Jo Ann rang a couple of weeks ago looking for a favour. You know when someone starts a conversation with “So, what are you doing on Sunday, eh?” and you go into brain-freeze? What are they going to suggest, or ask you to do? Think, think, think of an excuse. An excuse that can be easily dispensed with if it turns out the person is inviting you to a spa for the day, all expenses paid. I’m hopeless at it. I fumbled for a minute, and then said, “Well, no plans really. Why?” in a trying-not-be-suspicious tone of voice. So it turned out that she was heading off for a day’s skiing with her husband and kids, and needed someone to drop in for a quick pit-stop with the dog. Caline is a beautiful, gentle, golden Labrador, and the kids adore her. I agreed to do it, slightly apprehensive about the dog going ballistic when I suddenly appeared in her territory, but planning to bring a child to counteract that possibility. She’d either be thrilled to see the child and tolerate me, or else she’d eat the child and I’d escape. Win, win.
Jo Ann issued a list of instructions for my mission. Key in a secret place, in through garage door, in through kitchen door, let out dog, tell her to go and pee, play for a few minutes and leave again. It all sounded manageable. Apparently the most important thing was not to press the switch that controls the garage doors. Doing this would incur the wrath of the gods, and the doors would fall off into the driveway. Louis-Pierre was echoing this information in the background, so I made a mental note not to go anywhere near the damn thing. I piled Isabel, Nicholas and Rebecca into the van and rocked on over to Jo-Ann’s house. The first ominous sign occurred when I couldn’t open the door into the side-passage of the house. I stood on my tiptoes and tried to reach over to unhook the lock, but I’m fairly vertically challenged, so there was no hope. I grumbled a bit about Jo-Ann overestimating my ability to stretch myself to six foot tall, and hoisted Isabel up on to the fence to deal with it. The door swung open and in we went to retrieve the key. In through the garage door and the kitchen door, to find a furiously wagging Caline waiting for us, writhing with excitement. We patted her, rubbed her belly, and headed out into the back garden to let her do her business. She leapt around the kids and ran up and down the steps to the deck.
“Ok!”, I said brightly, “now, go pee!” She ran down the steps and back up again. “No, go pee, Caline!” I said again. The kids joined in and we had a chorus of “Go Pee’s” going in no time. Caline looked as though she didn’t understand a word of it. So I took the kids around into the side passage and we hid. I peeped out. Caline was sitting on the deck. We waited. Peeped. Still sitting. I broke cover, and started issuing instructions again. She walked lazily down the step to me. I started to feel a bit desperate. So I trudged out into the snowy garden, in my shoes. Halfway out, I realised that the garden was a minefield of frozen pee and poo, so it turned into a bit of a mad dance, with me hopping from one snowdrift to another, up to my knees in snow and calling Caline constantly. “Come on, Caline, GO PEE!” I yelled, trying to sound like Jo Ann. Nothing. Shit, I thought, maybe Jo Ann tells her in French? “VA PEE!” I tried. Caline stretched, sat down with her back to the wall, and soaked up the rays of sunshine. I stood in the snow, unable to feel my feet, and contemplated her. She was deliberately ignoring me. I called again. She turned her head away from me and blinked slowly.
I rang Jo Ann. No answer. Maybe she’d already peed in the house? I headed in with kids, and Caline bounding joyfully after us. She hurled herself back on to her bed, and wagged her tail. I eyed her balefully. Fine then, I thought, don’t pee. We said our goodbyes, had a last pat, and closed the kitchen door. I put the key into the lock and turned it. It wouldn’t turn. I tried again, and then with the key upside down, and then with the handle to the left, and then to the right, and still the bloody door wouldn’t lock. It was a round handle with a keyhole in it, and so was the one into the garage from the side-passage. I had a horrible thought. I went to the outside door and tried the key. Same thing.
Ok. I was obviously doing something wrong. How difficult can it be to lock a door that I’ve already opened with a key? Surely if there was something complicated about it, Jo Ann would have included it in her list of instructions. The kids were getting cranky, so I put them in to the van, and tried the locks again. There was no way those doors were going to lock. I rang Jo Ann again, and there was no answer, so I tried Michael. “There’s a phone ringing in the car”, yelled Nicholas. Grrrrrrrrrr. I tried the house phone and it rang out. Well, I knew he was there, so I tried again. And again. I tried ringing them in turn, first Jo Ann, then Michael. I was sweating with stress at this stage, and wondering whether I should call into a neighbour for help. Finally Michael answered the phone. He’d been outside messing with the Crown Vic. “I can’t lock Jo Ann’s doors”, I told him, semi-hysterically. “What do you mean, you can’t lock them? Did you use the right key?” he asked in disbelief. “OF COURSE I DID! I need you to come over right now and do it for me”. I stamped back out to the driveway and waited. He pulled up five minutes later, with a “humour her” look on his face. We went into the garage to the kitchen door. He took the key, tried to lock the door and failed. Tried the garage door and failed again. I was so relieved that it wasn’t just me being stupid beyond belief.
He wandered back over to the kitchen door. “What’s this switch?”, he asked, pointing at the Nuclear Button. “DON’T TOUCH THAT!” I shrieked, scaring the life out of him. “What is it?” he asked. “It’s something to do with the garage door, and if you press it and then do it again at the wrong time the whole door will fall off and Louis-Pierre said not to touch it” I gabbled. He backed away.
Michael contemplated the door handles in silence for a minute, and then strode over to the outside door. “Ok, got it”, he said, “come here and I’ll show you”. We stood outside in the side passage, and he pushed the door handle in from the inside, and went to pull it shut. “NO!” I panicked, and pushed it back open. “Don’t f&^%ing lock it yet, I haven’t locked the kitchen one, and then the kitchen one will be open, and burglars will be able…” “Shut up for a f^%ing minute and LISTEN TO ME!” he snarled. We glared at each other. Well this was just great. I’d been here an hour, unable to open the fence, get the dog to pee, lock the doors, and get hold of Jo Ann or Michael on the phone. I’d leapt around a snowy, poopy garden in my completely unsuitable shoes, yelling “Go pee” over and over like a madwoman, and now Michael and I were swearing at each other in the side passage. Surely one of the neighbours was going to call the police soon?
Michael took a deep breath and explained it me in single-syllable words. Apparently, if we locked the handle from the inside by turning it and pushing it in, we could then pull both doors behind us and we could escape. We put the plan into action, and sure enough, he was right, infuriatingly. We left and drove back to the house, with me fulminating behind the wheel of the van as he laughed behind the wheel of the Crown Vic. I mean, what kind of a idiotic way is that to lock a door?
Jo Ann rang that evening to see how everything had gone. “You’re too stupid to have doors and a dog”, I informed her. “Oh!”, she said, taken aback, “what went wrong?” What a foolhardy question to ask. I started into my diatribe, from the too-tall fence door to the incomprehensible locks. “The fence was open”, she said, confused. Seriously? I thought back, and realised that I hadn’t tried to open it because I assumed it was locked. Round 1 to Jo Ann. I told here about our spectacularly unsuccessful attempts to get Caline to pee. “Did you go into the house for a while?” she asked in a puzzled tone. “No, why would I do that?”, I asked, equally puzzled. “Well, she won’t pee in front of you, of course” said Jo Ann. What? “She’s French”, said Jo Ann, as if that explained everything. “And very prudish. You need to leave her on her own for privacy, or she won’t go”. I thought back to my endless cajoling, bribing and threatening, my excursions into knee-deep snow, and all of us hiding in the side passage. I sighed, and moved on to the Trauma of the Locks, the Defense of the Garage Door Switch, the Marital Discord in the side-passage. Jo Ann was baffled by my inability to lock the doors. “We don’t have locks like that in Ireland”, I informed her (there’s nothing like a sweeping generalisation). “Next time, you need to assume that I know nothing about anything. We need to take it from the top, in minute detail”. I’m fairly sure that I’ll never be asked to do anything again, especially since I haven’t heard yet what the neighbours had to say about the afternoon’s adventure. So now, a lesson learned for everyone – French dogs like to pee in private, and Canadian locks are stupid. This is the winter resort about two hours away from Saskatoon where Jo Ann spent the day en famille: