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My Dog’s Breath Smells Too

The breakfast terrace stretches down the side of the hotel’s sun-washed walls. We pick a

table with a large parasol near the entrance. When the waiter arrives, we run through the

usual cabaret of ordering juice, coffee, and croissants.

‘Eggs this morning?’

‘No, thank you,’ Tom hands back the menus.

‘Grazie Signore.’

When he’s gone, I say, ‘I mean, who eats a full English these days? We’re all so health

conscious.’

‘Are we?’ Tom watches me dolloping strawberry jam on a roll.

‘I am on holiday,’ I reply with a grin.

A tired-looking couple arrives; they’re young and attractive; the man has a protective arm

around the woman’s shoulders. When they sit, he takes her hand and kisses it.

‘Yeah, sunny side up,’ the man says to the waiter.

‘Sweet,’ I whisper, ‘jetlagged and in love.’

‘Stop being nosey,’ Tom implores.

‘Me?’ I mime back. ‘Anyway, we were like that once. Young and gorgeous.’

‘We still are. Gorgeous, that is,’ Tom squeezes my hand.

Later, we decide to explore our surroundings; the hotel is set in a vast park dotted with

immense Maritime Pines stretching up to the sky.

Sunlight peeks through the trees, dappling the dirt track with light; shadows dance to a

silent melody. Beads of perspiration trickle down my neck. A light breeze offers relief from

the searing heat. We walk in silence for fifteen minutes until we reach the lake. Dragonflies

snap at the air, and a pair of moorhens squabble over territory.

I lose my footing, and my shoe slides along the gravel as if on ball bearings.

‘Careful!’ Tom grips my hand, ‘we don’t want any accidents if we’re to make another thirty

years.’

‘Bit of a fright there,’ I reply. ‘Look, there’s a bench. I can fix my shoe.’

We sit in the shade. The Neo-Gothic façade of the borgo dominates the hillside. On the

other side of the water, there’s an exercise area with Astroturf and fixed wooden bars to

stretch or balance on.

‘Oh, look, it’s the honeymoon couple again,’ I say.

‘You don’t know that for sure.’

‘Ah, but they were so cute at breakfast, the way he poured her coffee and kissed her hand,’ I

re-tie my shoelace.

‘Let me do that,’ Tom bends and knots my shoelace, ‘that’s better.’

The tall young man is doing push-ups from one of the bars. The woman, half his size, stands

and watches.

‘And they’re staying in this romantic hotel,’ I reply.

‘But so are we,’ he smirks.

‘Touché.’

We can hear the man breathing as he exerts himself. It feels like we’re intruding.

‘Let’s go,’ I say.

‘Not going to have a go, are you?’ Tom nods.

‘I’d like to see you try,’ I pat his paunch.

‘Later,’ he gets up.

The path snakes up towards an area with blue, yellow, and red-painted wooden logs set

around an old oak tree, and multi-cut crystals hang from its branches, glinting.

‘Kitsch,’ we speak at the same time.

‘Oh no! We’re morphing into one person!’ I laugh and take a tissue from my bag to dab at

my neck and forehead. ‘It’s so hot.’

‘Swim?’

‘Great idea,’ I fan my hand in front of my face.

‘Come on,’ he takes my hand.

A large hedge clings to the wall as we go up the steps.

‘Mmm, jasmine,’ I lean in to sniff the flowers.

In the room, I gather suntan lotion and mosquito repellent together before changing into

my swimsuit. Within fifteen minutes, we lie poolside.

Around the edges of my novel, I spot the honeymooners arriving. They settle on the far side

of the pool. The man wears shorts and a t-shirt; he picks up a book and lies back to read.

The woman removes her robe, revealing a discreet khaki-coloured swimsuit, more

appropriate to a woman my age than hers. She folds her clothes into a neat pile and dives

into the deep end. Water splashes up, creating thunder spots on the man’s clothes; he

scrambles up off his sun lounger, patting his clothes as if they were on fire.

Oblivious, the woman’s arms continue to incise the water. Her head bobs up and down in

metronomic rhythm.

‘Becky!’ The man shouts.

Still, she swims. Back and forth.

For a faltering second, the man’s eyes meet mine. I blink and return to my book.

Suddenly, an embarrassing snoring sound interrupts the calm; I tap Tom on his arm, ‘you’re

snoring.’

‘W-w-what?’ His book, which lay open on his chest face down, springs up when he startles

and tumbles to the floor.

I pick it up and hand it to him, ‘there you go.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Are you going in?’ I point to the pool.

‘Brrr... bit arctic for me,’ he replies, ‘are you?’

‘Yup,’ I down tools and take slow - getting used to the cold - steps into the pool.

I take short breaths to circumvent the shock before immersing myself. Resurfacing, I inhale

and enjoy the refreshing feeling.

The woman gets out of the pool.

As I’m turning at the opposite end, I hear her speak.

‘Oh, Jake, I’m sorry, but it’s only warder.’

Jake’s reply drifts away into the Umbrian hills.

‘Warder,’ I pronounce the word silently to myself, ‘water,’ and ponder the different

pronunciations.

I do laps; slow breaststroke. Up and down.

The man kneels, and she caresses the lotion on his back with long, gentle strokes. When

she’s done, he inserts earplugs and puts on swimming goggles. She reads while he swims; a

large hat and sunglasses cover her face.

My wet swimsuit sags and is damp and uncomfortable when I get out of the pool.

‘I’m going back to the room to change,’ I walk past the woman and say hi; she looks up and

smiles. She has the tiniest feet and neat little hands, like a doll.

Later, we are in the hotel’s pizza restaurant when Jake and Becky sit at a table close by. We

exchange polite hellos.

Tom goes back to the room to look for his phone. I’m alone, waiting; it’s difficult not to

eavesdrop.

‘How about mozzarella?’ Becky says, ‘you love that.’

‘No, I don’t,’ Jake replies. ‘It must have been your ex.’

Becky touches his hand; Jake shakes it off.

‘Remember last time we came to Italy, and you slipped and fell into the canal in Venice?’

Jake’s tone is different; it’s like he got out of the wrong side of the bed.

‘But wasn’t it you who fell in?’ Becky squints her eyes, wrinkles her brow, and lets out a

huge sigh...

‘Seriously?’ Jake scoffs. ‘You’ve such a bad memory.’

I sneak a glance at Becky; Jake has his back to me. I observe her heart-shaped face, emerald

eyes, and tiny cupid’s bow lips. What is she doing with this clot?

‘Isn’t this place beautiful?’ Becky lifts her hand to indicate the Umbrian hills across the

valley.

Silence.

I sip my Prosecco.

They order a bottle of red wine.

I check my watch; Tom is taking his time; he’d tell me off for listening.

The waiter fusses over opening the wine and insists Signora taste it. Becky smiles and agrees

that it’s okay.

‘You enjoy his attention a bit too much,’ Jake says when the waiter leaves.

‘I’m just being polite,’ Becky’s voice raises an octave.

‘Huh, yeah.’

‘Come on, let’s decide what to eat,’ she picks up the menu.

‘I’m not hungry anymore,’ Jake looks away.

Becky picks up her glass and sips the wine. Before I can stop myself, I’m on my feet, rushing

past their table. I knock her elbow as I pass; the wine splatters a blood-red stain on her

white linen dress.

‘Oh! I’m so sorry!’ I scream.

‘Oh!’ Becky stands up, ‘my dress!’

‘It’s okay. Becky's clumsy,’ Jake says. ‘Becky, you’ve gotta be more careful.’

Becky looks at the spot, which is starting to resemble the map of Italy.

‘Come to the restroom, and I’ll help you,’ I take Becky’s arm. ‘It’s the least I can do.’

Her arm is limpid and acquiescing. The bathroom is far enough away for us to be out of

earshot.

Becky sinks into the sofa and starts to cry, deep sobs, her chest heaves as she gulps air.

‘It’s only a bit of wine,’ I dab at the stain with a cold, wet flannel; her thigh shows through

the damp fabric. ‘I’m sure I have an insurance policy that will stretch to a new dress,’ I

reassure her. ‘Take deep breaths,’ I say, ‘it’ll calm you.’

‘It’s not that,’ she sniffs, and her tears abate.

Becky exhales slowly before placing her hand on mine to stop me from dabbing away.

‘I’m making a big mistake.’

‘How so?’

‘It’s Jake,’ she pushes her hair from her face. ‘It’s like he’s had a personality transplant; I

don’t know how he got so mean.’

I sit next to her and take her hand in mine, ‘it’s never too late to change your mind.’

‘I thought a honeymoon in Europe would be good for us,’ Becky

twiddles with her shiny wedding ring.

I face her and take both her hands in mine. ‘Go back to the room, change. Get your passport

and stuff, take a taxi to the airport, and get the first flight out of here.’

‘I can’t. Jake’s got the room key,’ she replies wanly.

‘Go to reception and get another one,’ I jabber, ‘I’ll stall Jake here.’

‘My passport is in the safe,’ she says, her demeanour becoming weaker by the minute.

‘You must have seen the code he put in?’

‘Yeah, I guess so,’ she bites her lip.

‘Look, don’t sell yourself short,’ I stare into her eyes, ‘I know how it goes. When I was your

age, I went through a similar life experience.’

Traces of mascara are smeared upon her cheeks, and her eyes well up, ‘I can’t.’

‘You can.’

‘Go.’

I never saw her again.

When I return to the restaurant, Tom is chatting with Jake.

‘It’s alright. Jake filled me in,’ Tom says, ‘we’re having a drink together.’

‘Becky went back to the room to change,’ I look at Jake. ‘I’m sorry. I hope it hasn’t ruined

your evening.’

‘Hey, it’s okay. Tom told me about Perugia,’ Jake replies, ‘sounds wonderful.’

‘Yes, it’s amazing,’ I look at Tom. Our eyes meet. He gets it; keep Jake busy. ‘Tom took loads

of photos.’

‘Here, I’ll show you,’ Tom picks up his mobile. ‘It took me ages to find my phone in the

room. It had slipped down the back of the bed.’

‘This is Piazza IV Novembre. See the warm, mellow tones of the stone they used,’ Tom

moves nearer to Jake to let him see the pictures.

Tom refills Jake’s glass repeatedly, talking to him for hours.

The final topic of conversation leads to our dogs.

‘Yeah, my dog’s breath smells too!’ These are Jake’s last words as he staggers off to find

Becky.


BIO:

Belgium based writer Sheila Kinsella’s short stories draw inspiration from her Irish

upbringing. An avid watcher of people’s behaviour, and blessed with abundant natural

curiosity, Sheila lures the reader into a shrewdly observed world via imagery and comedy.

Sheila graduated with an MA in Creative Writing (Distance Learning) from Lancaster

University in the United Kingdom in 2017.

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