I had to write a story for Structure of Fiction, as many of you well know. Unfortunately, it was not my best work by any means. Nevertheless I will post it here for you to shake your head over.
The steady rain fell from the overcast sky by the gallon, slamming into the tender green shoots, bruising them and forcing them back to the ground. Thunder rolled across the land, a gentle roar that soothed and instilled fear into the hearts of man. The clouds performed a modest light show for those who dared to watch, flashing with white and blue streaks of energy.
One man, though, did not see this. He lay on the floor with a blanket over his head, the fabric held tightly between his jaws so it would not move from his face. He had stuffed the cloth into his ears as best he could, wanting desperately to drown out the sound of the rain and storm. He also could not see the lightning outside, and that was good. The man moaned and curled into a fetal position. He’d heard about the approaching storm on the news that night. The meteorologist had predicted an inch of rain for both the evening and early morning hours, with the possibility of a thunderstorm in some areas of the state.
When he had gone to bed that night, he had set his alarm for 4:30 in the morning like he did every day. The other side of the queen bed was empty again, still made up and untouched. How long had it been? No more than a couple days, for sure. It seemed longer. He turned out the light, and irritated by the glowing red digits on the clock, he stuffed his head between the pillow and mattress. It was dark here. He could sleep peacefully.
The first rumble of thunder had shaken him from the land of dreams. The basketball game beckoned to him, but the present time demanded his full cooperation. He groaned and turned in the bed, and that was when the storm made its presence known. He was curled up on the floor within a minute.
He reached out and brushed the edge of the dust ruffle before latching on to it. The fabric in his fist strained at its seams, and a few threads popped loose from their place. He didn’t care. Here in the midst of the storm, he wept.
Morris thought he saw a flash of color in his peripheral vision, so out of curiosity he walked over to that corner of the gym, white towel still around his neck. On closer inspection, the colored dot was a small, star-shaped piece of paper. “Jules is happy,” someone had written on it with glue and glitter. He flipped it over, not really paying attention to his action. The reverse of the paper was blank.
Where had it come from? He put a fist to his mouth and coughed, the sound echoing in the empty room. He ignored the slight metallic taste that registered on his tongue. He was one of the “preferred” members; he had a key and could come whenever he wanted. His job and lack of motivation in personal life had kept him away from the building for a while, and he was thankful there was no one here to see his flab. But back to the question: the children’s play area was on the opposite side of the building, and surely a child would not wonder this far on his own! It puzzled him.
He placed it in his pocket. He would decipher the meaning of it sooner or later. His mind filled with more questions. Who was the child? What did he look like? Was he upset now that he had lost this trinket? All this and more that he had no business thinking, yet his brain churned out thoughts by the dozen.
He breathed, taking in the faint musty smell of the gymnasium. He whipped the towel from his neck and cleaned his nostrils with the fresh warm scent of the water. Then the man rid the towel of the wrinkles beginning to form and folded it; each corner lined up perfectly with its companion, and the creases were so clean that someone not in the know would perhaps assume the man’s accomplishment to be the work of a machine.
His car was locked, an altogether unnecessary precaution considering that there were no humans living within three football field lengths of the gym. It was a habit of his, having picked it up after living in the bustling city for ten years. Every day, some car had been broken into or an unfortunate victim raped or murdered. That was why his wife had asked, no, begged to move out here, where all was quiet and the crime rates were low. He yanked the key fob from his front left pocket and without thinking pressed the only button missing its symbol—the paint had worn off some time ago, gone unnoticed by both of them until one evening over a supper of broiled pork with a side of canned green beans that she had brought it up.
He responded like the ideal husband should, with a grunt of acknowledgement and another bite of food.
“What am I supposed to do about it?” he said at last.
“Well…I thought you might want to know.”
He took a swig of water and sighed in contentment. “Thanks for the info. Should I get a new one?”
“If you’re going to be like that, then…!” She harrumphed and stabbed at a bit of lettuce. “Ginger and Stephen never have this problem.”
He dabbed his mouth with a paper napkin. He hated the cloth ones and told her so. They made him feel dirty. He smacked his lips. “Problem?” he asked. “What kind of problem?”
“I thought…” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “I don’t know what I was going to say,” she said. “Never mind.”
“Did you write much today?”
He shrugged. “A couple pages. I had a block.”
“That’s annoying,” she said. He knew she did not understand what it meant to suffer from his writer’s block. She could pretend to try, but all she ever did was offer half-baked suggestions that made about as much sense as a colorblind artist. Or even better, a deaf musician. But not one like Beethoven. He was an exception, albeit one that in his opinion was overrated. He could never listen to more than five minutes of his work without the urge to bolt from the room, bile threatening to erupt from his throat. “When you get the chance could you pick up Gerty for me tomorrow?”
Another sip. “Hmm?” His tongue rubbed against a shred of lettuce and performed some inhuman acrobatics as he spoke. “She’ll be ready by then?”
“They couldn’t find anything wrong. Apparently she’s pickier than we thought.”
“Ah. Sure, I can get her tomorrow. Did they give a specific time?”
Kaci tapped the stained wooden table with her middle finger, the contact between nail and table expelling a steady series of clicks. If he remembered he just might use the sound in his next story, but how could he describe it? Yes! Like the sound made when he typed on the keyboard every day…no, that didn’t work. He’d have to think about this a little more. “I think they said something about picking her up before noon, but I don’t think it’ll hurt anything if you’re late.”
“Wouldn’t think so,” he agreed.
Gerty had hissed at him all the way to the truck and all the way home. She’d behaved herself, or so the vet said, and quite nicely, too. “In fact, we’ve never had a patient as tolerant as she is!” The doctor went on and on about how great she was, and that he would be thrilled to have her as a patient again. Morris smirked and told him that he hoped she would never have to come back here.
The doctor looked like he had been punched in the face, but he recovered quickly. “Ah, yes, yes you’re right!” He beamed at the scowling cat in the crate. “That would be a good thing!”
Morris wondered what wonderful words the veterinarian had to say about him as soon as the door had closed behind him. “That jerk!” No, far too simple. “Did you see what that egotistical self-indulgent feline-loving man said to me?” Morris cracked a grin. As horrid as that was, it amused him. He especially liked the conflict of senses. Perhaps he could modify the sentence somewhat and let one of the villains say it. He’d get a laugh out of it, but probably no one else would. That was okay.
“Gerty, shut up!” He turned around to glare at the cat, who glowered back and started cleaning herself. “Fine, ignore me.” He turned around and faced the road again. “Ungrateful mongrel cat.” Gerty mewed from the back seat. “Oh, I hear what you’re saying!” He banged his hand against the steering wheel to vent his frustration. “You think you’re all high-and-mighty and that this is an affront to your dignity. And to top it off you have to suffer with the dumb human!” He took a deep breath. “Calm down, Morris. There’s no way that thing could have thought all that.” He sighed. “You need to get out more.”
Kaci had suggested the gym. He had joined that very week, not wanting to disappoint. She had looked him in the eye that evening when he told her the news, then she set her purse down on the worn chair and proceeded into the bedroom, not saying a word. He chased after her only to find the door locked.
“Kaci? Kaci, you okay?”
“Shut up, Morris,” she said. “This is not a good time.”
He searched his mind for the lock pick. If only he could remember where he had put it, then he would force his way in and demand an explanation. At least that was what one of his characters would do. Him? Never.
Gerty thought she deserved more attention than the human gave her. She was upset; her mistress had disappeared, leaving this thing behind to feed her and take care of her. Certainly not what she had in mind. Morris barely noticed that she had wandered off to another room.
The souvenir from earlier that day lay before him, the edges now slightly bent and one star tip ripped completely off. He smoothed it out, chipping away some of the silver glue-and-glitter mixture. He brought his hand up to his face in disbelief, seemingly horrified at what he had done. Then the odd emotion left him, and he brushed the soiled hand against the tablecloth.
Jules is happy.
Where had this come from? he asked himself again. Morris took the fragile paper in his hands and rubbed it between his fingers. Some of the dye in the paper came off when he did this, staining those two fingers a pinkish red hue. Curious, he stuck one finger into his mouth and sucked. Bitter, like the flavor of a pecan, but not as dry. Morris then took the finger out of his mouth, purposely popping his lip as he did so.
Morris stood up and stretched. His back popped, the sound taking with it some of the stresses of the past few days. “I got it!” Misplaced joy surged into his chest, spurring him on. He bolted up the stairs and into his office, where the computer waited. He slammed the door and began to type furiously.
The star soon joined him in the office. He had desperately needed a break, so when he passed by the table again, sandwich in one hand, he snatched up the paper trinket and returned to his work. He looked at it every few minutes, getting a new drive with every glance. Then he decided that it would be better if he could always be looking at it. “I know I have some tape in here somewhere,” he said to himself. And to the characters, who were waiting for him to continue their story. “Calm down, calm down, I’ll be with you in a minute!” One whiny character screamed for resolution. “There,” he said as he patted the paper which now hung on the computer monitor.
Gerty screeched from downstairs. Morris shrugged and continued to type, and page after page filled itself with words. The cat could wait. It could die, even. And still Morris wouldn’t care.
It stormed again that night. Again he could not sleep.
“Kaci!” He gripped the phone tightly. Please say what I want you to say!
“I was wanting to pick up Gerty tomorrow, if that won’t be an inconvenience or anything.”
“Oh, no, no, it’s okay. What time?” He reached for a pad of paper and a pen, ready to scribble whatever she said.
“Around four. I get off work early.”
“Okay, got it.” Morris almost capped the pen, then changed his mind. “Are you going to stay? For dinner or something?”
A sound like static on the other end. “No, Morris. I’m picking up Gerty and leaving.”
“You holding up okay?”
Morris did cap the pen this time. “Yeah, yeah, I’m doing fine. Thanks for asking. You?”
“Coming down with a cold, but I talked to Tom today. I might be getting a raise, too.”
“Never mind. You find a job yet?”
“No. Nothing until I can finish my book, remember?” To amuse himself, he threw the pen at the dull sky blue trashcan on the other side of the closet room. Hit the wall and bounced back. Missed by a foot. He never had been good at sports.
“Okay. Good luck, then. See you tomorrow?”
“Yeah, sure. See you tomorrow.” He put the phone back in its cradle and reread the note he had just written: Gerty With Kaci @ 9:00. She had said four o’clock. He corrected his error and shoved the notepad away. He would probably forget, anyway. “You hear that, cat?” he called. “You’re being evicted tomorrow afternoon!”
Morris clambered down the stairs, already eager to find Gerty’s crate, food dish, and other accessories. He found them all and piled them one atop the other in a sizeable stack beside the front door. Putting the food in the dish was a nice touch, he thought. Orderly. The litter box could wait until the afternoon.
Now Kaci would have to come in.
Gerty mewed when he entered the bedroom. She was standing on the chair, acknowledging him for a second before returning her focus to the prey outside. Morris chuckled. Those blue jays would not lose a fight with her.
“Hear me, cat?” he said. A tear trickled down his cheek. He sniffed. “You’re gone.”