Everyday Jerry's wife poured over the classifieds, gawking at the photos of dogs and cats up for adoption. It didn’t matter that they already had three dogs and two cats in their one-bedroom apartment, and that he was allergic to them. Nothing would stop Sherry from adopting more.
For as many photos as she looked at, he could only guess why she picked one over the others at any given time. Her selections seemed random. Maybe it was the way one dog's head was cocked just so, its ears perked slightly out as if asking a question. Small dogs, big dogs, cats. She loved them all so much he wondered where he fit in.
She would go years without adopting, though she still cooed at the photos each day. Then he would come home from work in the middle of the week, and meet the latest furry nuisance he would have to walk in the mornings.
“Isn’t he just so cuuuute!” his wife would say. “I knew right away I had to have him.”
It bothered Jerry to remember that, 20 years ago, when he asked her to marry him, her first reaction was that she had to think about it.
Sherry's head was buried in the classifieds so often his memory of her face was warping. He spooned granola cereal into his mouth. His crunching bites filled the contemptuous silence to which she seemed oblivious, even when he threw his spoon into the bowl with a resounding CLANG. A blood vessel in his forehead popped whenever he had to pick pet hair from his teeth.
"Oh, honey, look at this tabby named Chester!" she said. "Says he's 10 years old and needs a good home."
I need a good home, he thought.
Chester was on the easy chair when Jerry came home from work. It was late, but the washing machine was hard at work, vibrating away from the closet wall.
"He's a little stressed," Sherry said. "He peed on the sofa cushions and your pillow."
Meow. Marrrrow. Chester the cat wouldn't shut up when Jerry tried to sleep. The cat insisted on sleeping between their faces. The dank, unmoving air in the room seemed to suffocate him like a pillow in the face. It was a July summer night and he was in a jar with seven other exhaling creatures. His ears twitched with madness at all the tiny breathing and snoring sounds, not to mention the worst of them...
Jerry never imagined a single animal could tip the balance of his sanity, but it was happening, sure enough. He tried not to think about it. He'd only been home six hours. It felt like eternity. He took in a deep breath to relax and calm his mind. He sucked in deeply, slowly... It's going to be OK. Everything will balance out, he thought. Instead his nostrils filled with the faint, ripe odor of cat piss.
Marrrrow! Chester whined.
All Jerry remembered next was grabbing something furry with his left hand and flinging it toward the wall like a baseball. His arm acted on its own while his mind fumbled in a sleepy stupor. The cat's body hit the wall with a dull THUD. (Jerry thought about it later and decided Chester must have twisted in the air to catch himself against the sheetrock with all four paws, as if anticipating Jerry's reaction all along.)
"Jerry!" Sherry shot out of bed, switching on the lamp. At that moment, Jerry still wasn't sure what he'd done. "How would you like it if I threw your life out on the street?" she yelled.
It wasn't a rhetorical question. She pulled out his top drawer filled with heirloom trinkets, belts and underwear, and threw it out the screenless second-story window. The drawer exploded in the alley. The splintering wood, clanging metal and shattered glass roused the neighborhood. A dog started barking in the distance. It wasn't long before every dog in a one-block radius joined in the howling.
WOOOOOOO! YIP! YIP! WOOOO! Sherry's pug and golden retriever barked in the tiny room. Only their Shih Tzu, Shelly, was silent – it couldn't bark because its vocal cords had been damaged long before Sherry adopted it.
A few dogs were still barking sporadically when Jerry walked out to his car on the street with a small suitcase. In the morning, while eating a continental breakfast at a Super 8 Motel, he emailed a classified ad to the newspaper: "Quiet guy needs a room. No pets."
With a click of the mouse, the corners of his mouth bent slightly up. It was his first smile in a long time.