All Stories, General Fiction

Sheltered by Jamie Sheffield

“… bled all over the counter, staining my hands and the floor before I could get it cleaned up,” finished the lanky, slightly dirty, anemic-looking kid ringing me out, unaware, or perhaps undaunted, by the fact that I hadn’t been listening to him.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “What?”

“Those beets man,” he laughed, pointing at the huge bag of beets and greens I was trying to buy. “The ones from Lone Crow Farm are incredible: organic, weeded and picked by hand, my man Zeke swears he sings to ‘em morning and night. The ones you got came in this morning caked in earth from his fields, and when I dropped one, helping him unload his truck in the dark, it bled, like a wounded animal.”

“Huh,” I answered, just trying to see my way through the purchase and out the door with a minimum of contact with the dreadlocks and meaningful t-shirt wearing folks working in Frannie’s, the local health-food store.

“Whatcha using ‘em for?” he asked, as he rung in my only other item, a box of obscenely expensive sea salt from Newfoundland. “Salt-roasting them I bet; man, I can smell ‘em now.”

“Beet kvass,” I said, uncertain if I could escape simply by dropping money on the counter, I elaborated, “My Grandmother was Ukrainian, and made it for me every year when her beets came in.”

“Awesome!” he said, “That’s a lacto-ferment, right?”

I nodded, unsure what his question meant, but more than ever eager to get out of the store before being forced to develop the conversation, or our nascent relationship, any further. Most of my shopping is at Hannaford’s, and I only stop in at Frannie’s a couple of times a year, on fancy food-related missions like this one. Every time I do, I’m wracked with guilt about my deplorable lifestyle choices, certain the people working there can tell I love eating meat, enjoy grapes from Israel, oysters from Japan, and prefer having processed wheat and rice and sugar in my diet.

I spied a name-tag and wondered how much hippie-cred my purchases and plans and story had bought me with Trevor … possibly too much. He might now ask me to join a cooking group, or come to a poetry reading, or make some Jill Stein positive remark I’d have to politely parse out and carefully reply to. Maybe the worry showed on my face, because he dipped his head to bang a couple more keys on the ancient register, mentioned the total cost of my goods, and had begun to make change when the scraggly dog came in.

I’d noticed an elderly lady had been nursing a mugful of shade-grown, fair-trade, conflict-free, fashion-forward coffee in her own mug when I walked in a few minutes ago. She was talking very seriously with one of the other employees about French-press versus Chemex, and when she walked out of Frannie’s, she’d unconsciously held the door open for the dog as it came in.

Trevor looked past the dog and said hopefully, “Sorry, but unless he’s a service animal, he’ll have to leave.”

There was no person traveling with the dog, and he didn’t look like a service dog. He looked like some off-brand of shepherding dog that had lost his flock in a swamp and been searching for them for days. He was limping and panting and wafting a mix of smells both stronger and even less pleasant than Trevor’s patchouli cloud.

“Do you have water I could put down for him?” I asked.

“Nope,” Trevor said, then hopefully, “Hey, is he yours?”

“Nah,” I answered, “but he’s obviously tired, and thirsty.”

“He can’t stay here, man,” Trevor said, looking up at the ceiling and beyond, accessing some dimly recalled discussion from when he was initially hired by Frannie, “We can’t have random dogs in here, man, I gotta call animal control.”

“Can he just hang out for a minute?” I asked. “Wait and see if his owners come around.”

In truth, I was doubtful he had owners, or if he did, that they were looking for him. He must have heard us talking about him, and maybe picked up on the tones and import of the discussion, because he came over and sat by me. I have to admit I leaned slightly away from the muck and stink of him. Eventually, I reached down to find, then pat, a clean spot on the top of his head, and he smiled up at me; I guiltily dodged the kiss he sent in the direction of my hand.

The shelf-stocker in back edged around the end of the aisle she was working, drawn either by our words, or my new friend’s aroma, and opined, “Yup, gotta call Animal Control, that dog can’t stay here. We make and sell food here.”

I’d once tried a bowl of their tempeh chili, in a vain attempt to impress a register-ringer-outer much cuter than Trevor, and could have argued the ‘food’ point, but didn’t see that it would help anything.

“Calling Animal Control for this guy is a death sentence,” I said flatly.

“Nuh-uh, Beet Kvass,” answered Trevor, “The shelter is no-kill.”

“Yuh-Huh, Salt-Roasted,” I said back, smiling as I did, as I tend to be more comfortable arguing a point than are most people, “No-kill shelters euthanize old and injured dogs all the time, even the one in our town.”

“Doesn’t matter, you two,” Shelf-stocker said from well outside the range of either the dog’s stench or his lovely, baleful eyes, “Doggo’s got to go.”

“Well … shit.” Trevor said, those two words implied a lengthier internal discourse, which made me like him better.

“Exactly,” I said, coming to an unforeseen and heretofore unlikely, conclusion, “Where’s the baby shampoo, Trevor?”

Shelf-stocker came to the register twenty seconds later with a smile and a bottle of soap. “This is way better,” she said, smiling at me, “and here’s some rope to help you get him home.”

I paid for a bar of the really expensive soap, made by nuns who’d taken a vow of no propylparaben or some such; Trevor gave me his employee’s discount with a wink. He wrote down my contact info in case the dog’s family came looking for him. I got the rope around his neck for the short walk to my car, and took my new dog home, feeling smugly superior to the smugly superiors at Frannie’s for the first time in my life.

Jamie Sheffield

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4 thoughts on “Sheltered by Jamie Sheffield”

  1. Any story that lampoons political correctness is fine by me, and this story does an excellent job of it. Seems like there might be hope for Trevor. At the end, a happy tale and a happy tail.


  2. Hi Jamie,
    This was well thought out, well structured and you gave us a very uplifting story with a few digs of social commentary.

    Very enjoyable!


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