>Into my inbox a week or so ago, there arrived a notice of an upcoming literary evening in an Oshawa coffee house, with an invitation for writers to read their work. What I wanted to read was my new piece, but I had just entered it in a contest and it was quite possible that first and/or second tier judges for that contest would be present. Ten minutes reading time was allotted for each writer. My short stories are long and I couldn’t see a suitable chunk that would stand alone. I scrolled through the Weather Vane manuscript and chose a scene. By the time I took the plunge and offered to read, all twelve spots had been filled, but I was given a standby position.
A couple of the readers didn’t show up, so I did have the opportunity to read. I imagined that I wasn’t nervous.
Simon has filed for custody. The daughter, Sophia, is four years old. After receiving the proposal from Simon’s lawyer, Beth invites Simon to talk about the arrangements and seduces him. They have a night of very hot sex. This scene takes place as he goes out into the early morning:
Sun was a thin silver wire along the rooftops as Simon stepped into the street. The world was greyscale: dirty snow, strips of pavement exposed from the heat of tires, a lone car’s engine muffled in the heavy air. Ice as fine as tissue paper lay over the sidewalk. Across Walmer Road, a crouched shape ran, its head elongated and out of proportion to its feline body. At the sidewalk it stopped, the end of its oddly shaped head touching the ground. Simon approached with caution, a rabid fox, perhaps, although it seemed too small. As the dawn light sharpened the edges of objects and buildings, it cast its light on the creature that Simon now could see was a cat; calico and white with the long slender body of a Siamese. A cat whose head was firmly stuck inside a jar.
As he squatted, extending his hand to soothe the cat, Simon spoke, “How did you manage that?” But as soon as the cat registered his touch, it erupted into a frenzy of claws, limbs lashing in all directions. Simon had managed to grasp the jar for an instant, and when the cat leapt away from him and crouched again at the entrance to an alley, he saw that one long ear had been released. The jar was still covering all the rest of the animal’s face. Simon stepped closer, clicking his tongue and murmuring. Just as he reached out to the cat, it jumped high and shot down the alley. Simon straightened, pursed his lips, and pressed the heel of his hand against his temple. He stood peering into the dark passageway, but couldn’t see the cat. Fatigue swept through him like sudden wind. His legs felt like mud, and the smell drifting up from under his clothes reminded him of fish corpses with their empty eye-sockets decaying on the beach. He turned back toward the street, toward blue and green cars carrying people to work, toward home. He sighed, and followed the cat deeper into the alley. “Here puss puss. Come here, I just want to help you,” he called.
Tucked into a doorway, the cat crouched, its head facing out. Simon’s hand snapped out and closed around the jar. The cat’s body jumped and twisted. “That’s it, you pull,” Simon said, as he held fast the jar. There was a soft pop, and the cat’s head yanked free. For a second it was still, its huge eyes reflecting the first rays of orange sun, long dirty ears flared, and then it sprang away, its graceful body a streak of white and gold along the alley’s winter brick.
He watched it go, shaking his head. “What was that all about?” he said aloud. All the way home, he turned over the image of that animal in his mind.
He turned on to Crawford Street, the sun staining the clouds pink and purple. No time for sleep; just a shave and a shower and several cups of strong coffee, and no thinking. No more thinking. Not about Sophia, and please god not about Beth, and not about that cat muzzled and suffocating just for trying to get a little taste of something good.