Two months after we married, Love Chunks rang me from the Darwin weather bureau.
"Look, I know we've just had a few chats about it, but I've found us a dog. She's a stumpy-tailed blue heeler from Hayes Creek and is just eight weeks old. I hope you don't mind but I've rung up and ordered us a girl for $150."
Of course I didn't mind! She arrived two days later and we both agreed on the name 'Tess', from one of our favourite books. We just trusted that her fate would be a happier one than that created for Thomas Hardy's heartbroken heroine.
LC was at work when Tess arrived, barely discernible in her box of shredded newspaper, shivering. The owner was moving to Queensland and had two male pups in the car to hand over to their new owners. He grabbed his three fifties gratefully - 'This'll help with the petrol costs' - and was quickly on his way.
I gently lifted out a tiny little puppy that looked as though the designer had gone nuts with a fine-tipped black pen on white paper. She wagged her tiny stump of a tail, crawled onto my chest and fell asleep.
We wondered if she was really six weeks old because she was so tiny, but did our best.
She ate off our soy sauce dish and drank from the lid of a decor water bottle.
Until she was fully house-trained, her time indoors was confined to the tiled kitchen and dining room area, blocked off by two boxes of books we'd still not unpacked and our esky. Her box was lined with fresh copies of the NT news: the best use for it.
Her favourite toy of choice was a blue thong that, as she got bigger, she'd slip across her face like a baseball catcher's mask, vigorously shaking her head so that the rubber sole would jiggle and give her a vigorous slapping. The footwear then got several melodramatic growls and a few gnaws in retaliation. Many pairs of $2 thongs were ruined this way, but it was more fun and value than wearing any of them.
Her second favourite toy was an old towel that she'd grab onto at one end while one of us grabbed at the other. She'd slip and slide all over the tiles in the kitchen or grip hard on the carpet in the living room, her tiny puppy teeth eventually leaving her mouth and pock-marking the towel like glued-on sequins. If no willing players were available, she'd content herself with dragging it from room to room, picking at the loose threads.
Her third favourite toy, it must be said, was any visitor who arrived. Her capacity to jump up and lick faces is unrivalled even 14 years later. If guests were staying the night, they had even more 'affection' to deal with.
The doors to our weather bureau house were flimsy and even a playful 10 kilogram dog could nudge them open. My older brother Rob was fighting the urge to stay in bed a little bit longer versus getting up and effectively stopping the unrelentingly moist licks of his furry niece. Hearing the sound of a jingling collar and muffled laughter, I walked in and saw his solution:
She enjoyed airing her bottom by wedging it up against the chink in our bedroom door - the only room to have air conditioning - and played for hours outside in the garden when the coconut trees would drop a huge frond. Tess would proudly carry it in her mouth, rubbing the leaves up and down the cyclone fencing like a prisoner summoning the sherrif.
She'd shelter up against the wet bricks of the house and the cement of the porch with a folded deckchair leaning up against the wall to provide her with a teepee of sorts and gleefully lick the chlorinated water that dripped off our legs when we came out of the pool.
Our darling, funny, effervescent, larger-than-life little Tess-tickle.