Jingle jangle went the opening door of Ms. Kayman's pet store. 

The people walking by smiled at the sleeping puppies nuzzled up by the big bay window facing the street. They touched their fingers to the glass, trying to get the attention of the fish inside the tanks on display. They beckoned to the cages filled with the kittens, or turtles, or the tiny Tweetie birds. They peered into the little tanks trying to catch a glimpse of lizards hiding out on their little caves. Ms Kayman greeted all the people with a jovial grin. 

“How do ya do? How do ya do? Come in come in !” 

Her voice was somewhat raspy and sharp, but filled still with a kindly warmth.

Her quirky spirited attracted not only all the people who were looking to purchase pets for themselves, but also invited all types of onlookers. People on dates stopped in as they strolled around the street. Often Ms Kayman could coax the men into buying a goldfish for their ladies. Children, stopping in with their parents after a baseball game at the nearby park, pleading for a puppy or a kitty.  And then of course, the usuals came. The animal lovers, whom every week seemed to want yet another pet to add to their collection. Those were the people Ms Kayman tended to have most in common with.  They looked, sounded and acted just as quirky as her. They were usually disheveled. They wore the same flannel shirts for the last twenty years. The same haircuts. They lived in the same lonely apartments. Ms Kayman could resonate all too well. She had made a bedroom in the back of the pet store. It stunk of feces and it was full of hair which she simply didn’t bother to clean, knowing fully well it would be there the next day again. There,  in the back of the store she had a small kitchenette as well, and a tiny bathroom. Ms Kayman’s life was tucked away into a dog shed, flea infested kennel of her own, while the animals took centre stage. 

I remember one summer after junior high, my mom nagged me to go get a job. By that time most of the summer positions were filled. While my friends had all gotten the good jobs like working at  Gemini movie theatre where they could see all the summer blockbusters free of charge, or at ‘uncle Toms ice’ scooping sundaes for all the cute girls. Meanwhile, I found nothing besides the help wanted sign outside quirky Ms Kayman’s pet shop window. Sure, everyone knew she was a kind and lovely woman and all, but I didn’t exactly want to be scooping up dog shit and cleaning fish tanks, going home smelling like a zoo everyday.  

 At first I grumbled about the job a lot, but after a month or so I started getting used to it. Even The animals grew on me, too. There were the newborn kitties and pups with wagging tails coming in and they all filled me with joy. I never had pets as a kid. When I was seven, I got bit by an unleashed nasty old terrier at the park. After that, I never wanted much to do with dogs or any other pets for that matter. I never knew all the joy they could bring. I never knew the feeling from seeing a dog jumping with excitement to see me in the morning. Especially not a whole litter of them. Man, that was nice. It made me almost forget about the girls who never phoned back. I felt like I had found love and friendship with Ms Kayman’s big happy family. I could understand how she made it to seventy all alone besides those animals and the customers.  Other people thought she was just some cooky woman but I started to see her differently. Ms Kayman was certainly eccentric, but I saw a depth in her maybe the average person couldn’t when they were just stopping by in need of fish food or kitty litter. It was as though she were in tune with something everyone else wasn’t. She really connected with those animals. I swear, even the fish seemed to be attached to her in some way. I’m not sure what it was. I’m not sure how she did it. Maybe I was crazy for thinking it, but I sensed it.

Some nights we’d grab a couple of stools and Ms Kayman would fetch me a bowl of soup and one for herself. We’d sit there and she’d tell me all kinds stories about the animals, many of whom she had rescued and nursed back to health herself. 

“See Betty here?” 

She said with her sweet raspy voice.

I nodded. Betty and I had been close since I began working there. Betty was a nine year old spaniel. She had cloudy eyes and was missing a paw. 

“I found Betty at the dump. I go there from time to time and leave food for all the cats. There’s too many  of them for me to  shelter here, but hey, what’s a little drive and a little cat food gonna cost an old lady like me? Exactly, nothing. Infact, it’s good for me...”

“Well when I found Betty there, I had to do something. The poor thing had its back paw festering with maggots from a nasty cut. I couldn’t believe someone would leave something so precious as Betty at the dump like that...” 

She swallowed a spoonful of soup , wiped her face with a napkin and went on. 

“I brought her home, stitched her up and cleaned her, and here she is, five years later, running strong. Well, except....” 

My eyes widened. I felt my heart tremble. 

“You mean?”

“She’s getting close, I’m afraid...”

It amazed me how candidly she spoke about it. I had only known the dog two months, and the thought of it dying caused tears to well up.  I had seen other animals go during my time there, but this was one I just wasn't ready for.

“I’ll be putting her down in the next week or so.  I just wanted to tell you because I know you’ve got a liking for her. “ 

I looked at the Betty resting her head on Ms Kayman’s lap and i admired a kinship between the two of them which I had never seen, even between mother and child. The gentleness in both their eyes as they looked at eachother made me sob. 

“Don’t be too sad about it. They’re only ours for a short while. I’m just grateful we get to share all this love while we can. Even if it’s not a long while. At least that’s how I tend to look at it. “ ms Kayman said. 

I made my peace with Betty. When I had seen other pets who had to go, Ms Kayman and I consoled each other, and sometimes I even cried in front of her, but Bettys death was the hardest for me to stomach.  When the night finally came and Ms Kayman had to pull the plug, I still couldn’t accept the reality. 

“What are you going to do with her after?”

I never asked her this about the other animals, but suddenly it because so important for me to know

“I’ll give her a place to rest. “

She said with an air of soleminity. 

“Can we give her a funeral? Can I make her a gravestone?”

Ms Kayman laughed. 

“You’re still a kid. One day you’ll learn. This is the circle of life. I know you’re upset but this will just take some getting used to. “ 

Ms Kayman put her hand on my shoulder and sent me off for the night 

“Goodbye, Betty. “

I said, trying as much as possible to cement her image in my teary eyes. 

Walking home the memories of Betty floated round through my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I spent the night tossing and turning, sweating through my sheets. The next morning I arose early and headed straight to the store. The only person who I wanted to see was Ms Kayman. Only she could console me through the grief I was experiencing. 

It was a couple hours before usual opening time, but Ms Kayman had told me she was an early riser, so I figured it wasn't an issue. When I got there, I found the store was not yet open.

"Maybe she needed a little extra sleep."

I figured.

I don't know why, or what compelled me to do it, but I decided to go around to the back of the store. I had never gone back there before. There was a little alley leading to the backdoor and an old metal gate. Seeing there was no lock, I pushed the gate open, and stepped towards the back of the store. There were some rusted old birdcages and broken kennels and aside from that, some weeds springing up through cracks in the concrete and a little plot of soil near the back of the lot. I looked to the store and saw the little window of the kitchenette where the light was on. Urged by my curiosity, I walked towards the window and looked inside. Ms Kayman had a pot cooking on the stove, and my nose caught a whiff of the delicious aroma from her famous soup. I admired her for a moment. She looked so serene, quietly cooking over the stove. Then, my eyes trailed just over her shoulder. The image will forever remain in my mind no matter how hard I try and forget it. It was Betty, lying on the table, severed into pieces. Ms Kayman strode to the table scooping up chunks of the body and then dropping them into the pot. The window was slightly open. and suddenly, her raspy voice reached my ears.

"I've learned a lot from the animals...

To be loved is a great feeling.

So is having a full belly.

But the best feeling-- is both, at the same time."

May 16, 2020 02:35

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