Oliver wanted more.
Not squillions of dollars and private jets and solid gold zips on his school bag. Not even his own paint-ball island in the Pacific or lolly trucks backing up to his place every day.
Just more than this.
More than standing in a crowded shopping centre trying to have a friendship with a dog through a pet-shop window.
What Oliver wanted was a black-and-white streak hurtling towards him across a park and yelping with joy and leaping onto his chest and wagging mud all over him and making his face wet with love.
The dog in the pet shop wanted that too, Oliver could see. It was gazing up at him, puddle eyes eager and hopeful, quivering nose making smears on the glass as it tried to snuffle him.
He’d been trying to explain for days how things were, and the dog still didn’t understand.
Oliver leaned closer to the window and tried again.
‘I can’t take you home,’ he said sadly to the dog. ‘We just have to be friends through the glass.’
The dog’s whole body was quivering like it did every time they met. The strands of newspaper dangling from its ears were jiggling and wobbling with excitement.
Oliver could see the dog still didn’t get it.
He knew why.
You couldn’t be real friends through glass. Not when one of you was a dog.
This is hopeless, thought Oliver. I’m not being fair. I’m just hurting us both.
He had another thought.
Maybe they had to stop meeting like this.
Oliver didn’t want to. He loved coming here. At school it was all he could think of, even in art. And anyway, how could you explain to a friend that it was all over when you weren’t even allowed into the pet shop because the manager reckoned you were a time-waster and a pest?
Oliver sighed again.
‘Nice puppy that,’ said a voice.
At first Oliver thought the person standing next to him was a kid. She was only a bit taller than him and her hair was in a ponytail. Then he saw her grown-up hands.
‘Yes,’ said Oliver. ‘It is.’
He didn’t know how the woman could see the dog properly with her sunglasses on.
‘I think I’ll buy it,’ said the woman.
She went into the shop.
Oliver wanted to tell her it was too late. He wanted to yell out that the dog was already sold to a loving owner. But he couldn’t because it wasn’t.
He watched the woman go up to an assistant and point to the dog. The assistant came over and lifted the dog out of the window. The dog looked at Oliver and then at the woman and then back at Oliver.
Suddenly Oliver remembered what Dad always said.
Take a chance.
Have a punt.
Oliver picked up his school bag and hurried into the shop. As soon as he was inside, the manager yelled at him.
‘Oi, you. I’ve told you. Out.’
The manager was a big scary man with poodle hair. But Oliver was too frantic to feel scared. He had to move fast. The assistant was handing the woman a piece of paper and explaining about dog injections.
Oliver realised he didn’t have a plan. Dad would never take a punt without a plan.
Oliver struggled to think of something to say.
He could offer to pay a hundred dollars more than the woman. Then ask if the dog could live in the shop for a few years. Just until the manager realised working with animals made him grumpy, and he retired and Oliver got a loan and bought the shop.
Trouble was, the manager looked too grumpy now to even appreciate such a good offer.
Oliver took a deep breath of budgie-scented air to try to calm his thoughts.
A better idea hit him.
I’ll ask the woman if I can come to her place sometimes to visit the dog, he said to himself.
She might agree, specially if he offered to get the dog hairs off her sofa with sticky tape.
Then Oliver noticed the woman’s grubby jeans and dusty boots and the bits of straw stuck to her jacket.
This wasn’t good.
If she was a farmer he’d never be able to get to her place. Farms were hundreds of kilometres away.
‘Are you deaf?’ the manager was saying to Oliver. ‘Get lost.’
Oliver wondered if the woman had Skype on her farm. That could work.
Unless she told him to get lost as well.
The assistant handed the dog to the woman and said she’d get her a dog box from out the back.
‘No need,’ said the woman. ‘I’m hoping this young bloke will give me a hand.’
Oliver realised she meant him.
The woman was smiling at him. For a moment there was something about her smile that was sort of familiar, but Oliver couldn’t place it.
He stared at the woman, wondering if she was joking. It was hard to tell with her sunglasses on. The manager and the assistant looked like they definitely thought she was joking.
But when the woman put the dog into Oliver’s arms, he realised she wasn’t.
Too Small To Fail is available in bookshops and libraries in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and online:
The audio track on this page is an excerpt from the Bolinda Audiobook Too Small To Fail, read by Morris Gleitzman. Buy it online: