Roberta and Wink, short for Periwinkle, are inseparable – woman and dog as one. Both are strays: the woman fled domesticity easily; the dog fled brutality. Roberta named the dog Periwinkle, even though it’s not blue but jet-black, because word and flower remind her of innocence and childhood. The dog answers to Wink and that’s good enough for him as he walks without a lead as close to Roberta’s legs as he can manage without causing his friend to trip and fall.
All that Roberta physically owns she carries in the backpack she used for walking holidays all over Europe; days long gone but not forgotten. All that Wink owns is the leather collar Roberta plaited for him. Each day, as a Vietnamese friend once said to her, is the same same but different. Woman and dog rise with the sun and sleep in places where Roberta feels safe, but never in the same place as the night before. Wink sleeps curled up, half listening, ready to defend his friend; this gives them both comfort. Roberta’s afraid of being attacked, as she often was before she found Wink, or more accurately, Wink found her. She knows she shouldn’t be surprised that there are people who like to inflict harm on whose who already are badly harmed, but she is always taken aback when she sees it happen.
When asked what she’s doing when she’s begging, she answers, I need money please to feed my dog and me. I’m walking rough to find where I might want to live one day, put down roots and build a castle with a drawbridge, and a moat with ducks, and inside the walls, Wink, that’s him there, my dog, will have the finest kennel ever known to a dog right at the top of the castle keep, even better than the ones they sell in Harrods. This often produces a grunt of incredulity or you’re bonkers, love, and sometimes cash, for the loony. Roberta’s happy when this happens; it means she’s going to get on with walking.
She remembers with pleasure, back in1971, seeing Patricia Hayes shouting, I’m not a vagrant, in ‘Edna, the inebriate woman’ and thinks, I had a telly then and I can even remember the actor’s name. And just as suddenly she realises how old she is and that there never will be a castle, even though that was always a joke, and at that same moment, with a jolt, realises Wink is not right there beside her where he’s always been for the last nine years.
She runs back the way she came. Wink lies on the pavement. He is still. Roberta, sobbing, nurses the dog’s lifeless body, begging a god somewhere to bring back life.
She empties her backpack as pedestrians stare. She carefully lifts Wink and lowers him into the backpack, hoists it onto her shoulders and walks. On mobile phones calls are made.
Minutes later, police arrest Roberta. Three days later she’s sectioned.
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