We inherited a cleaning lady when we rented the palazzo, and she became our main contact with the village.
Josephine’s Day was always a struggle because she preferred to arrive much earlier than we preferred to wake up.
She was kind and reliable, but I never knew what to say to her, and so I barricaded myself in my study all morning and stayed there until she was gone. We only met in the kitchen when I emerged to top up my mug.
I’d invested in my first espresso machine after my experience at the village cafe, and I was just foaming the milk for a cappuccino one Monday when Josephine burst in from the hall.
“There’s a dog in the house!”
“What… right now?”
I assumed a stray had darted inside and she needed me to chase it away.
“No mela,” she said, leaning her broom against the wall and grabbing my arm. “You have a dog in the house.”
Her urgency suggested a rabid behemoth on the loose, but I didn’t see blood or signs of a mauling.
Was there some difference in Maltese between having a dog in one’s house, and a dog getting into a house? I began to ponder this linguistic dilemma as Josephine sighed and looked for Tomoko.
And then I suddenly realized what she was telling me.
“Let me get this straight. You believe there’s a dog… living in the house.”
“And for quite some time.”
I set down the cup and wiped my hands on a towel, trying to decide the best way to tell her.
“Josephine, I know the house is awfully large… But I think if there was a dog living here, I would have noticed.”
She flicked her cigarette into the nearest potted plant.
“Come,” she said, and she turned her back and strode with great determination to the dining room.
I followed her down the hallway and around the long wooden table with seating for eight, and I watched as she grabbed the corner of the door.
She gave me a warning look tempered with castigation at doubting her word, and then she pulled the door back like a magician revealing a woman sawn in half.
I didn’t find the phantom dog I was expecting. What she showed me was an enormous dry turd that stretched across the span of a full ceramic tile.
“Dashiell,” I said, with a hint of embarrassment that was quickly superseded by pity.
“No!” she insisted. “It’s a dog.”
“Well, technically it’s a turd. But it came from my cat.”
The cat who had come into my life at two weeks old was now 17, and her health was failing. But no matter what I said, Josephine still suspected me of harbouring canine fugitives.