Tag Archives: personal

Folding Chairs

old folding chair

 

The pickup lurches a little when I put it in gear, and there’s a rattle I’m starting to fear is coming from the water pump. If it’ll hold for the next two paychecks I’ll be able to have it replaced.

It’s October and warm for the afternoon. I steer to avoid smashed road kill and a deputy notices that I cross the center line. I see him in my rearview mirror, debating whether or not to hassle me. He never pulls out, though. I’m at my pop’s house in twenty minutes.

He gives the dogs free reign inside, which gives the house the suffocating odor of musk and hidden dog shit. I make a mental note to set aside a weekend to help him clean.

He’s sitting at the kitchen table, a fat boxer sitting over both his feet. Two disassembled pistols are on the table, and he’s cleaning them with oil and cotton balls. The guns give off a sharp odor that I hate worse than the smell of the dogs.

“Hey, Pop.”

He’s let his hair grow since retirement. He keeps it tied back but he doesn’t brush it enough, and it looks stringy. I can see patches of his scalp between the vines of gray hair. He turns, slowly. “Hey, kid,” he tells me, looking almost stunned. He runs a hand over his unshaven face. “How’s work?”

“It’s work.” I grab a nylon folding chair from against the wall and bring it to the table to sit. The whole tabletop is overrun with mail and small tools. Mom always hated this. “I wash dishes. I fry eggs.”

He nods gravely, like I’ve said something worth pondering. “This is that .357 I got you that one Christmas. The one you left behind when you moved out.”

“Oh, yeah.” The gun is somewhat obscene in size, and I can’t imagine ever being in a situation where I would practically need it. I do carry a gun, though, sometimes. A little .38 I’ve always been fond of. Pop bought it for Mom but she never much cared for it. He’s something of a lone enthusiast under this roof. I doubt the dogs care about guns at all.

Roscoe, a rickety old brown pitbull, comes hobbling over. He’s got bad knees, and watching him sit down or stand up makes me wince. But he’s a sweet old thing and I scratch him behind the ears.

“I oughtta take that gun back with me one of these days.”

“Well, I can hold onto it for ya,” Pop tells me. “Keep it safe till ya need to come home.”

I moved out five years ago. I’ve been taking night classes the past two years. The nest is old and covered in cobwebs.

“You ready to head out?” I ask him.

He turns and checks the time on the microwave. “Yeah, I guess we should go.” He stands up, takes a moment to steady himself against any joints that might yell out. He grabs his cane, an oak branch with a handle shaped naturally like a duck’s head, and I stick close in case he loses his balance. He doesn’t. He shuffles his feet loose from the boxer and we head for the door.

 

***

 

“Sean’s here, too.” Pop waves at me, standing by the door.

“Oh,” Mom says, sounding unsure. “That’s nice.”

“Hey, Mom.”

“Come on in, kid,” Pop says, obliviously.

“I’m okay, Pop.” The only thing she remembers about me these days is the rage I used to inspire in her. Last summer she swung at me with a plastic fork. Pop sits alone across from Mom.

“Me and Sean are heading out today, the way we used to when we all had Sunday off.” When she shows no interest he asks her as casually as he can: “Would you wanna come with us sometime?”

“Oh. No.” She turns to watch hummingbirds out her window. Her roommate mutters in her sleep.

Pop reaches out and squeezes her hand. “I miss you, baby.”

Her arm doesn’t move. She doesn’t pull her hand away or hold his tighter. The knuckles sit there, unflinching.

When we start to leave Mom is still looking through the window. The nurse at the desk tells her she’s been more lucid than usual lately. This nurse always says that.

 

***

 

Pop and I dig a fire pit. Really I dig it, but Pop sets out the can and lays the charcoal inside. A grill is balanced, and sausages begin to sweat alongside hissing potatoes in foil.

We drink bottles of water pulled from a cooler. “I almost miss beer,” Pop says after a quiet moment.

“You ever miss it much?”

“I said I almost miss it,” he reminds me, then lights a cigarette. Putting the lighter down makes him wince.

“You alright, Pop?”

“Back,” he mutters. “My fuckin’ back.”

The aluminum armrests of the folding chairs scrape together when we move. Pop chews his food loudly, smacking and sucking at his teeth. I’ve learned to not let this bother me. Conditioning makes it hard to ignore, though. Nothing used to irritate my parents more than when my sister and I smacked our lips at meals.

“You’re doctor’s kids,” Pop would say, in that tone he used during lectures. “Behave like it.”

The old man in plaid and faded denim wipes his face with a dirty napkin.

It’s getting cold. We sit under blankets and sometimes talk about Mom. At some point I notice the wheezing breaths he takes when he’s fallen asleep. I put my arm around his shoulder. There are stars out tonight. Moonlight shines against the armrests of our folding chairs. I hold my father while he sleeps.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction

Stitches

stitches

 

I wake up to him kissing my neck and running his hand between my thighs. I sigh and turn my head to kiss him. He needs a shave, but I’m too distracted to tell him that. And besides, I like the stubble. I’m tempted to tell him to let me sleep another hour, but he runs his fingernails along my stomach, and I come alive against him.

Eventually I turn over and pull him close, careful to keep the injured finger clear of his writhing back. Kissing his shoulder, I can see the bruised, stitched flesh, torn and marred, in heavy contrast to his smooth tan skin.

***

I would have really appreciated it if she’d told me sooner I was losing her. I knew we were going to break up, but I couldn’t have gauged how vicious she was going to be about it.

We’d been getting along lately, though, so I guess I misinterpreted that as a reconciliation. In hindsight it was pretty clearly just a cease-fire.

She was doing her makeup in the bathroom. She was naked, her hair fresh and dry, and before I jumped in the shower I came up behind her and kissed her neck. My hands slid along the curve of her hip.

“Get the fuck off me!” She jabbed me sharply with her elbow. Not enough to hurt, not in the body, anyway. But enough to startle me back.

“Jesus! What was that?”

“Are you trying to make me put out my goddamn eye?” she snarled. Even curled back across her teeth, her pink lips looked remarkably kissable. Eyeliner gave her a stare like sharp wire.

“Alright! I’m sorry.” I put my hands up in surrender and stepped into the shower.

“Oh, don’t sound so fuckin’ wounded.”

I didn’t answer, just started my shower. After a minute or so I heard her groan. “Turn it down! The steam is gonna fuck up my hair!”

I ignored her. I let the heat scald away my irritation with her. By the time I stepped out, she’d already left for work.

***

When he and I are finished we hold each other, our chests pressed together, me breathing heavily just behind his ear. His hair is sweaty, but when he sweats it’s with a clean, almost sterile odor. I run my fingertips against his scalp, ignoring the slight sting of my injured finger. We both need a shower. We’re clearly not done fooling around just yet.

Every so often he gives me a lazy kiss to my temple. We both doze off a few minutes. When I wake up I can feel him getting ready to go again. When Brittany got her stuff, she stripped the linens straight from the bed and threw them in the car. Soon Bobby and I are tangled in the act of consecrating the bare mattress anew.

***

“Christ, all I’m trying to do is talk to you-…”

“That’s all you fucking do. You talk about things but you never fucking do them. Goddamn, you’re boring.”

“Babe, just…”

“Just get the fuck back, alright?”

“Goddamnit,” I caught the door to the bathroom before she could close it. “Do you want us to break up or what?”

“No! I just want…”

“You don’t even fucking know what you want! All you do is endlessly bitch at me…”

She pulled the door. I tightened my grip, holding in place. Before I could say anything else, she threw her entire body into pulling it closed, grunting in anger and effort.

My finger made a dull, wet sound as it was smashed against the frame.

I remember yelling so loudly it felt like a roar. Brittany covered her mouth against the drips of blood spotting the carpet. She kissed me over and over on the forehead and told me she was taking me to the emergency room. She ran off to get dressed and grab her keys. While she was getting ready, I climbed into my own car and drove away.

I heard her come home from work around nine. I’d locked myself in my room. On the table in the kitchen, I left a note, telling her she had a day to get her stuff out. That’s all it said. Now that I think of it, I haven’t laid eyes on her since seeing her disappear into her room. This room, where Bobby and I are now.

***

When Bobby gets out of the shower I’ve set up a tray with toast and eggs. A carafe of coffee is on the desk I moved in here yesterday.

Bobby dries his hair. “God, I love you.”

He says it lightly, and I pretend not to notice him gauging me with his eyes. Seeing how I’ll react.

Oh, no.

His phone vibrates again. Text from Mark: “Hey babe. Flying back in tomorrow.”

Bobby tosses the towel over the curtain rod. He pours coffee without getting dressed. I take in the sight of him, and run my thumb along the stitches in my finger.

Maybe he’s sincere, but two days into this I’d prefer it if he wasn’t. I never touched him before Brittany left. Never thought of it.

While he stands there I contemplate going to him, kissing his body, going further and further until he’s against the wall and shuddering above me. I think about him trying to do that with Mark, a man almost twenty years older. Always tired, always busy, always out of the house when Bobby gets home. Maybe Bobby does love me. But he also can’t.

Bobby types something into his phone while he drinks his coffee. He winks at me while he sips from the mug. The tip of my left middle finger is deep blue and purple. Between the stitches I can see the skin beginning to heal. The flesh is smashed and shredded, but still it comes together.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Miscellaneous

Getting Drunk with Strangers

evan williams

 

Half an hour after I clock out I’m in the closest Walmart, browsing the aisle for cordless phone accessories. Unsurprisingly, I’m the only customer this far back into the store, and I clench my teeth in irritation when I see the price for a new bundle of phone batteries.

$14.99

The elderly man who came into my work looking for batteries was so frail looking I felt like he’d break apart if I breathed on him heavy. His voice was so soft I had to lean in to hear him. He lived downtown, in Section 8 housing set up in a swanky old former hotel. He shuffled in with the kindliest smile and asked if we had any batteries. We did, but only the kind people still use. He’d been all over downtown. I mentioned he’d probably find what he needed at Kroger, well beyond his means of mobility.

So here I was, at Walmart at 10:30. The old guy gave me $15 but the batteries ran a dollar over with tax. I hopped in my car and debated telling the old guy he owed me a buck.

Another half hour later, and I’m parked outside his building. It’s raining a little but I still take a moment to look up and take in the old place. In its day it must have been swanky, catering to the richest old racists Macon could stir up. Decades ago a realty group purchased the place, long after it’d shuttered. Now it housed the most vulnerable people you could dig up in town. People complain about the place, with its gaggle of drunks in wheelchairs parked outside every day. People complain because the worth of the place is being shared by those the more fortunate have somehow “beaten” at life. I hope this place houses the poor forever. A building can’t be more useful than that.

The security guard at the desk doesn’t see me. I know because I don’t see him until I’m almost at the elevator. I pause, debate whether I should sign in, and sign in anyway. The guard looks both surprised and confused when I tell him I’m there. He mumbles, writes down my name and license number, then waves me on, still looking nervous and confused.

I go up thirteen stories and wander the hall until I find the right apartment number. When he answers, his voice is louder, and he’s got a plastic cup of amber liquid in his hand.

“Hey!” he says to me. “Hey, man, thank you so much! Hey, you wanna come inside?”

I raise my hand to decline, but he doesn’t see me. He’s already splashing four fingers of Evan Williams into another cup.

Well, long as I’m already here.

“I tell you I was in Korea?” he tells me for the fourth time, but I don’t mind because by this point we’ve opened another bottle of charcoal-filtered liquid gold. I’m not drunk but I’m well past the point where the whiskey stops tasting sour and begins to get sweet.

“Nope,” I lie, and he starts telling me stories about bayonets and helicopter fire, and white officers who had no problem sending black troops like him to the front line.

“I was medical corps, but they made me pick up a gun every now and again.” He nodded, took another swallow. “Yeah, I seen my days alright.”

My phone vibrates as he gets up to go pee. I sip what I know has to be my last cup. I can’t drink it too fast if I wanna go home tonight, but even so I’m gonna have to walk it off before I get behind the wheel. Fuckin’ rain.

“What’re you doing tonight?” her text reads.

It’s more than likely not meant to imply what I’d like it to imply. I’m into her but she’s also a good friend, and the one time we tried going out it ended with her telling me she didn’t think she could see us kissing.

“Getting drunk with strangers,” I text back.

He comes back out, shuffling to his kitchen sink with a dazed look on his face. He drinks a cup of water and stares with dilated pupils into space.

“So how long were you in Korea?” I ask him.

He stares at me a bit before shrugging and mumbling “Few years.” Then he just stands and sips his water.

Right. I down my whiskey and stand up. Best let the old-timer’s medication run its course. “I appreciate the drink.”

“You’re welcome,” he murmurs, and I hear him bolt the door behind me as I leave.

“LOL You’re funny. You wanna hang tonight?”

In my whiskey haze I briefly entertain the idea she’d let me kiss her if I tried to tonight, then I let that thought go and replaced it with guilt. If my lust ruined the friendship I’d regret it for years. If I saw her, it would be as much for her as it would be for me. You drink with friendly faces. You spend the time that matters with friends.

“Maybe,” I text back, the breeze and the chilly wind waking me up. “Text ya in a few?”

And I stroll on. The misting rain beads on my shirt and skin. A light goes off in the old hotel. The wet empty road shimmers in the greens and reds of street lights. I ignore them, content to go to wherever it is I need to go.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Miscellaneous

Comfort

bed of nails

I have a weird habit of sitting on the floor. I enjoy overstuffed recliners as much as the next American, but I’ve noticed that even if I’m the only person in the house, I’ll usually opt for sprawling across the carpet when I feel like getting comfortable. Walk into my place unannounced, and you’ll catch me stretched out across the living room, all three of my cats resting comfortably on the couch above my head. They’ll probably look at you and shrug. Hell, don’t look at us. We don’t know what his problem is either.

I once drunkenly missed a come-on because of this habit. Given the choice between a friend’s loveseat and the carpet after a night of drinking, I opted to pass out on the floor.

“You sure you’ll be comfortable down there?” the girl I was sharing the living room with asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”

She propped herself up on the couch she’d taken and leaned over me, her face close to mine. Her breath still smelled of the moscato we’d passed between ourselves for an hour, after everyone else had gone to sleep. Moscato, and a few of the cigarettes she’d bummed from me. “This thing folds out into a bed, you know…”

Naaaah,” I said, like the drunken idiot I am. “I’m fiiiiiine.”

Annnd…sex didn’t happen. Suh-prize.

***

This habit of mine is so regular my longtime friends don’t bat an eye when I abandon my Laz-E-Boy to sit cross-legged for hours on the linoleum. Given the option between park benches and the ground, I’ll usually opt to saturate the ass of my jeans in grass stains.

At parties, if there’s a dog or cat in the room, I’ll drop to knee-level and sit until the little critter curls up beside me. Despite the risk, I’ve managed to avoid what would seem like the inevitable, punishing rain of beer slosh and cigarette ash this course of action would lead to. At a shindig in the woods once, I petted a fox after chilling in the dirt for half an hour. A toad the size of a thumbnail hopped on my knee and bellowed surprisingly deeply. A mantis crawled over one shoe, walked across some leaves, and crawled atop the other shoe. For a moment it looked at me, then seemed to turn its head to the circle of chairs by the fire. It looked at me, looked at the chairs.

Seats are over there, fella.

And then it was gone, its wings chopping the air like helicopter blades.

***

My cat’s a rescue, or at least seems like he should qualify as one. He was born feral, but at six months old he was hit by a car and suffered a broken hip. We saw him dragging his hind legs and brought him inside. The vet set the bone, gave him a shot or two, and told us all we could do was wait for him to heal.

He was wary of us, so we kept him in a little cat bed beside some food and water, and put a litter box in a close corner. Even with the injury he immediately took to the routine, and so he spent his convalescence hidden in a calm and quiet back room.

Sometimes when I’d pour food or water, or scoop his box, I’d reach out and let him sniff my fingers. Sometimes he’d lick me, or rub his nose against my knuckles. I started petting him on his head when I came and went, and it took a while for me to notice that he’d started to purr when I came into the room. I’d sit for longer periods of time, stroking his back, until he’d doze off or start cleaning himself. Then I’d leave for the day.

A few weeks into this routine, I was leaving the room when I heard a sudden thump behind me. I turned and there he was, following me, dragging his hind legs like luggage. I crouched down and stroked him behind the ears, and he lied down and started to purr.
He fell asleep, and eventually, sitting beside him in the hallway, leaning against the wall, so did I.

***

I spend many a weekend night at a married couple’s house, which sounds unsavory except that I’m friends with both of them. A few other friends are usually there too. There’s drinking and laughing, and somehow I always end up with food stains on my clothes, even if I never actually eat anything.

By two or three in the morning we begin to drop off. I usually volunteer to take the couch. It’s leather and cool to the touch, and shifting position on it is like adjusting a pair of silk boxers. By that I don’t mean to say it’s easy to masturbate with; I’m saying it’s comfortable.

Their dogs seem fond of me, too, so when I begin to sleep, they’ll hone in on me until their owner shoos them into her bedroom for the night. The little one will hop on top of me, but the big one, a German shepherd that a horse could ride like a horse, is somewhat hindered by his size. He’ll lick my face a couple times, then drop to the carpet. The Chihuahua, not willing to abandon him, will hop back and forth, torn in his loyalty, until exhaustion forces him to join his comrade on the floor.

They’ll sit like that until they’re called away, occasionally whining for company. And hindered as I am by social norms, all I can do is drop my hand down to scratch their chins, an arrangement that satisfies no one involved.

***

When I go to bed, my cat and my sister’s cats will all hop in with me. There is little in life that delights me more than to have three plush boat motors rumbling around me as I nod off. Unfortunately, I sleep like a ninja with an inner ear problem, and the cats have learned to abandon ship as soon as I lose consciousness.

But sometimes my cat’s hip will fail him, and while Boots and Charlie snuggle in beside me, Magpie is relegated to sitting by my bed, looking up at me with the look that says he wants either attention or canned meat byproducts. Boots would yowl for attention, but Magpie sits quietly, gathering himself into a cat loaf as he settles in on the carpet.

While my sister’s cats doze like adorable alcoholics, I’ll carefully lower my pillow to the floor. Taking a loose blanket with me, I’ll slide off the bed, leaving it to the other felines, and stretch out beside Maggie. Thus situated, I’ll close my eyes and drift to sleep. I will feel my cat work his way beneath my arm and lay his head upon my chest. His purrs will then fill the dark, reciting the definition of comfort.

1 Comment

Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

After Halloween

jack-o'-lantern

When he wakes up he can feel with his nose the faint moisture of his breath against her shoulder. They’re both naked and face down. He turns his head and takes in the smell of her hair. It’s sweet from product but there’s a light, clean musk from sweat and oil. It’d been a muggy Halloween.

The vague, clammy heat around his groin reminds him they’d had sex before passing out. They hadn’t blacked out, but the memory was definitely coming back to him in slow motion. Them walking to the spare bedroom to find some smokes he could give her. Putting his arm around her waist without thinking about how close he was holding her. The surprise that flowed through him like warm liquid when she’d kissed him.

Reaching below her Little Bo Peep skirt, hands traveling past the little red bows on her stockings. Feeling cool skin, the curve of her ass against his squeezing palms. Her undoing his belt with one hand, reaching into his fly with the other.

Kissing from one shoulder to the other across her bare back. Her arching her head and running her tongue against his ear.

The recollection is priming him to go again. Pressed against her as he is, he’s quickly growing hard. With anyone else, the idea of wake-up sex would be a more he’d never cross. But they used to do it all the time before she’d move out.

This isn’t her costume’s maiden voyage. It’s seen more use outside of Halloween than on it.

He rolls off her, and as the sheet falls away he takes in the sight of her. Muscled from college lacrosse, and long. She drapes so easily across the length of this bed. Tan skin and bronze hair. With the heat he feels coming off her while she sleeps, he thinks of her as an errant stream of molten gold.

The urge to lie back down and hold her pulses through him. He feels the familiar urge to want to keep her safe from harm. It’s an awkward thought; she’s taller than him by an inch, and though she’s slimmer he’d bet she’s a good deal stronger. If anything, all he could ever do is serve as a human shield. He thinks that maybe that’s what lovers are once the sex runs out.

Then he shakes the silly melancholia out of his head and slides his ass to the edge of the mattress, letting the sheet slip off and land on her in a heap. He grabs his boxers, shaking them free of the red lace panties they’re somehow tangled with. He sees the whiskey he carried in here last night. Somehow, despite the stumbling and rattling, the bottle had sat upright all night, uncorked. Wasn’t there a patron saint for alcohol?

He thinks of pouring a hair-of-the-dog shot, but he’s clearheaded and doesn’t have a hangover. He’d cut most of his drinks last night with tap water, so when the drunk hit it hit smooth. He picks up the open bottle and smells it, huffing the robust malted odor. It almost smells like molasses.

He doesn’t want to leave the bottle behind, but he also doesn’t feel like searching through a house full of sleeping people for the cork. Bad enough he has to make it to the bathroom to flush the condom. He looks back to the bed, lifting the sheet. It’s sitting between her legs, a few inches from her pussy. Condoms are so sad once they’ve been used. This one looks deflated, like someone’s gutted it. The wetness around it gives him the impression it’s bleeding out.

Jesus, was he always this depressing? He shakes his head again and runs a hand across his face, blinking and taking deep, deep breaths to wake up. He sweeps dark curls out of his eyes, takes a couple tissues from the desk, and uses them to grab the condom, then chucks it to the floor to pick up later. He pulls on his clothes and tosses the Hannibal Lector mask he wore by the door.

She sighs, turning her head, and snuggles deeper against her pillow. She twists her hips, and curls her legs – still in those striped stockings – almost to her stomach. She’s one of those people who look like they’re smiling when they sleep.

He walks down the hall to the toilet and flushes the condom, and on his way back he finds the cork for the whiskey. He stuffs the mask in his back pocket, grabs his wallet, phone, and keys, and totes the booze with him when he leaves. He takes a moment to look at her before setting the lock on the knob and closing the door, pulling until he hears the clang of the latch in the frame.

He checks the time on his phone. Three missed calls from her. The other her. The one who’d had plans across town last night. One text: “Hey, I miss you! <3”

He leans against the wall for a moment. Goddamn. He considers deleting the text. He needs a shower. He needs to watch his drinking. He needs to watch his hands.

The jack-o’-lantern on the counter is dark and cold, but it smiles warmly in the dim light of the early, cloudy morning. The kitchen window behind it ticks with streams of rainwater funneling off the roof. A few empty plastic cups crowd the pumpkin to the right. He pops the cork and pours a shot into one.

“Have one on me,” he says, looking past the triangle eyes to the lumpy, melted candle. “You’ve seen more than your fair share.”

He stoppers the bottle and heads out. The whiskey goes in the trunk, the clapping of the lid echoing through the quiet neighborhood when he closes it. The engine starts with a smooth grunt, and it’s the only noise he hears the entire drive back to his apartment.

The jack-o’-lantern sits vigilant by the sink. Steam from the whiskey continually builds and then fades against its rind. A single gnat buzzes around its nose. It sits, the steward of those sleeping in these dead moments when the living know they’re alive.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Miscellaneous

When Stories Fight You

I’ve only just now finished a short story I’ve been working on since late August. I’ve written it, re-written it, restructured it. There have been so many abandoned reconstructions of it the files would’ve filled a small thumb drive. I can’t think of another story that took me this long to finish, at least one that wasn’t novel-length. This story, all nineteen pages of it, fought me with bared teeth every word of the way.

As satisfying as it is to have something pour out of you, for me it’s even more satisfying when I finally wrestle down a piece that seemingly had no end. There were a few months when I was sure that this story just couldn’t work, that even I didn’t know what I was trying to say with it. The genre is irrelevant; there are just stories, some true, some fictional, that won’t be told until they can be told right.

It might be emotional masochism, but I like to believe the enjoyment comes from the impression of accomplishment that comes when a piece finally seems to work. Typing and deleting and rephrasing words calls to my mind the image of a lost hiker, hacking through brush as he tries to find his way to saner land.

There’s always relief when you get to where you’re going.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction

Trust

My cat is just getting over a rash on his belly. To treat it the vet gave me an antiseptic spray to squirt him with three times a day, and by squirt I mean really soak him with each dose. He despises this with the heat of a thousand suns, hating only the vacuum cleaner more than being sprayed with this mentholated gunk. But he puts up with it because he trusts me. He hates the vet, and all the stabbing and blood-letting and anal violation it entails, but I feel like he’s noticed that he only goes when something’s wrong, and always ends up feeling better pretty quickly after coming home. He still shows his displeasure, but mildly. Some cats would bite or scratch, but he just gives a pitiful little groan and squirms a bit. A minute later, he’s eating cat treats and curling around my ankle. He loves me and knows I love him.

Whenever my cat suffers a health issue, I want to sit down with the universe and ask why it finds the suffering of a small fluffy animal so amusing. This is hyperbolic, of course, and I’m sure my cat has gone full Mengele on a few unsuspecting chipmunks in his day, so it could be hypocritical as well. We love to despair over the unfairness of life and the apathy of the universe, but I’ve come to suspect the universe actually does care. Generally speaking, anyway.

I mean, yeah, politicians sell out the lives of their constituents for the gain of corporations they own stock in. Assholes will cut you off in traffic and pass stopped school buses. The neighbor will subtly encourage his dog to shit in your yard when he thinks you aren’t looking. Meteors may or may not play shuffleboard with human existence.

But the universe keeps growing and evolving. Star systems keep forming. New flowers and fluffy, adorable woodland critters pop up all the time. People kiss. People fall in love. People masturbate. There’s hurt, sure, but the universe also trusts us to find happiness.

***

 

Mo and I dated for about a year and a half before becoming serious. It was mostly necessitated by distance, but additionally it seemed like a good idea. Latching onto a relationship with little knowledge of the other person rarely seems to go well.

On the day we became official, we’d spent most of the day tramping around an abandoned asylum a few towns over. We picnicked in a cemetery that had been converted into a park, and took photos of graffiti warning us not to trust voices in white coats. We were dirty, sweaty, and breathing heavy when we finally got back to my place.

We were in my bedroom, but not on my bed. I forget why but we sat on the carpet, and after a while I pulled down a couple pillows and a blanket. We cuddled and talked about nothing. I told her I loved her and she said she loved me too.

“Then we should be an item,” I said. “Just us.”

She smiled, and traced an X with her finger on my lips before kissing me. “There,” she said, trusting me to understand. “Sealed with a kiss.”

 

***

 

A month or so before moving out of Nashville, a neighbor cat took to wandering into my apartment whenever I’d come home. We’d feed him and play with him, and soon he’d stay whole weeks without leaving the place. I’d come home and he’d be begging to be let in. I would find myself anxious to be away from home, afraid he’d be left outside if it started to rain. It would take me a few moments before I remembered he was somebody else’s cat.

I got attached to him and started calling him Eddie. He’d sleep under my arm while I read in bed, or curl up on my gut when I went to sleep. He’d tackle my arms and play-bite me when I’d exercise. He followed me to the mailboxes and was patient enough to let me take photos of him with tiny hats on. He was a quality cat.

I say was but I should say is. He was clearly young when he started hanging around, and well cared for. I pulled a tick off him once but he was in good health otherwise. Someone was obviously feeding and sheltering him. But still I got attached to him. And when we had to leave town one weekend, I found myself hanging back till late. He didn’t want to go outside, and I didn’t want to leave him alone. I did eventually, of course, and a day after we came back, he strolled up to our porch while I was reading, mewling to be let inside.

Moving day came, and Eddie weaved between us and our stuff as we broke it down and loaded it up. He’d leave for an hour, then come back and play with someone taking a break. The activity got him excited, and he’d disappear again chasing children and bumblebees. We worked till two in the morning emptying the place, and by the time we were done, Eddie was off somewhere for the night. Probably back home.

Mo had gotten a place an hour away, on the opposite side of the city. I was leaving the state altogether, but I crashed at her place for a few nights, sorting through things of mine that had been mixed with hers and building up the courage to finally, permanently go. I went back to the apartment once more, to clean a little before we dropped off our keys. We’re the kind of people who are paranoid about deposits, and we wanted to make sure we got ours back. It was dark when I pulled up, and as soon as I got out, there was Eddie, on the rail, mewling at me.

I spent a couple hours there, scrubbing, vacuuming, trying to usher the cat out every now and then so he’d go home. But he just batted at my pant legs and purred when I’d pet him. When I was done, I cooed at him to follow me out, and locked up.

I loaded up the vacuum and Eddie hopped onto the roof of my car. I petted and kissed him, and a neighbor commented that he obviously didn’t want us gone. I waited until he got distracted by something in the grass, and climbed inside. He looked back once when I started the engine and began backing out, then went back to playing in the weeds. I trusted him to be okay.

I try not to think about it, but sometimes I’ll get the image in my head of Eddie mewling on a darkened porch. In my mind he paws at the door, trusting it to open, until the empty echo from inside convinces him to go home.

 

***

 

The annual family reunion is always a mixed bag. There are relatives I can actually, like, relate to, and relatives who seem as though their parents were likely related too.

Somehow, I always end up watching everybody’s kids when I’m there. I don’t quite understand how this happens. Kids seem to like me, parents seem to trust me, and somehow I’m put in charge of a small line of young’uns who insist on following me around.

Not that I’m complaining. I never want to have children, but I do enjoy their company. They’re simple and earnest and when things get irritating, I can always hand them back to their parents and go on my merry way.

I also remember what it was like to be little and opinionated, and how desperate I was to be regarded by adults with anything approaching respect. I try to keep this in mind whenever I find myself locked in a conversation a few grades below the general age of my peer group.

One reunion I found myself on the porch swing, watching over some cousin’s eight year old. He was as average a kid as you could get. He liked bugs and Pokémon and was just discovering the wonderland that is the Transformers franchise.

Every few sentences, a wrinkled old woman in the bench beside us would lean forward and say: “Have you ever heard a child who talks so much?”

The boy didn’t seem to hear her, and I’m not one for dignifying cruel statements with a response, so we kept talking. If anything, the kid was a little on the quiet side. He liked the talk but I was definitely the chattier one between us.

“Hush,” the strange old woman eventually scolded when the boy was answering a question I’d asked him. “He doesn’t want to have to listen to you.”

The boy looked at her then looked away. I don’t think he knew she was talking to him; he was just vaguely aware she was speaking nearby.

We kept talking.

“Shhh.” I looked over, and the hunched old woman was leaning forward, scowling. She was staring directly at the (thankfully) oblivious little boy. Context was irrelevant. She did not consider my presence, our talk, anything. It dawned on me that all she could see was something small she wanted to crush, something she was furious with for being out of her reach. We trust family to be there for us. Maybe that’s why so many predators choose to hide in the brush of blood relations.

“Blood is thicker than water.” The phrase is exploited frequently by relatives desperate for an excuse to be accepted despite their bad behavior. It’s paraphrased out of context. The original line is “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

Bonds are forged. DNA is coincidental. No one ever intends to be related to monsters.

 

***

 

A year or two after the breakup, Mo and I sat on her mother’s porch during a rain storm. She visits every so often, and we usually find at least one night to sit around and catch up.

That night was the first time we’d seen each other since I’d left Tennessee. It’d be a lie to say I was over her already.

We drank coffee and ordered pizza, and sitting on the porch, we listened to the rain. Midnight crept up on us, and we dozed off despite the caffeine.

We woke up to a crack of lightning and intense thunder. The wind as screaming and rain blew hard enough we could feel the mist. We watched the storm and I put my arm around her. She trusted me to move on, but at that time it was beyond my abilities.

So I sat quietly with the woman I still loved and watched the storm. The breakup had come up in conversation, and I told her I was fine. What I meant was that I would be. I at least owed her that minimal honesty. Holding her, I was determined not to break the trust she put in me to move on.

The rain fell, and we trusted it not to wash us away.

Leave a comment

Filed under Miscellaneous, Non-Fiction