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Pets and Prisoners
By William Butler

Lin Coe stood in the open doorway, hands on hips, staring down at Robert and the cage he held in both arms.
“Aren’t you going to ask me in?”
“What is that,” she asked, referring to the small animal cowering in the center of the cage.
“It’s a pet.”
“Hmpf,” Lin muttered, “It’s in a cage.”
A sigh escaped Robert’s lips. But before he could respond, Lin reached forward, pushed aside the clasp on the cage door and reached inside. The hamster immediately scurried into her hand.
“Remove your shoes and leave the cage outside.”
She turned, walked through the foyer and into the living room. Robert followed after setting the cage beside the porch and slipping out of his shoes.
In the three years she’d lived there, this marked the first time Robert had been inside Lin’s apartment. To his surprise, it wasn’t the Spartan affair he believed it would be.
A low table surround by cushions occupied the center of the main room. Dark, wood cabinets with ornate carvings framed the front window. Smaller incarnations sat against the opposing wall on either side of the swinging door to the kitchen.
Lin lowered herself, knelt on a cushion and placed her hand on the table. The hamster crawled onto the table and turned to face Lin as if awaiting instructions.
“You know it will run away if you don’t keep it in a cage.”
She stroked the animal’s head with a finger. “Cages are for prisoners. Pets should roam free but be required to respond to the wishes of their masters. If not, they are not pets.”
Robert raised an eyebrow. “What about fish?”
Lin cocked her head to one side. “Fish are food.”
“They can be pets, too.”
“How?”
“Well,” he thrust his hands into his pants pockets, “you keep them in a fish bowl.”
“Fish bowl?”
“Yes. You know; a bowl with water.”
“And how will a fish in a bowl of water respond to my needs?”
“Well, it won’t.”
“Then it is not a pet.”
Robert’s shoulders slumped, “and I suppose that hamster will respond to your needs?”
Lin nodded.
“Yeah, right.”
Lin smiled, “Do you have a pen?”
“Yeah.”
“Put it on the table.”
Robert lowered himself and sat cross-legged, then retrieved a silvery, retractable pen from his pocket. Placing the pen on the table, he scooted back.
“Show me.”
In response, Lin tapped the table with her finger. It was enough to draw the hamster’s attention to her. She touched the animal on the tip of its nose, then reached across the table and touched the pen. The hamster’s eyes followed. The animal scurried across the table, maneuvered itself behind the pen and began pushing it toward Lin. Within an inch of the table’s edge, the animal stopped and sat on its haunches waiting for approval. Lin stroked the hamster’s head.
“How’d you do that?”
“I do not understand.”
“How’d you get him to do that?”
“She is not a ‘him’.”
“That doesn’t matter. How’d you get her to do that?”
“Hmpf,” Lin stood. “Do you want something to drink?”
“What do you have?”
“Tea.”
“Then I guess I’ll have tea.”

The End