My name is Peter McHugh, and I own a pet store called For Pete’s Sake! I thought it was cute, but my Ex-wife hated it, just like she hated the way I smelled when I came home at the end of the day. “Pete, you smell like a gerbil shit on you!” she would say. It always made me laugh, but she never could find the humor in it. Isabel hated animals, ever since she was a child. She told me once that their family cat (a white Siamese named Cheesecake) clawed its way through the fabric beneath the sofa. Unfortunately, the poor thing couldn’t find its way back out and passed away over the long holiday weekend. When Isabel’s family returned next Monday, they couldn’t find Cheesecake. Soon, however, the stench of death led them to the source. That was the last pet her family owned. In fact, Isabel refused to have any animals around after that. I always thought it ironic that I, an animal lover, married someone who detested them. But love always finds a way, right? Call me a clandestine, star-crossed, sentimental bastard, but it’s what I am, for better or worse.
Speaking of ‘for-better-or-worse’, Isabel and I took the vows ten years ago. Her smile was something to behold and captivated me right away. But at night she would leave, and I wouldn’t see her till morning. This last June, I found out why. Isabel had kept a black book and in it were hundreds of names; mostly men, but a few women. Our conversations quickly became cropped and short, like a bad haircut, and after the divorce she moved to Wisconsin. We had no children.
The bell on the front door chimed as another customer entered my store. I have all types of interesting people who come to see me; it’s one of the most enjoyable things about my job. I can usually guess the type of pet a customer owns. For example, the lady in the corner: a tattoo sleeve and nose ring says she’s into exotics, (usually a chinchilla, or a sugar glider). And the guy on aisle two: 5’-6”, maybe a buck-thirty, (probably a snake owner, or something big.) Every pet owner is compensating for something.
I looked down at Snowball, a large, pure white tabby, and wondered if I was compensating for something, too. Funny how Snowball had ended up in my store. I was watching the Yankees completely dismantle the Twins when she just waltzed in one snowy night in early spring of ‘98. She was a night owl, and only came around in the evenings. But most of my customers called her by name now, a reaction that caused Snowball to curl up around their ankles and purr.
The bell over the entry chimed again and I looked up to see a man wearing a sleeveless leather jacket, toting a large glass aquarium. He stumbled drunkenly over to the register and hefted the aquarium onto the scratched plastic laminate countertop.
“Got a prob, Bro,” the broad-shouldered man said. The blonde tufts of facial hair rippled along his jaw line as he spoke.
I looked inside the glass aquarium. Scurrying around inside--more like loping around--was the largest guinea pig I had ever seen in my life. “What do you feed it?” I joked.
The furry rascal inside stopped and gave me a meaningful look. I swear it smiled.
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