Percy Alexander awoke on his eighty-third birthday and looked at the time on his bedside clock: 5:55 am. A good sign. A particularly good sign. He reached behind him and felt the sheets. Dry. Another good sign. Lately, he’d had more night accidents than he cared to admit. But today was his birthday. And although he didn’t have the best history of luck on his past eighty-two birthdays, (a heart attack on his sixtieth birthday, his sister’s death on his fifty-second birthday, getting fired from his job on his forty-ninth birthday) he was determined to make his eighty-third a good one, even if it’d been a dreadful week. He reached over and opened the blue pill container on his bedside table containing various arthritis, blood pressure, and anxiety medications and swallowed them down with his jelly jar of water. He glanced over at the empty dog bed across the room and sighed.
“Miss you old boy,” he murmured, before getting up to brush his teeth and get dressed. His beloved bloodhound, Sir Eugene Alexander IV, had passed away the day before. He’d taken Sir Eugene to the emergency vet since he hadn’t eaten for a few days and had begun to cough up blood. Cancer, the vet had informed him. It’s for the best, she’d stated when she suggested they euthanize Sir Eugene before it got worse.
Percy felt like he’d lost a limb. Had lost his will to live. Sir Eugene was the only good thing Percy had in his life. He’d never been married. Never had kids. He’d only had dogs. Sir Eugene Alexander, Sir Eugene Alexander II, Sir Eugene Alexander III, and Sir Eugene Alexander IV. Dogs were easy to love, but hard to lose. And it never got easier. Sometimes he wondered if it was all worth it. Worth all the pain in the end. He wasn’t sure if there was any point in living anymore if he didn’t have Sir Eugene.
It’ll get better, he told himself as he tied his green bowtie around his collared paisley shirt. Grief takes time, he hummed as he wiped a tear from his cheek before putting on his thick, black rimmed glasses. He looked in the mirror as he combed the measly few hairs left atop of his shiny head. You gave him a good life, he whispered as he slid on his loafers. He walked to the door and grabbed his briefcase which normally contained Sir Eugene’s ball, water bowl, and a couple treats. Today it was empty. He brought it with him anyway. The routine would be good for him.
He headed out for his regular morning latte and paper. Sir Eugene had normally come with him on this walk every day for the past fifteen years. A latte and paper by the Argyle Street Bridge, followed by a walk to Henrietta Park for catch. Then the two of them would walk home, put on the telly, and take a nice long nap on the sofa. But today, on his eighty-third birthday, Percy was doing this walk all alone. And today, on his eighty-third birthday, Percy would arrive home alone and take a nap on the sofa alone.
“The usual?” Edgar, the barista, asked, looking down at Percy from his coffee stand. Edgar robotically opened the jar of biscuits next to him and reached down to hand Sir Eugene his morning treat.
“Yes, but it’s just me today,” Percy murmured as he coughed quietly into his hand, hoping he didn’t have to explain himself.
Edgar reached his head out of the window and surveyed the empty area next to Percy, as if he needed to see for himself. Before he could ask where the pup was, he spotted a tear creeping out from the old man’s eyes. He grabbed the latte and a chocolate chip scone and scooted it toward his most loyal customer.
“This one’s on me, mate,” Edgar said empathetically as he pushed the breakfast towards Percy.
Percy raised his eyebrows. “Are you sure? That’s awfully kind of you,” he said as he took the items with hesitancy.
“Have a nice day,” Edgar said, giving him a sympathetic wink. “He was a good ole dog.”
Percy smiled and nodded, eyes filling with tears before he turned to fetch his paper. As he hobbled up to the news box to get a copy of The Telegraph, he was delighted to see a discarded copy laying on a nearby bench. He plopped himself down next to the paper and took a sip of his caramelly latte. Sir Eugene, ya old boy, you’re giving me all this fortune today, aren’t you, he thought to himself, as he scanned the latest news and took a bite of his mouth-watering scone.
When he’d finished his breakfast and paper, Percy threw his garbage in the bin and headed for Henrietta Park, briefcase held tightly in hand. He couldn’t help but miss the compliments he’d received from strangers when he’d walked on this street with Sir Eugene. “Cute dog.” “Handsome fella.” “What a well-behaved pup.” Sir Eugene was the star of the show. Always getting all the compliments. Always politely licking strangers’ hands, giving his sloppy kisses whenever needed. Now, when Percy walked down the street, it was as if he were invisible. No one even seemed to notice he was alive.
As he approached Henrietta Park, he heard music. Loud music. He saw people. Lots of people. What in the Dickens is going on? he wondered as his shoes stepped from the pavement to the soft grass. He glanced up and noticed a sign that hadn’t been there the day before, “Bath Cats & Dogs Home: Dance for Pets.” He’d thought he’d seen that shelter before on The Avenue. He glanced over at the grass adjacent to him and saw an assortment of children, women, and men all flailing their arms like sods next to a band on stage.
“It’s a five-pound entry fee,” a woman’s voice chimed in his ear as he headed towards the music. He furrowed his brow. And turned towards a woman wearing a blue shirt.
“Five pounds?” he asked, surprised at the outrageous fee for a bizarre dance party in the middle of a free park.
“For the dogs and cats,” she said, pointing towards the pen of animals down the hill.
Bothered, he took out his wallet and handed her a five-pound note. “For the animals,” he said before placing his wallet back in his pocket and walking towards the crowd, hypnotized by the melody. It was some sort of Celtic/Reggae music that reminded him of a trip he’d taken to Cornwall years ago. He faced the stage and tapped his foot to the beat; the best and only dance move he had. When he’d been about sixteen, he’d taken a girl named Matilda Mullins to a school dance and Percy had fallen on his face trying to impress her on the dance floor. Matilda had told him she just wanted to be friends after that. He hadn’t tried to dance since.
Percy closed his eyes and listened to the music fill his head, imagining what life could have been like with Matilda. Maybe they could have had a family. Could have moved to the suburbs. His daydream was interrupted when he felt a tug on his trousers. Startled, he opened his eyes and looked around him and then down at a little girl with bright red hair in pig tails who was barely taller than his kneecap.
“Wanna dance, mister?” she asked as she bounced up and down. Percy looked around for the girl’s parents, unsure of what to do. He’d never been good with kids. He spied a nice-looking woman and man sitting with a baby on a blanket nearby and motioned towards the girl, hoping they understood his gesture meant, “Is this yours?”
“It’s fine! You can dance with her!” the woman hollered as she bit into a triangle of watermelon, juice trickling down her chin.
Percy glanced down at the girl again and shrugged. “I can’t dance, I’m sorry,” he apologized as he began to head out of the park.
“Everyone can dance sillyhead,” she screeched as she grabbed his briefcase and set it down, grasping both of his hands in hers. He stared at her in bewilderment as she began to jump up and down as if on a trampoline. Startled, Percy looked around again at the girls’ parents, who now had out their cellphones and appeared to be either recording or taking photos of the obscurity of the two of them, laughing to themselves.
Percy smiled politely and began to shake his hips, trying not to make too much of a fool of himself.
“No jump! Jump like me!” the girl yelled at him as her pig tails bounced through the air.
Not used to being told what to do, Percy followed the girl’s orders and began to jump. He jumped. She jumped. They jumped. Then they began to spin and jump. Before Percy knew it, he was dancing. And he was laughing. Laughing so loud at this little bossy girl because she didn’t think he looked ridiculous. She thought he was fun. And he was actually having fun.
Before he knew it, the song had ended, and Percy felt so out of breath, he needed to take a rest. He hadn’t had that much exercise in decades.
“Come have a snack with mummy and daddy,” the girl urged him as she pulled Percy towards her family.
Obligingly, Percy followed the girl towards the family and introduced himself. “My name is Percy Alexander and thank you for allowing me to dance with your daughter,” he said, feeling as if he were sixteen years old again at Matilda’s house.
“I’m Maryanne and this is my husband, James. Thanks for dancing with Bailey, she really is a handful!” the woman said as she held a bottle up to the baby in her arms.
“My pleasure,” Percy said, tipping his pretend hat. Bailey giggled and sat down on her father’s lap, picking up her juice box and placing the straw to her mouth. “I must be on my way now, it was lovely to meet you,” he said before turning to head home.
“Thanks for the fun dance, Mr. Percy!” Bailey shouted to him as he headed out of the park.
What a strange occurrence that was, Percy thought to himself. An occurrence he could only account for Sir Eugene having had a part in it. A birthday dance for the birthday boy. Thanks, old boy, he thought as he headed through the crowd out of the park to go home. Just then, he decided to walk past the pen of dogs and cats to take a peek. Just a peek, he told himself. He glanced into the pen and saw a few white furry kittens, a couple pit bulls, a chihuahua, some mutts, and a white and tan spotted basset hound, it’s droopy face making it look like the saddest thing he’d ever laid his eyes on.
“Are you interested in adopting a pet?” a high-pitched voice came from behind him.
Startled, Percy turned around to see a woman wearing a blue Bath Cats & Dogs Home tee shirt on, with the name tag, Dee, on it.
“Interested? No, just looking,” he told her, alarmed by the woman’s approach.
“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” Dee said, pointing towards the Basset Hound who was wagging her tail ferociously at the two of them.
“She?” he asked, thinking it had been a “he.” All of his dogs had always been male. It was easier to relate to his own kind.
“Yes, her name is Victoria. We found her under a car on Rosemount Lane, poor little lady. She looked like she hadn’t eaten for days. Had a large goiter on the side of her neck we had to remove,” Dee gestured towards her own neck to indicate the spot that had been removed.
“Under a car?” Percy exclaimed, wondering how on earth anyone could abandon such a breathtaking creature.
“Yup, it’s a cruel world out there. We were hoping to find her a home today, but with her health problems, no one wants to adopt her,” Dee said, leaning down to rub the hound’s mammoth ears.
“Health problems?” Percy asked, scratching his balding head.
“Well, she’s got a thyroid problem. Needs a daily pill is all. But people hear health problems and past goiter history, and they scurry away. She’s the only one left in the pen who hasn’t been claimed,” Dee explained as she scratched behind Victoria’s neck,
“Really, it’s just one pill a day is all. No big deal.”
Percy bent down and rubbed Victoria’s large ear. The soft fur sent a rush of sadness into the pit of his stomach. The fur was as soft and brown as Sir Eugene’s. Victoria sniffed at his hand and gave him a sloppy lick.
“You’re a good girl,” he purred as he scratched Victoria’s head.
“You sure are good with her,” Dee said, admiring the odd old man in front of her. “Are you sure you aren’t interested in adopting her?”
Percy furrowed his brow and looked at Dee and back to the dog, thinking of the best way to turn her down. What he wanted to say was, “You see I just lost my dog yesterday. He was my best friend. My soulmate. I really can’t imagine going through that ever again. I don’t plan on living very much longer really. And I’ve never had a female dog. Or a Basset Hound. So no, I will have to decline, I am sorry.”
But Percy, did not say this. Instead, Percy looked at Victoria’s large brown eyes. He gazed at her oversized speckled paws. He thought about Victoria being the only dog not chosen today. The only dog not wanted. So instead of saying no, Percy said, “I’ll take her.”
And so, the afternoon of Percy Alexander’s eighty third birthday, he walked home, briefcase in his right hand, and Miss Victoria Alexander’s leash held tightly in his left. Dee’s instructions for Victoria’s medications stored away in his briefcase. He’d stop by the vet after their afternoon nap.
When Percy had awoken that morning, he’d known, or at least, he’d hoped his eighty-third birthday would be better than his past birthdays. He couldn’t have imagined it would have been one of the best days of his life.
Thanks, ole boy, he whispered to Sir Eugene as he lay down on the sofa with Victoria for his afternoon nap. Thanks for making this a great birthday, even if you aren’t with me. As if answering for her predecessor, Victoria gave Percy a big, sloppy lick on the cheek as he closed his eyes, a broad grin on his face.