The man shuffled into my office to tell his troubles. He sat down where I had to look at him.
Taxes were ruining him, his wife didn’t understand things, his bills were piling up, he didn’t like the weather, his car was on the bum, his children avoided him, a pet hamster had died.
“Even my cat committed suicide,” he said. “He went in the road during the night to fight a truck. The truck won. Found him next morning, his head all flat, his brains shooting out his ear holes like grey toothpaste. It nearly broke my heart. We buried it and the hamster together in a spot in the backyard. My kids prayed, and then looked at me as if it were my fault. I didn’t know what to tell them. God, why …why my cat?”
He sat there, waiting for an answer.
“Did I ever tell you about the dog I had when I was a kid?”
I didn’t want to hear this.
“He was a big cuddly mutt named Elmer.”
Now I really didn’t want to hear this.
“Fred,” I interrupted. “You’re in no state to talk about a dog from your childhood. Especially if his name was Elmer. It’ll only depress you further.”
“Old Elmer,” my friend mumbled, as though he hadn’t heard my warning. But something must have gotten through, because he changed the subject. “They say it’s going to rain.”
“They’re often as wrong as they’re right,” I said.
“I know,” he replied. “Can’t trust anyone these days.”
I tried to change the subject. “How’s—?”
“Don’t ask,” he interrupted. “Don’t make me think about it. Let’s just sit here in silence in some animal warmth.”
We were sitting together like that for about five minutes, me getting impatient to get back to my work, Fred comforted by the warmth, when the boss walked in and said,
“Say, have you seen the report on … oh, Fred, hello. How are you?”
“My cat’s dead,” Fred said. He got up and walked to the door. “Elmer’s long-gone, too.” And he left.
My boss said, “Who’s Elmer?”
“You really want to know about it?”
He did. He was the boss. It was his job to know about such things. So I told him.
After hearing everything, he was silent for a long while.
“I had a dog named Buster who died when I was a kid.”
Sharing some more animal warmth was about to happen in my office again, and it wasn’t even nine thirty-five in the morning on a Monday.