Stuff Happened: Part Three
‘Ah, there you all are now!’ Lynn’s broad grin greets them as they pull up to the gate. She is a middle-aged woman of small stature, with short red hair and a round, open face. She bustles over to the gate, shooing away a few dogs who have – as usual – gathered around it, full of excitement. ‘Let me open that for you now, Ben…’
She unlatches the gate and Ben slowly moves the Jeep to a nearby spot behind the chickens’ shed.
Suddenly, one dog – a particularly exuberant husky – takes a running jump at the Jeep and climbs right through Lexi’s open window, despite Lynn’s belated attempts to pull him away.
‘Ah, Bobby! Get down! You bold boy! Get down, I’m warning you…’
The dog plonks himself on Lexi’s lap – his tongue lolling out of the corner of his mouth as he pants rapidly, dripping saliva everywhere – and lets out a few happy barks.
‘Are you okay?!’ Lynn asks anxiously, running up to the window. ‘For God’s sake, Bobby…’
Lexi’s response is somewhat muffled, but she sounds amused. ‘Well, breathing is a bit of a challenge right now, but –’
‘I am so sorry. He’s a bad dog. Do you hear that, Bobby? You’re an awful, awful dog! I should have locked them all away before you arrived. I was so busy with the chickens just before you got here, but I should have remembered…’
Bébhinn watches him stick his head out of the window – still panting and looking utterly delighted with himself – and chuckles. Out of all the dogs at the sanctuary, Bobby is her favourite. Lynn has always said that huskies are ‘lovable assholes’ – incorrigibly stubborn, no matter how much training they receive – and she has to agree with that.
‘How are you, Lynn?’ she asks, as they all begin to get out of the Jeep.
‘Oh fine, fine…’ the older woman replies, still looking somewhat frazzled. ‘It’s lovely to see you all. I’m still upset about Jill, of course, and so is Steven, but – ah, Jenny, you brought your casserole? You shouldn’t have! Thank you so much … and Ben, thanks for bringing the Jeep back. You’re absolutely sure you’ll be okay getting the bus home tonight? If it goes on late, you know you can all stay here, I’ve a couple of empty rooms at the moment, but hopefully things won’t go on too long and Steven will be back from town soon so he’ll be able to pitch in – ah John! How are you? Long time, no see… What? Cakes too? Oh, you and Jenny have us spoiled. You’ll all come in for a cup of tea, after that bit of excitement.’ She gives Bobby a light tap on the head as he saunters past her, tail held high.
Lynn and Steven’s kitchen is cosy and bright. A large concrete fireplace takes up most of one wall and a few armchairs and stools are dotted around it. It is to this area that Lynn directs them, while she bustles around making tea and gratefully taking the casserole and cakes from Jenny and John.
Bébhinn and Lexi begin to move towards the same armchair. They look at one another, startled.
‘Oh, sorry, I –’
‘No, don’t worry.’
‘You take the seat.’
‘No no, you’re the one who had to deal with Bobby jumping all over you! You take it.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Don’t be sorry, you have nothing to be sorry for.’
Lynn stares at them both with a raised eyebrow as she approaches their group, carrying a tray loaded with tea paraphernalia. Ben looks as though he is struggling not to laugh. Jenny and John exchange a glance – John momentarily seems as though he’s about to say something, but she lightly squeezes his arm, holding him back, and reaches out for a cup of tea. ‘Thank you for this, Lynn…’
The conversation soon turns to the work they will be doing today: cleaning out the pigs’ barn, pulling weeds out of the vegetable patch, and mending a fence that was blown over in a recent storm. Determined as Bébhinn is to concentrate on the discussion – knowing that it is an honour for her to help the animals who so often arrive here utterly broken, unable to trust anyone – she can’t help sneaking an occasional glance at Lexi. Lexi is listening closely to Lynn’s instructions, her brow furrowed. As a relatively new volunteer, she is still not familiar with the way the sanctuary operates.
“Lynn stares at them both with a raised eyebrow. Ben looks as though he is struggling not to laugh. Jenny and John exchange a glance.”
After tea, they make their way out to the rickety old shed that houses the gardening tools. ‘Oh God,’ Lynn groans as she opens the door and peers inside. ‘State of those rakes in the corner. If one of ye could stay here and sort through them for a bit – just give them a quick soap down…’
‘I’ll do that,’ Lexi assures her.
‘Ah thanks, Lexi,’ Lynn says warmly. ‘The rest of ye now –’ she clicks her fingers and points them in the direction of the shed ‘– grab a spade and let’s do this.’
‘Here we go,’ Ben declares jauntily as he steps into the shed. ‘Shit shovelling time!’
‘Great to hear your enthusiasm, Ben,’ Lynn remarks wryly as she begins to stride out towards the field.
Bébhinn is the last person to pick up her spade. She lingers, allowing the others to pass by, and watches Lexi pull the rakes out of the corner. Her throat feels tight.
Lexi freezes, but doesn’t look around. ‘What?’
‘I’m sorry. I really am.’
No response is forthcoming: Lexi continues to stare down at the rakes, with her back turned to Bébhinn. Bébhinn sighs and turns to go.
‘Why did you leave?’
Her voice is sharp.
Bébhinn finds herself stumbling over her words yet again in her haste to reply. ‘I just couldn’t – I … I didn’t know what to say. Afterwards. I got scared, I freaked out, I didn’t know how to handle it. But when I got home … I told Owen.’
Lexi turns around and faces her at long last. Her eyes are wide. Concerned. ‘What?’
‘Things weren’t working with him. I knew that. It was nothing to do with you … not really. We were having problems long before you. But I – I never had the courage to talk to him … and I should have. I let him down. I let you down. I…’ Bébhinn feels her throat constrict with the effort of holding back a sudden wave of tears. ‘I should have been honest.’
‘What did he say?’
Bébhinn smiles ruefully at her. ‘Well, I’m staying on Ben’s couch right now. That says it all, really… Anyway, I have to…’ she gestures awkwardly towards the field. ‘Can we talk later?’
‘Sure. And, um … Bébhinn, thank you for saying sorry. That means a lot.’
‘Don’t thank me. I should have done it long before now.’
Bébhinn steps outside and turns to face the cool breeze, the chickens skipping across the yard, and the dogs, who are barking and jumping around, as usual, running after Lynn and the others as they make their way to the barns. The sound of their joy fills her ears, obscuring all else.
Husky in car: YouTube
“Laughing” husky: Tenor
Woman in shed: Shutterstock