(Read the first part of this narrative here.)
I slip on Aristotle’s lead and he pulls me to the end of the crescent, then up the familiar snicket towards the water. The air smells of impending summer. Full of promise.
Aristotle took his usual route down the canal tow path, tail in the air, nose close to the ground. I followed him, passing the usual hotchpotch of houseboats. I noticed Greg already on his deck, smoking, eyes on a book. He’s wearing two jumpers, both with holes in them. He looks such a mess that I barely think about the fact that I’m in pyjamas.
Everyone on Moseley Crescent knows Greg. Dad pays him for maintaining our garden, and other odd jobs. He’s handy. There’s a sculpture on the roof of his houseboat, a fox; he made it himself out of scrap metal. It sits among troughs of homegrown veg: carrots, turnips, potatoes.
‘Morning, Miss Murphy,’ he says. I think he me calls this because he can’t remember my first name. ‘A bit early for dog walking, isn’t it?’
‘A bit early for reading, too,’ I say. ‘Hey! Aristotle! No – drop it!’
Aristotle is trying to eat a cigarette end he’s found on the tow path. I rush over and prise it out of his teeth.
‘Ugh. So disgusting. Is this you, leaving fag ends everywhere?’
Greg shrugs. ‘Sorry, Miss Murphy.’
I have no idea how old Greg is. He hides behind a beard and a layer of dirt. He could be in his twenties – he could be much older. Something about him makes me feel like he’s not a proper grown-up.
We continue down the towpath. My feet are getting sore in the wellies, though, and when we reach the common, I let Aristotle run around without a lead, and I sit on the stile for a while. I’d briefly forgotten about my exam, and now I’ve remembered, my stomach starts to flip about like a fish.