by Kelly Talbot
Leticia stood by the window, eating a bowl of oatmeal and studying the blue jays outside. As they hopped among the tree branches, they alternated between cackling harshly and singing pitch-perfect notes. Leticia wondered how many other types of birds had such a vast repertoire. Of all the birds…
All the birds!
Leticia set her spoon down, lifted the bowl to her lips, and gulped down the rest of the cereal. She slipped her shoes on, ran outside, jumped on her bike, and pedaled through the streets of suburban Springfield. Thirty minutes later, she leaned her bike against the wall next to the door of the pet shop.
The door was unlocked. The lights were on, but nobody was in the store, just as she expected. She hadn’t seen anyone in three days.
Her first instinct was to set all the animals free, like in a movie. But as she stood there watching the African Gray parrot, she realized that wouldn’t work. This wasn’t his natural climate. He might not know how to survive outside. Neither would the cockatiels. Would the canaries be okay outside? And there was no way she could release the fish.
The animals hadn’t been given food or water for three days. The first thing to do was make sure they all had water. That wasn’t as easy as it sounded. Some of the water bottles were trickier to take out and replace than others. Leticia filled the bottles in the sink in the back with warm water that she hoped was room temperature.
Then it was time for the food. What did each animal eat? Where was the food kept? How much should she give each of them? Leticia went to the registers at the front of the store and found a notepad and pen. Then she walked the store, writing down every type of bird, rodent, dog, reptile, and fish. Leticia went to the stand that held all the books about how to care for each type of pet. She spread the books on the counter by the register.
“You can do this, Leticia,” she said to herself.
If Mom was here, she’d tell Leticia how smart and good she was. Mom would be so proud of her. Mom. Letitia burst into tears and wailed out loud. She put her head down and sobbed and sobbed, pounding on the counter with her fist.
Half an hour later, she was dry, and her breathing had returned to normal. She read the books and fed the animals. For some of them, there were no clear instructions, or she couldn’t find the right food supplies, so she had to make her best guess. She also found some food for herself in the small break room at the back of the store.
By the time she finished, she was exhausted. She couldn’t believe how long everything had taken. But now she knew what she was doing, more or less. Tomorrow she would be much faster.
She walked to the front of the store. The sun had set a little while ago. She rolled her bike into the store and locked the door. She didn’t think any other people were left, but better safe than sorry.
Leticia pulled a few big bags of dog food onto the floor and arranged them into a rough mattress, and she grabbed some pet blankets and rugs and made a makeshift bed for herself. She laid down, but as tired as she was, she couldn’t sleep. Her mind was churning with thoughts about tomorrow. She couldn’t spend an hour every day bicycling back and forth to the pet shop. She needed to find a house or apartment nearby to live in.
Come to think of it, all of the people were gone, but how many of their houses and apartments still had dogs or cats? She couldn’t possibly take care of all of them, but she couldn’t just leave them locked inside to starve to death. She could take them outside, and leave them some food and water. A lot of them would learn to hunt and forage again and could survive. But the clock was ticking. She was going to have to search every home, every day, all day, for as long as she could to save as many animals as possible.
Leticia shifted her body and tried to find a comfortable position so she could get some sleep. Tomorrow was going to be a big day. Yeah, Mom would be proud. Except Mom was gone. Leticia was the mom now.
by Josh Stein
Kelly Talbot has been an editor for Wiley, Macmillan, Oxford, Pearson Education, and other major publishers. His writing has appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies. He divides his time between Indianapolis, Indiana, and Timisoara, Romania.
Josh Stein (b. 1973, Hammonton, New Jersey; currently residing in Napa, California) is a lifelong multi-mode creative artist, musician, writer, professor with multiple advanced degrees from the University of California and the University of Liverpool, adult beverage maker, and current MFA candidate at School of Visual Arts in New York City.