Angelika donated three short stories and a piece of flash fiction to Paws & Claws, featuring different kinds of birds, a mongrel dog, and a suicidal snail.
I grew up with pets. Loads of them. They’ll tell you it’s important for a kid to have pets, as it will teach things like responsibility and compassion. I’d say, though, that the main lesson I got was that death is a natural occurrence, something that just happens. It also told me that adults take it harder.
By the time I moved into my first apartment, my brother and I between us had buried four hamsters, two rabbits, and one guinea-pig. I was never particularly sad. It’s dead? Oh, pity, here’s a new one. That’s my mother for you. The older siblings had had their share of pets before we even started, so I had heard the stories about the hamster who got slammed by the door and the one who fell into the goulash pot (this one survived, and no, it was long before the advent of social media and digital photography, so we don’t own a picture of it sitting on a ladle and steaming gently) long before I had my own furry friends. I suppose my siblings told those stories to toughen us up.
I still vividly remember the day my first hamster died at the wise old age of two years. My mother had always warned us that’s the average life expectancy for a hamster, so I wasn’t surprised. My brother and I were home alone, and since I still wanted to be a veterinarian one day, I tried to save it. I carted it out into the sun – everybody knows sunshine is good for you – and tried to stuff raspberries into its snout, because to my eye, it clearly needed vitamins. The hamster responded my cramping up (I suppose it had suffered some sort of stroke) and moving its front half in a circular motion around its stiff, immobile hind legs. It was interesting to watch, but I was sort of relieved when it stopped.
I also remember the time when one of my mother’s friends went on a holiday and left her canaries in our care. That might have been a mistake. We thought, aww, the poor birdies, all day in the cage, and let them fly around the apartment. They seized the chance to fly headlong into the window. The closed window. Both dropped like a stone. I opined to leave them alone until my mother came home. There was a bit of an unnatural angle to the neck of one of them, so I considered him past saving anyway. My brother was convinced he might yet save the other. He put it on the kitchen counter and, like you do with unconscious people, tried to cool its head. By pouring a glass of water over it. To this day, I’m quite sure the bird would have lived, had it not drowned.
Growing older killed the scientific interest as empathy evolved. I’ve since buried three dogs, and four cats, and I cried a river over each.
It didn’t teach me to not have pets. Current status is one dog, two cats, and each of them feels closer to me than any previous animal ever did. Which means I’ll probably cry an ocean when they’re gone. Luckily, they’re all quite young yet.