(Or at least for a while. Let’s give it a trial and see.)
Fluffikins plonked himself down at the back-to-front table in the back-to-front kitchen. He sipped on a cup of something. He considered Florence’s Other Worlds Theory. She had explained in her usual nonsensical paragraphs.
“This is giving me brain-ache,” he said finally. “Explain the physics. Shouldn’t there be some numbers and letters inside nested brackets? Don’t you need a few long divisions or times tables, or something?”
“Maybe if we’d listened in kindergarten then we’d know the ins and outs,” said Florence. “Maybe you should not have DISTRACTED me.”
“Well, that’s rich! MAYBE if you hadn’t made friends with FLEAS, Mister would never have discovered me hiding inside your school bag and I would not have been expelled! Unlike you, I would have listened properly. I bet they teach this stuff right after counting in tens.”
“Who do you think I caught fleas off of? Huh? I guess those little guys just like me better than you.”
“Let’s not throw accusations willy-nilly,” said Fluffikins.
“Let’s just live here together,” Florence said, making amends. “You and me, together forever.”
“But won’t your parents miss you? Won’t they paste ‘Lost’ posters on every lamp-post? Call the police? Fret and worry and cry?”
“Not with that Perfect Florence sleeping in my bed, dressing in my clothes, going to my school. No one’s even noticed us two are gone!”
“Fair point.” Fluffikins felt strangely flat about being replaced by a dog-dog. He’d spent his entire life going from house to house. This one wasn’t the worst. “Do you like the coffee I made for you, Florence? Am I good at stirring it in?”
Florence tested a lap of instant coffee but sprayed it across the table. Then that stupid mug toppled itself right on over.
For a moment she expected a telling-off.
But no one was here to say that. Instead, Fluffy gave her the wiping-up rag and continued the conversation. “But… won’t you miss their goodnight hugs? Just sometimes, once in a while, after a very bad day?”
“We’ll return the The Real House for special occasions,” Florence decided. “We’ll dive through that dish in the back-to-front entrance hall, landing smack bang in the Mutt family entrance hall.”
“You sound a tad over-confident. That physics theory of yours seems underdeveloped. Should we do a practical experiment? Let’s try out the portal, to check it works in both directions.”
Florence mulled it over.
“Nah. We’ll try it out in a month. I’ve always wanted to run wild at that go-karting place. Perfect Florence needs a month to earn me goodie points.
“Then we’ll visit my parents. We’ll tell that other Florence to take a hike.”
“An entire month? Here on Slipper Island? In this back-to-front kennel-house, on this animal-person island, which may or may not be full of evil baddies and scheming villains?”
“Yeah. I think I’ll fit right in.”
“Do you think we can just live here in this kennel house, Florence?”
“Why, sure. Possession is ten tenths of the law. For dogs.”
Meanwhile, Perfect Florence was being perfectly perfect at the Mutt house. So far she had:
This was the Florence Mr and Mrs Mutt had sometimes allowed themselves to imagine.
Now they had her.
Meanwhile, in the back-to-front world of Slipper Island, dog-girl Florence spent the day making herself at home.
First she dug holes in the yard.
Then she raided the fridge.
“No one’s pointing any fingers, but that food must last us an entire month, Florence Mutt. Oh and also, don’t forget, we owe thousands of moneys to that toe jammy slipper-dealer. He’ll come after us eventually.”
“Live in the moment,” urged Florence. “We can go hunting, or find wild sausage trees, or do odd jobs in exchange for food. If all else fails, you’ll grow another coat. With your sewing skills and my weaving know-how we can make another fluffy onesie to sell. Did you see how much the lizard was asking for that thing?”
“That thing? Are you calling my furry coat ‘that thing’, now?” Fluffikins blew daintily on his tea. Tea which he had selected and brewed himself without getting under anyone’s feet, in a porcelain mug which felt like his very own.
“So, will you stay here with me?” Florence asked, reaching for her fourth bikkie from a jar on the counter. “I’ll need someone to howl at sudden noises and snore into my earhole. We’ll eat cakes and ice-creams and swing from the fan.”
“I won’t be swinging from any fans. Plus, I have my own bed now. A queen sized one in the master suite, going spare.”
Apart from his own bed, Fluffikins had his own private yearnings. Laying out tables with afternoon tea, helping himself to ice-creams from the freezer…
Fluffikins blinked at Florence and nodded. “You know I have to stay here with you, right? You rescued me when I was a stray. Now we’re stuck with each other forever, until you throw me out. That’s how it works.”
Still, Fluffy felt the moment needed a little something. Something more symbolic than a cup of morning tea.
He reached into the neck of his onesie. He grasped the heart pendant attached to his collar. He’d been wearing it since Mr Mutt bought it for him at the pet store. With a little brute force, the heart snapped neatly in two. He gave one jagged half to Florence.
“Attach it to your collar,” he said with a shrug. “I’ve heard this is the sort of thing humans do with their besties.”
Florence’s eyes filled with human tears. She took the jagged half-heart and admired it, glinting in her palm under the kitchen light.
“Florence Mutt! What did you just do with our friendship!”
“You know I only lose everything important,” Florence explained. “Lunchboxes, hats, notes from school. Now our friendship lives inside me forever.”
Florence cocked her head. “And ever and ever and ever. A-dogs?”
“That’s not… how it works,” Fluffikins said quietly, longing for the quick reactions of his youth.
A strange expression crossed Florence’s face. If she hadn’t been part dog her cheeks might have pinkened. But proper dogs, with tails and dew claws and everything, are not so easily embarrassed.
“Well,” she announced, grabbing a folded newspaper from the recycling bin. “I may be some time in the yard.”
(and also the beginning)
Cover design by Lynley Stace
Internal illustrations by Lynley Stace