Albert spent that first night with the dog sitting downstairs in his armchair. The dog paced about for a while and then came to sniff his slippers, spinning three and a half times on the spot before lying down, nose tucked between Alberts feet. The dog took a deep breath that shuddered through his body, it sighed contentedly, ears popping forward before its eyes shut slowly and purposefully. His black fur was glossy and thick, there was no line about his neck which made him a mystery. What lab, this handsome, would not have an owner? Albert reached down to scratch his ears and when he sat back again, his hand was spotted with sand and salt.
“You’re a sea dog, then?” He smiled. The dog opened one eye to look at Albert and then fell back to sleep.
Albert sat back, burrowing his shoulders into the leather armchair and looking at the photo of his wife upon the mantel piece.
“Dear me, I’ve got trouble now, love. If he hasn’t got a home I’ll have to keep him, won’t I?”
Albert found his book on the table by his chair and began to read in the dim light of the lamp that had once been used by his wife for her cross stitch. It was not long before Alberts eyelids had grown heavy and although he knew his back would not be happy the next morning, he allowed himself to fall asleep, lulled by the sound of the sea outside and the gentle snoring of his new friend.
Albert dreamt that he was a boy, running to keep up with his older brother on the beach they had visited every summer. He could feel his shorts swinging on his hips because the hand me downs were still a few months from fitting properly. As he ran his tanned knees knocked together and in the following days bruises would dapple the highest points of his knees, like the pebbles that spotted the sea line. He tripped in the sand and was falling slow motion toward the sea when someone began to lick his face.
“Geroff! Get! Ok!”
He spluttered, arms over his face. He shook his head away from the lolling tongue and velvety snout. The dog looked unperturbed by Albert’s sharp tone, his mouth cracked upwards into a grin, his long pink tongue lolling from the side of his mouth.
“Good morning to you, too.” Grumbled Albert, rubbing his rough chin.
He stood up slowly, knees and back clicking and creeking. He went to the back door and unlocked it, watching the dogs head tip. He smiled as he pushed open the door and watched the dog run out into the garden, his tail spinning in a wide circle, paws scratching the cobbled walkway to the grass at the back. The dog sniffed, chased a few trails and then cocked his leg.
“A boy then.” Smiled Albert. “We’ve got a son, then.” He chuckled, glancing at the frame on the mantel.
Once the dog came back inside, Albert made them both breakfast.
“Don’t get used to it, matey.” He said, putting a plate of chopped sausage onto the floor, not looking his wife in the eye.
After breakfast, Albert trusted the dog to be alone while he showered and changed. He returned to find the Labrador curled up in his armchair, head resting on his front paws. He watched Albert warily as he entered the room, his ears pushed forwards as he waited to see if he would be told to get down. Albert scratched his ears and then set about finding his keys and raincoat. The dog jumped happily down at the sign of a possible walk.
Albert paused before opening the door, looking down at the dog.
“Now I haven’t got a lead, so please don’t go making a run for it cause I’ll worry.” He waited, it seemed the dog understood so Albert opened the door and they both went out under the trees and onto the coastal path.
The dog was glad to be out, running in curves into the woods, narrowly avoiding the cliff edge and then returning to scoop around Albert’s legs, battering the back of his knees with his thick tail.
“You great show off.” Rumbled Albert, chuckling happily.
Albert found himself walking more quickly than usual, his stride lengthening as he followed the dog along the path. He seemed to know where he was going, his nose guiding him, the nostrils close to the ground, twitching quickly, his ears swinging from side to side. The fur on his back was raised on end, criss crossing down his spine to his tail. The coastal path began to open up as they curved around the top of the cliffs, the trees grew sparse until there were none. The sky was bright, it was a crisp blue, below the sea was churning happily, the tide pounding into the rocks, the waves turning over to pure white. Every once in a while Albert would pause at the cliff edge, hands behind his back to take in great breaths of sea air. The dog moved quickly to stand beside him, leaning his head into his right knee and looking out to sea. Albert patted the dog absentmindedly before moving on.
“Not long now, my boy.” He said.
The dog looked up at him and then jogged on ahead.
At each house they passed on the way to the village, Arthur went to the door and knocked. But no one recognised the dog or had heard of any missing pets in the area. At the village Arthur went from building to building, each time the dog waited politely in the doorway, wagging his tail more slowly as he struggled to understand the conversation.
No one knew the dog. No one was missing a dog.
“Well matey, isn’t someone looking for you?” He asked, going towards the cafe. The dog stopped, Albert turned back. “What?” The dog glanced back over his shoulder at the fish and chip shop. “Fancying chips for lunch, are you?” Asked Albert.
The dog headed toward the chip shop and Albert followed.
“Morning, Ben. D’you allow dogs in here?”
Ben glanced between Albert and the dog and laughed, “Just this once, sir. What you having?”
Albert looked down at the dog and smiled before making their order.