Barney - A Short Story




Theo Dexter, the house agent, was a young man of about her own age, Kay thought, or a little older.  Good looking in a floppy, self deprecating, Hugh Grant sort of way. When the key wouldn't turn he looked at her with an apologetic shrug .

 It infuriated her.  She stopped herself grabbing it from him.  ‘No one seems to have  been here for a long time.' She shoved back her hair from her face with barely concealed impatience.

‘No one else wants to see the cottage.' He smiled.

She refused to be charmed.  She needed somewhere to live.  Now.  Somewhere cheap.   Very. The fact that this ruin was falling down was a plus.  It suited her mood.  And no one would come looking for her here.

‘Please try again.  Give it a good rattle.

His  cautious shake was followed by a hefty  thump then, two hands on the key, a bit of bicep-flexing.  She watched more amused now than cross.  The place was beginning to work its magic  Another struggle and she heard  a grating noise from the lock. 

In a moment the door was pushed  open. The interior smelled musty and damp, but not unpleasantly so.  And it was very silent.  They stood in the narrow hall for a moment ,orientating themselves. Straight ahead there was a narrow staircase.  To the right , a door opened onto a small living room; to the left, a kitchen with an ancient Raeburn, a dresser, and a scrubbed oak table.


Kay's enthusiasm shocked Theo  into a response which was, she felt, for an estate agent, probably candid in the extreme.  ‘You've got to be kidding.  The place is a dump!'

She laughed.  ‘It's quiet.  It's pretty.  It's cheap.  It's all I can afford.'

He grimaced.  ‘You'd better look upstairs before you commit yourself.'

She led the way, suddenly feeling ridiculously and uncharacteristically happy.

The stairs were steep and creaking, the banister loose.  At the top there was a small landing lit by a window almost obscured on  the outside by honeysuckle.  On either side they found two identical bedrooms.

‘Still  perfect?'

Kay caught Theo looking at her and grinned, unaware that her sudden happiness had made her radiant.  Her  previously rather severe features  had become beautiful in a way which fascinated him.

She looked away first.  ‘I suppose it's too much to hope that there is a bathroom?'  Practicalities had a way of bringing one back down to earth.

He raised his eyebrows.  ‘Believe it or not there is. At the back.   The old boy probably kept coal in the bath.'

‘Then I shall have a supply of fuel.'    Turning, she stepped back onto the landing and stopped  in surprise.  A small brown dog was sitting at the top of the stairs.

‘Hello.' She stooped and held out her hand.

 ‘Who are you talking to?'  Theo appeared in the doorway

‘The dog.' She glanced up.

‘What dog?'

‘That one.' She turned back.  The dog had disappeared.  ‘He must have run back downstairs. We left the front door open.' The fresh air had certainly improved the feel of the place.  The mustiness had gone and she could smell the roses and  mock orange from the front garden.

The bathroom proved an almost pleasant surprise.  Not modern certainly, but not too squalid either. If the water and electricity could be coaxed back into the property the place was definitely viable.

They stopped off on the way back to have a sandwich in a thatched pub.  Sitting at the table in the garden she glanced at her companion.  ‘You must think I'm mad to make an offer for a house like that.'

He returned her look with a quizzical smile. ‘Mildly dotty certainly.  But I keep  telling myself that the customer is always right.'

‘I'm running away.'

‘I assumed you weren't trying to hit the high spots.'

‘A relationship on the rocks.   There was quite a lot of  heart break and a bit of publicity.'

He smiled again.  She liked the way he did it, mostly with his eyes.  ‘That's tough.  Well, I doubt if anyone would find you here.'

‘I don't really think anyone will try. It's all over.  But I need some space.'

‘You'll get that.  There's an acre of garden we never even looked at.'

She nodded.  ‘An acre of nettles and brambles if we're honest?'  When they laughed together she knew she was, in some undefined way, already beginning to heal.


It was ridiculously easy to buy the place.  She didn't bother with a survey and her first, unbelievably low offer was accepted by the Alice Cross, the old lady to whom the cottage had been left.  Expecting to have to haggle for it Kay was stunned that the only condition of the sale was that she should love it the way ‘old Harry' had loved it.  And take care of Barney.

Barney, after due enquiry turned out to be a dog.  A small brown dog. She liked dogs so she agreed.  The only problem was that since that first sighting there had been no sign of Barney anywhere. No one in the village seemed to know anything about him.  Alice merely shrugged when asked and said he would turn up.

Kay moved in two months after she had first seen it, complete with a bag of dog biscuits for Barney should he appear, and with some trepidation invited Theo for a drink to celebrate.  He was after all the only person she knew  in the area.  He came and stayed for lunch.  By the time he left she knew he was unattached and even nicer than she had remembered. And no longer infuriating.

Two days later he returned with a strimmer and a saw.  The next weekend he brought wine, a  couple of pasties and a bunch of roses.

On the Saturday after that they saw Barney again. She and Theo were standing just inside the front door. The dog was exactly where she had seen him before at the top of the stairs. By now the cottage was clean, sparsely but attractively furnished with the few things she had retrieved from her disintegrated past and a few from her parents' home.  She had gone round the place with a pot of white paint and a roller and had covered a multitude of sins with pictures and strategically placed pot plants.  It felt more like home than anywhere else she had ever lived.  Soon she would look for a job.

‘Barney?' Kay called.  He wagged his tail and turning, trotted out of sight.

‘How on earth did he get in?' The door behind them was closed.

‘It doesn't matter.  He's here now.'  Kay made for the stairs.

But they couldn't find him. 

After ten minutes fruitless search they gave up.  ‘I'll put down some water and biscuits for him.  He's obviously found a way of sneaking in and out.'. She was looking forward to befriending the little dog

Their next visitor was equally unexpected.  They were gardening  as the gate clicked open.  Alice was standing there watching them. She smiled and nodded as though approving of what she saw.‘ Harry would have liked this.  He hated it when he was too old to look after his garden.  ‘

Then followed the guided tour.  Everything was approved with evident delight. In the kitchen Alice noticed the bowls on the floor .   ‘You're an animal lover. That's good.'

‘I'm afraid we haven't been very successful with Barney. ‘ Kay thought it best to be honest.

Alice turned and looked at her.  Her pale blue eyes watered slightly as the sunlight through the window caught her face.  ‘How many times have you seen him?'

‘Well, only twice actually.'

Alice nodded.  ‘And you've both seen him?  You and your young man here?'

Kay smiled.  ‘Yes, we've both see him.  This morning.  Upstairs.'

Alice smiled.  She nodded.  ‘That's where he always sits.  At the top of the stairs.'

‘We've put food down for him..' Kay gestured at the dog biscuits.

Alice laughed.  ‘I don't suppose he has touched those.'


‘No.' Alice chuckled again.  She laid her hand on Kay's arm. ‘I'll tell you a story. Harry and I were sweethearts before the war.  Then he went away.  He didn't come back and I never got his letters.  In  the end I began courting someone else.  I was married. by the time he  came home and moved in here, to his parents old place.' She paused.  ‘I visited him here.'  Kay saw the sudden twinkle in her eye and glanced at Theo.  He was smiling. 

‘My Bill was a hard man.,' she went on.,  ‘cruel when the drink got to him and Harry and I still loved each other so much.  It was the third time I came I first saw Barney.'

Kay frowned.. ‘What date are we talking about?'

‘About 1947.' Alice chuckled . ‘Barney had belonged to Harry's parents,' she went on.  ‘His father gave the puppy to Harry's ma on their first wedding anniversary.  They were so in love.' She paused.  ‘She died when Harry was born.  Told the dog to look after the house for her.'

There was a moment's stunned silence.

Kay's whisper was barely audible.  ‘You mean he's a  ghost?'

Alice beamed at her. ‘That's right.  He won't be needing your biscuits, my dear.  Just make him welcome.  Love him.  And let him look after you.' She glanced from one to the other.  ‘That goes for both of you.  You must both belong here or you wouldn't  both have seen him.'

That night Theo stayed.  It seemed the right thing to do.

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