A New Baby
Julie, her husband and 10 children live in a converted service station. She is eight months pregnant with number 11 (“The obstetrician asks me for advice!” she exclaims), yet sits with me on the concrete path in their backyard.
Three black-and-tan kelpie pups clamber on my lap, sucking the last of the autumn sun from my jeans. At seven weeks, they have fuzz rather than fur, which is filled with a blizzard of the puppy equivalent to cradle cap.
One catches my eye. She is earnest and resolute, with white blaze on her chest and a tiny letter “m” on the velvety skin of her lower belly.
The puppies need new homes and I want this one. I am surprised. When I was four, our farm dog, a black kelpie named Lucky, gored my eye, leaving a brown scar like a large piece of grit on my inner eye-lid. Lucky’s fate did not match his name, and I have been frightened of dogs ever since.
Justin is equally surprised, but agrees to discuss the possibility while we go to the supermarket. We grab a trolley and start down the first aisle. I have named my puppy Ruby before we reach the end.
A couple of weeks later, Justin puts together a dog kennel that looks like a log cabin, while Ruby pummels the carrots in the vegetable garden. He puts a finger to his lips and dashes back to the supermarket, returning with a fuchsia pink hot water bottle. As he tucks Ruby, her hot water bottle and two teddy bears into bed, he berates me “for making me love this puppy”.
Ruby and I roam along the local river daily. She blunders over granite rocks and charges through grass so high I see nothing but the whiplash of green stems. Only one of us returns home exhausted. The other, smeared with mud like the carp that live in the river shallows, is elated.
Ruby’s favourite toy is a Kong — a hollow rubber cone that I fill with peanut butter. She sprawls on the lawn, sucking and chewing for hours. Then one afternoon I find myself in the kitchen, gouging the last mouthfuls of chocolate spread from a jar with my fingers. I laugh at our similarity.
Two weeks later, Justin plays tennis at night, Ruby chases moths in the floodlights and Julie goes into labour. Within days, another baby arrives at a new home, a red-haired boy named Shilo.
Ruby is now two. She is still as eager to please as she was at seven weeks, and, as a working breed, is a natural athlete, with the agility and finesse of a trapeze artist.