The story finds you

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Here’s how it’s supposed to work at the vet’s office. You make an appointment, show up at the correct time, call from the parking lot, and they comes out to get your pet. Walk-ins are strictly prohibited.

I follow the rules because that’s just the sort of dude I am. But here’s the thing, the best stories happen when people don’t follow the rules.

Cue the inciting incident.

“Oh great, someone just blocked you in,” Maya says.

Maya is the friendly vet tech who squeezed us in last-minute because Mortimer got two foxtails lodged in his paw. The vet removed the foxtails, cleaned and bandaged the wound, and gave Mortimer the good drugs.

Then the vet handed Mortimer off to Maya, so she could bring him out to the car to talk to me about instructions for his care. But our conversation is interrupted by the woman who blocked me in.

“I need someone to come to house to give dog medicine,” the woman says in a thick Russian accent. “Come to house, please.”

“Yeah, we don’t do that,” Maya says. “What kind of medicine does your dog need?”

“Antibiotics.”

“That’s easy,” Maya says. “Just put the pill in a treat.”

“No. Cannot do this. It liquid.”

“Even easier,” Maya says. “You just use the syringe that came with the antibiotics to shoot the liquid into his mouth.”

“He not let me do this,” the woman says. “He is jerk.”

Maya rolls her eyes, and I suspect that under the mask her facial expressions says something like, maybe you’re the jerk.

“You must come to house,” the woman says.

“We don’t do that.”

“Who make house calls for dogs?”

“I don’t know if anyone does that. How often does your dog need his medicine?”

“Three times a day.”

“You want someone to come to your house three times a day?” Maya asks.

“Yes. You do this?”

“No, we don’t do this.”

“Why?”

Maya looks around as if the answer is obvious.

“People bring their pets here,” Maya says.

“OK, I bring dog to you three times a day. But is hard to bring him because he is jerk.”

“Um… I guess you could do that, but you’d need to schedule it, and we’d have to charge you.”

“How much?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why not?”

“Because everyone else just does this kind of thing themselves,” Maya says.

“But my dog is jerk. I bring him to you.”

“OK, but you have to make an appointment.”

“Why?”

“COVID.”

“I don’t have the COVID.”

“OK, but that’s how we operate now.”

“Shit.”

With that, the Russian woman returns to her car and leaves the parking lot. Maybe she’s going home to her jerk of a dog and his anti-antibiotic ways. Or, maybe she plans to hit all the other animal hospitals in the Valley. The day is young, after all.

“Sorry about that,” Maya says.

“It’s OK,” I say. “You handled that really well.”

“I have a lot of practice. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories I have from working here.”

“Try me.”

“Really?”

“Sure. I’m a writer and I’ve always believed that truth is stranger than fiction.”

“OK, last month a woman came in with her pet rat.”

“A pet rat?”

“I don’t judge.”

“I do judge.”

“Well, the pet rat isn’t the strange part.”

“What’s the strange part?” I ask.

“She said her rat was feeling sad.”

“How did she know? Wait—let me guess. The rat wasn’t eating?”

Briefly, I consider telling Maya about the time I saw a giant rat pull an everything bagel with cream cheese from tracks of the New York City subway moments before the train pulled into the station. That rat had good luck, and good taste. I assume the subway rat was happy with the bagel and the thrill of escaping certain death, but you never really know, do you?

“She kept a journal of the rat’s thoughts,” Maya explains.

“How did she know what the rat was thinking?”

“That’s what I wanted to know! So, I asked her.”

“What did she say?”

“She said she talked to the rat every day and wrote down what he was feeling.”

“And the rat said he was sad?”

“Nope. The rat stopped talking, so the journal entry was blank.”

“Plot twist!”

“Like I told you, this place is full of stories. All you have to do is wait around and something strange will happen, guaranteed.”

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