Ian sat on a park bench on the village green, enjoying a rare sunny English spring day. He had landed his dream job in London two months ago, and while he couldn’t deny the excitement, he also had to admit that constantly being surrounded by concrete and brick was soul-crushing. This fine Saturday he had nothing planned, so on a whim, traveled to Euston Station and hopped on the next train. He had no idea where it was going, and he didn’t care. He just wanted to get away from central London for the day.
Half an hour later, with the city far behind him, he was delighted by the view from his window, sitting alone at a small table on the train. He sipped his lukewarm tea, purchased from the drinks trolley, barely noticing as the tepid bland fluid filled his mouth. He swallowed, got up to toss the empty paper cup, and noticed that the train was slowing down.
The station the train pulled into was absolutely charming. It looked like it hadn’t been renovated in a century or more. The village likewise looked sleepy and inviting. Ian decided to get off at this stop. He slung his backpack over his shoulder, and moved to the train door, waiting for the massive vehicle to completely halt.
The train hissed to a stop; the doors automatically opened. Ian stepped out onto the platform, looking up and down to see that he was the only passenger getting off at this stop. He grinned; it made it seem as if this village was his particular secret. Whistling, he climbed down the platform stairs and walked toward the village.
He didn’t notice many people out, even though it was a late Saturday morning, and the day was spectacular. The few villagers he passed seemed friendly enough; everyone had a smile, nod, or “Good morning” for him. He returned the greetings, feeling his spirit grow lighter. London retreated to a cold, drizzly, foggy memory.
He found his way to the village green, and sat down on a park bench, enjoying the sunshine. His stomach suddenly grumbled, reminding him that tea and toast at his flat had been hours ago. The shops across from the green looked promising; he got up from the bench and strolled across the green toward them.
Across the street was a monolithic building, all marble, mellowed with time to a pleasing tone that was nearly flesh-colored. Lettering over the doorway boldly stated, “Plending Library.” He cocked his head, puzzled. He hadn’t noticed the village name at the station. He supposed it could have been Plending. After all, England was full of oddly named villages, like Dorking, and worse.
Watching the building, he saw a patron exit, carrying a cardboard box tucked under his arm, scurrying rapidly with what looked like excitement. Then a woman entered, with a Springer spaniel on a leash. He supposed villages were more relaxed about rules involving dogs in public spaces. Then she walked out a few moments later — without her dog!
Curiosity piqued, Ian entered the building. A receptionist’s desk faced the entry doors, staffed by a most remarkable young woman. Her arms were fully sleeved with tattoos, and her hair was a neon bubblegum pink. Gauged earrings, pierced nose and lip, and raccoon-rimmed eye shadow completed the picture. Picture of what, he wasn’t sure, but he was impressed.
“Good day to you, and welcome to our Pet Lending Library!” Ian saw a flash of a tongue stud. He always wondered how people talked with those knobs of metal in their mouths. Then he realized what she had said.
“Wait a minute, did you say, ‘Pet Lending,’ or is my hearing going?”
The young woman laughed, a carefree sound that fitted in with the day. “I certainly did. What are you looking for, do you know? Or do you need a suggestion?”
Ian was stunned at the implications. “You mean, I can check out a pet like I would a book? Could I check one out for just the day?”
“Well, most people do prefer longer lending times, but it’s not unusual for a same-day rental, especially during the weekends. You’re not from here, are you?” She looked him over, and Ian wished he’d taken more care with his grooming. She was an eyeful, and he was definitely interested.
“No, I live in London. Just wanted to get away from all the concrete for a while, you know what I mean?”
She laughed again, this time shaking her head. “No, luv, I have no idea what you mean. I’ve lived in my village all my life, never been down London way. No need, I have everything here. But I know that pets bring a body joy. That’s why I love my job, where else do you get to spend your whole day making people — and animals — happy?”
Ian nodded in complete agreement. “So, even though I’m not from the village, could I, um, check out a pet, just for the afternoon?”
“Of course you can! Just fill out one of our forms for a temporary lending card, and Bob’s your uncle.” She rifled through a desk drawer, coming up with a sheet of paper nearly the same bright pink as her hair. “Have you got a pen, or will you need one?”
Ian blushed. “I’ll need one of those as well.”
“No worry, luv. Here you go, just fill out the form and bring it back when you’re done. Then we’ll decide what is your best match for this day. Go on with you now, there’s a pet waiting for you!”
Ian took the form to a nearby table and quickly completed it. Name, address, phone, email, and then a long checklist, where he could indicate his preferences. Hobbies, lifestyle, it was all there. He felt awkward, but filled it all out, anyway. Maybe it would get the woman at the front desk to ask him a few personal questions, that would be sweet.
He brought the form back to the front desk, where she reviewed it quickly. She looked at him intently. “You’ll want a dog to play with on the village green, aye? And maybe a ball to throw for it to chase?”
Astonished, Ian gawked openly. “How did you know that?”
She grinned, pleased at her prognostication. “It’s my job, luv. Let’s get you settled.” She took him back past her desk, where they turned right, walked through a metal door, and were sound-blasted by the kennel sounds, barking, whining, all echoing on concrete. She seemed completely at home with the cacophony, stopping at the third kennel on the left.
“Now, Lady is a fine girl. She loves to fetch and is sweet and well-mannered. I’m sure you two will get on swimmingly.” She entered the kennel, clipping a leash to the collar of a beautiful Irish setter whose tail swished with excitement.
She handed the leash to Ian. “Now, we close by 6:00 in the evening, so don’t be late in returning Lady, eh?”
He stammered a promise, then took the ball she handed to him. Lady immediately perked up at sight of the ball, on point and ready to run. The librarian led Ian, Lady in tow, back to the front. He waved awkwardly, then left, walking back to the green.
Lady pranced at his side, staying close and not tugging the leash. He unclipped it, then threw the tennis ball as hard as he could. Lady exploded into action, overrunning the ball, then nipping it as it rolled, picking it up neatly in her mouth. She returned at a dead run to Ian, dropped the ball at his feet, and waited, tail wagging madly.
They played fetch in the bright sun until Ian remembered his hunger. Lady was panting; she was agreeable to a break. He found a pub with outside seating. They brought him a menu and Lady a bowl of water, which she lapped frantically, finally snorting a fine spray, then lying down quietly by Ian’s feet.
Ian enjoyed a pint and a sandwich, then realized the day was getting on, and he had a train to catch. He and Lady hurried back to the library. Ian was hoping to chat up the beautiful young woman at the front desk, maybe even snag a phone number.
A bored-looking young man with dark horn-rimmed glasses was sitting at the front desk. “Oh, good, you’ve brought Lady back. Now I can finally get out of here.” He walked around the desk, took the lead from Ian, and the soggy ball Lady had chased, and walked toward the back without a further word.
Crushed, Ian left the library, cut across the green and back to the train station. In only minutes, a train stopped, and he got on. This time, he got a beer from the drinks trolley, plopped down in the nearest empty row of seats. Sipping his beer, he mourned his missed opportunity with the pink-haired beauty. Then he sat bolt upright.
“Shit!” He’d never gotten the name of the village. He made note of the route number he was on and vowed to find it again. Next weekend, he took the same train. He rode it to the end of the line, but never saw his village. He tried for months, but he never found his village again.