Myfanwy Collins

There 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 pharmacist’s 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 hand 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 them into 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 its cage, 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 found 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 milk out her nose. He left the table in tears and was on a plane home the next day.

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