MAX'S VINTAGE - part3.

Back home they are sitting on the sun terrace. Ann has the kettle on for tea and Max has a big stainless steel bowl of cold, clean water just tucked in behind the herb border, where the sun has begun to cast a shadow. The sack is open before Liam who crouches Arab style - a habit he picked up in his youth and has never questioned. He is picking the stalks from the firm fruits and discarding the bruised and crushed fruits into a bowl: Ann will make jam from these. The rest are destined to become wine. A late bee buzzes past them breaking the silence and Max looks quizzically at Liam. The herb border fills Max's nose but still he can smell the sick bee. Liam laughs and chucks Max under the chin. It's OK boy. No problem. Let him be! Liam looks up and checks the length of the shadows. Half an hour more here and then I'll take you to the beach. Half an hour will see this lot off. I'll sort them out when we get back. There's time yet, boy.

Ann brings out the tea on a lovely red lacquer tray, that they picked up in an out of the way second hand shop last summer, and settles herself into a little plastic chair. Are you alright crouching like that? Don't fuss darling, you know I'm happiest this way. She strokes Max's head that rests still in Liam's lap. You two didn't overdo it did you? No, we're fine. Liam chuckles. We had a little nap in the shade, thanks. We're fine, and I promised Max his run on the beach. Half an hour's work left here - no more. Will you come?

Max has settled himself on the ground between them. He is looking up and clearly following the conversation. Like the pair of them he is wondering how life could be better and deciding that it cannot. Stretching his front paws out he settles his head between them and closes his eyes. His other senses though are on full alert. The sonorous tones of their voices and the smells of the garden in late afternoon soothe him. The sweet smell of crushed elderberries cloys above all the other scents. Ann and Liam have fallen silent. Time passes contentedly to the gentle rhythm of Liam removing the stalks from clusters of fruit.

You're awful quiet Liam. Are you woolgathering, or are you thinking? Thinking dear. About? Remember I dreamt last night of the elders? Well, as I dozed in the apple orchard I dreamt again of elders. I know I was among the elders, but still and all don't you think it odd? I asked Mrs Potts down at the post office about that, this morning, when I was picking up my pension. You did say the locals had all kinds of superstitions about elders. Well, she said that dreaming of elders presages an illness or bereavement. I'm sure she did - daft old bat! What did I tell you about this being the shallow end of the gene pool? How did such bloody retards end up in control of such a beautiful place? They'd have burnt her as a witch a few years back.

Max sits up at Liam's raised voice and watches their body language. He is used to heated discussions and the odd outburst of ranting but he always likes to check. Ann stretches her hand out and strokes him down his neck and chest. It's alright boy, the old boy is just cross at some stupidity. Max collects his feet together into a text book sit, and sympathises silently with Liam. He too, hates stupidity.