When he arrived, nobody expected Billy to live. But before we talk about Billy, we should mention Amy and Adam. Newly wed about five years earlier they decided mutually they would not rush into having children. Adam in fact didn’t want children. Amy did but her love for Adam was so great she too was willing to give up on the idea of childbearing and child raising. In truth, she went through the early months of marriage, nursing a secret longing for the sound of little feet pitter-pattering across the tiled mosaic of their spanking new kitchen, where she loved to spend most of her day, cooking something exotic for her newly-wed homecoming husband. But soon the aching, the yearning and the longing began to dull and fade.
Adam, meanwhile, whistled his way to work each day and returned home in the same whistling frame of mind, except of course when he was stressed by something at the office. On those occasions he still whistled a tune as he turned the key in the front door, but it was always a sad one, a dirge like ballad, or a tuneless funereal melody. On those days, Amy knew not to ask, with customary cheer, ‘How’s your day been, Adam?’ Those, however, were rare occasions. The point is that he never returned home without a whistled tune on his lips. Except for that one day, about a year into their marriage.
The paper anniversary
Amy recalls that they’d just marked their first anniversary - what’s traditionally known as ‘the paper anniversary’. In keeping with the theme, she’d secretly bought him a book, Uhuru, by Robert Ruark, and he’d done the same! When Amy unwrapped her gift, she found to her astonishment that he’d gone and bought her Uhuru, too! ‘You talked so much about it being a book you longed to read, I thought this might be the best thing to get you that was paper-related,’ explained Adam, after they’d both laughed hilariously over the mix up. It was a day after their anniversary when Adam, for the first time lost his whistle, as it were.
Instead, Amy heard him even before he entered the house. His voice appeared to come from a small distance away, so moving the gauzy kitchen curtain aside, she peered out the window at the front drive and there he was! Standing at the gate, one hand on the latch his eyes cast down on the sidewalk. She could hear him enunciating very clearly, ‘I am not doing this!’ ‘Doing what?’ She yoohooed to him from the kitchen window. He looked at her and pointed. ‘This!’ ‘I can’t see what it is,’ said Amy. Adam bent and picked it up. ‘This!’ And she set eyes on it for the first time, this thin, raw, emaciated creature. ‘Adam! You can’t leave it out,’ she cried, and he responded, ‘Can’t I?’ ‘No, you cannot. It’ll die.’ ‘I thought we’d agree we wouldn’t have any?’ shouted Adam, still at the driveway gate.
‘That was children, wasn’t it?’ asked Amy. ‘I thought that would have included a pet, too,’ stated Adam, ‘After all, pets require a similar degree of responsibility. And they’ll demand our freedom, take it away.’ ‘Oh Adam, bring it in. We’ll nurse it till it’s strong enough, then take it to a pet shelter.’ Enter Billy, skinny and nearly hairless. That was nearly five years ago. Now he sits curled up near Adam’s feet, while Adam’s fingers are lost in his brown lush fur coat. Billy enjoys not merely being close to his master, the man who saved him from a cruel fate maybe, but he also enjoys the feel of a good massage. As they say, ‘Scratch a dog and you have a job for life.’
— Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.