from White Kitty
C. R. E. Wells


SEPTEMBER 16, 2003.
COLUMBUS, OHIO.


This is almost how it happened:


In his dream, Charles never took the cats to the shelter. Tara returned and started hugging and petting the cats, and everything felt more perfect than ever. Was she better again? Then they went to bed, which was romantic and even erotic, but upon waking he could not remember sex. Only caressing, kissing. In the dream, she dozed quickly as he hugged her tightly. Why did she feel so different? Had she always been this fragile? Was it her illness? He was afraid she was going to break. He opened his dream-eyes and peered at the face of the body he embraced. It was not her. It was the girl who kissed him the day before. Kim. Or was it the Kim who worked at the factory? To him they were now the same: the hair, the nose, the skin—he could no longer distinguish the differences between them. Perhaps he could no longer remember the Kim he used to know. Soon he woke up and was holding Tara's pillow, wet with drool.

It was 4:50 in the morning. He could no longer sleep for more than five hours a night. After his dreams (which were becoming more vivid and haunting) he was groggy but restless. He put on his flannel pajama bottoms (the ones Tara got for him for his birthday last year, with the "cute little penguins" on them) before going downstairs. Besides Tara, the cats were also absent this morning. If he was not already up at this hour, Chewy often would wake him. At first he acted hungry, so Charles would get up and fill their dishes. Soon Charles began to feed the cats enough at night to keep them satisfied till six or seven, but Chewy still woke Charles before five. Charles must have made Chewy feel secure now that Tara was gone. He was a nice cat. Is a nice cat. He'll make a fine pet. But not for me.

As he came off the bottom step, he felt a prick in his right foot. He sat down, lifted his bare foot over his knee, and dislodged a small piece of ceramic. Damn it. From the plate. God. That was two months ago. Still pieces lying around. Broom doesn't work. Wear thick socks. The wound started to bleed, so he tiptoed up the stairs to put a band-aid over the wound, tossing the ceramic shard into the bathroom trashcan. She's everywhere. When you most want to forget her. Need to rid myself. The awful reminders. This house has absorbed her. Sell it. You need to.

Soon he returned downstairs and started the coffee. Ordinarily he made himself one cup every morning, thinking that if he made it strong enough, it was all the caffeine he would need. Tara didn't drink coffee, but he bought a large coffee maker anyway for when they had company. They rarely did. Everything was so still this early, and usually he found the mornings refreshing. Today the quiet made him lonely. Less birds twittered as the days grew shorter. While scooping the coffee into the filter, he decided to make a full pot. Just sit in front of the TV. Drink coffee. That kind of morning. Till seven or so. Then hop in the shower. That's what you need. Coffee and sitting. Good plan. Turn the TV on. Watch whatever, anything.

He watched an exercise program with women lifting weights. Not the most entertaining. Not for the reasons intended. She looks Hawaiian. What is it about them? Life's easy there. Too carefree on their islands. Need a Michigan winter. That should teach them. At least an Ohio one. Life for the rest of us. Bad things like winter. Long and cold. Happens every year. Sad, huh? Should bring tears to your eyes. Send us care packages. Rum and hot chocolate. That's what we need. Great for Christmastime. Winter's coming. Please use FedEx. They deliver from Hawaii? Air Express. Damn. A few months away. Move south? Then summer's too hot. What do they say? I prefer to be cold. You can always put more clothes on. A joke but true. When do I have to shovel? Usually January. That's better than— Man. Hot bodies they have. Really show them off, don't they? You can tell. You got it? You flaunt it. On Ricki all the time, the flaunting girls. Debate always raging, girls spitting into microphones, prancing across the stage. They disagreed, the girls who didn't have it. Some still flaunted it, flapping their dimpled flab. She still on somewhere? Whoa. That's a good angle. Who invented the leg curl machine? Pure genius. A man. Had to be. To get the women to do them while we watch. Great idea, buddy. Naked leg curls. I'm a free man, right? Can look at them however I want. Sculptures electric, moving. But lifeless, mindless. No guilt from Tara. She's the guilty one. Paid to get their pictures taken. They know what they're wearing, the angles. Money in return, probably hundreds of thousands a year. Fitness modeling. Soft porn almost. Think that makes them sluts? But everyone's happy, right? No guilt. No exploitation. Or it's you who are exploited. Women controlling you again. You weak bastard. Just a dream-world. Mental spinout. Drunk on tight butts. You should get off yours. Do something. Pinch yourself. More revolting by the minute. You're getting old. What's your excuse today? You cut your foot. Women trying to teach exercise, you think about their female bodies. Think they'd like that? Oh yeah. Probably do. Don't they all? When we want them. Why else wear those things? Why else get on those machines and—

Beside the point. Don't want to get horny. What else is on? This old fart's perfect. The opposite of pretty. Saw this last week. The good doctor. Yes, coral calcium is the solution to all our health problems, isn't it, Bob? Why yes, Dr. Bighead or whatever your name is, it certainly is the cat's meow. Yessirree, meeeooowww, coral calcium is the shit, or as the kids say, shiznit. Do you know why, Bob? No, why is coral calcium so absolutely great, the fucking bomb sent from heaven, I mean, compared to the calcium in, say, milk for instance? Calcium is an alkaline substance—do you know what alkaline means? No, what is alkaline, Dr. Bighead? I think I've heard of alkaline batteries but I don't know what the word means. Does it have something to do with batteries, Dr. Bighead? Alkaline substances have a pH greater than seven, while acidic substances have a pH less than seven, but we won't go too far into that. After all, this is not science class and most people just don't give a rat's ass about what makes the world go around and most people are really too stupid to understand it all anyway, including you, Bob. Anyway, calcium neutralizes the acid in the blood, hence making an environment not congenial to the development of malignant tumors. Cancer. Calcium is malignant to malignancy itself! Wrap your puny brain around that one, Bob! Can you believe this amazing discovery, that the prevention of cancer is in this simple mineral—as long as it is consumed in the form we are selling at bloated prices? I think it's practically the key to immortality and will be seen as such someday. Mark my words. Do you know why milk does not cut it, Bob? Of course I don't, Dr. Bighead. My mother always told me to drink milk. Three glasses a day. Three fucking glasses a day, she said, and it gave me the runs but I downed them anyway because if I didn't she would tell my dad and he would beat the living shit out of me when he got home. Well, that's a different issue altogether, Bob, but just another reason to buy our coral calcium. You see, milk does not cut it because the bioavailability—by the way, doesn't my use of the word bioavailability prove to you viewers at home that I'm really intelligent, I mean, compared to you? Back to the point. The bioavailability of the calcium in milk is not high enough to neutralize the blood. One, two, three, four—do you realize that word is eight syllables long? Eight fucking syllables! How many eight-syllable words do you know, Bob? Anyway, what other common substance is found in milk? Lactic acid! You hear that? Acid. Can you believe that shit? How can you make your blood less acidic by adding acid to it, by lowering its pH rather than raising it? Makes no sense now, does it? Think. Put on your thinking cap, Bob. Do you have it on now? How can acid neutralize acid? This is not a trick question. The answer is quite—

Then there was a crushing sound so loud and sudden Charles thought something hit his house. What the hell? That the truck? The garbage truck often came at this hour to empty the dumpsters on his block. Those dumpsters. Can be pretty loud, banged hard back to the asphalt like that. Startled me in the past. Nothing hit the house. Calm down, Charles. Would have felt more vibrations, don't you think? Like an earthquake. A wall caved in. He peeked through the blinds to the street. Pretty peaceful. So quiet. He listened closely and heard a hum. Must be the truck. Makes noises like that. Hope no one got hurt. Man, that was loud. Must have dropped it or something. Maybe it broke in half. How is that possible? Can't imagine it. It could have happened. Dark out there. How do they lift them? Forklift up and over. Hydraulics.

The hum continued—it was the sound of a running engine. He also heard wheels spinning. Stuck on something? That's a new one. Weird if so. Not muddy outside. No snow yet. Not down here. Not even fall. Soon though. Next week.

He walked through the living room to look through the windows facing the alley. What the— He now saw what was making the noise: an SUV was stuck, or appeared to be stuck, in the alley. Stuck back there. Really? That's it. That's— Wonder how? He could not see clearly past his pine tree and so could not view the back half of the vehicle, but he saw its headlights and its jostling as the driver tried to free it. Where? Utility pole. Right in front of it. Ran into it? Really fucked up. It would be. They need help. Maybe. My yard. Do something? What though? How could they? Don't understand it. A boulder there. It's not very large. Really just a rock. A few fists big. What's the use of an SUV if it can't— Can't tell. Too dark. Need to fix these lights. Too dim, aren't they? 5:04 a.m. Really? Not a nice time to go outside. Never know. Someone could mug you. In the city. Stuff happens. People are rotten. Too many criminals. Not most people, though. How can you tell? In the world. Lots of evil. Lots of mean and— God— Weird. What the hell are they stuck on? Not the rock. On the fence? They ran over it. Jesus. Looks like it. No. You're crazy. Can't believe it. What the hell? Just my luck. Assholes. Ruining my property. Enough shit already. Can't they learn to drive? Drunk. Stoned. So fucked up. In my yard. Not in my yard. Move back to the country. OK. You will? Back there? How could I? Tensions in his jaw grew and his stomach churned. Oh, but what about the garage? Close, aren't they? Shit. Replace the fence. Cheap wire. How much by the yard? Insurance will cover it. Supposed to, anyway. The garage too. Isn't it?

He saw the silhouette of a tall thin man get out of the passenger's side and slam the door. A man. Not woman-shaped. Too straight and stick-like. Wearing a jacket. What it looks like. Too dark. Leather? Can't tell. Cold this morning. A little. The silhouette appeared to push against the front of the vehicle while the driver floored the accelerator. Trying to run away. Assholes. Rotten. Trying to get away with it? Fleeing the scene of an accident. A crime. Criminals. Damaged something. Mine. Not nice people out this morning. Shoot them, damn them all.

The driver let off the accelerator. The words "OK, now!" were heard, and the driver floored it again for a few seconds. There was another break, then the word "Now!" and he floored it again. There seemed to be no progress.

He saw the thin jacketed man kneel down to examine something, then he stood and started stomping on it. Has to be the fence. Soon a woman stepped out. What the fuck? Is she naked? Can't tell. Lights are too dim. A prostitute? Damn the dark. It's no good. Something's going on. Something very— In my yard. Have to fix the lights. Call the city. Tell them to get their asses—

"Hey!" he heard the man shout. "Get back inside, you dumb bitch!"

"Take me home!" She was crying hysterically. "Home, now!"

"We can't right now. Just get back in—we gotta get out of here. We're gonna take you home, I swear."

"Take me home now!"

"Christ, bitch, will you shut up? Does it look like we can? Swear to God I'll break your neck."

She kept walking near the pole, her hands folded over her chest, then she would return back behind the tree. After a minute or so, Charles thought she must have gone back inside the vehicle because he could not hear her sobbing. Call the cops. Have to. My God. Isn't right. He picked up the phone, then hesitated. Come on. What if it's nothing? What if they just got stuck? On that rock. It could have happened. It's not that small. Definitely a boulder. Boulders can do that. She's not naked. Probably not. Really can't tell. None of my business. It doesn't matter. They must be stuck. On the little boulder. Sitting out by the alley. Probably going home. On their way from work. Look like decent people. Tired. Work the night shift. You understand. You used to work nights. They're all right. Want to get out of here. You would too. The alley's so dark. Not nice people out. It's a lot of stress. That causes harsh language. You should know that. Has to be a bitch. Running over a rock. Getting stuck in some alley. Being so mean about it. That's not a great idea. So what? Can you judge them? When were you angry? When's the last time? Didn't you say things? Of course. You did. You hypocrite. All people are people. We're all human after all. One big family. Humanity. Adam and Eve, right?

Put the phone back. Cops probably won't arrive. Not in time. Not that something's wrong. Cops slow everywhere you go. No matter where you live. True here too. Has to be. It'll be fine. Or maybe call if it gets out of hand. Do I have binoculars? Write something down. The license plate, vehicle model. Descriptions, just in case. Insurance purposes. Probably all an optical illusion. Watch a little longer. Get a feel for it. Don't be so fucking rash. Don't make decisions. Probably good people. Maybe I'll help?

Could be dangerous.

What if they're good?

Planning to flee.

Just working the night shift.

Ruined my property.

Calm down.

What about the garage?

Just stuck on the boulder.

It's not big enough.

Who knows the situation?

The assholes. If they're—

It's dangerous. Mind your own business. Pray they just go away.

He saw the girl one more time, just barely, walking in front of the vehicle and the bent utility pole. Bent. Holy shit. It really is. Must be a light-colored blouse. Looks like skin from here, doesn't it? Dim yellow lights. When they hit that way. You can't tell. Pink or something. Thin, tight. You saw those at Target with Tara. Yeah, and Tara said—

"Let me go! Please, let me go!"

"Fine. That's fine. You wanna leave? You wanna leave in your condition? Then leave—just get the fuck out of here."

After she started running down the alley, the man shouted, "Fuck!" and ran after her, then another man, shorter and stockier, got out of the vehicle and ran after them both.

God damn it. The cops now. He picked up the phone but did not dial. Don't be an idiot about it. Don't make a big deal out of nothing. But it is an accident. Call to report it. You're supposed to do that. The right thing. Before dialing, he looked out once more and saw a flashlight shining at the scene. Flashing lights reflected off the wooden fence across the alley. They're here already.

He heard pounding on his front door. It was his next-door neighbor.

"Just wanted to tell you there was an accident. You hear it?"

"Yeah, heard it all right."

"Your fence back there is trashed. That thing just came careening down the alley, ran into the pole. Went right over that part of your fence. Didn't see if there was any damage to your garage, but didn't seem like it."

"All right, thanks for the info. Knew something was up—just didn't know what exactly."

"Just thought you should know, man."

"Thanks for coming over."

He nodded and shut the door, then went upstairs to put on some jeans and shoes. When he was dressed, he grabbed his coffee mug and walked out back to check out the damage.

As he got closer, the scene amazed him. He was baffled that anyone could have lived through the accident without injury, yet it was obvious none of them were seriously hurt. The second thing he noticed was the state of his wire fence. One entire portion of it had been nearly flattened. The vehicle's front right tire could not touch the ground because it was raised by a bent fencepost that also appeared to be catching the axle. The front fender of the black Ford Explorer was wrapped in the shape of a U around the utility pole, now bent and broken halfway up.

A policewoman rummaged through the back of the vehicle, apparently for clues. Charles noticed a man standing nearby in the alley, a little off to the side and wearing a tan trench coat. Holding his hands deeply in his pockets, he looked to be freezing on this somewhat chilly morning. Yesterday was nice. Cold front came through. Not too cold, though. Buckeyes. Almost southerners, some of them. All deny it though. Through the yellow streetlight, he noticed a strange smile on the stranger's face.

"Good morning."

"Hey."

"What a way to wake up, huh?" The man laughed. "Just what you need in the morning."

"Yeah, really."

"Coffee. Now there's a good idea. I should go make myself some. Don't think I'll get back to sleep after this."

"Me neither."

"God, it was so loud, thought something hit my house." He shook his head.

"I had the exact same thought."

"Yeah, but it was closer to you. In your yard. It had to be really loud for you."

"It was."

They paused. "Are you insured?"

"Yeah."

"Then hey, what's insurance for, right?"

"Exactly."

"Just look at this." The man nodded his head toward the wreck. "Man alive, I can't believe anybody was able to walk away from this one."

"No kidding." Charles just stared down into his coffee. It was so dark, pitch black in the dim morning. Gotta fix these lights. Call the city. Remember to.

"Man, can't believe this thing still runs. I mean, look at it."

"Yeah, crazy."

"Something shady going on." He said this with odd glee, still wearing a smile. Nerves, maybe. "I saw a girl run that way. Didn't look like she was wearing much, if anything. Then I saw a couple guys. Called the cops right away. Looked like they were up to no good—and I think I was right."

"Yeah."

"My name's Will, by the way." He walked closer to Charles and held out his hand, which Charles shook.

"Charles." "Nice to meet you." He paused, then said, "Say, don't you live with somebody? Your—wife? A girlfriend?"

"My wife."

"She's not sleeping, is she?"

"Maybe. She's not home right now."

"Really? Does she work nights?"

"No. She's gone. For a while. Taking a vacation."

"Oh, wait. That was a dumb thing to ask." He laughed uneasily to himself. "Unless she sleeps at work. Which I suppose might be the case."

"No, she's not working. At least I doubt it."

"Huh?"

Charles felt embarrassed now. God, what a stupid way to put it. Zip your lip. Don't worsen the situation.

The man in the trench coat broke the silence. "So, you two take separate vacations often?"

"No. This is the first time."

"Yeah. I heard separate vacations can be nice. Don't think it would have saved my marriage, though." He chuckled and grinned. Nerves, has to be.

Another pause.

"Well, it's a bit chilly out here. You're fine, just wearing a t-shirt?"

"Yeah, I'm used to it. I'm from up north."

"Oh? Cleveland? Toledo?"

"No, farther north."

"Uh oh," he said through his smirk. "Michigan?"

"Yeah." Charles tried to smile, preparing for what was next.

"But you're a Buckeye fan, right?"

"Of course."

"Well, then you're all right, aren't you?"

"You bet."

"Well, I'm getting cold. Think I'll head back to my place. I live over there across the alley, kitty-corner to you."

"OK."

"Anyway, it was nice meeting you. Sorry it had to be under these circumstances, you know."

"No problem. Nice to meet you, too."

Charles lingered and paced, thinking maybe he should be around for the officer in case she needed him or wanted more information. As if to make conversation, she pulled out a handicap hang tag and held it up for Charles to see.

"Interesting."

"Yeah, interesting."

She continued digging for a few more minutes while Charles paced and sipped his coffee. Eventually she said:

"Sir?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"You can go back inside. I'll bring you the information you need when it's ready, OK? I'll just come up to your back door and give it to you. You don't have to stand out here like this."

"Great. Thanks."

Charles walked back inside with his half-drunk coffee. His kitchen clock said it was 5:31. He warmed up his mug with more and walked slowly into the living room. Wish Tara was here. Wish she was feeling better. This would drive her crazy. More crazy. Doesn't need more stress. God, neither do I.

He pulled off his sock and peeled the band-aid from his cut.

Let her go, Charles.

Just let her go.



[ suzanne grazyna ] [ virginia reeves ]
[ elizabeth kate switaj ] [ contributors ]
[ editor's notes ] [ download ] [ index ]