‘Waiting for Doggo’ tells the story of Dan, who unexpectedly finds himself single after four years with Clara. Alone in their flat with the small, almost hairless dog that Clara brought home so recently that they hadn’t even had time to give him a proper name, Dan now looks to move on with his life just as soon as he can find a new home for Doggo…
Incredibly excited for its release on November 20th, we managed to get our hands on an extract of ‘Waiting for Doggo’ to whet our appetites. Read on for the first chapter of Mark Mills’ new novel.
Caution: this extract contains strong language
God, that sounds so formal. I don’t mean it like that, or maybe I do. As with a lot of things, I’m not sure any more/ anymore (which one is it? I know you’d know). Shit, I’d start this letter again, but I’ve done that three times already and I’m late for my flight.
I’m going away, a long way away. I can’t tell you where. Part of me wants to but there’s no point because I don’t know how long I’ll be there. Anyway, it’s better like this. That’s crap, of course. What I mean is it’s better for me like this, not for you, although I know you’ll cope because you’re strong and sensible and slightly cold-hearted.
We’ll talk properly soon, when I’m feeling up to it, which I’m not right now, obviously, or I wouldn’t be running away to Austral— Oops! (Joke. You see, I haven’t lost my sense of humour like you told me the other night.) Okay, not funny under the circumstances. I can see you standing at the table reading this. I’m sorry, my dear darling Daniel. I’m a coward. At least I’ve learned that about myself. And I’m sorry about Doggo. That’s totally my fault. God knows what I was thinking. What was I thinking? That he would make a difference, even heal us. You’ll hate that word, like you hate it when I talk about journeys and energies and, yes, angels.
The thing is, I DO believe in them. And you don’t. Is that what this is really about? Maybe. I used to love your polite tolerance, the sceptical smile in your eyes, but now it pisses me off. It looks cynical and superior to me now, like you think you have all the answers. Well, you don’t. Who does? Maybe that’s what you have to learn about yourself, like I’ve learned that I’m a coward. Maybe I can only be with a man who believes in angels. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean I’ve run away with Brendon. Brendon’s a prick. I’d take you over him any day (and if that’s not a compliment, what is, right!?). No, I’m on my own, travelling light, following my nose. There’s no one else, just me and you-know-who – the ‘One Who Must Not Be Named’, as you jokingly call him. I know you think he’s a figment of my warped imagination, but I believe he’s here with me right now, watching over me, and you can’t deny that that feeling is real (even if you are right about angels, which you aren’t!).
Take Doggo back. Something tells me you’re going to get this job and you can’t leave him shut up in the flat all day. It wouldn’t be fair on him, and it’s not like the two of you have hit it off. Is he there right now, peering up at you with those weird eyes of his? I swear he looked at me with a kind of contempt when I was packing my suitcase before, like he knew what I was doing. Of course he didn’t, he’s just a dog, a small, ugly dog. No, not exactly ugly, but you know what I mean – not overloaded with good looks, poor thing. I think I must have felt sorry for him when I first saw him. I feel bad about messing with his life, but at least he’s had a change of scene, a short holiday. I would have taken him back myself but there wasn’t time. You see, I haven’t been planning this thing, it just came to me very suddenly. I saw what I had to do and I’m doing it.
Am I making the biggest mistake of my life? I don’t think so. I think we got to a place where we were about to make a decision that would have been wrong for us, definitely wrong for me, and probably for you too. Don’t hate me, Daniel. You’ll feel humiliated, of course, but it could be worse. It’s not like I’m leaving you standing at that altar, plus everyone will damn me as a bitch, which will make it easier for you. Please don’t try and find me, and there’s no point in calling me now because I’ll be in the air by the time you read this.
Love and light
PS I’ve just read this through and I realise I haven’t made myself clear. It’s over between us, at least for now, which I suspect means for ever, but who knows? Never say never, right? I need to feel open to other opportunities (yes, okay, other men). I can’t stop you doing what you want to do, but if you sleep with Polly I’ll kill you. She’s young, vulnerable and in awe of you, but she’s also my baby sister, so ‘non toccare’, as they say in Italy (reminds me of that gift shop in Lucca where you bought me a horrid china figurine of the Virgin Mary because you thought it looked like my father in drag). X
I lay the letter carefully on the table with a trembling hand. Cold-hearted? Really? Cynical and superior?
I never felt superior. It was our little game. We worked out the rules together. Astrology, past lives, guardian angels, whatever it was, Clara fell hard and I applied the brakes. We agreed to differ and we laughed along together because what we had was bigger than any of it. What we had was love. We agreed on that. She can’t just change the rules and get on a plane and disappear after four years. It’s my life too.
I want to be angry but it won’t come. Stung by the accusations levelled against me, I’m also numbed by a cold, creeping sensation that I may in fact be guilty as charged.
I glance down at my feet. Doggo was there before; he’s now on the sofa. He knows he’s not allowed on the sofa, but he doesn’t seem too worried about my reaction. In fact he’s not even looking at me. His chin is on his paws and he’s staring intently out of the window, as though the passing clouds hold the key to some metaphysical conundrum he’s wrestling with.
He doesn’t turn, but then again it’s not a name he has ever answered to, possibly because he knows it’s not really a name, just something we’re calling him until we’ve decided what we’re really going to call him.
We’ve tried everything – we’ve even trawled through websites of baby names, but somehow none of them fitted. For a while we thought ‘Eustace’ might be the answer. It didn’t even last a day. According to Wikipedia, St Eustace was a Roman general who converted to Christianity only to suffer a grim catalogue of torments and misfortunes which included being roasted alive, along with his sons, inside a bronze statue of a bull. You had to hand it to the Emperor Hadrian: he not only knew how to build a wall, he had a dark imagination when it came to disposing of his enemies. St Eustace, I now know, is the patron saint of firefighters (the ones who failed to put out the flames that cooked him) and, more generally, anyone facing adversity.
‘Eustace,’ I say. ‘I’m facing adversity.’
Doggo cocks his ear, just the one, the left one, but it’s little more than a momentary twitch. His eyes remain fixed on the scudding clouds.
I pull my mobile from my pocket. I know her number is stored in it because we communicated about the surprise birthday party for Clara back in April. She works as a coordinator for a children’s activities company and seems to spend most of her time white-water rafting in Wales. What with it being the school holidays, I’m expecting to leave a message.
She answers on the fourth ring. ‘Daniel . . . . . .’
Just one word, but it carries in it an enticing mix of pleasure, surprise and anticipation.
‘Hey, Polly.’ Another twitch of Doggo’s ear, the right one this time. ‘How’s it going?’
Clara only has herself to blame, I tell myself, almost believing it. The thought would never have occurred to me if she hadn’t brought it up.
‘Great,’ chirps Polly. ‘Working like a dog.’
I look at Doggo welded to the sofa, almost at one with it, and I wonder where on earth that phrase came from.