CAT SCRATCH FEVER (O WHAT A THRILL, part III)
When last we left Jean, he had lost his job, failed to find the girl he wants to be with, and discovered that his friend Grady had betrayed him to wear leather pants. This third and final installment was once again written at the Wednesday night residency of The Stolen Sweets at the Laurelthirst, and it is dedicated to them. The ending will need to sit with me for a bit to see if I like it, and opinions are welcome. (Part 1) (Part 2)
"Walk Like A Panther" final installment
Night fell, coming down from where it had waited and sat with Jean's equally low spirits. How stranded he had become, how absent of purpose. He knew he could go home, but he couldn't come up with a single reason why he would. It was an empty apartment, and it was him who bled it dry.
Instead, he wandered around the neighborhood, forming an ever-widening circle with the pizza parlor at its center. He would mark each street, leave his spoor in every crack in the sidewalk. After about four times around, he found himself at the top of a steep hill, looking down. He recognized the incline, but he knew it in reverse. He had walked up it only hours before.
The cat house, stage right.
The hairless cat was skulking through the grass, and it froze when Jean's eyes landed on it, one paw of the ground, caught in mid-step. It was watched Jean, as if it wanted to see what he would do next. Jean took a step forward, and the cat bolted, diving through the cellar window it had been spying from that afternoon. Once it had given itself to the darkness, Jean stepped into the yard. No sooner had he felt soil then the Top Cat emerged from the basement shadows, like Jean had accidentally tripped a wire that let him out of his cage. The Top Cat meowed and walked straight up to him, passing by his shins, running the length of his body against Jean's pants. The Top Cat turned around and did it again in the other direction.
Jean sat down in the grass. He reached out and scratched the cat behind his ears. Top Cat leaned into it, a look of decadence on his face--eyes closed, chin up. He climbed onto Jean's lap and sniffed at his cheeks, his eyebrows, his forehead. The cat's nose was cold and wet, but his breath was warm and pleasantly fishy smelling. From that vantage point, Top Cat's head looked huge. Surely this was a head suitable to wear the crown of the king of beasts!
Top Cat settled into Jean's lap and submitted to a thorough petting, his engine revving like he was preparing for a drag race. As they sat together, more of the cats started to come out of hiding. The Siamese, the orange tabby, the one with yellow ears. Jean counted around ten. (He was a little confused about how many grays there actually were. They looked too much alike.) Even the hairless cat came back out, sitting oat the edge of the yard by the house, watching everything from a safe distance.
Jean was growing relatively content with the new status quo when he noticed that all the felines' ears hat started to perk up and twitch. They were trying to dial in something, but Jean's human ears could not work the same range and his kitty ones were sadly non-functional. Top Cat raised his head and looked down the hill, his ears following the direction of his gaze. He was using body language to report his reconnaissance to Jean.
The sound was faint at first, but it was getting clearer by the second. There was a rattling noise and an intermittent bleating. Then there was also the occasional flash of emerald light. It wasn't particularly timed to anything; it didn't work in conjunction with the noise or come in regular intervals. As the volume continued to turn up, Jean realized it was a shopping cart. He could see it now, coming up the hill. The rattling was because it was full of empty cans, the obnoxious bleating from the boot that had been put on one of its front wheels to keep people from taking it from the supermarket.
Pushing the cart was the homeless man Jean had run into that morning. He was singing to himself—no, more like humming, or maybe scat. Jean didn't recognize the tune. There was another burst of emerald as a street lamp ricocheted off of a lemon-lime soda can.
Jean waved at the man. Top Cat stood up on Jean's lap. He looked like he was ready to strike if needed. All the other cats were standing at attention, too, facing the hobo.
For his part, the man stopped and quietly leaned on the cart handle. He tossed Jean a big grin. "I told you that you couldn't avoid me all the time," he said.
"I considered myself warned, too," Jean said. When he spoke, Top Cat settled down a little. He was no longer standing, but he still kept a vigilant watch, quickly scrambling to his feet again when the homeless man started rooting around in his cart. Jean felt the begging prick of claws in his calf.
The homeless man pulled out a bottle that was three-quarters full with a thick green syrup. "I got some Kiwi MD 20/20," he croaked. "I won't say what the MD stands for. I don't want to frighten your minions."
"Oh, you can't scare these guys."
"And you can't scare me. Care to share some hair of the you-know-what that bit ya?"
The man grabbed the lemon-lime can and brought the bottle over to Jean. He sat down next to him. He smelled like cream cheese. Jean scratched Top Cat's ears, and the feline eased off again. The other cats were milling about, pacing the yard like prison guards. The hairless one even moved a couple of feet closer.
The homeless man took the can in his hand and began to twist it. The metal crinkled and made a sick sound before splitting in half. He took the bottom portion and pushed at the ends, trying to smooth them out. Jean could see his fingers were dry and calloused, the skin turned hard against the world. His digits were the color of beets, and had they not been in such rough shape, he surely would have cut himself on the sharp aluminum.
He filled the newly fashioned cup with the cheap kiwi liquor and handed it to John. He toasted him and then took a belt straight from the bottle.
Jean took a sip, gingerly lifting the cup to his lips so as not to slice them open. The drink tasted shocking, like he had bit into the fruit it had been named after only to discover it was really an onion--one that had been injected with the sterilizing liquid they use to clean combs in barber shops.
"The second drink tastes better," the hobo said, "and by your fifth, it's like you're suckling Heaven's teat."
There was no denying the wisdom. The second sip was sweeter. Even if it did make his head feel like the Hindenburg at the moment of impact. When he finished the first cup, the homeless man refilled it, and they toasted again.
"Cheers," Jean replied. "You're better than the whole damn lot of them."
"You're a swear word waiting to be blotted out."
Jean laughed and drained his lemon-lime cup. Top Cat sniffed at it, so Jean put a little of the booze on his finger and let his friend lick it off. The cat's tongue was rough and hot.
"What's going to happen to me?" Jean asked the homeless man.
"I don't know. More of what's already happened, probably."
Jean looked in his empty cup. The metal inside was pristine silver. He held it out for more drink, and the man sitting next to him took it from his hand, instead handing him the bottle. The lemon-lime cup was put down in the grass, and the hairless cat inched over to it, crawling on its belly. The feline sniffed at the cup, and then licked at its edge. The thin metal instantly cut its tongue, and when the cat recoiled in one direction, a trickle of crimson blood flowed in the other.
Current Sountrack: Erasure, "Oh L'Amour" CD single (original version)
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich