Megan carries a piece of paper, checking the address against that of the buildings she passes. She stops, rather abruptly, in front of a large house with faded red bricks and a crooked fence. At first glance, it looked dilapidated and otherworldly all at once. Megan carefully steps through the gate, which is just leant on the fence surrounding it. She tries to latch it back into its rightful position, but to no avail. Before her, lays a cracked grey pathway; it proves to be a stark contrast to the bright green grass, oddly well-preserved for the dead of winter. Perhaps it’s fake.
When she reaches the door, she searches for a bell but, finding none, settles for the knocker instead. This sharp sound is met by a frenzy of barks, howls and growls. All of a sudden, a hoarse, croaky voice resonates from inside: “Shut up, you noisy little brats!”
Eventually, the body to which that voice belongs cracks open the door, just enough for Megan to see an elderly woman with a dull red ribbon tied in the straggles of hair that falls from her head.
Megan automatically speaks politely. “Good afternoon, ma’am, I’m Megan Winslett-Carter. I have a meeting with…” She checks the paper again. “…Miss Connie McNeil. About a Rottweiler you have here, I want to adopt him.”
The Woman widens the door a little; now Megan can see the whole of her face. “You’re the singer?”
“Never liked opera myself. Too loud, too foreign. You’re not foreign, are you?”
Megan is slightly taken aback. “No, ma’am, I was born in New Jersey.”
The Woman’s eyes dart past Megan, surveying the neighbourhood, then they seem to circle back, settling on Megan’s scarf.
“What does an opera singer from New Jersey want with me?
“I have a meeting.”
“You already said that.”
“You’re repeating yourself.”
Megan is losing patience now. “You asked me what I’m doing here and I told you!”
“Be more polite to me.”
“Is Miss McNeil here, will you let me in?
The Woman seems impressed with Megan’s bluntness.
“Connie’s just out for a minute. She said she’ll be back by twenty past. You might as well wait in here.” The Woman opens the door just enough for Megan to slide through, then slams it shut firmly, locking several bolts and chains, while Megan removes her coat and hangs it over her arm.
“Sit.” The Woman slunk across the room.
“I’m not one of your dogs.” Megan protests, but sits on the sofa all the same.
The Woman grunts, “Bad habit,” at which Megan can’t help smiling.
The room is silent. Eerily so. Uncomfortably, Megan checks her watch: it has just gone ten past four. ‘I hope Miss McNeil isn’t long’ Megan thought.
“Which dog are you looking at?” the Woman questioned, startling Megan.
“The Rottweiler that’s been here for months. On the phone, Miss McNeil said his name is Kyle. But I don’t like that name for a dog – I want to call him Prizzi.”
The Woman raises her eyebrows and considers the name. After an unimaginably long silence, she decides, “Pretty good, for an opera singer!”
Megan chuckles to herself. “I’m glad you approve.”
“Just a word of advice, if you’re taking on Kyle – or should I say, Prizzi: He has gone through 19 foster homes in less than 10 months, each one returned him within the first week, just because he was difficult. I don’t want him going to someone else who will bring him back in a few days.”
“Is that why you were so hard with me at the door?”
“No, that was because I don’t like people!”
The Woman stares directly at Megan, observing every mannerism. Suddenly, she takes hold of Megan’s arm, digging her sharp daggers of fingernails into her pale skin. Megan winces.
“Please be good to him, Megan.”
For the first time, Megan sees a real emotion in the Woman’s dull green eyes.
“Of course I will, ma’am.”
A key turns, rather abruptly, in the first lock and the door catches on the chains. Connie McNeil stands outside, huddled in a faux fur coat and scarf. “Mum, let me in. I’ve got a meeting with a really famous singer, I don’t wanna miss her.”
The Woman calls back, without moving, “Could it be Megan Winslett-Carter, by any chance?”
“Yeah. Look, can I come in?” Then, after a pause, Connie adds, “How did you know?”
“I’m holding her hostage in here!”
Connie sounds frantic, now. “Mother, are you kidding me? Let me in!”
The Woman nods to Megan, who glides to the door and unfastens the locks. Connie bursts in, looking flustered and embarrassed. “Miss Winslett-Carter, I’m so sorry for my mother, and for my little outburst there. Please, don’t let that deter you, honestly, we’re friendly.”
Megan laughs good-naturedly. “Relax, nothing can change my mind about Kyle…”
“Prizzi.” the Woman corrects.
“Yes, and your mother has been interesting company.”
Connie sighs in relief. “Come on, then, let’s go meet your new dog.”
Megan nods, then, turning to the Woman winks and says, “He’ll be staying with me; I could never return a challenge.”
The Woman smiles.