After a night in the back porch – no fleas welcome in Mrs Fox’s house – the dogs’ bedding was stuffed into the washing machine, the boys themselves into the car, and off to the vet at the local pets’ emporium. An ordeal not to be repeated or commented on!
‘Why did she do that to us?’ wondered Ajax.
‘Who was scratching himself? You got too close to that English Setter when we stopped at the massive car park hostelry place. She was a walking flea bag. Mrs Fox does not want a houseful of parasites, and I’ve had enough bites already.’
Alfie sensed that Ajax was getting emotional now. ‘Don’t sulk,’ he said. ‘Combine thinking, now. NOW!’
Mrs Fox was in front of the tinned dog food, stroking her chin. ‘Left a bit, next shelf down,’ they beamed, and a bracelet laden wrist hovered for a moment, then swooped forward. ‘YES! Yummy variety pack!’ Ajax’s sulk evaporated before it took him over.
Suddenly the Ossyrian changelings realised how dependent they were on the humans around them; thought beams were all very well, but not everyone was responsive. Over the next weeks they began to notice the webs of connections: Mrs Fox’s neighbours depended on her, even if only her cheerful good morning – a cheerful greeting even when the boys knew she was not feeling cheerful.
‘She is a good woman. Why does she say that which is not?’ wondered Ajax. ‘But it is a good morning,’ countered Alfie. ‘We’ve been fed, walked on the beach, eaten abandoned ice-cream. The sun is shining. The young seagulls are making a racket, but that’s all that’s not perfect. Mrs Fox has a headache. She knows the day is good, even if she feels bad. So she says good morning and she means it.’
‘Will we ever understand humans?’ Ajax asked.