I wrote this as a Secret Santa for a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, Christmas 2021. I think it would make a perfect Christmas TV advert – substitute advertiser of choice for Amazon!
It had been a long day, and Bob knew there would be no let-up between now and Christmas. He heaved a sigh. Being a delivery driver kept his head above water, but it was a thankless task. He couldn’t even claim it helped with the loneliness he’d felt since his wife died the previous year – his schedule was so tight he didn’t have time to stop and talk to the people into whose hands he thrust the brown boxes with their tell-tale Amazon logo.
Safely parked in the driveway of the tiny bungalow he rented, he went to the rear of his van to check that none of his emergency supplies had escaped from their boxes. He’d been stuck once, at the beginning of the year, when his van had skidded on ice and he’d had to wait to be towed out of the ditch he’d ended up in. Since then, he’d always carried a sleeping bag, water, some basic rations, wellies, and extra winter clothing.
As he clambered up into the van, he heard a scratching noise. He frowned, wondering if one of the isolated farms he’d delivered to had gifted him with a rat or mouse. He peered cautiously over the back of his neatly tethered supply box and found himself gazing into a pair of brown eyes flecked with gold. For one frozen moment he had no idea what he was looking at, but then the creature whined and he realised it was a small, scruffy dog.
Bob had no experience with dogs, and had no idea what to do. He realised the animal must have got onto the van at some point during the day when its doors were open and he was rushing up a driveway to thrust a box into yet another pair of waiting hands. But when, and where? His route had taken him all over several counties, through towns, villages and up isolated country lanes.
“Hello,” he said nervously. “I don’t know if you’re a boy or a girl. How did you get on my van?”
He realised how stupid the question was as soon as it left his mouth. The dog wasn’t going to tell him anything, apart from the fact – from its wide eyes and shivering body – it was terrified. He couldn’t leave it in the van. Nervous of being bitten, he reached down and scooped it up. It wriggled slightly, but seemed to realise he was trying to help and allowed him to carry it through his front door.
Once the dog was safely ensconsed in his kitchen, he went out, locked the van, and then walked across the road to a neighbouring house.
Sheila must have just got in from work – she was wearing a smart business suit, and he felt a little embarrassed about the jogging bottoms and jumper he wore every day. Her appearance at the door was accompanied by frantic barking from her own dog, a large animal of which he was a little afraid. Fortunately for his peace of mind, it must have been shut into a room, as apart from making a lot of noise it made no other appearance.
“I’ve got a dog,” he opened with, and then winced. “I mean, I don’t, but I do. Oh dear. Can I start again?”
“I think you’d better,” Sheila said, and then turned. “Barney, shut your yapping!” She turned back. “Do you want to come in?”
“Uh – no, thank you. I just … I just found a little dog in my van. I don’t know how it got there or when, and I don’t know what to do.”
“The local vet can scan it, if it’s got a chip they’ll be able to identify the owner. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try the internet. Is the dog still in your van?”
“No, I took it into the house.”
“Wait here.” She walked away, and a few moments later came back with a couple of cans of dog food. “Put some of this in a bowl – how big is the dog?”
“He – or she – is just …” He gestured vaguely with his hands, trying to estimate its size.
“All right – just half a tin, then. And some water. You have bowls? And here’s the phone number for the local vets. They’re just up the road in Park Street – you can’t miss them. But ring first to make sure they’re OK with you taking your stowaway in.”
Bob found himself walking back, rather bemusedly, to his own house. Of course he had bowls – Agatha’s prized china ones, that hadn’t been used since she passed away. He guessed the dog wouldn’t care what it was eating from.
He found the little dog seated by the radiator in his kitchen. It stood up when he came in and, when he took out a bowl and a can opener, he saw its tail wag just a little. He put the bowl down near the little dog and, seeing that the creature was still afraid of him, pushed it a little closer. “There you go,” he said softly, as it crept forward and took a hesitant mouthful. He noticed that it had a red collar, but there was no name on it.
The vet was just about to close, but was kind enough to stay open long enough to see the dog. “He’s about three, four years old,” she said, “well looked after, I’d say.” She scanned him. “And yes, there’s the chip. Give me a moment to check …” She went to her computer and began tapping keys. After a while, Bob saw that she was frowning. “I’m sorry,” she said, “the chip doesn’t seem to be registered. I’ll check again in the morning, but I’m afraid for the moment you’ll have to keep him. Have you no idea at all when he got into your van?”
“None,” Bob said. His heart sank – somewhere, someone was probably really worried about the little dog. He’d have to retrace his steps from the previous day, and that meant taking a day off. Amazon weren’t very forgiving about sudden periods of absence, and he might even lose his job. Still, if there was nothing else to be done, he’d do it – he couldn’t bear the thought of some family somewhere spending Christmas not knowing the fate of their beloved pet.
“I’ve looked everywhere!” Susan was in tears, and not for the first time that day. She’d been walking Lucky that morning in the fields when a sudden explosion of noise had made the dog run away in terror. There had been some school children letting off fireworks, presumably left over from bonfire night, and Lucky had always been frightened of fireworks.
“Don’t worry, pet,” her elderly neighbour said. “The boys are out looking, I’m sure they’ll find him.”
“He’s just so terrified of fireworks!”
“Those boys ought to be ashamed.” Delia shook her head. “There are some other things we can try. There are lost dog sites on the internet – the council might have picked him up.”
“I don’t have a computer,” Susan confessed miserably. She’d never felt the need to own one when she was working, and now her pension wasn’t enough to allow her to buy one.
“That’s all right, pet – we’ll use mine.” Delia confidently led the way into her sitting room. Her house was so clean, Susan thought, looking around. The furniture was polished, the few ornaments tasteful, the pictures on the wall all of children and grandchildren. Her own house was far less tidy – Lucky left hairs on everything, and there were books lying around, and her furniture was old and unfashionable.
The computer was a big thing sitting on a desk in the window. Delia sat down and did some things with buttons, and when the screen lit up – with another picture of grandchildren, Susan saw – she looked around.
“Now,” she said, “how would you describe Lucky?”
“Well, he’s … five years old, and he’s not any kind of breed, just a mongrel. But with a lovely personality. He’s very friendly and he’s never bitten anyone, although he did growl at my cousin that time. I can’t say I blame him, I never liked Bernie much, either.” Susan realised she was babbling, and dabbed at her yes. “I have a picture,” she said, sadly.
“Oh, that’s good. Do you have it with you?”
Susan didn’t like to say it never left her person, since she carried her handbag with her everywhere and it had pride of place in her purse. She took the picture out and handed it over. Delia took it and placed it inside some kind of machine. She pushed more buttons, and miraculously – to Susan – the picture appeared on the screen. She clicked away busily and said, “Right, the council haven’t listed any dogs found today. I’ll put it on all the local posts, and I’ll put it on Twitter, as well.”
Susan had no idea what Twitter was, but agreed that sounded like a good idea.
“You’ve gone viral!” Sheila was bursting with excitement, so much so that her dog was straining at the leash. Bob back up a step nervously.
“Yes – I put that picture I took of your dog on Twitter with the story of how he was found and the post’s been retweeted hundreds of times! I’m sure it’s only a matter of hours before we find his owner!”
Truth was, over the next few days Bob was phoned repeatedly by different people claiming to be the dog’s owner but not living anywhere near his route, or not being able to describe the one notable thing about the little dog that the vet had pointed out – he had a scar on one back leg.
And then, finally, it happened. “Hello? I think you might have my dog, Lucky. I mean, his name’s Lucky. Mine’s Susan.”
“Can I ask where you live, Susan?”
The village was, at least, near to where he’d been the previous day. He supposed a dog walker might have been a few miles away. Sheila had told him dogs needed walks, and had even supplied him with a lead so that he could take the small animal out. He hadn’t dared take him further than his back garden, where the dog had sniffed at every bush and eventually cocked a leg against his prized rose, currently dormant for the winter. He hoped dog pee wouldn’t affect the quality of the blooms.
“Does he have any distinguishing marks?”
“Um, he’s got a red collar, and I had him clipped recently, but he’s got a bit scruffy again, and he’s – he’s five years old and there were these boys with fireworks …”
Bob could hear the tremble in her voice and realised she was desperately hoping for good news. “Any scars?” he asked encouragingly.
“Oh … on his back leg … just a scrape from when he got too close to my neighbour’s cat – horrible creature, black, just a ball of bad temper on legs. She bit him!”
“Susan, was that your name? Susan, I think I he’s your dog. The vet said he had a chip but it wasn’t registered…”
“My late husband said he’d got that all sorted out,” Susan said. “You mean he didn’t? Oh dear, one hates to speak badly of the dead, but … he was very good at saying he’d done things he hadn’t. May I … would you bring him to me?”
“So you’re letting a total stranger come to your house? That’s very brave of you.” Delia looked around her kitchen, picked up a rolling pin and hefted it. “Just in case.”
“He sounded like a very nice man on the phone!”
“He kidnapped your dog!”
“No, he – he said he didn’t even know he was in his van. Oh!” The doorbell rang. “That must be him now.”
Bob knew the moment the door opened that Lucky was home. The little dog, on the lead Delia had leant him, surged forward with a yap of happiness. Susan was in tears, and Bob found himself apologising profusely for not having realised the dog was in his van until he got home. He eyed worriedly the woman standing behind the elderly lady who’d answered the door, a rolling pin in her hand. Perhaps she’d been making pies.
“He’s a nice little dog,” Bob admitted. “I never had a dog. I think I might even miss him a bit.”
“Oh! Oh, I can’t thank you enough. I …” Susan paused, turning to the other woman. “Everything’s fine, Delia, I’m sure this nice man isn’t going to attack me.” She gave him a coy look. “Would you like to come in for a cup of tea? After all, it’s the season of good will.”
Which is the story of how one small dog brought two lonely people together just in time for Christmas.