Phil needed a cigarette. Or maybe a snort of ketamine. Being a veterinarian had its perks. He had always loved animals, or at least liked them more than people. Unfortunately, the animals who came in for care tended to have owners, and those owners were always people.
He took off his gloves and started to wash up when there was a rap at his door. Katie opened it and stuck her head in before he could answer. She consulted her clipboard as she spoke.
“We’ve got a walk in, she says it’s an emergency. Missy Burrell.”
“Is that the cat’s name or the owner’s?”
“It’s the owner’s name. And it’s a dalmatian, not a cat.”
“What kind of a name is ‘Missy’?”
“A cat’s name?”
“What kind of an emergency is it?”
“She wouldn’t tell me. She said it was confidential.”
Great. A nutcase. And it was already well past lunchtime. Phil told himself it was better to take late lunches, that once you got back, the day was that much closer to being over, but he usually ended up skipping lunch entirely.
“Well I don’t know you about you, Katie, but I am intrigued by this Missy person and her mysterious dog.”
“The dog looks fine to me. You want to get lunch first?”
“I think I’d rather get this over with.”
Katie returned with a small, wrinkled old woman in a floral print muumuu. Her dalmatian was enormous, the size of a small pony.
“Missy, this is Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil, meet Missy and Roberta.”
Phil shook hands, first with the woman, then with the dog.
“Your name is Dr. Phil, just like that guy on T.V.”
“I’ll leave you three alone,” said Katie. She stuck her tongue out at Phil as she closed the door. Maybe life would be better working at a zoo or with a circus. A better animal to human ratio.
“So what seems to be the problem, Missy?” There had been a girl named Missy in Phil’s class in elementary school. She’d had red hair and freckles and a cat like blankness. Phil wondered if this could be the same person. She seemed too old. It didn’t really matter, but he hoped it was a different Missy.
“Is it okay if we talk first? Roberta is very sensitive, and I want to make sure you’re the right kind of people, if you know what I mean?” Missy gave him a conspiratorial look.
“I have no idea what you mean.”
“Take a guess.”
Phil had no idea. He promised himself a cigarette after he was through with Missy, but he hadn’t smoked in over 10 years. For him, it was easier to pretend that he’d be smoking soon than it was to admit that he was trying to quit, or apparently had quit.
“I don’t know.”
“I really don’t know. Is it a Jewish thing?”
“What? What does that have to do with anything? Jesus Christ, do I look Jewish to you?”
“I told you, I don’t know. I thought maybe Roberta, I think that’s a Jewish name?”
“What the hell are you talking about? You think my dog is Jewish?”
“Like I said, I don’t know. So please, what seems to be the problem?”
Missy eyed him suspiciously.
“I’m giving you a point in your favor, Dr. Phil. You may not have tact, but you have hutzpah.”
“Isn’t that redundant?”
“Doesn’t saying I have hutzpah mean I don’t have tact?”
“What the hell are you talking about? Are you still on the Jewish thing?”
“No. Please go on.”
Maybe this was why Phil could never be a doctor, or a good enough veterinarian to regularly eat lunch. He had no knack for taking control of conversations. He had no natural authority. Where other doctors were arrogant or dismissive towards people, he was genuinely startled and even afraid of most of them, or at least what they represented. The entire world was full of enigmatic lunatics. Enigmatic lunatics driving to work, flying airplanes, tinkering with fusion reactors, DNA, launching themselves at the moon and beyond. There was no way it could be sustainable.
“Hello? You still with us, Dr. Phil?”
“Sorry, could you repeat the question?”
“What are your thoughts on the LGBT community?”
“Uh, I don’t really have any?”
Missy gave him the stink eye.
“Do you believe in human and animal rights?”
“As concepts? I guess so.”
“Okay, give me a second.”
Missy barely had to tilt her head to speak into Roberta’s ear. As Missy whispered, Roberta looked up at Phil beseechingly. Phil tried to communicate back telepathically, he told Roberta he was sorry, there was nothing he could do.
“Okay, Roberta feels comfortable if I tell you. She says we can trust you. Is she right?”
“Roberta is ready to take the final step. She was born female, and she wants her body to reflect that.”
Dr. Phil whistled and twirled a finger in a circular motion as Roberta compliantly spun around. Roberta was a Bob.
“Just to be clear. What exactly are you asking me to do?”
“Make her a female! A clip and a zip! Jesus Christ, do I have spell everything out for you? I like your hutzpah, but you seem a little slow.”
“Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”
Phil found Katie sitting behind the receptionist’s desk eating a brown bag lunch.
“Where is Frank?”
“Out to lunch. What can I do for you? Something wrong?”
“I think I need you to call Animal Protective Services.”
“What’s going on?”
“That lady, Missy? She wants me to give her dog a sex change operation.”
“Oh. My. God. Are you fucking kidding me?”
“I’m afraid to tell her ‘no’ outright, that she might take the dog home and try it herself.”
“Maybe we should call the police, too?”
Phil lingered as Katie picked up the phone. He was afraid to go back. Katie looked up at him before she hit the speed dial button.
“You should go back and talk to her, keep her occupied.”
Missy smiled up at him as he entered.
“Roberta and I are so excited!”
“Uh, yeah. Katie is getting the paperwork together. Now, I want to make sure you understand all of the risks and costs involved.”
“It’s a clip and a zip. How difficult is that?”
“Well, that’s true, but there are other factors that you and Roberta should be aware of. Transgender dogs are nine times as likely to commit suicide as typical dogs in their demographic.”
“It’d never happen. Roberta has a solid support network. Isn’t that right, Roberta? And what do you mean, ‘typical dogs’? Are you saying Roberta is some kind of weirdo?”
“Of course not. As other dogs in the general population, is what I meant to say. And another thing. I need to speak with Roberta alone, one on one.”
“Sure, go ahead. She’ll tell you the same thing she told me.”
“I’m sure that she will, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave the room.”
“What! Why? Are you gonna try to talk her out of it? Come on, Roberta, we’re leaving.”
“Please, Missy, sit down. I’m not going to try to talk her out of it. I just have to make sure it’s what she really wants to do, without anyone influencing her. It’s the law, and it’s there to protect her.”
“Well, I guess that’s okay.”
Missy left the room. Phil let out a deep breath and patted Roberta on the head. He dug around in his pockets for a cigarette before remembering he didn’t have any.
“That was a close one, Bob.”
Bob looked up at him and started licking his hand nervously.
“True, we’re not out of the woods yet. We never really are.”
Phil sat down. He wished he had more to offer. He patted Bob on the head some more and whistled softly.
“You’re a good dog, Bob. I know this may sound racist, but you ever think about working with the Fire Department?”
Bob’s ears perked up.
“I’ll have Katie speed dial them next. It’s a risky job, but I think you’ll enjoy it. And you won’t have to worry about, well, you know.”
Phil looked at Bob and felt envious. But being a veterinarian did have its perks.