A phantom lodger

The dining room in the palazzo

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.

We didn’t eat many meals in the dining room — the cramped kitchen was easier

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“Dashiell,” I said, with a hint of embarrassment that was quickly superseded by pity.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.

About the author

Ryan Murdock

Author of A Sunny Place for Shady People and Vagabond Dreams: Road Wisdom from Central America. Host of Personal Landscapes podcast. Editor-at-Large (Europe) for Canada's Outpost magazine. Writer at The Shift. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

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