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D.E. Lee

July 27, 2014

The Screaming Cat

 

If you would just get your lazy ass out of bed and come to the walls you would hear it, would know what I’m talking about, would feel in the panels the humming dread, the pain shoved inside that wants letting out, that burns like scraps of hot iron hate.

She glows beneath the thin sheet like a wet green mountain.

I hear nothing. Come to bed.

Listen.

Her foot, furry rat, burrows beneath the sheet, her shield against terror. Are you going to do something, she says. If you won’t, come to bed.

His skin is yellow in the light, boney in the boxers, thin in the T.

Oh, Christ, she exclaims.

Arms extend outward from the corner. An ear sucking the wall for villainous rumblings. Feet splay against the baseboard.

I should nail you to the fucking wall! Come to bed already!

Don’t you hear it?

She’s dumped onto the bed, a leg crossed, entangled in the winding sheet, air thin, knotted about her arms, daring to reach up bare shoulders shiny with sweat. Sheets falling into her lap. Cinnamon sugar breasts waggling free. She pulls on her hair. Now, she says, I hear that.

You hear it?

Your goddam phone. What time is it? Oh, god, it’s fucking three in the morning!

He scrambles across the bed, flips open the phone: Give me the report. The facts. What happened? How many? Where’s the father? Officer’s name? Where? Describe it. Landmarks? Anything else? Anything?

He kisses her briskly the same way he stuffs keys into his pockets and throws on a shirt and slips on shoes and closes the door with a rattling clack. A sound of relief. Another way of not looking.

And then silence soaks the house, which tongue cannot disturb. Her Vaseline lips close. She reaches for the wet nightgown, pulls it on, gives up searching for panties, and boils water. She stares at the red burner, the demon eye glowing like the tip of her cigarette.

Her feet are cold.

 

The cat. Tell me you hear the cat. I know what you say. But you must. You must hear it. The howl is god awful loud. Makes my teeth shatter. Tell me, tell me what to do.

She shakes her head. Twists open a bottle. Hands it to him. I can’t hear a thing, heavy sleeper, right through that shit, you know that.

He takes it. My job is to receive the report, not to make it. He watches her down the barrel. It’s new territory, I don’t know what to do. Beer churns like an ocean down his throat. And you—who could sleep through that noise!

Her eyes are fearful, watery, red. She picks at bread on a plate, examines each catacomb crust before tonguing it, sucking it like a bug between insipid lips.

Don’t scream at me, she says. I sleep with you, I’m not your conscience.

 

A drive around town at three o’clock on wet pavement is a racetrack for his mind. Father arrested. One child sent in an ambulance. The others placed in shelter. A wilted, weeping mother left alone in the company of an overweight sister whose wet carpet smell fumes from her clothing. He hates his job but hates the abusers more. Evil feelings. Blamed entirely for tearing up families, though he is putatively their protector. The drive in the dead of morning. The desolation of grimy trailers and tattered apartments. Among the piles of soiled clothing, streaked floorboards, mangy beds. The drive in the dead of morning like a brisk cleansing shower.

 

He retrieves a notebook from his car. On the way inside he meets Mr. House and his son Jeff. Mr. House from the apartment below. A square man with an infectious, campaigner’s smile. Likes to shake the bones. Jeff’s tall and reticent. Keeps Adidas runners by the door. Never allowed inside. Exhausted by mileage.

Never heard a cat, Mr. House says. No cats around here. See what I’m saying? Not around here. Tell you Jeff’s heading for Rutgers? This fall. Rutgers. A partial scholarship for track and field.

He’s seen him run on the streets. Saw him while he was driving. He was fast, fast like the desperate are fast, those black slabs of muscle in his calves, those shiny hamstrings. He was beautiful like a panther. He thought of pulling over, taking him right then and there to Rutgers, to hell with it all. But he drove past, a report to write, other things to do. He knows it now: he swapped a report for regret.

Haven’t heard a cat, Mr. House says. He owns the dialogue now. He always does. Could be television. The way they rant. Could be. Maybe that’s it. He laughs, it’s all so funny to him.

Jeff stands quietly in the shadow of his shorter father. Eyes barely rising above the ground. Of course he’s nervous. A seismic wreck. As if waiting in line for the gas showers. Yes sir, he says when questioned. Yes sir. Long fingers twitching.

Mr. House claps Jeff on the shoulder: We’re all real proud of him. Rutgers! Tell you what it is: You see those parents let their children roam the streets at night? Not me. I’m fair. But strong. What has to be done. Can’t tell me this boy ain’t the living proof. He knows it. He damn sure knows it. See what I’m saying?

 

The feline lamentation shatters his sleep. Upright he reaches in darkness. His hand plopping into the warm bare belly pudding. At the end of the bed his pants. Creeps barefoot on rough parquet. Behind him she rolls in chunky groans. An arm teetering on the brink of the mattress. Slips his fingers between the blinds. Opens a crack to reveal the white lamplight on the apartment stucco. The kitchen door creaks. Toes cracking on the steps to the common area outside. Dew licking his feet. Cold slithering tongues. Glistening starlight overhead. A roof rat scampers along the gutter. The man sympathetically serene with the rat. What harm could you ever do? Your mind is not my mind. A catapult of shrieks builds in his throat. He considers how big the problem really is, how little he understands, aware many things must never cross his mind, how much he stubbornly ignores. The screaming cat is in the apartment. In Jeff’s room. The rat scuttles by willfully ignorant. Your mind is not my mind. Your mind . . . he shudders . . . is not my mind. And he whispers: Go on twitchy fellow. I can’t think about it either.

 

He sits for hours in court. The case takes twenty minutes. The judge returns the children to the mother. With services. He leaves court and sits with a co-worker at a concrete table crumbled like the target of a suicide bomber.

How do you keep caring?

Who says I do?

That’s what we do isn’t it?

Tell you that in social work school.

Are you ever frozen?

All the time—who wants to be a home wrecker?

You stopped caring . . . when’d you stop?

First bleeding anus I saw on a five-year-old.

Why still doing it?

I’m mad, one reason; the other: everyone else thinks I care and I can’t let them down.

Yeah, I hate it, too.

 

He rolls through interstate traffic. The cell chimes. He puts it to his ear. Other hand steering behind a garbage truck. He knees the wheel, keeping the car straight, turning down the radio: What is it, honey?

Heard anything?

It’s Jeff . . . he’s dead.

Jeff? Of course. Jeff. I should’ve known.

Too late for that—did you do anything?

I’m not to blame—

I just sleep with you, what can I say?

Soon the name’s a background sound like papers shuffling in a busy office. But at three o’clock on the wet pavement, he asks it. Is there a god to have mercy on me?

His hands twitch. He wants to vomit.

 

At midnight he stands in boxers by the wall and looks back and says, You still love me? In spite of it all?

She’s in a Hello Kitty tank but otherwise salty naked. For better or worse, she says.

Everything I do’s a testament, he says. But my boundaries are wobbling. I should have said something. Should have. Didn’t. Not a thing. That scares the hell out of me.

Come into the sloppy bed with me, she says, patting the mattress.

 

 

 

 

 

When he’s not writing, D. E. Lee is kayaking or riding his fixie. His fiction appears in The Emerald Coast Review, Alligator Juniper, Broad River Review, Mixed Fruit, Prick of the Spindle and others. He is a 2013 Pushcart Prize nominee, Honorable Mention in the December 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open, and a finalist for the 2014 Nelson Algren Award.

 

 


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 15, 2014 11:11 am

    Reblogged this on Liar's Moon.

  2. November 15, 2014 11:27 am

    Really enjoyed reading that, thank you.

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