Authors: Georgia Byng
The window of the staircase was extra tall and January light flooded in. Molly cupped her hand to her forehead as she squinted at the drive outside. A white wheelbarrow that read:
along its side was standing on the gravel. One of the Greenfingers workers was there, in his unmistakable
yellow company overall, unpacking a bag of shears and tools. The yellow men, as Molly thought of them, were always about, since at Briersville Park there were so many topiary animals to clip and shape, and so many lawns and flowerbeds to see to. Molly knew most of the gardeners by name but not this elderly man. He was new. She admired his purple turban, his large mustache, and his funny shoes.
“All right, all right—I’m coming.” Molly straddled the banister and slid all the way down to the bottom of the stairs, testing the echo as she went.
“Pe—tuuuu—la. Pe—tuuuu—la…” the echo swirled about her.
Her ancestor, the original great hypnotist, Dr. Cornelius Logan, smiled down from his portrait. Molly picked up three pebbles that Petula had found in the rock garden, tried to juggle them, dropped them, and then made her way across the grand hall and down to the kitchen.
Petula let Molly go on. She stopped in the hall and sniffed the air. There were strange scents about. Exotic smells. They were coming from the new garden man. She wasn’t sure that she trusted him. Under the pepper
and spices, he smelled nervous. She’d already tried to communicate her worries to Molly, but with no success. Molly had interpreted her barks and lip-licking as a message that she ought to hurry up and do some cooking.
Petula decided to sit in her basket under the stairs and guard the front door.
She hopped into it, tossed her toy mouse out, and picked up her special stone to suck. Then, finding the cushion too lumpy, she circled five times to flatten it just the way that she liked it.
Finally she sat down to have a good think.
The man outside might be a threat to Molly, she thought. And if he
dangerous, who would protect Molly? The woman was no help. The woman reminded Petula of a Labrador she’d once seen who’d fallen into a river and half drowned.
Petula sucked her stone. She’d found it in the big room upstairs, under the bed. It was one of those special stones, like the one that Molly wore around her neck. She knew that Molly could make time stand still when she was holding
special stone. She wondered whether she might be able to do that, too. She’d really be able to protect Molly if she could.
Petula had already mastered rudimentary hypnotism. She’d hypnotized some pet mice in Los Angeles. She’d also watched and felt how Molly made time stand
still and she didn’t think it seemed too difficult. Now, with the suspicious man outside, Petula deemed it her duty to test her skills.
And so, sucking her crystal stone, she began to concentrate.
She stared at her toy mouse as if she was trying to hypnotize it. At once, the warm fusion feeling, the feeling that always went with hypnotism, started to tingle in her paws. But Petula knew this wasn’t the right sensation. When Molly hypnotized the world to stand still, there was always a
feeling in the air. Petula stared at the mouse so hard that her big eyes began to water.
Nothing happened. But Petula wasn’t put off. She was a very patient creature. She tried again.
And then it began. The tip of her tail started to grow cold. Petula’s ears gave an involuntary twitch. The coldness was now creeping, very slowly, toward her back legs, as though her tail were turning into an icicle. At the same time, it felt as though someone were sprinkling icy water on her fur. Petula kept her eyes fixed on the toy mouse. Now the stone in her mouth was becoming cold. It was making her teeth ache. And yet the clocks in the hall were still ticking. Petula drove her gaze into the red mouse. Her mouth felt like the inside of a freezer—so cold, it was almost hot. But still, the clocks ticked on.
Then the smell of frying sausages drifted up from
downstairs, curling around Petula’s nose. She dropped the stone on her cushion and wiped her jaw with her front paw. Stopping time was obviously a little more difficult than she had thought.
She aimed her front legs out of her basket and let them skid forward as she stretched and yawned. She’d go downstairs for some sausage, she decided, and continue with her time-stopping practice a little later.
Cornelius Logan had lived in the house before Molly moved in. He had no interest in cooking; he always employed a chef and he was mean. The kitchen, as a result, had never had money spent on it. Its stove was a heavy, oily furnace with blackened iron plates to cook on and two rusty ovens to bake in. Its porcelain sink was chipped, and its humming, rattling fridge looked and sounded as if it belonged in a museum. Copper pots hung from the ceiling like a multitude of metal fruits, ripe, dust-bloomed, and ready to be plucked.
It was certainly no spaceship kitchen, but it was always warm and cozy, and Molly loved it.
She opened the garden door. After fifteen minutes of tomatoes in the oven and sausages in a pan, it was time to scramble the eggs. Molly laid the table and called her mother inside.
“Muuuuuum,” she shouted outside, into the cold morning air. Mum… That word always sounded odd to Molly when it came out of her mouth.
“Luuuuuucy. Breakfast,” she yelled.
Petula appeared and trotted outside. The sausages, she realized, were far too hot to eat now. She’d come back when they’d cooled down.
Five minutes later, with the room full of smoke because Molly had burned the toast, Lucy was sitting at the table. She was wearing a cloak and, underneath it, her nightie. On her sockless feet she wore a pair of dewy sneakers. A magnificent plate of steaming breakfast lay in front of her. And yet Lucy’s sky-blue eyes didn’t show any appreciation of it. A small fleeting smile flickered on her lips, but then her depressed expression returned.
“Would you like some ketchup?” Molly asked as she bit into a ketchup sandwich—her favorite thing to eat. Lucy shook her head and put a tiny piece of toast up to her mouth. The tomato on it slipped off and landed in her lap, but Lucy didn’t seem to notice. She chewed a mouthful of toast for what seemed like twenty chews, her eyes following a crack on the ceiling.
“You’re not feeling very well, are you?” Molly ventured. “Why don’t you have some of this?” Molly picked up her glass of concentrated orange juice. “It’s
just liquid sugar, really, with a bit of a kick. It’ll really perk you up. It’s my number-one drink.” Lucy shook her head. “You know, if you eat some breakfast, it will make you stronger and things won’t seem so bad,” Molly coaxed. Lucy sniffed and wiped her nose and, as if this gesture was a trigger, Molly found a part of herself beginning to feel cross. Things won’t seem so bad? Lucy wasn’t the only person around here whose life had been tampered with.
wasn’t complaining. She was moving on. Grasping the world by the horns and moving on. Why couldn’t Lucy do the same? Wasn’t Molly enough to make her feel happy? Maybe her daughter didn’t mean that much to her. Sadness suddenly rained down and drenched Molly, too. This was terrible. Here she was with her mother—a person she
feel completely happy and comfortable with—and instead she felt as if she were with a weird stranger whose mood was like a storm on the horizon, just about to break. Molly wished Lucy would break and let all her sadness out of her.
Molly stared at her mother’s plate. The two of them sat staring at Lucy’s scrambled eggs.
Then, thankfully, Molly’s senses snapped to.
Molly knew from experience that the more a person thought a certain way, the more that way of thinking would become a habit.
Molly wouldn’t be dragged down by her mother’s blackness like this.
“Lucy, you’ve got to pull yourself together,” she said suddenly, feeling more like a mother than a daughter. “What are you going to do—be miserable for the rest of your life? And I’m sorry to bring this up, but you’re not exactly much fun for me and Petula. I mean, Petula now avoids you because you always do a sort of sad moan when you stroke her… and I… well, I just can’t handle it. You should be feeling good.
is coming tomorrow. He knows exactly how you feel. I mean, Cornelius took years of
life away, too, so you can talk to him about it. And Forest’s coming, remember. He’ll help you feel better.”
Molly watched as her mother took a sip of tea and dribbled it down her chin. How, she thought, could a person do that? Then she noticed ketchup smeared all down the front of her own sweatshirt. But dribbling tea was a bit different. It was as if the shock of being woken up from the hypnotic trance had made her mother faulty. It was as if her batteries weren’t working properly.
Then Molly felt bad. Her mother wasn’t a machine. What was she doing relating her to a machine? Her mother was a living, breathing, broken person. It was too much to bear.
Molly got up. She must get some air and get away for
a bit. This fog of Lucy’s was suffocating. She couldn’t wait for Rocky to arrive. He’d help
“I’m just going outside to talk to the new gardener,” she said awkwardly. “I’ll see you later.”
Upstairs, Molly went to the porch and opened the front door. Petula stood on the other side of the graveled drive next to the turbaned gardener who was stroking her. Molly smiled because it was a relief to see someone normal, someone who liked animals, doing something friendly.
But then a very peculiar and frightening thing happened. There was a loud BOOM, and Petula and the man vanished into thin air.
o let’s go over this one more time.” Primo Cell stood to the side of the library and fidgeted with the cuffs of his tailored blue shirt, trying to be business-like but finding his usual powers of deduction flummoxed. “Petula was on the drive and…” He twisted around, his leather-soled shoe pirouetting on the Persian rug. “You’re certain it was Petula? I mean, it might have been another dog.”
“Yeah, man, that’s right,” enthused Forest, shaking his shag of gray dreadlocks. Forest was an aging Los Angelean hippie who’d traveled the world. He’d lived with Eskimos and bushmen, Chinese monks and Indian sadhus. Now he lived in Los Angeles, where he grew vegetables, kept chickens, and ate a lot of tofu and turnips. “Sometimes our memories play tricks on us,”
he said, adjusting his bottle-glass spectacles. “It might have been a different hound or even the guy’s backpack.” Forest had odd habits and sometimes he talked rubbish. Molly listened to him now. “Or maybe it was a big bag of dog biscuits with a
of a pug on the front.”
“No.” Molly stabbed at the fire with a poker as she remembered the horrible moment. “It was definitely Petula. She looked me right in the eye and wagged her tail just before he took her. If
she wasn’t so friendly.… If only she’d run away from him or bitten him.…”
“Why don’t we telephone the gardening company and find out who the gardener was?” suggested Forest.
“I already have,” said Molly. “None of their workers were in yesterday. That man was a fraud. Oh, I hope Petula’s all right.” Rocky, Molly’s best friend, stood beside her. He gently patted her shoulder.
Rocky Scarlet had grown up in the orphanage with Molly—he’d shared a crib with her when they were babies and he knew her better than anyone. He was also an accomplished hypnotist, though nowhere near as good as Molly. His skill was “voice-only hypnosis.” He had a lovely voice.
“We’ll find her, Molly. It’ll just take time. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get a blackmail call. Whoever he is
probably just wants something. He’s just a low-down dirty dognaper, I expect.”
Molly looked at Rocky’s face. It was a rich, deep black because he’d spent so much time in the Los Angeles sunshine. And his smiling eyes were always reassuring, even though this time, Molly wasn’t put at ease.
Rocky went over to the desk and sat down. He picked up a pen and, humming, began doodling on the back of his hand. He drew Petula and a clock. As far as he could see, they just had to wait. He was calm, patient, and logical and was sure that Petula’s disappearance would be explained.
Molly slapped her jeans, slumped back in the sofa, and hugged her knobbly knees.
“I don’t see how it could have happened. How does a person just disappear like that? I would have felt it if the man made the world stop.”
“Yeah, you would have got that chill vibe,” agreed Forest from his cross-legged yoga position on the armchair. “You were wearin’ your time-stop crystal, weren’t you?”
Molly pulled her crystal on its chain out from under her shirt.
Forest poked at the hole in the toe of his orange socks for inspiration. “What do you think, Primo? Rocky and me here, well, we ain’t hypnotic world-stopping experts
like you and Molly. Do you think the guy in the turban made the world stand still without Molly feelin’ it? I mean, she could have been lookin’ up that path with Petula waggin’ her tail and, BAM, suddenly he could have stopped time and frozen Molly stiff as an icicle. An’ then whoever that dude was, he just picked up Petula and walked away. Once he was far away, he started the world again. Well, of course, to Molly, because she was frozen, she wouldn’t have seen how he took Petula; it would have looked as if they’d gone in a puff of smoke.”