Bert’s Dilemma

by Margaret B. Davidson


Bert locked the door of his apartment and made for the elevator. He pretended not to notice Mrs. Hopskipper come out of her apartment to pick up her newspaper. Mrs. Hopskipper liked to chat, and Bert was no conversationalist. This morning, out of the corner of his eye, Bert caught her standing there longer than usual; was she glaring at him?

The elevator arrived with a rattle and a thunk, and Bert stepped in. Staring straight ahead, he rode to the ground floor, pondering whether to have his standard sesame seed bagel breakfast, or whether he should splurge on a boiled egg and English muffin.

Once in the lobby, Bert tiptoed past Harry, the super, dozing at the front desk. Not having to converse with Harry suited Bert fine.

Hurrying along Main Street, Bert perceived something out of kilter. He couldn’t figure it out at first, but then it came to him that people were giving him an extra wide berth this morning. Must be his imagination. But, no, it wasn’t his imagination because that man he’d just passed had stepped all the way into the gutter to avoid him. Strange. In his experience, people tended not to notice him rather than avoid him.

He took an inventory of his appearance. He’d combed his hair; his fly was zipped. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him after all. He’d order the egg and muffin to buck him up a bit.

Bert pushed through the swinging doors of Denny’s Deli, disappointed to see his favorite window seat already taken. As he peered around looking for an alternative spot, Denny himself came hurrying toward him gesturing frantically. “Bert, you’re gonna have to leave. Dogs ain’t allowed.”

“What are you talking-?”

“Health hazard. Sign’s in the window. ’Cepting seeing eye dogs, of course, but you ain’t blind.”

Bert peered behind him in consternation. Had a dog snuck inside with him?

“What dog? I don’t see a dog.”

“Out, out.” Denny waved his hands toward the door. Tie him to a fire hydrant and you can come back in.”

Bert, befuddled and upset, had no choice but to create a scene or leave. He left.

Once outside, Bert decided Denny must have suffered a breakdown from working too hard. The restaurant business was a tough one, and Denny was always short-staffed. Whatever, Bert had lost his appetite.

He was walking back toward his building when a man coming toward him tripped and almost fell. Recovering, the man cursed and snarled, “Can’t you keep your goddamned dog under control? Goddamned thing running all over the sidewalk, getting in people’s way...”

Bert stood and gaped as the man strode on.

Then, beginning to question his sanity, Bert looked back the way he had come, and from side to side. No sign of a dog. He’d make himself a strong cup of coffee as soon as he got home. Sit and consider the situation.

Fifteen minutes later, after only one sip of Maxwell House, Bert’s doorbell rang. He peered through the peephole and saw the Super standing outside. He opened the door.

“You got a dog in here?”

Bert, becoming used to his new situation, looked around him as though he did have a dog. Stupid!

“Of course I don’t have a dog.”

“Mrs. Hopskipper in 5B says you do. Says she saw you with it this morning.”

“That explains why she glared at me.”

“Then you do have a dog?”

“No.”

“Well, just so you know, it’s against policy to allow dogs on these here premises, and anybody caught with one will be immediately evicted.” Harry turned to the elevator, and then turned back. “Oh, and there’ll be no return of security deposit.”

Bert returned to his chair to further consider the matter.

Fact: He didn’t think he had a dog.

Fact: Mrs. Hopskipper had reported to the Super that he did have a dog.

Fact: Denny had thrown him out of the deli because he claimed Bert had brought a dog in with him.

The evidence pointed to Bert having a dog. But what kind of a dog was it? And how was he to get rid of it if he couldn’t see it? He needed help.

That afternoon, Bert eschewed the couch in favor of a chair across from Dr. Finkenfelder.

“What seems to be the problem Mr... er... May I call you Bert?” The good doctor steepled his fingers and tried to look fascinated with his final patient of the day.

“Well, um, it’s most distressing... I’m not sure how to...”

“I’m not here to make judgments, Bert. Just tell me what’s bothering you.” Dr. Finkenfelder made a distinct effort not to peer at his watch.

“Well, you see, it’s the dog.”

“I’m not an animal psychiat–”

“No, no. I’m the one with the trouble, not the dog.”

Dr. Finkenfelder waited, his hands now folded behind his head, his gaze toward the ceiling.

“You see, people think I have a dog, but I don’t have a dog. At least I don’t think I do.”

“I see.”

“And I’m going to lose my apartment because of the dog.”

“Is it, perhaps, somebody else’s dog?”

“No, it’s mine. Er, no, it isn’t really mine...” Bert stared at the floor, shifting his feet.

No longer able to resist, Dr. Finkenfelder pushed up his sleeve and studied his watch. “Ah, Bert, I see that our time is up for today. But I don’t want you to worry because I do not believe you have a dog.”

Bert almost wept with relief.

“But, continued Dr. Finkenfelder, we need to get your problem solved. We can probably do it in, say, six more sessions. Make your next appointment with the receptionist on your way out, and you can pay today’s $200 fee there too.

“But... But... I thought you charged $100 an hour.”

“That’s correct. One hundred for therapy, and $100 for cleaning.”

“Cleaning?”

“I’m afraid so. Your cat just up-chucked on my rug.”


Copyright © 2006 by Margaret B. Davidson

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