“Pet Food”

A Short by

Sammy Ringer

ECU, a hand in a large aquarium – it attempts to catch a tropical fish that slips and slides out of its grasp. A door slams and the hand is snatched out of the water.

18 year old JOSH stands next to the aquarium, surreptitiously drying his hand on his trousers. Old ED hasn’t noticed. He’s pulling on his jacket.

ED

Back in an hour.

We are in a pet shop.

JOSH

Yeah.

ED stops pulling on his jacket, looks at JOSH with resignation tinged with irritability.

You got the book?

JOSH starts, pulls the book from his back pocket.

JOSH

Yeah.

So don’t make it up, right? Someone asks you something, check the book.

JOSH

Yeah.

ED turns to go, turns back.

It’s alphabetical – and it’s got pictures if you don’t know how to spell it.

JOSH

Yeah.

An hour.

JOSH

Yeah.

With ED gone, JOSH sighs, looks at the aquarium but thinks better of it. Props himself on the stool behind the counter. Sits slumped and bored. Notices a cockroach crawling across the counter and lowers his head to look at it more closely. From this position he sees the midriff of a man. He looks up. WIN CHEE, stands at the counter, smiling, MRS CHEE a little behind him.

WIN CHEE

Very good.

JOSH

Eh?

WIN CHEE points at the cockroach.

WIN CHEE

Very good.

JOSH lets his eyes drift down to the cockroach, lifts the book as though to squash it but thinks better of it, places the book to mask the insect which skitters off.

JOSH

Uh, yeah…

Can I help you?

WIN CHEE

Yes please.

WIN CHEE moves to the window and the puppies. Confers with his wife rapidly for a moment and then points.

WIN CHEE

We would like that one, please.

JOSH

The puppy…

WIN CHEE

Yes, yes…that one there, please.

JOSH looks at the couple. But they are not standing in the shop, they are in a kitchen stir frying something and chattering. A plate of steaming Chinese food is put on the table. JOSH looks between the two of them, blinks and then rather slowly goes to the display and reaches in. There is a burble behind him. MR and MRS CHEE are disagreeing about something. JOSH waits. They seem to settle it, MR CHEE nods to JOSH, who pulls out the chosen puppy and, almost reluctantly, puts it in MRS CHEE’s outstretched arms. MRS CHEE looks closely at its eyes, bounces it as though to judge the weight and then turns to her husband. They chatter again and though it sounds like disagreement, it’s hard to tell. MR CHEE takes the puppy and feels it carefully, pinches its puppy fat, chatters to his wife then turns back to JOSH with an embarrassed shrug

MR CHEE

No…

He hands JOSH the puppy.

MR CHEE

Can we see that one please?

JOSH hesitates before putting the first puppy back in and pulling out the next. He stands watching the two as they examine it, chattering away.

JOSH

Uh – we’ve got a special…

MR CHEE raises his eyebrows, lifts the puppy.

MR CHEE

Special price?

JOSH

Uh, no, it’s uh –

He looks around, finds it.

JOSH

Tropical fish. Like, uh, a free aquarium with every purchase. You can breed them…

MR and MRS CHEE walk to the aquarium, look in intently. They chatter for a moment and then MR CHEE laughs.

JOSH

You like fish?

MR CHEE

Yes! Yes!

MRS CHEE laughs

MRS CHEE

Very good!

She makes stir frying motions and JOSH smiles weakly.

MRS CHEE

But very small!

She laughs at her own joke and JOSH tries to laugh along. MR CHEE points to the bird cages

MR CHEE

Very good! Very good!

He and his wife confer and laugh together uproariously.

The cockroach chooses this moment to skitter back across the counter. MR CHEE spots it,

MR CHEE

Very good!

JOSH nods

JOSH

Very good…

JOSH is trying hard to join in with them. Without thinking, he reaches over and snatches the cockroach from the counter. This stops the laughing. The three of them stand looking at each other, JOSH’s hand uncomfortably grasping the cockroach. He looks at MRS CHEE, moves towards her with his fist outstretched. She takes the cockroach and turns to her husband, quick chatter. The two of them nod. MRS CHEE places the cockroach on the floor, they both utter a short phrase before MR CHEE stands on it. JOSH watches this in horror.

MR CHEE looks at him kindly.

MR CHEE

In my country, the beetle is most fortuitous. But here…

He shrugs

MR CHEE

Hit ‘em with the old Peabeau! Eh?

He and his wife laugh briefly.

MR CHEE

But we first give him a blessing.

MRS CHEE nods in agreement, turns smiling to JOSH.

And the three of them stand there, looking at each other. JOSH looks cornered. MR and MRS CHEE confer for a moment and then MRS CHEE moves to JOSH, puts her hands together and bows her head to him.

MR CHEE indicates the squashed cockroach

MR CHEE

We apologize if we have offended you…you are Buddhist perhaps?

JOSH

Uh, yeah, yeah! Don’t eat meat like you know… I’m vegetation…

MR and MRS CHEE nod in understanding.  JOSH is staring intently at the puppy. MR and MRS CHEE confer again, seriously. MR CHEE turns to JOSH and holds out the puppy.

MR CHEE

You would like to say goodbye?

JOSH

Uh…

He takes the puppy uncomfortably. MR and MRS CHEE smile at him.

MR CHEE

He will be very happy.

MRS CHEE nods in agreement. JOSH looks sadly at the puppy, walks to the counter, puts the puppy down and unfolds a cardboard traveling box. He has a thought. Pulls out a red ribbon and ties it around the puppy’s neck. Places the puppy in the box and rings up the amount.

JOSH

$35.50

MR CHEE

Ah, good, thank you.

He hands JOSH the money and takes his change. He and MRS CHEE chatter as they leave the store. JOSH sits for a moment, thinking, then jumps up.

JOSH

Shit!

He grabs a small collar off the rack and rushes out of the store. Within moments he is back, crestfallen, the collar in his hand. He puts it back on the rack, steps over the squashed cockroach and returns to the counter.

MARTY (OOV)

Didn’t have chicken, mate, I got beef…

A pie and soft drink are placed on the counter.

JOSH

Ta.

He pulls out some money and hands it to the unseen MARTY. Slowly unwraps the pie and starts to eat, lost in thought. Chews. Thinks.

There’s that wok again, something being stir-fried.

A shadow falls over JOSH and he looks up. A MIDDLE EASTERN MAN in a turban stands at the counter

MIDDLE EASTERN MAN

I would like to buy a goat…

JOSH chokes on his pie, looks around to see a cow standing placidly next to the aquarium. The MIDDLE EASTERN MAN is gone but a small, dark man in ragged clothing is scuttling towards the counter. JOSH flinches as the man’s hand flashes out to grab a new cockroach that skitters over the counter. The RAGGED MAN’s eyes light up and he scuttles back out of the shop with his prize.

There’s a commotion from the bird cages and JOSH turns to them. Chickens have replaced the budgies and canaries.

JOSH

Oh man!

The aquarium is now filled with large dark fish. There’s something wrong – he looks down at his meat pie and lifts the crust apprehensively. A tropical fish flaps in the sauce.

JOSH

Aaaaaa!

JOSH races to the aquarium and drops the pie in. The large fish have gone, of course, replaced by startled tropical fish.

JOSH, eyes wide with fear, stands stock-still and looks around the shop. All is as it should be, bar the meat-pie muddied aquarium. His breathing steadies. He cautiously takes his seat behind the counter. Outside the shop, MR and MRS CHEE walk by, accompanied by their young daughter, who cuddles the puppy. JOSH’s face lights up and he races towards the door. Here he bumps into ED, grumpy as always. The CHEEs are gone.

How’d it go?

JOSH looks around in a panic, worried some tell-tale sign of the havoc remains..

JOSH

Yeah.

Yeah OK or Yeah nothing happened or Yeah someone ripped off the till while you were having a leak?

JOSH

I sold uh…

ED looks around.

A puppy, good.

JOSH

A Chinese man and his wife…

ED is taking off his jacket, hanging it in the closet.

Chinese? Sort of a short guy smiling all the time?

JOSH nods and ED nods.

Funny little bugger, got to be the sixth one he’s bought this week.