It must have been several months after the day I first saw the children that I began to see the dog. It was getting towards evening and I was in the dining room at the back of the flat. I can't really remember what I was doing in there. Putting away the wine glasses? Looking for a platter? All I remember, from that day, was how startled I was when I heard a whimpering sound coming from the kitchen.
These old San Francisco houses have wonderfully spacious kitchens at the back of their homes with views over the gardens and most of them still had a swinging door opening into the dining room.
We had kept our kitchen in a vaguely period style, spanning several decades and we'd installed our beloved 50's era O'Keeffe & Merritt gas range - a huge white enamelled affair that fit the kitchen perfectly. But when I opened the kitchen door, just leaning on it slightly to peek my head around, I could see right away that the stove was gone.
In its place was an elaborate iron contraption, from a much earlier decade, sitting up on ornate metal legs, and under these legs was a dog's basket bed, and inside the basket, was a real dog.
It was one of those absurdly cute, little white dogs, with big black eyes and pointed tufted ears, and it stopped its whimpering as soon as the door creaked open, and, to my astonishment, immediately turned its head to stare at me.
It can see me! I thought with surprise. And then, before I knew what was happening, the creature jumped out of it's basket and trotted straight up to me, its short white tail wagging furiously. I crouched down and offered it my hand, the way you would to any friendly, small dog, and I felt the little creature's cold black nose nuzzle against my hand.
All I could do was hold my breath and marvel that such a thing was really happening, as I ran my hands through the little dog's curly white fur, surprisingly silky, and felt the small muscles and sinews of its neck. It was a real dog, all right.
I caught myself talking out loud to it. "Well, hello there. Who are you?" I asked, as it rolled on its back and offered up its little pink and white belly. Its tongue lolled out of the side of its mouth and it wriggled happily under my hands and I wished I could call my wife over to have a look, but she wouldn't be home from work for another hour.
I remained crouched there for sometime, uncomfortable, but afraid to get up, lest the little dog disappeared. I ran my fingers through its tangle of white curls around its collar as it sat up.
That's it, I thought, There might be a clue in the dog's collar!
I twisted the collar around carefully, and found the narrow silver plate, like an ornament on the side of the collar, and sure enough, it was engraved. I leaned my head closer to read it, "Bobby" was all it said. "OK, Bobby, I said, disappointed that the owner's name wasn't on it, but the little dog only cocked his head to one side and looked at me expectantly, as if I was about to feed it.
My knees were beginning to hurt and the door felt tiresome and uncomfortable. I was still crouched half in and half out of the kitchen, with the dining room door resting against my shoulder. Before I could stop myself, I stood up, letting go of Bobby's collar just for an instant, pushing the door open fully with my other hand. And that was all it took.
As soon as I let go of his collar, he was gone. My own familiar dog-less kitchen slid back into place, like an architects template. The big white O'keeffe & Merritt range stood in its usual spot with no dog basket in sight. I stood alone in the doorway, feeling suddenly bereft and lonely and at the same time cross with myself for letting go of Bobby's collar. Above all, I felt terribly exhilarated and filled with astonishment, my hands still warm from the little dog's fur.