I got a new job, and a new wife. Like every other sorry sack of shit when Life threw me a curveball I twisted myself into the ground trying to hit that thing out of the park. Anyway I drove past that spot this morning on the way to my first day at my new job, way on the south side of town, way out of where I’m used to going, when I saw it and thought of her, the kids, two little girls, and those cats, those goddamn cats.
We had been bowling and shit I thought I could drink, drink all stoic like and not betray how fucked up and hurt I was inside. Just bury it, drown it. So we were out with some friends from work, which was all I had at that time, and had gone to this British place to eat emu or ostrich or some other thing. Drank stout, pitchers of it. And that’s the stuff tastes like six yards of dirty carpet going down the first two or three but then you get settled in. You get settled in and they go down like your throat was greased. That must have been it because I was doing fine, cracking jokes, had the whole table laughing, me all opened up and just pushing the edge of decency and good taste like calling our boss a phallus inhaler instead of cocksucker, you know? Well I didn’t see or think anything of it when she got up to use the bathroom, she seemed fine to me but I was climbing in and out of pitchers all night anyway.
Well she was gone taking a squirt when the waitress, Carla, a really cute women a few years younger than me, dark complexion and curly hair, lithe, fit body, came around to clear away the debris of appetizers and empty pitchers to bring us the boar and more beer. Well I was getting raucous, tasteful but raucous and she laughed, threw her head back and touched me on my bare upper arm. It was summer so I was in short sleeves and she laughed, threw her head back and touched me. There was just something there. Not something from her necessarily, which would have been alright by me, but just something there in general. It was like the whole world had opened back up to me, like someone had unscrewed me like a cork out a bottle of wine. Or better yet popped a bottle of champagne.
That was it. She came back, the lady I was with, and she kind of stumbled into the table. Everyone laughed because we were all getting drunker and fatter, deeper in debt and closer to death by the minute and it was funny to be that careless. We knew we’d be risking it all just to drive home in a few hours but you’re lucky to get five minutes of a day when you just don’t give a shit and that was our five minute window, 300 seconds of suspended judgment and concern.
She and I had come together because we both had been done over. Her husband was back in Alabama waiting on the birth of kid with some bitch he was fucking around with while he was married to my date. There was a Christian college and expensive watch involved is all I could remember. This was our third date. The first was nice; we had a good meal and stayed upright. The second one had her putting my dick in her mouth right after she put the kids to bed. I could only imagine what this night held in store after bowling and getting to bed afterwards and that’s when she sat down in the chair next to me like an exhausted dog dying of bone cancer. Hey babe, she said. I was amazed at how she slurred those words. I didn’t think anyone could. Just proves you can be wrong about most anything.
We finished up and went across the street to bowl. It was then I noticed how she was kind of fat, wore too much eye make-up and could outdrink a Russian peasant. Plus she absolutely sucked at bowling. Not that I cared because I’m not competitive or anything; she could have thrown ten frames of gutter balls and that would have been cool with me if only she was a few pounds lighter, hadn’t applied Revlon with a cooking spatula and didn’t tank all that booze in what must have been one if not two wooden legs. And it was booze; gin and tonic to open her eyes then wine with dinner and now PBR’s at the lanes. I imagined it all layering in her stomach like sediments we studied in elementary school, one poison era topping the last until it all bubbled up and out in slurred words if we were lucky and worse if we weren’t. I had heard about drinking so much you’re actually sober and thought for a second that this was my moment of clarity more or less, with a lot of contempt and pity yet to come.
So we went home and when I tried putting her to bed she tried going down on me which didn’t do much for me. She was undaunted and it just kept falling apart from there till she passed out face down on the bed, her pale fat ass getting chicken skin on from the oscillating fan. Then the snoring began, like a chainsaw, I tried to wake her but it didn’t do any good; I was up till 3 then went to the living room futon and plugged in some Coltrane, My Favorite Things, to drown out the coarse, toxic inhalations drawing the paint from my bedroom walls. I woke up at 6 to the same alcohol fueled cacophony, showered, considered rolling her fat ass to the curb but decided it was too heavy to carry down the stairs then went out to Starbucks.
Again, I’m standing there and Collette, who I pretended was from healthy Gallic stock given her name, took my order and I thought of décolletage and noticed a scar on her neck that looked like the consequence of some heavy-duty physical or spiritual violence. We’re all broken or breaking and I decided then and there how some people need more help than others, how I need more help than others because I finally realized that I wasn’t incredibly hung over as expected, that I was in fact as sober as I had ever been in the past three, ten, or twenty years. She smiled and there was a gleam in her eye, a glimmer of hope. I cursed myself for using my debit card instead of cash; we could have touched hands when she gave me change. I slouched away feeling like a criminal in a Japanese existential short-story suddenly consumed by fear like a panic-attack and thinking why the fuck did I waste $2.25 on a blueberry muffin for the body back in my place that had to be disposed of, a body I wanted nothing to do with?
She was still sleeping and snoring when I got back so I sat there for half-hour thinking before she roused from her inebriated slumber. What the fuck was I doing? It was 9 o’clock and I could’ve gotten a lot of shit done already instead of pissing away a Saturday morning waiting for a drunk to wake up. Then when she finally woke up and said, Oh that’s sweet but I don’t like blueberries.
So the entire ride back she kept yapping about what a good time she had and how she wanted to make me dinner and I was just about to turn to her like in those long takes in a movie where someone’s driving but they turn and deliver one of Shakespeare’s soliloquies and say, Baby, you’re in no shape to heat up a can of beans, let alone cook a lasagna dinner, and then slow the car down to a crawl, unlock her door from my armrest control panel, put my Doc Martens to her pudgy flesh-roll of a hip and boot her out onto the shoulder of the interstate just across the SC line with a farewell of Take care of yourself, take care of your kids, etc. when she said Right here is where I rolled my Suburban, right down that embankment and pointed into the petal of a cloverleaf where a shopping cart, car bumper and various and other sundry detritus of our modern age sat in the mid-morning Southern sun. DUI. Got a court date first week of August.
Oh yeah, really? I said like she just told me she got the beans on sale two for one at the Harris Teeter.
What do you do? I didn’t love her. If I felt anything my animosity had burgeoned completely. I had already made up my mind that I wasn’t ever going to see her again, no calls, nothing when we pulled into her driveway and her daughters were there playing with about four or five kittens whose mother was reclining under a dying camellia bush at the far end of the driveway.
Look Mommy, said the older girl, the first words I heard her speak, Mama Tabby had her garbage and she proffered a scrawny little kitten the color of parched farmland and eyes barely open, Can we play with them?
Oh, that’s so sweet, baby doll, but litter, the word is litter she said laughing and then turned to me, So dinner, how about next Saturday?
Litter, the word just stuck with me, working on me.
Yes, that sounds good, oh wait, I have my kids.
Oh no problem, I’m sure they could all play together she said
That wasn’t going to happen. And neither was a goodbye kiss. Her hangover had sucked the blush from her face. I could tell from experience the sweats were about to settle in so when she put her lips forward I backed up and said Oh, the kids and beseeching discretion jerked my head in their direction as they played with the kittens, the whole lot of them bouncing and pouncing and tumbling about in sweet oblivion as if their entire lives stretched ahead of them with nothing but days like this in store. The kids knew better but laughed nonetheless like kids will
I’ve lied to myself before and probably will again. We all do. One thing for another isn’t much of a difference after all but it was the third time those kids saw me and they must’ve have figured something was happening. They knew their daddy wasn’t coming back and maybe at least I made their mommy happy and was staying. But truly it was those goddamn cats I remember the most, especially the mother, a neighborhood stray just swatting her tail lazily under that bush watching all those babies when she could barely keep her eyes open from the heat as they jumped all around having fun, playing without a care in the world. I watched her get up and stretch pushing her front legs out and splaying her claws, dropping her belly to ground, yawn and then rise up, twitch her tail. She had better things to do and walked away.
I thought about how much life sucked when you came to a moment you had to decide who you were gonna help or who you were going to abandon. Then the older daughter came up to me and wanted to give me a kitten So it will have a good home she said. I took the kitten in my hands; it squirmed, cried and tested its teeth on my thumb. It wasn’t her standing there prattling on about dinner, I could have stayed, I’ve done worse, it wasn’t her kids playing and singing and happy. It was those damn kittens jumping around without a care in the world that convinced me to leave. Those goddamn cats saved my life.