Copyright is held by the author.
“THAT CAN OF TUNA is not staying in this house,” Tiffany said, her hands planted on her hips.
“You have to return it.”
“It’s just tuna,” said Ethan. “It won’t make him sick.”
Tiffany’s lower lip rolled into a pout.
“We can’t feed it to him,” she said. “He’ll know why we bought it and it will make him sad. Please take it back to the store. Please.”
“He’s a cat. He won’t know anything. And I’m not returning an 89 cent can of tuna,” Ethan said. “If it bothers you that much, throw it in the garbage.”
“No, that’s worse!” she said, her eyes wide. “It’s bad karma!”
“No. It’s tuna.” He scowled, but Tiffany’s hands remained firmly in place, and her chin stuck out in front of her chest. He let out a long sigh, put the can in a plastic bag with the receipt and walked out to the car.
He bought the tuna for their black and white tabby named Tuesday, who shrunk from 13 pounds to seven while Tiffany and Ethan vacationed in the south of France. Their neighbour looked after their pets: Tuesday the cat, and a Jack Russell terrier named Tux. When they got home, Tuesday was gaunt and their neighbour was distraught.
According to the vet, rapid weight loss is a symptom of squamous cell sarcoma, a facial cancer that’s common in older cats. The vet said that treatment would be expensive and unlikely to work. The best thing anyone could do was make Tuesday’s last days comfortable, and try to jazz up his food so he would eat.
At the grocery store, Ethan approached the returns counter, adjacent to the lotto kiosk. A teenaged girl with hunched shoulders and long black bangs stood alone behind the counter, intently examining her chipped nail polish. Ethan cleared his throat.
“Excuse me,” he said. “I need to return something.”
Her head turned slightly, and a heavily lined eye peered out from between her hair. Ethan held up the tuna.
The girl, whose nametag said “Mango,” moped over to the cash register to ring through a lotto customer. Ethan stood quietly for a few moments, and then started to drum his fingers on the counter.
“A-hem.” Ethan coughed. Mango glanced over her shoulder.
“Oh,” she said. “You’re still here.”
“Yes. I need to return this.” He gestured with the can again.
“You need to return a can of tuna?”
“Um, yes. Tuna.”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Nothing’s wrong with it. We just, well … we don’t need it anymore.”
Mango tilted her head and pursed her lips.
“How do you know you don’t need a can of tuna? Everybody keeps tuna in the cupboard.” She started to turn away.
“Wait!” Ethan was desperate not to lose her attention. “It was for my cat. He had cancer.”
Mango looked up suddenly, her expression softened.
“Aw, that’s so sad!”
“No, no,” Ethan hurried. “He actually doesn’t have cancer. That’s why we don’t need the tuna anymore.”
“You just lied about your cat having cancer?” Mango’s eyes narrowed, and she clucked her tongue. “That is not cool.”
“No!” Ethan blurted, his face turning crimson. “We thought he had cancer and we bought him tuna so maybe he would eat. But it turns out our neighbour was just feeding him dog food by accident, so he’s just malnourished and now we don’t need it anymore.” He furrowed his brow. That didn’t sound how he meant it.
“Oh my gawd, maybe you shouldn’t have pets.” Mango turned back to the lotto line, where a pair of old ladies with grey hair was now staring at him, shaking their heads.
“Don’t you get it?” he asked, his voice shrill. “It’s bad karma!”
“Bad karma?” asked Mango. “Some people would be happy to have a can of tuna. So would their cats.” Mango gestured with her head to the food bank bin behind him, then turned back to the lotto ladies, who whispered and nodded.
Mango wouldn’t look at him again. Ethan turned around to face the food bank bin. He thought about Tiffany as he gently placed the can in the bin, and hoped this was good enough. On his way out, he jingled the change in his pocket, just to make sure he had 89 cents when he got home.