Grandmère appeared behind him. Grandmère was narrow and elegant. She wore a long dark dress, and her white hair was parted on the side. It was straight at first, then turned to dense mannerly curls, pressed flat against her head. Her mouth was eternally pursed in a gentle smile. Grandmère was from Charleston, South Carolina, but her mother's family had been from Baton Rouge, where they spoke French. She had been brought up to think English was common, which was why we called our grandparents "Grandpère" and "Grandmère."
"Here you all are," Grandmère said faintly. She sounded pleased but exhausted, as though we were already too much for her. She stood gracefully in the corner of the arched doorway, leaning her hand against it and smiling at us. We milled around, taking off our coats and being kissed.
Huge had come inside, and now held his plumy tail tensely up in the air, his head high and wary. Tweenie, Grandmère's horrible black-and-white mongrel, snake-snouted, sleek-sided, plump and disagreeable, appeared in the doorway behind her. The two dogs approached each other, stiff-legged, slit-eyed, flat-eared. They began to rumble, deep in their throats.
"Now, Tweenie," Grandmère said, not moving.
"Oh, gosh," said my father from the other side of the room. "Get Huge, will you, Sam?"
Sam was the closest, but we all took responsibility for our beloved Huge. We all began shouting, and pummeling his solid lovely back, sliding our hands proprietarily into his deep feathery coat. "Huge!" we cried, sternly reminding him of the rules, and demonstrating to the grown-ups our own commitment to them. Of course this was hypocritical. We believed that Huge could do no wrong and was above all rules, and that Tweenie was to blame for any animosity, in fact for anything at all. We thought that Huge was entirely justified in entering her house and attacking her, if he chose to do so, in her own front hall, like some pre-Christian raider. Huge ignored our calls to order, shaking his broad brown head, his eyes never leaving Tweenie's cold stare. I laid my head against Huge's velvet ear.
"Huge," I said, holding him tightly around the neck, "no growling."
We did not touch Tweenie: she bit us without hesitation.
"Now," Grandpère said firmly, "Tweenie, come here."
The authority in his voice quieted us all. Tweenie paid no attention, but Grandpère strode across the rug and took her powerfully by her wide leather collar. Tweenie's growls rose suddenly in her constricted throat, and she twisted her head to keep Huge in sight as she was dragged away.
"Oh, dear," said Grandmère gently. "Tweenie gets so upset by other dogs."
Huge, unfettered and unrepentant, trotted triumphantly in small swift circles on the rug, his thick plumy tail high.
"Huge," I said sternly and banged on his back. I looked at my father for praise, but he was making his way toward us through the luggage. When he reached us, he grabbed Huge's collar.
"Now, hush," my father said sharply to Huge. Huge, who had never been trained in any way, ignored my father completely. My father pulled him in the other direction from Tweenie, and Huge whined, twisting his great shaggy body to get a last view of Tweenie's smooth repellent rump. Tweenie was being slid unwillingly, her feet braced, past the front stairs and past the little closet where the telephone was, through the small door behind the staircase that led into the kitchen quarters.
Excerpted from A Perfect Stranger by Roxana Robinson Copyright © 2005 by Roxana Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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