here was this one whose
little dog would do a handstand in the corner of the couch when I came back
to the third-floor apartment with its
bookshelves and claw-foot tub—one long room, a hallway almost that served
as kitchen and study. I sat at the tall windows and looked out the back into
the neighbor’s pool, while I listened to the left-behind Bonnie Raitt
or Rickie Lee Jones tapes with the lights off. A glass of wine sweated in my
and I pretended that I belonged there.
There was this one who lived in the oldest house in the county. She had
five cats. We walked over the wide-plank floors from room to room and
in her study
she showed me the cedar chest in the corner. Then she turned to me and said
that if the house caught on fire, I should first corral the cats and get
my car. Then I should come back for the cedar chest and take it out of the
house. She pantomimed carrying it, though we both knew she meant drag. It
was far too
heavy to carry.
There was this one with the matching corgis and the white carpet. Not a good
mix. Not a good mix for little dogs that could not control their bladders.
Not a good mix for red wine and shaky hands.
And there was this one who, when I met him, had his pants undone and his
shirttail sticking out, a five o’clock shadow that was verging on midnight and a
stale, vinegary odor all about him. He had an unpleasant aviary off the kitchen,
filled with small birds—finches and swallows—and an old husky
who needed me to give him an enema if he did not shit each day. And there
was a macaw
in a huge, covered cage in the living room.
I was to take the cover—a pale-blue sheet—off the macaw cage
every day to give the creature light. I was watching TV when the macaw left
clawed its way out on gnarled feet. It limped and dragged itself toward me.
I was, what?, about one million times its size and yet it had me beat. I
a tool, a broom, and went at it, pushing it back toward its cage until it
climbed back in, looking at me over its shoulder.
You fucker, it was thinking. You don’t belong here. Get out of my house.
The macaw made me feel like our Japanese exchange student. My sister shook
his hand first thing and then at dinner she laughed so hard that she squirted
out her nose. He left the table in tears and was on a plane home the next