. “Just until she’s big enough to live out in the shop. With Buddy and the cats.”
Donna started to explain that, since the shop was heated, of course a small dog could live out there, when Flora dropped the boot and changed positions. Three seconds later a terrible stench spread through the porch and Flora stepped away from a fresh brown pile.
“It’s not Flora’s fault,” Dale said. “She’s been in the truck for over an hour.”
“At least she didn’t go on the carpet, Grandma,” Connor said.
Dale stepped in to clean up the mess and pry the boot out of Flora’s mouth.
“You can barely see the bite marks,” Connor said, passing the boot to his grandma.
Dale spent the afternoon puppy-proofing the house, introducing Flora to the “old dog” and the cats, and trying to teach her to let go of the tennis ball after she fetched it.
Donna spent the afternoon on the phone.
“How is Dale going to go on vacation if he has a puppy?” she asked her friend Jan.
“Nobody’s taking any vacations this winter,” Jan said.
Her friend Marlene was no more sympathetic. “I thought we were going to do a lot of time in town this winter,” Donna said. “In the condo Dale’s father left us.”
“You’re not missing anything in town,” Marlene reasoned. “There’re no good parties this winter. We can hardly even meet for lunch.”
“He should’ve talked to me about it first,” Donna said.
“Maybe he hoped you would fall in love with it before you said no,” Marlene said.
“Maybe,” Donna said. “I guess he pulled the same stunt with me — not bringing me home to meet his parents until we were already engaged.” This wasn’t exactly the way it had happened, but after more than 40 years with the Hanson family, Donna knew better than to let the truth get in the way of a good story.
“At the very least, Dale owes me a pair of boots,” Donna insisted. Jan and Marlene both agreed with that.
During dinner, while Dale and Donna were eating baked salmon, Flora chewed the end off the electrical cord that ran from the lamp to the wall. While Dale was checking to see if he could fix the cord, Flora peed on the area rug in the living room.
“The whole point of farm life is that we can have pets that live outside,” Donna said.
Dale started to say that this wasn’t the whole point, but then chose to keep quiet while he scrubbed the rug.
To keep his house, and maybe his marriage, intact, Dale put Flora in a puppy-safe bathroom for the night.
In the early hours of the morning, Donna woke up to a high-pitched whine. With Dale still snoring, she got up to investigate. She opened the bathroom door carefully, expecting a mess she had no intention of cleaning up.
But instead of a mess, there was a sad, lonely puppy waiting in front of the bathroom door. When Donna looked down, frowning, Flora looked back up and gave out one more sad whine.
Looking down the hall to make sure Dale wasn’t watching, Donna bent to pet the dog. Flora’s black and brown puppy fur was soft and fuzzy. When Flora licked Donna’s bare toes, Donna knelt to look directly at the puppy. Flora looked back, as if she knew her big brown eyes would melt Donna’s heart.
Dale ducked his head back into the bedroom before his wife caught him spying. He rushed back into bed. Maybe the replacement boots he’d ordered online would turn up at the post office before Donna had anywhere to wear them.