It all begins when Father needs a haircut…
Oodles of Poodes
“I need a hair cut.” Father scratched where his hair had grown so long that it constantly tickled the back of his neck.
*** *** ***
“You need a hair cut!” Vincent exclaimed. “Well you should be so lucky.”
Father laughed at his son’s outlandish remark and his merry eyes twinkled knowing that his son had NEVER had a hair cut since he had passed his teens and he remembered that last time well!
“You were never a willing customer as I recall.” Father grimaced remembering those wildcat times of his pinning Vincent down while Mary hacked at his tawny locks.
“Neither would you have been, if someone strapped you to a desk to cut off your hair.” Vincent retorted while moving his pawn into position. This game of chess had lasted longer than normal, each trying to outwit the other as Catherine; their onlooker tried to remember how to play the game. She laughed now at their witty exchange.
“It was necessary, you didn’t like having your hair cut. One of the reasons we gave up when you proved stronger than two of us put together and it seemed cruel to bring in the troops to help hold you down.”
“And my claws proved lethal.” Vincent wiggled his fingers in front of Father’s face to sink his point home. Catherine laughed out loud. It was one of the few times that Vincent’s own reference toward his differences was said so light heartedly.
“As I recall. Anyway as I was saying…” Beginning to feel a trifle embarrassed at his daughter-in-law knowing how her husband had had to endure pre teen hair cuts, Father was anxious to shift the subject back to himself. “I need a hair cut. Catherine, I don’t suppose cutting hair is one of your many talents, is it?”
Catherine laughed. “Well no. But surely Mary…”
Father drew in a deep breath and let it out in a long deep sigh; “Mary is competent yes…”
“But Father hates her touching his hair.” Vincent burst into gleeful laughter when he saw his father’s chagrin.
“I do not!” He remarked crossly. “I just don’t see why she has to touch it quite so much.” He added.
“Its because she loves you.” Vincent told him sincerely, but without looking him in the eye. In fact at that precise moment his attention was very much on the chessboard in front of him.
Father almost choked. “Loves me! What do you mean she loves me?” Catherine giggled and Father shot her a look of annoyance, as if to say ‘and what do you know about it?’
“I think I know what Vincent means.” Catherine stood, and walked behind her husband’s chair to lift his long hair in her hands and feel it slide like silk between her fingers. “When you love someone, Father touching their hair is a sign of that love. Knowing it brings pleasure and gives pleasure. I for one would love to lose myself in Vincent’s hair.”
“Hhm, well that wouldn’t be difficult!” Father retorted eyeing his son’s locks as they cascaded and tumbled over his back and shoulders.
“Checkmate!” Vincent called with delight which didn’t do his father’s temper any favours.
“What! Vincent how dare you, I wasn’t looking. You took advantage of me.”
“Sounds to me that would be Mary’s delight.” Collapsing into giggles Catherine held a hand to her mouth after she spoke.
Father glared at her. Then he sobered. “You’re wrong. Mary doesn’t think of me that way. You two think just because you are in love everyone else has to be. Well you’re wrong!”
“Then why does Mary take delight in touching your hair? After all if she is never permitted to touch any other part of you, seems to me that she goes overboard when allowed to cut your hair, Father.” Catherine commented. It seemed logical to her, besides she knew that Mary loved him, any fool could see that. Any fool but Father. He was one fool too many and he kept his rose tinted glasses locked away where Mary was concerned. Whatever he was afraid of, no one quite knew least of all Mary.
“There’s always Lia. You know, the girl that came to reside with us last year?”
“I know, I know.” Father replied, “The girl that brought those confounded curly coated dogs down here.”
“I beg your pardon!” Father cried obviously annoyed.
“I said poodles. That’s what those curly coated dogs are called.” Catherine told him. “Why what did you think I said?”
“Nothing.” Father grew silent he was clearly embarrassed.
“Come on, Father you can tell me?” Catherine begged her mouth was twitching as she tried not to laugh. Vincent too, was having a hard time containing himself.
Still Father remained silent. He looked decidedly fed up, annoyed, embarrassed and grumpy.
“I wish I was a glow worm…” Catherine began deliberately baiting him. “A glow worm’s never glum…’cos how can I be grumpy…when the sun shine’s out my…”
“That’ll do!” Father bellowed.
“My, my touchy aren’t we?” Catherine giggled. “So what did you think poodles meant then?”
“Careful my love.” Vincent whispered into Catherine’s ear loving every second of the exchange between his father and his wife. This wasn’t the first of such an occasion, it seemed to him that ever since he and Catherine had married and she had come to live below, life was never what it once had been, it was better, marvellously better, and never a dull moment. And the best of it was, the two of them loved one another really. That had seemed impossible in the beginning, when his father had tried to convince him that Catherine would only break his heart. It did Vincent good to see how wrong his parent had been.
“I thought it was some topside swear word.“ Father finally conceded seeing no reason now not to tell her in light of her little verse that was.
Catherine giggled. “No, Father. Poodles are curly coated dogs that Lia brought with her last time and of the type that constantly need shaving or they end up like giant puffballs. I’m afraid that Lia is the only other person I know that cuts hair, or fur as it happens, which when you think about it could be good for both of you.” She smiled impishly in Vincent’s direction happy when he took it good-naturedly and smiled back at her.
“Should I ask her to come below and give you both a trim?” Catherine asked the two men.
“Yes.” Vincent replied.
“No!” Father jumped to his feet. “I’m not having my hair cut by a dog groomer.”
“You mustn’t think of it that way, and in all fairness, Father just how many barbers do you know? At least Lia would have the correct scissors and would know roughly what she was doing. Other than that, I suppose there is always Mary.”
“No! Not Mary. All right, ask Lia but tell her to leave those confounded dogs at home. I do not want THOSE THINGS galloping about down here again and that’s final.”
“Okay, I’ll tell her.” Catherine promised, knowing that doing so would fall on deaf ears. Where Lia went oodles of poodles went and that was just the way it was. But Catherine refrained from telling Father that as she exited the chamber with an impish grin on her face.
“Woof, woof, bark, yap, woof…”
“What the blazes!” From his chair Father leapt to his feet several days after the conversation with Catherine and Vincent regarding having his hair cut.
“Hi, Father! It’s great to see you…Jazzy stop that, Bouncer come here, boy…Oh no Jasmine why didn’t you do that up top…I’m sorry, Father I’ll clear it up…have you got a poop scoop down here?”
“A…poop…scoop…” Father could hardly speak he was so angry and Lia was shocked to hear him shout viciously, “Get those animals out of here!”
“But, Father, they’ll be no trouble. Bouncer, Jazzy sit…sit…” As if to prove they could behave the two dogs sat obediently, casting sorrowful brown eyes in Father’s direction.
He sighed, his temper evaporating as he looked down at the two apricot coloured curly coated dogs, they were pretty he couldn’t deny that, and those eyes…”All right, just as long as they sit still. I’ll call Mary, maybe she has something to carry away those…er…er…droppings.”
“Thank you, Father. I promise they will be no trouble, will you Bouncer, will you Jasmine?” The two dogs wagged tiny stumpy tails and with lolling tongues and bright eyes seemed to agree.
Father wasn’t convinced. He’d had dealings with these hounds before. “So where are the rest of them? Or are you just down to two now.” Father crossed his fingers as he awaited Lia’s reply.
“They’re with Vincent and Catherine. Now how would you like me to style your hair?”
“With…with… how many?” His voice trembled with anxiety.
“Just the puppies. Oh, Father don’t worry so, you know puppies…”
“I most certainly do! And I remember the last time only too well. My books have never quite been the same, and that’s not to mention my slippers. And how do you suppose these gloves have no fingertips in now, huh? Answer me that!”
“Wow, Father, you sure are grumpy these days…say that reminds me ever heard this one…I wish I was a glow worm…”
“Hey, sorry I spoke.” Someone should have warned her Lia thought she had never known Father so grumpy. What on earth was wrong with him?
It was simple, but Father refused to acknowledge the truth. Ever since Catherine had maintained that Mary loved to touch his hair because she loved him Father had been in a constant bad mood. In constant denial of that very basic fact, when deep down inside he knew that it could be true.
As Lia worked on his hair, Father willed the two dogs to remain seated. And he allowed himself to remember other times when Mary had trimmed his hair and he could not deny that those gentle, tender touches that she had bestowed upon his wavy locks had in fact been pleasurable. And if he were truthful with himself he missed those touches as Lia worked her own brand of magic – a magic that wasn’t quite the same as Mary’s.
All too soon the job was done. “There you are, Father, does that feel better? Where’s a mirror, so you can see?”
“Over there.” He pointed and Lia fetched the oval mirror bringing it back to place in front of him while she held her own behind, so that he could see the back of his neck and know that his hair no longer flowed over his collar.
“Lia you’ve done a good job.”
At that precise moment Mary made her entrance, halting as Father called, “Stop! Go no further.” Just as she was about to step into Jasmine’s gift. “Mary I wonder could you clean that up?” He gestured to the little pile upon the floor expecting Mary to oblige without question. He was quite unprepared for her mouth dropping open and having her stare at him wordlessly, before turning on her heel and exiting the chamber faster than she had entered.
“Mary!” Father exclaimed. “Mary!” He called, but she did not return, and Father was left completely flummoxed as to her actions.
“It’s okay, Father, I’ll clean it up. Vincent and Catherine have my poop scoop with them. I’ll just go and retrieve it.”
Father said nothing as Lia exited his chamber whistling for her two dogs to follow. And Lia did not see that Bouncer sniffed his mate’s offering and watered it thoroughly before leaving. Father on the other hand saw it all!
*** *** ***
“Ooh they are so sweet, Vincent, can we have one?” Catherine cuddled an armful of puppies knowing that her request would fall on deaf and stubborn ears. There had been dogs in the tunnels before, and life below for dogs did not work out. Racoons were one thing, dogs were quite another. And then of course there was Father. Simply dogs and Father did not go together. Still Catherine had to admit he had a point, some of those books had been first editions, and there was nothing more precious to life of those below than books, other than Vincent of course.
Lia popped her head round the entrance. “May I come in?”
“Lia, hi. Yes of course. Thank you for letting us puppy sit it’s been a real pleasure. The children have been thrilled.”
“Thank you too. You did me a favour. I needed an excuse to bring the puppies below to show the children. I had promised them before you see, but I thought Father would never entertain the idea.”
“He most certainly would not!” Everyone cringed as Father’s voice boomed from behind Lia. He had heard every word.
“I think that’s my cue to go.” Lia stepped toward Catherine intent on gathering up her puppies.
“Oh, let me help you carry them.” Catherine glared at Father; her look said it all. With ‘how could you’ being at the top of her list.
Father said nothing, just watched with annoyance as Vincent picked up puppy after puppy and deposited them into willing hands. Then he watched Catherine and Lia leave with their cuddly charges wiggling in their arms and he would swear that over Catherine’s shoulder one little puppy poked its tongue out at him before they left the chamber.
“That does it!” Father exclaimed. “Did you see that? Vincent, did you see that? That blasted hound stuck its tongue out at me.”
Hiding a smile Vincent guided his parent to a chair. “You’re being paranoid, Father, everyone knows that you don’t like dogs. Here rest and I will make you some tea.”
“Everyone?” That surprised Father. “Well its not that I don’t like them. It’s that I don’t like them down here. And you should see what those two big pooches did to my best rug.”
“Well yes, and the other stuff. How did you know?”
“Know what Father?” Indulged in his task of making tea Vincent stopped and looked up.
“That the pair of them had messed on my best rug in my chamber.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“But you did, you said so.”
Thinking back a few phrases Vincent replied, “No, Father, I said Poodles. You called them pooches, I was merely reminding you of what they were.”
“I know what they are!” Father replied crossly, “And poodles being the operative word doesn’t even come close.” Vincent’s lips twitched. He wished Catherine were there to witness this exchange.
“So, what do you think of your hair cut?” Vincent asked bringing the tea across and wishing to change the subject.
“Hair cut?” For a moment Father seemed at a loss to understand what his son had meant and then it dawned on him, “My hair cut! Oh Lord, I didn’t even thank Lia.” He made to stand and in so doing knocked the offered cup of tea clean out of Vincent’s hands and yelled blue murder as the hot tea soaked through his trousers.
“Father!” Vincent exclaimed. “I’ll get you a cloth.” Vincent hurried to pick up the fallen cup and saucer and put them onto the table at the same time reaching for a cloth to soak up the hot liquid and at that moment Catherine returned with Mary close behind.
“Oh Mary…help me…” Father cried as he made to stand and thus revealed the very wet patch over the front of him.
Without a word Mary turned and exited the chamber and returned moments later with something strange looking that resembled a small scoop of some kind. “Here!” She flung it at him. “Do it yourself!” Before she fairly ran from the chamber with Father staring dumbfounded after her.
“Mary, no…its not…I mean… I haven’t…” Father cried after her disappearing figure.
Catherine collapsed into peels of laughter, “Ooh the poop scoop…Lia must have forgotten it…Ooh Vincent my sides ache…”
*** *** ***
Several hours later Father was forced to eat humble pie. In fact he could look back on the day’s events with some merriment amazing as it sounded as he realised everything from every other person’s point of view. Something Vincent and then Catherine had forced him to realise.
How it must have looked to Mary. The woman who had trimmed his and everyone else’s hair for decades, suddenly being pushed out and expected to clean up dog poo instead, it must have been terrible for her to see someone else being assigned to cutting his hair. And if things were how Vincent and Catherine had said…
Father had groaned with sorrow as he realised how terrible he had behaved. Not just to Mary, but to Lia as well. A young woman who had come to the tunnels just a year ago for refuge against a husband that robbed and beat her, and a woman that had only learned to love again thanks to six pairs of loving brown eyes. Brown eyes belonging to a litter of abandoned puppies left to die in a rubbish bin.
Perhaps that was what grieved him so, that it hadn’t for once been the loving gestures of people living in the tunnels that had restored Lia’s happiness, that he couldn’t attribute his world for helping her find love again. It had had to be a litter of puppies that had made those things possible. And very boisterous puppies at that Father remembered with a groan of displeasure. Still, looking back there had been times when those same puppies had had him in stitches funny how he had forgotten those times.
Mainly though it was Mary’s heart that he was concerned with right now. Mary to whom he owed a big apology and Mary to whom he needed to address an urgent long and over due matter and as he waited for her to bring him his supper for he knew that nothing would stop her from doing that even though he may have hurt her feeling. She would surely come. Wouldn’t she? Father waited anxiously to beg her forgiveness.
She came later than usual, but Father couldn’t blame her if for once, she did not put him first. When she would have served meals to everyone else that were too incapacitated to collect meals from William themselves Father knew she would come. Not that he couldn’t collect his own meal, he could, but Mary had told him not to venture down to the dining room when she could so easily bring him his supper as she was coming from that way.
When he thought about it, and he was surprised that he hadn’t before, Father realised that Mary was wrong about that, since she would reach her own chamber before his, and coming out to his would mean an extra journey. An extra trip to make to his chamber when she was probably already weary from supplying meals to so many others. Father was stunned that he had never realised this before.
There were other little things too, special things, things between he and Mary that he would never tell a soul, but those self same things reminded him now, quite forcefully that he hadn’t seen what had so obviously been seen from the point of view of everyone else living below. Mary loved him. And in loving him she would go out of her way to do anything for him, even if that meant receiving little in return for such effort. And what grieved him more was for all the years she had done those things, without complaint, and without expectation that he would ever really notice.
She came at last, while Father was contemplating these things and without a remark to anything that had gone on earlier too. Father marvelled that he was so easily forgiven and he knew he could have said nothing, just let it pass, but he felt ashamed and his heart would not let him do that.
“Mary, my dear, come and sit down for a moment, there’s something I’d like to say.” When she hesitated, he pressed “Please?”
“I can’t stay, Father, I promised Olivia I would bath Luke. Now that Olivia is in her fifth month she is finding lifting her son a trifle too much, and with Kanin away in the lower levels sealing up that shaft…”
Her words trailed away, and Father knew that none of what she’d said was excuses. Mary liked to be available to help everyone. Had she not have promised Olivia then she would have likely spent the evening in his company as she very often did.
“I won’t keep you. It’s just that I so wanted to apologise. My behaviour today left a lot to be desired and I want you to know that I am very sorry, Mary for hurting you so.”
Mary thought of retorting something flippant but she couldn’t do it, so she just replied softly, “that’s all right, Father. I’ve already forgiven you.”
“You have? Oh that’s marvellous. Thank you, Mary, you are too kind.”
Mary dd not replied but thought mischievously, ‘Yes I am, aren’t I? But my day will come, Jacob you see if it doesn’t.’ Right now she was much to busy and still a little peeved despite what she had told him.
“I must go, Father, I’ll see you at breakfast.” She made to leave the chamber as he called her back. “Just one thing before you go, Mary?”
“Yes?” She hovered in the entrance.
“Next time something like this happens, just tell me what you think, okay? Don’t let me bulldozer on in and hurt your feelings again, will you?”
Mary smiled. “It would be easier to talk to you if I could be sure of an amicable response. You can be quite grumpy at times, Father, and not easy to approach.”
He was taken aback, but swallowed it nonetheless. Maybe she was right, but then…no…maybe she wasn’t!” He smiled at her.
“Me, grumpy?” He grinned as if that was the last thing he could ever be.
“Yes, you!” Mary smiled too, and then as she exited his chamber and went out of sight he heard her reciting a verse he had heard only recently and now so obviously directed at him.
“I wish you were a glow worm…
Father chuckled and felt warm all over as he realised what had been obvious to everyone else. Mary truly loved him.
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