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"Cindy" by Hugh Behm-Steinberg

When I first received the call, I thought it was a scam. Who would believe that Her Late Majesty the Queen had left behind not just a few, but hundreds of corgis, and that out of all the people in the world I had been selected to take care of one? The person on the other end of the phone, who had a lovely midlands accent mind you, explained that the British Government would cover all expenses. While she was explaining, all I could think of were the current austerity measures. I wondered how they could have all this extra money to throw around when there’s talk of not being able to fund basic healthcare.

“You did fill out form 48f-Zed,” the person on the phone said. “And you checked the Queen’s Corgi Fund Box, yes?” I vaguely recall filling out something for the SPCA during the pandemic, but I thought at the time that if the only way I was going to get out of lockdown was if I had a dog, I was going to sign and tick whatever form was placed in front of me.

I kept waiting for the request for my banking information and my social security number. That did not happen. Instead, a very nice gentleman from the British consulate arrived at my door with the corgi. An actual corgi, complete with papers certifying that her name was Cindy, that she was in fact the great granddaughter of Oxo, an especially beloved dog who was known for how firmly she gripped her chew toys. There were all manner of supplies, including a special basket for Cindy to sleep in, and there was even a crew to install a system of hooks, pulleys and ropes to suspend the basket just a few inches off the ground. Apparently, this was the system they used in Buckingham Palace to allow the dogs to rock to sleep, away from any drafts.

When I looked in Cindy’s eyes I thought I saw a glimpse of indescribable sadness, a grief that was as personal as a nation’s mourning was public.

“It’s going to be ok,” I told her; I gave her a Bonio dog biscuit and a rub on the head.

“She likes you,” the gentleman from the consulate observed. “On behalf of His Royal Majesty we extend a nation’s thanks for your service.”

After some time filling out forms, I was finally left alone with my dog, my corgi, Cindy. I thought of putting on her custom leash and introducing her to the neighborhood, but Cindy had other plans. She made an adorable little leap into her basket and promptly went to sleep.

“Sweet dreams, Cindy,” I whispered, and then went to the kitchen to fill her water bowl in case she woke up feeling thirsty.

Care packages began arriving over the next few days. Normal dog stuff at first, but then came a new voice activated laptop and a special collar with instructions to charge it before putting it around Cindy’s neck.

“Oh, thank heavens,” Cindy sighed after I slipped it on. “Be a dear and set my laptop up in the office. I’ll be working there for a while. Will you need to be compensated for renting a workspace for yourself?”

I stared at Cindy in shock while she wagged her tail waiting for me to do what she told me. “Chop chop,” she said. “Labour isn’t going to lose the next election by itself, you know.”

I meekly did what Cindy told me to do. She told me I was free to do as I liked, but that she would prefer it if I returned in three hours to give her her walk. I decided to give myself a walk.

I called the consulate. They reminded me of the various forms I’d filled out.

I came home and found every parking space in use, with my house full of corgis and political operatives, all doing heavy phone work. The air was thick with cigarette smoke, and there was a coffee urn set up on a folding table with a pile of dirty paper bowls. One of the dogs looked up at me and his collar spoke up. “Cindy, is this one yours?”

“Oscar, why don’t you be a dear and go to the backyard?” Cindy said. “I think you’ll enjoy meeting new friends.”

In the yard were a whole bunch of people, all looking a little embarrassed. One of them said, “I’m Jean. You must be Oscar. You have a lovely backyard.”

“Which one is yours?” I responded.

“Teflon. Apparently he’s very good at fundraising. Would you like a gin and tonic? Bruce here brought a couple thermoses worth to help pass the time.”

“I’m good,” I said. “But, and pardon me for asking, why are we letting a bunch of corgis manipulate parliamentary elections?”

“You filled out the forms, didn’t you?” Jean asked.

“Did you read them?” Bruce, a little bit wobbling, said. “I bet all those operatives helping them out in your house sure did.”

“What His Majesty does not know will not hurt Him,” replied one of the corgis, coming back from doing some normal non-political dog business in the yard, part of a pack of three. “And you all are being handsomely compensated.”

I stared at the rest of the people in my yard, wondering if any of them would volunteer to pick up after the dogs. Nobody took the hint.

“And,” another one of the Corgis retorted, “it’s not as if His Majesty’s idiotic Jack Russell Terriers are not doing exactly the same work, just on the other side.”

“So it balances out,” the first Corgi observed, as if that made it right.

“As long as everyone continues to work as dogs, that is,” corrected the last, most philosophical corgi. “Could one of you pick up some kibble? We’re beginning to run low on snacks.”

I went inside to look for a plastic bag.

Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s prose can be found in X-Ray, The Pinch, Joyland, Heavy Feather Review and The Offing. His short story "Taylor Swift" won the Barthelme Prize from Gulf Coast, and his story "Goodwill" was picked as one of the Wigleaf Top Fifty Very Short Fictions. A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, was published by Nomadic/Black Lawrence Press. He teaches writing and literature at California College of the Arts.


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