The Pet Store

“Hey, enough with those puppy-dog eyes! You’re making me sad.”

“Well, since he is a puppy dog, that’s gonna be hard not to do,” replied Gabby from behind the store counter, eyes not leaving the calculator as she pecked away a stream of numbers with one manicured finger. “Besides, you keep talking to me and I might lose my place, girl. Are those empty cages cleaned and ready for any new arrivals?”

Kat had been helping out at Gabby’s store for a few weeks now, just another in a series of jobs she held since graduating from MassArt several years ago. Most of them had not worked out, for one reason or another, as her résumé grew more and more dislocated. She couldn’t stomach the corporate cubicle atmosphere of the publishing company (“It’s like high school all over again!”); was asked to leave from her internship at the museum (“You’d think a place that celebrates creativity wouldn’t have a stick up their ass about punctuality.”); and fell victim to the economy as her job at the whole foods market was eliminated. So on and so forth.

“Ugh, yeah almost. Doesn’t this bother you?” asked Kat, now wandering away from the glass enclosed area where the puppies and kittens were kept. Rows of identical cages lined one of the walls, ten or so across and about four high. Some occupants peeked though the bars hopefully, some resigned themselves to a faux hibernation, and some paced nervously. A fluorescent light buzzed away overhead and occasionally flickered. Kat began to feel woozy.

“I mean, they’re all cooped up in those little boxes, waiting helplessly for somebody to come along and take them away,” she said, now leaning on the customer-side of the counter. “Day after day they’re still in their sad cages. And even if they get lucky, maybe the person who takes them home sucks. Like, as a pet owner.”

“I guess I feel like I’m trying to help them. I felt a little bad at first but now I don’t think about it no more,” Gabby said matter-of-factually in her Dominican-via-Boston accent.

This was followed by the ding-ding! of the brass bell on the store door.

“Ladies!”

“That all for this week, Russell?” asked Gabby, squinting as she sized up the stack of cardboard boxes on his dolly.

“Yeah, got a couple boxes in the truck still,” said Russell as he eased the hand truck over the lip of the door and into the shop. It was stacked quite high but perfectly balanced. He was only in his mid 20’s, with tattooed forearms thick from years of wrangling deliveries through the decaying shops and warehouses of East Boston, Chelsea, and Revere.

“Invoice?”

Handing over a folded yellow copy: “Here ya go.”

Kat slowly began to turn away from the counter where Gabby and Russell stood, hoping no sudden movements would me her less noticeable. Her green eyes, framed by her black glasses and black bangs (dyed), darted nervously back to the wall of cages she was previously trying to avoid.

“Hi, how are ya?”

“You know. Busy.”

“How do you like workin’ here so fah? Mrs. G treating’ you ok?” he asked with a glance back to the manager, who didn’t look up from double checking the invoice.

“Um, yeah. She’s great.” It was the truth, really. Though fifteen years apart in age and from different racial and economic backgrounds they got along quite well. Gabby was barely an acquaintance when she offered Kat the job at the pet shop, but could sense that Kat needed her help.

(an awkward pause)

“Uh, you doing anything this weekend?”

“Working, got some other stuff to do. Anyway…” she said, repeatedly glancing back to the work she had previously been pretending to do and was now seriously contemplating starting.

“Right, right. You’re busy. Same here, I got more deliveries. It never stops!” he said with a head shake and a grin.

“Right…”

“So – “ interjected Gabby. “There should be a box of collars and the bag of hamster feed too.”

“Oh right, lemme grab that.” Before dashing back to his idling brown truck to retrieve the last of the boxes, Russell gave a glance back towards where Kat had been standing but she had already disappeared behind a display of leashes and brushes.

“He likes you,” said Gabby after the bell rang again, signaling his departure. “ You should go out with him.”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” said the voice from behind the display. “I don’t know him. Besides, I’m just here to work, not for a social club.” This sounded like an excuse even to herself, as she became aware of how much procrastination she had been up to that morning.

“He’s cute. You won’t get to know him if you don’t talk to him…” she said in a mother-knows-best tone.

Kat nodded without turning around to face Gabby and steeled herself to go back to the clean and prep cages.

~

Late in the day, the ineffectual February sun had already dipped below the horizon, leaving a clear but starless sky above the city. The streets were walled off with dirty brown snow banks as Kat disembarked the 2nd of the two busses she takes to and from home. The bus hissed, brakes squealed, as it lurched away. As she neared her apartment building she checked her phone. No missed calls. No nothing. A man, apparently just as engrossed in his phone, bumped into her on the sidewalk and offered no apology.

Her building loomed above her: a five story box of brick and concrete. Rows of apartments, each with a tiny balcony surrounded by metal railing bars. Suddenly a wave of fatigue washed over her, as she keyed open the outer glass door to the grimy lobby. She passed identical door after door until she found her apartment, went inside, dropped her bag, and tossed her ear buds on the coffee table. A horn blared from the street below as Kat stood staring out the window at the rows of building upon building, fading off into the distance.

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