Jefferson’s sister had a puppy named Ms. Swiggles that now lived with Jefferson and would until his sister’s world tour by yacht was completed in May. Ms. Swiggles was a nice puppy as puppies go, never ate shoes or barked incessantly or did any of the other irritating things puppies are famous for. She did, however, periodically let out a yelp. The kind most dogs reserve for moments in which their tails are being stepped on, though Ms. Swiggles would let one rip while sitting contentedly on the couch, not being stepped on or even looked at.
After a couple of weeks of mind-shatteringly loud unexpected yelping, Jefferson began to get sideways looks. Lucy rushed up to Ms. Swiggles and pet her, though she seemed to be looking for signs of abuse as she gently ran her fingers through Ms. Swiggles’ fur and felt around her neck. Ms. Swiggles wagged her tail and remained silent until Lucy seemed contented and walked away.
Soon after Lucy’s check-up, Esther tried to play vet, pretending to love dogs (she did not) so that she could examine Ms. Swiggles and give Jefferson unsolicited nutritional advice based on things she knew about cats. Ms. Swiggles passed her test, but that was not enough to discourage Aggie from further intervention. She bit the bullet and offered to take Ms. Swiggles in, claiming halfheartedly that interaction with animals was good for Lidia. Jefferson confusedly declined but said that he would be happy to lend Ms. Swiggles out to anybody in need of company. Aggie gave him a judgmental look, after all she had given him an easy out, but decided against taking him up on the offer because of the effort required. What was she, a pound?
Soon, the building-wide concern for Ms. Swiggles was all anybody could talk about in the hallways. Neighbors passed each other with pleasant smiles for once, asking for updates on the dog situation and passing well wishes along to them and theirs when it seemed appropriate. Esther got several free cat-sitting offers out of the ordeal and Emery was encouraged to buy a parakeet by a building very much in need of a happy animal story. Aggie even offered to bird-sit should the responsibility become too taxing for flaky old Emery to handle alone.
When Ms. Swiggles and the parakeet disappeared on the same spring day, Esther decided that it was time for an intervention. Busting open Jefferson’s door using a lock-picking technique she had learned from a mischievous soldier while serving as an army nurse, she demanded to know where Jefferson had put the dog and the parakeet. He explained that the dog was gone; had never been his and was too annoying to invite back after the months he had spent absorbing judgmental stares and angry whispers. But a parakeet? That he’d never heard of or seen.
Esther was convinced he was lying. That as a known animal hater he had stolen Emery’s precious parakeet and sold it on the black market to finance his champagne swigging and whatnot. Yet that day as she arrived home, she noticed her cats pawing at something in the corner. A dead bird.
Overcome with guilt, she did what any sensible person would. She laid it at Jefferson’s doorstep with a note that said, “THIS bird.”
He owed her anyway. After all, she had been listening to that damn dog yowl away for months.