Working the Pound

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Eight

I’m sitting at the counter of a local dive bar, the one down the street called Rock and Roll Roadhouse with the mural of Jim Morrison. It’s after midnight, and I came back after a night out with friends, when a drunken tourist tried to fight me after I told him what my job was. I couldn’t sleep, so now I’m commiserating with the bartender about how unreasonable people can be.

A long, slender woman with a neck like a seagull’s walks in, along with two men and another woman. I eye her immediately. She’s just on the cusp of being attractive, and so am I. The bartender eagerly tells me about last week, when he had to call the police on a customer who wouldn’t leave. The woman thinks it’s charming that I’ve already made friends with the bartender, and she sits uncomfortably close next to me.

“My name’s Veronika,” she says, pressing her leg against mine. She tells me she did her studies in Italy, where people aren’t afraid to embrace the moment. She says she’s been to this bar before, that the books on the wall are mostly technical manuals written in German. We make an inside joke out of this, which I pepper throughout the conversation.

I’m worried one of the men she arrived with is her boyfriend. It turns out he is, but she goes out of her way to tell me they’re in an open relationship. She scoffs at the idea of needing permission from a man to live her life. Her female friend is named Patty, and Patty tells me she’s on acid. Veronika and Patty make pointed eye contact before Veronika tells me that she, herself, is not on acid.

“So what do you do?” Veronika asks me. This is the moment I’ve been fearing. This is when things tend to go off the rails.

“I work at a pound,” I say.

“That’s so sweet,” Veronika says, clutching her chest. Patty concurs, and the men nod their heads thoughtfully. “Do you rescue dogs off the street?”

“Not exactly.”

“Do you clean them?” Veronika asks. “Do you feed them? I want to know everything.”

I tell them I do population control. They ask what that means. I say I work mostly in a backroom, taking in dogs that don’t get adopted.

“Oh my god,” Patty says. “You don’t shoot them, do you?”

I tell her I don’t shoot them. What I do is I find a vein in the animal’s front leg and I inject it with a pink liquid we order in bulk. I’ve become quite good at it, and I can inject the poison within five seconds now. I sometimes think how easy it would be to prick myself with the liquid, but that’s an intrusive thought I’ve never acted on. There’s still a bucket in the backroom from when we used to drown them, but the AVMA has deemed that inhumane, so we use the pink liquid now.

The air is sucked out of the conversation. Veronika remarks that the job must be hard for me. I tell her it used to be, but now it’s just a job. We’re all silent for a moment. Then, Veronika turns and starts talking to Patty. The boyfriends won’t look at me. I search for the bartender, but he’s busy, so I read the nutrition facts on the side of my soda water.

I try to rekindle the talk with Veronika, but she gives terse, one-word answers. Eventually her boyfriend speaks up.

“Hey man, this is a private conversation,” he says. And that’s it. Any chance I had of sleeping with his girlfriend is now gone. I know I should have lied and said I worked at a warehouse, or that my job at the pound was not first and foremost about euthanizing dogs. But when my dad died I promised to myself I wouldn’t lie to people anymore, and this didn’t feel important enough to break that promise.

The bartender comes back. He tells me the rain’s been annoying, but that we really needed it. I nod my head and say I agree.

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