Once, when I was walking Mortimer, we met an old woman who wanted to chat.
“He’s such a cute dog,” she said. “What kind of dog is he?”
I knew she was asking about Mortimer’s breed, but I was feeling saucy so I said, “he’s the kind of dog who knows that he’s cute enough to get away with murder.”
“That’s funny,” she said, but I noticed that she didn’t laugh. “My first husband was funny. Well, he thought he was funny.”
“He’s a Coton de Tulear,” I said. “The dog, not your husband.”
This time, the old woman chuckled a little. At least I was funnier than her first husband, I thought.
“A Coton de Tulear? Sounds fancy.”
“Oh, very fancy. According to my first and only wife, Cotons were the favorite dogs of the French aristocracy. He’s bougie as fuck.”
“I’ve never heard of that breed,” she said. “But see, I had unusual pets, so what do I know? I had a pet rat named Renaldo. I loved him, but my second husband got him in the divorce. He was a piece of work.”
“The rat, or your second husband?”
“My second husband. Although come to think of it, he was a real rat.”
“After that, I got a pet tarantula. I trained him.”
“You trained a tarantula?”
"Honey, it’s easier to train a tarantula than it is to train a husband,” she said. “I read a book about training tarantulas. The secret is sound vibrations. Play the right sound and they do what you want. I taught the tarantula to walk on my face. He had giant fangs, but he never hurt me.”
“You weren’t scared?” I asked.
“What’s there to be scared of?”
I wanted to scream, THE FUCKING TARANTULA ON YOUR FACE. But she seemed like a nice old lady, and I didn’t want to upset her by yelling. She was kooky, sure, with lipstick as purple as a grape soda. She wore a zebra print pashmina and skinny black jeans that made me think her last serving of carbs was in the late ‘70s. And she had on enough costume jewelry to stock a movie studio’s prop department. So like I said, kooky, but nice.
“My third husband kept saying he wanted a tarantula, and so finally his boss bought him one—great. But it turned out the schmuck was scared of tarantulas. He had to change its water dish with a pair of pliers because he was too frightened to put his hand in the cage.”
The pliers made sense to me. What didn’t make sense was the idea of a guy who’s afraid of tarantulas asking his boss for one.
“He put on plastic gloves to pick up the tarantula,” she said. “I was like, HELLO. How can you fly those spaceships to the moon and be so stupid?”
Her ex-husband flew spaceships? Suddenly, I had a feeling like she was about to tell me that she had married a big, strong alien who was afraid of Earth’s insects.
“My ex-husband worked for NASA,” she explained. “I forgot to mention that. He was a genius, but also a dolt. Anyway, the genius thought plastic gloves were going to protect him from those fangs. Seriously, space travel, but not so bright when it comes to tarantulas. Go figure.”
“But you figured it out,” I said.
“Of course,” she said. “I’ve always loved animals. I wish someone would name an animal after me. I mean, my ex-husband, number three, called the tarantula Terry T after me. That’s my name—Terry. But I think my ex meant it as a put-down, like look at you and your scary pet tarantula. His real name was Stanley, not Terry T. I named him after my first husband, the one who thought he was funny. Now that I think about it, that may have upset my third husband, the genius.”
This was a lot to work with. Too much, actually. A pet tarantula was one thing. Three ex-husbands—one who thought he was funny, one who was a real rat, and one who flew spaceships—were other things. But all of this together—plus, a pet rat named Renaldo who Terry lost custody of in the divorce—was too much. Terry was bursting with stories and I was bursting with questions. In fact, I had so many questions that they all kind of smashed together in a giant traffic jam between my brain and my mouth. Thankfully, Terry kept talking.
“But I can’t own another pet,” she said. “It’s too hard when they die. I'm a wreck. And at my age, I’ve had enough heartbreak. I could lose another husband, no problem. What’s another lost husband? But a pet? I can’t take losing them. They’re like family. They’re better than family. They’re unconditional love. My rat, Renaldo, had a brain tumor. My sonofabitch ex-husband, the second one, the real rat, gave him back to me when he was sick. I had to put him down. Oh, I was a mess.”
I muttered something about how hard it is to lose a pet. Then I looked down at Mortimer, who was looking for a place to poop.
“What’s your dog’s name?”
“Fantastic name,” she said.
“You hear that, Mortimer. Terry thinks you have a fantastic name.”
“He knows he has a fantastic name,” Terry said. “He can understand me. I talk to animals, too. It’s a gift. But I never talk to a strange dog without talking to the owner first, because I don’t want to come off as strange.”
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If you want more fun, stay and chat!
You know the drill. I’ve got questions, you may or may not have answers.
If you had a pet tarantula, what would you name it?
If you had a pet rat, what would you name it?
Do you own an unusual pet?
What’s the most unusual pet you’ve ever encountered? Explain.
What’s a good title for Terry’s memoir?
Pet rat? James. After my first husband, who was and is a *real* rat.
At one point in his life, my uncle had a basement full of Guinea Pigs. There were, like, 25 of them in a terrarium and they had classical music playing 24/7. Quite the smell!