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by Donna McLean

Two white dogs waltz together on the bleached pebbles. Springers. English, but Scottish. Born on the Isle of Arran. The Muirkirk man with the scarred face sold them to me for a knockdown price. I feared one would be drowned if I left it behind.

So they both came home, my own dogs, sharp and eager in their red collars. Here, to this desert of shingle and shells. As far away as I could be from where you once were.

I love these dogs. I don’t get cross when one of them pees on the living room carpet, excited at the rare “hello” of a visitor, or the chap on the door of the postwoman. She knows the bell doesn’t work. I don’t retch from cleaning up a mound of crab vomit after they’ve trawled the beach at night. Debris. Vomit. Piss. The excretions and secretions of life.

My dogs know me, they read me. They comfort me.

You said you had a dog named Ava when you were a child. It was your mother’s name too, I think?

You said your dog was a prized pointer, a truffle-hunter. You said she was stolen.

You knew how much I loved dogs.

But you — did you even like dogs?

In a bay-windowed, sea-view room, I told you:

By 36, I will:

Live in a Victorian house.

With a study.

Give birth to our children.

Walk my own dog.

A dream of a life, with you.

We’d marry in a hotel perched above the sea. Dance to the Modena City Ramblers (Marvin for the slow ones). Round tables, crisp white linen, mixing the Scots and Italians together. Wine, whisky, pasta in brodo. The dogs and the Irish and the communists all welcome.

We’d be married and then the children would quickly follow. One, two, three.

And a dog named Che.

A dream of a life that would never happen.

You were a fiction. A method. A character. A dead baby’s name, realised into a monster. All cleanliness and security, and fake ID. You or he? Real, but not real.

Did he ever like dogs?

Donna McLean started writing again two years ago after a twenty year break, as a form of therapy when life became tricky. She completed a writing course and is now writing a novel. She has published several non-fiction pieces. She is a mum, activist and mental health trainer. She is Scottish but now lives by the sea in Folkestone, Kent.