by Marie A.
A self-proclaimed animal lover tends to her family's pets on an average morning.
Barbara leaned her weight against the doorframe, looking across the vacant hay pasture behind her home towards the sign proclaiming ‘Spaulding Brothers Dairy: Family-Owned and Operated Since 1864’. "You’d think that being in business that long, they’d have found a way to deal with the stench", she thought to herself as she surveyed the back yard with a grimace. "Ain’t no way I can stay here today with that stink on the air."
She bolted the door behind her as she stepped back into her house, making the decision that today was going to be a good day to get her hair permed and to do some early Christmas shopping. The September sky outside blazed vibrant blue, but she barely noticed it. She had chores to tend to first this morning, now that Frankie and Helen were at school for the day.
She walked all the way across the house into an unused den where a large Rottweiler mix was confined by a baby gate. Her husband fed him, but she got the honor of walking him. She reached over and clipped a sporty leash to Lovey’s collar before opening the gate and leading him through the house to the front door. "Lovey need to go out-out?" she asked in contralto tones. "Come on, mommy take you for walky walk." She dutifully petted the dog’s head, twice, stiffly, before leading him on his obligatory walk around the cul-de-sac. "No, now be a nice doggie and don’t PULL!", she screeched as Lovey spotted a squirrel across the way. She jerked the dog towards her in irritation and dragged him along their accustomed route. "Hurry up, it smells out here", she admonished him. "Here, shit in the Trumbaugh’s yard- they’re Democrats." The dog finished his business and Barbara rushed back home to the safety of central air, not even pausing to admire the house’s imposing front and manicured arbor vitae hedges this time. She stopped just long enough to grab the morning paper her husband had left behind this morning. All she wanted was to be inside, and once there, she returned the dog to his room and threw him a few milk bones. "Good doggie", she breathed in girlish tones, as she hurried on to do the rest of the morning chores.
"It’s a good thing for my family that I’m such an animal lover", she thought wryly. Otherwise, as Katie always was saying, she’d have plumb lost her patience long ago with her family’s penchant for living things in the house. I mean, who has the time to walk a dog and clean the litter box and feed the birds any more? Every day they needed attention! They just didn’t appreciate her sacrifices, that’s all there was to it.
She decided to cook breakfast first, and dropped a piece of ham into a skillet while she heated up a bagel. Poo Poo, a smoke colored Maine Coone cat, was soon begging at her feet. Barbara dropped a piece of ham for her baby to nibble, and Poo Poo attacked the proffered morsel with relish."Those vets don’t know what they’re talking about", she mused. "It’s cruel to just feed a sophisticated creature like a cat just that nasty canned cat food. That’s what’s upsetting her tummy, not the table scraps" She ate her breakfast in silence, scanning the headlines of the newspaper, and turning to the entertainment page. She giggled her way through today’s scandals and made a note to herself to pick up the latest “People” while she was in town today.
She thought about the house. They’d lived here just two years, and already she’d made it so beautiful, like something out of those good living magazines. All her friends exclaimed, "Why Barbara, I don’t know where you find the time to make things so perfect!" She and Frank had paid a pretty penny for this lot, and were mortgaged up to their eyeteeth. His law firm had an in with the realtors, and they’d negotiated a good deal on the down-payment, although she didn’t tell that to many people. It was a prime location, on reclaimed farmland just 30 minutes commute from the city. Not even the caustic words of Frank’s granny, about the tackiness of living in identical boxes, could mar the pride in owning their dream home. She’d tried to be gracious, "Look Granny, see, there’s actually four different styles here, and five colors, and regulations won’t let two of the same color or style be placed next to each other" She delighted in pointing that out to her friends, "look at how much variety you can have with tastefully designed modern living!" There were plenty of rules needed of course, about what you could plant in the yard and what color your window dressings could be, and such. The neighbors just can’t be trusted to stay within the bounds of good taste- Barbara understood that perfectly. She shuddered as she remembered the horrors of growing up in a small town where the neighbors let their kids play in the dirt and make mud pies on the sidewalk. One neighbor even painted his house pink, and another hung her underwear on the front porch in plain view of God and everyone. It was so tasteless. But, if you co-mingle with classless people, you’ll get classless habits. Better to be safe than sorry. She knew from an early age she was born and bred for a classier style of life.
Poo Poo insistently demanded her breakfast now, indicating that the ham wasn’t enough. Barbara fed her the cat food in a crystal dish, and anxiously checked the litter box for signs that her colitis had returned. Poo Poo was prone to fits of bloody diarrhea, and it was such a pain in the ass to push the pills down her throat to treat it when it happened. She had to hold the animal down on the floor while the cat struggled and spit and scratched and frothed at the mouth. Really, if it continued and was so stressful to the cat, Barbara thought it definitely kinder to just have the cat put to sleep if her system was so intractably delicate. Like they’d had to do with Jasmine, the kids’ first Siamese cat, who wouldn’t stop pissing on the carpets. They’d tried everything, but couldn’t live with the constant accidents and stains on the expensive ecru flooring. The children had cried and cried over that, but she’d put her foot down. "Mommy and Daddy will get you another one, hush now" But the kids hadn’t wanted another one, they wanted Jasmine, and Barbara searched far and wide to find another kitten that was a dead ringer for Jasmine. Seven hundred dollars it had cost her! Ariel was in the downstairs bathroom, behind another gate, until she was properly toilet trained. Barbara stopped to feed this cat too; even though it was her children’s job, they often forgot. Ariel rubbed against her legs and mewed plaintively to be held, so she obliged her for a few minutes until she got too feisty. She replaced the kitten gently on the bathroom floor, and stood to brush the white hairs from her shirt. Ariel was going to be a show-stopper when she got older, but right now she was all kitten awkwardness. She was proud of herself for having found such a gorgeous specimen; it reflected well on her taste.
She sighed heavily. Yet one more animal-related chore left to perform. She got the Dust Devil from the closet and walked over to the parakeet cage in the living room. She changed their seed and paper, and topped off their water dish, before she vacuumed the daily mess from the carpet and inside the seed guard. The tiny birds fluttered and squawked in apparent terror while she performed this task, as they always did. She stepped back to admire their placement in the living room. Their white wrought iron cage added beautiful old-fashioned charm to the corner of the room, while their lime green bodies perfectly matched the trendy stripes she’d expertly painted on the wall. She’d had to take three sets of them back to the pet shop until she found just the right hue to complement the place. A few seed hulls were an inconsequential nuisance to bear when you considered what they added. There there now, she reassured them, all done. She replaced the vacuum in the closet on her way through.
Barbara went upstairs to shower, get dressed, and do her makeup. Forty-five minutes later she returned downstairs, perfectly coiffed, She threw the remainder of the children’s breakfast bowls into the half-full dishwasher before starting it. She decided to stop by Frank’s office on her way out to the stores. She’d bring him his favorite coffee, and ask him about her pending neighborhood suit against the Spaulding Brothers. Really, for what she and Frank paid for this place, they deserved some fresh air. Her husband had dallied long enough, thank you. The farm was barely large enough to house all its cows since they’d sold most of the land anyway, she’d read that in the paper a while back. The stench upstairs this morning had been abominable, just abominable. Something really had to be done about it; it couldn’t possibly be a healthy environment for the children. .