Weekends I serve fried chicken to drunks who make jokes about breasts and thighs. The manager comes out about once an hour and tells me to please put my cap back on. It’s brown and orange, made of shiny thick knit, so I take it off again as soon as he’s gone. There are bugs in the shake machine too. This little guy comes in, keeps mumbling about giving me a job, looking all foreign, dark-eyed and meaningful. But I wave him away because we get that all the time.
As things get worse I start believing him. He’s a vet—the animal hospital is a few blocks away. I take my dog there when it needs shots for something.
What kind of job? I ask him. He says it’s easy—you wash instruments, help with the treatments, just do what the doctor tells you.
I think about that for a while. Then one day leaning on the counter while he eats I say Hey, I’ll take that job. He shows me the hospital on Sunday after they’ve closed.
I like going through those doors—STAFF ONLY. He shows me exam tables, wards full of animals, X-Ray, Surgery.
You’ll be working mostly with me, I hope you like. . . Vasilios says. But I don’t look at him. I look at the chrome, the bottles, hear the barking from the shelter next door. Yes,
I’d like to work here.
I get hired for Sundays but he calls me Friday night to sub for the receptionist. Luckily I can type a little. I sit at the window, hunting and pecking.
Sparky, says the person holding a pup.
No, your name.
The doctors have clinic hours—Vasilios and Dr. Kratz, the one I used to call the nice one, the one I hoped for when I brought my dog in. He’s tall and tough. I can’t type right when he stands behind me.
After eight the doors are locked. Vasilios says good night, looking sideways up at Dr. L. Kratz who asks if I’d like a tour of the hospital.
I say sure. None of it sunk in the first time.
L. Kratz isn’t like Vasilios—he doesn’t say it’s easy. I look around, wondering if I can learn all this.
This gizmo, he says, is the X-ray machine, and here, holding the door, is where we develop.
We step inside and he flicks off the light. Trust me?
What am I supposed to do—scream, quiver, faint? I have no reason not to, I tell him.
Later he said that was the first thing that impressed him.
It shouldn’t have, it wasn’t even true.
Sunday morning I’m looking at the records to see who’s in the cages. Everything is in code —HBC, frac 1 fet. Almost all the dogs are named Sheba. Vasilios comes down the hall, sings at me in Greek. Then he translates, roughly—Don’t say anything, you don’t need to say a word, your eyes say it all.
He gives me a white coat to put on, makes me sit in the office with him, says it’s too early to work. I keep getting up, want to start doing something, but he puts his feet on the desk.
Finally we start the treatments. He reads a name and a ward number, then I bring the animal and hold it on the table. He hands me pills, shows me how to stroke to get them to swallow. He takes my hand and runs it over a dog’s hard throat.
Careful, he says, when I’m almost bitten.