Basil had been a dog groomer going on 20 years. He had started out on human heads but finding them taxing and too talkative he took a short course to up skill. He was inspired after a drunken house party where someone had brought their new Pomeranian and were worried its fluff was getting beyond control.
‘She just keeps getting stuff caught in it’ was the owner’s complaint.
‘Basil’s a hairdresser’ the host told said owner. ‘I bet he could come up with a fresh new do’.
Basil was gathered, along with some clippers and fine scissors. Being buoyed by vodka and sheer idiocy his nerves were non-existence. But, to his credit, the owner was overjoyed with the outcome, despite the dog now looking like one of those weird shrubs your mum likes.
He found it quite different from cutting human hair. The texture, for one, slowed him down a bit. However, Basil was somewhat intrigued by his client who, except for the occasional stealth lick, was very calm and didn’t burden him with its life story.
When he woke up next morning he wondered to himself, as we all sometimes do, ‘Shit did I really do that?’.
Instagram confirmed that he had indeed done that plus #dogsofinstagram #pomeranian #doggrooming had garnered him a considerable increase in followers.
By Monday word had spread. Unfortunately some of that word had reached Basil’s salon, a low class high turn around joint on a certain long shopping strip.
His boss was livid.
‘Basil I’ve been in this industry a long time and have seen A LOT of things. But I’ve never seen something so irresponsible’.
‘I am sorry, it was just a spur of the moment thing’.
‘And what if you had of snipped the dog?’.
‘But I didn’t’.
‘Do you think this is a joke Basil? Because you won’t find OH&S so amusing when you’re out of a job’.
Basil slinked away. His books were full that week and he had been fielding enquiries from dog owners who were impressed with Frou Frou’s new do.
Walking home from work dogs seemed to be everywhere and in differing states of hair. Some were groomed top to toe. Others were more casual.
He got home and had a chat to his mum, who was unusually supportive.
‘Love if that’s what you want to do, you know I’ll always be behind you’ (this wasn’t actually true, she could be pretty lax as a parent).
Basil took this as a sign and, as mentioned, enrolled in a short course where he could study and practice at night. Within no time he had graduated and told his boss he would be retiring from human heads. A farewell party was had, glasses were raised and Basil was on his way. It seemed like yestermaday. But it was 20 years ago.
Basil now commanded his own salon with an exclusive range of clients – AFL and WFL wives, monied gentry, professionals with no time and a lot of money – the usual. No matter what was happening in his private life Basil would put on a cheery face and convince people that working with doggos was all it’s cracked up to be despite the nips and stage mum parents.
And then Toby walked in. A French poodle, Toby had a haughty and entitled attitude, much like our federal politicians.
‘He’s very particular about his fur and we were told you were the man to see. His last groomer unfortunately just committed suicide’ Toby’s mum told Basil.
‘Since then he’s not let anyone go near his fur and now I can’t even walking him for fear of embarrassment’.
‘Well’ Basil said cheerily, ‘Let’s try and put the spring back in his step’.
Basil washed Toby, who made several grunts at him. He was perky whilst trying to be soothing. So far so good.
‘There you go little mate, we’ll have you back on top in no time’.
Basil turned away to reach for the conditioner (it’s vegan, obviously – all of the range at Basil’s salon was). When he turned back Toby was looking straight at him.
‘Look here chap’ Toby said, ‘I’m not used to amateurs but I heard from the King Charles down the road that you know what you’re doing. So have at it and I’ll make it worth your while’.
The bottle of conditioner fell from Basil’s hand and onto the floor where it bounced a few times for dramatic effect. He looked around the salon. Surely this was some kind of prank?
‘Yes, you dimwit, I’m speaking to you’ said Toby. The dog let out a sigh and appeared to roll its eyes.
The next few minutes were taken up with the usual ‘dog starts to speak’ conversation. Toby had learnt English from his old hairdresser but yes it was a secret and no his masters didn’t know of his propensity to speak.
The rest of the appointment went along silently.
As Toby left he winked at Basil, who was wondering if he should up his meds or reduce them. He definitely could do with a Xanax and a lie down either way.
Toby and Basil continued to come together on a regular basis, with Toby bemoaning the stupidity of the human race and how one day he would bring it to its knees.
‘You will be spared for your skills’ he told Basil, who was becoming very uncomfortable.
One day Toby’s mum came in alone.
‘Oh is he sick?’ Basil said hopefully and then regretted thinking so cruelly.
‘Well he’s not fine, but he appears to be physically healthy. I just want to know; have you noticed anything unusual? He’s been avoiding me lately’.
‘Well he does talk quite a bit’.
Toby’s mum laughed.
‘Yes we all think they’re talking to us’.
‘But I mean…’
‘Yes I know what you mean; it’s like they’re human sometimes’.
Basil decided not to take it any further.
‘I’m hoping it’s just psychological and things will get back to normal soon’.
‘I hope so too’.
She went on her way. Basil looked at himself in the mirror. He’d lost quite a bit of weight and had been self-medicating. When not attended to his hair was showing patches of grey. His hands occasionally went into tremor as though they were screaming out ‘STOP’. He picked up the phone and dialed Toby’s mum’s number.
‘Hi, sorry, meant to say; I’m taking a bit of a break from the business to take my mother on holiday. She’s getting on and I thought we should spend some time together before… well you know’.
Toby’s mum expressed the usual empathetic stuff people express when someone’s mum seems vulnerable.
‘I’ll let you know when I’m back’.
He then went through all his upcoming appointments, cancelling each and recommending another groomer. That night as he shut the doors he felt as though Toby-shaped weight had lifted.
Basil went home, booked a flight to a remote island and packed his bags. He was gone by morning.
A few week’s later at stupid o’clock the phone rang in his serviced apartment.
‘Is that Basil Fankanarkle? This is the police’.
The voice sounded empathetic and Basil assumed that Mother may have slipped away.
‘It’s about your salon’.
‘Oh, is everything OK?’.
‘Well sir, I would suggest you sit down’.
Basil sat down.
‘The premises of your building. Well, they’ve been the site of a bombing. I’m afraid there’s nothing left except a message scrawled on the footpath saying ‘Fight the two legged fascists’. We need you to come in and make a statement’.
‘I’m actually in the middle of a much needed break right now’.
‘Ummm, yes, we’re aware of that. We just need to exclude you from our enquiries. I assume the building was insured?’.
‘Well yes of course, I built that business up over 20 years, of course I insured it’.
He drew a quick breath.
‘Wait – you think I was involved?’.
‘As I said sir, we need to exclude you from our enquiries. There’s also the matter of a missing dog, known to your salon’.
Basil was ready to pass out. The officer continued.
‘He was, or hopefully is still, a much valued pet and he went missing about the time of the explosion’.
‘I’m on an island, I haven’t seen him’.
‘So you know which pet we refer to? A French poodle named Toby?’.
‘Yes, of course. But I have nothing to do with his disappearance. I actually closed the salon just after speaking with his mother’.
‘She came in?’.
‘The day I left. She was having issues with Toby and wondered if I had noticed anything strange about him’.
‘And had you?’.
‘Well yes and I tried to tell her but she thought I was joking’.
‘But you weren’t?’.
‘Either way sir, we need you to come into the station and make a statement. If you can book yourself on the next flight out we’ll get this all sorted’.
‘Thank you officer’.
‘Oh and I am sorry to mention, but your mother was also found dead this morning’.
Basil put down the phone.
He thought about his last 20 years at work and how happy they had been, until Toby. Not only was his business gone, but his mum too.
The next morning he walked into the sea, never to be heard from again. A bit like Harold Holt.