OCTOBER 2008 – NO. 27
Jenkins Pet and Supply
The second short story selection by our guest editor, Andrew Pyper
We're on our way to Jenkins Pet & Supply, a huge converted airplane hangar full of all things pet. Part of the ritual is I always come along. A punishment. A penance. I come because I can give my wife these things.
Judy drives through traffic like a stock car racer, changing lanes without signaling, riding people's tails. Her hands shift the gear violently, like it's done her a disservice. Every time I try to turn the radio on, she slaps my hand, so we ride in silence. I roll the window down and let the stiff breeze whoosh against my face. Then I turn to her and stare, waiting to see if she'll say anything. She looks good for her age, 41, taking a large amount of pride in never having color-treated her hair, which is so brown it looks black. "It proves I still have my youth," she always says, like it's a threat, like it might last forever.
The Jenkins lot is crowded; it's a Saturday. We walk in behind a father and his two young children. The pigtailed girl says she wants goldfish. The boy says guppies. The father says he thinks the two can live together, in the same tank. But the boy wants his own tank. So does his sister.
"Any ideas?" I ask Judy. "More goldfish?" She ignores me.
I would love Judy to choose more goldfish, but she won't. She's here to prove a point. Whenever I do something she considers "wrong," a breach of trust, an ill-chosen phrase, and now, the latest, my failure to 'properly grieve' her mother — she takes me to Jenkins and picks out a new pet. This has gone on too long. Living alongside us in our four-bedroom Meridian Township Colonial are: three dogs, a cat, a hamster, a ferret (illegally), a trio of bunnies, a turtle, a pair of canaries, an iguana, and too many fish to keep track of. Our home is never without barking, chirping, purring, squawking, and the hum of tank filtration systems. Judy has given each pet a name, and takes care of the feedings and cage cleanings. This all began four years ago, when we left Dr. Alistair's office with news that it would never happen naturally for us, a problem Judy blamed on me. The doctor's results were inconclusive, a mystery, but I still felt guilty, somehow inadequate, so I silently shouldered the responsibility. Pulling out of the office parking lot that day, she blurted out "I want a dog." Roxanne, an amiable Collie named for the first child we wouldn't have, came home with us that afternoon.
Ted's the salesperson wondering if he can be of any assistance. He's in his twenties, but adolescent uncertainty tinges his speech as he tells us the Sun Conure is the clown of the parrot world. "A regular Bozo," he says, like it's something he's rehearsed. "But smart, very smart." He fidgets, scratches his arm. "You people have other birds in the house?"
"Canaries," I tell him. Looking in at the bird, the only thing that seems clownish is its multitude of colors — like a bird made for tropical weather. Wings the color of lemon, a hint of lime at the tips. A wash of orange over its head and down its breast. The bird sizes me up with beady black eyes.
Ted mulls this over, and says it should be okay, but perhaps keep the birds in separate rooms. The Conure can intimidate and impose their will on other domestic birds.
"Does he speak?" Judy asks.
"With training," Ted explains. "One method is to hold a mirror up to the bird. Keep your own face behind it and speak. He'll think it's a fellow bird talking, and will imitate."
"I like him," Judy says, without turning to me for consultation.
"One thing," Ted says, his tone taking on a note of seriousness, "the Conure will live up to 35 years. With proper care." He twists his fingers together, seeming uncertain as to our intentions. "It's a lifetime commitment," he concludes.
"We'll take the bird," Judy tells him, waving into the cage with a crooked index finger.
We exit Jenkins Pet & Supply with our new parrot. I carry bags with bird play-toys, food pellets, different apparatus to make his living space resemble a children's jungle gym. Early evening dusk has settled over the parking lot, and for a moment, things are silent. I stare in the direction of where the sun has set and the sky is the dynamic color of our new pet.
"Ronald," Judy says. "We'll call him Ronald." She always gives our pets human names. Beth, Christopher, Tim. Jack, Katherine, Paul.
"Honey," I say.
She holds the large cage at face level. "Here Ronnie, Ronnie. Here, birdie."
Original art courtesy Rob Grom.
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