Saint Catherine’s Baby – Stories (Excerpt)
Moving Up – Part 2 (Conclusion)
There I was with my stuffed dog and my mother’s eyes. The neighbor’s door slammed and the TV in the apartment below squawked like a rap song on downers. The water in the pot I’d put on the stove was boiling, the shrieking whistle increasing in velocity. I looked in those eyes, saw my reflection and wondered out loud, “Why did you leave? Where did you go?”
I went to the stove, turned off the kettle and poured what little water was left over my oolong tea. I turned up the volume on the radio, which I must have left on went to work. The announcer said the guy playing the violin had once played for change on the streets of Paris and now graced the stages of concert halls around the world.
I returned to the recliner, put the dog in my lap and hugged its neck. I closed my eyes and drifted off, as my reassuring nightmare gracefully returned.
The snake-eyed woman oozed out of the festering sore, her hands and bony fingers reaching for my throat. She whispers, “Die my love. Die a slow death. There is nothing but pain and sadness.” Her cold fingertips tighten on my Adam’s apple, as I flail with clenched fists to beat my way free, my knuckles smashing into her skeletal face without any impact. Her face changes into a tornado, sucking me in and spitting me out between her thighs. My heart muscle has been shredded into little pieces and is being flushed down the sewer.
My hand slid off the armrest and hit the floor. I found myself sitting in a chair, holding a stuffed dog with marble eyes. The phone was ringing again. I answered.
“What? Oh, hi Annie.”
“What’s up?” she asked.
“Where were you? I called earlier.”
“I must have been in the shower.” I lied.
“How’s your new job?” she asked, disdain seeping through her cheerful “everything is always great” voice.
“OK, I guess. I found the coolest dog.”
“A dog?!” her voice raised an octave. “I thought animals weren’t allowed . . .”
“No, they aren’t allowed here. Not a dog dog . . . it’s a stuffed dog. It’s in great shape. I can’t believe somebody threw it away. And it’s big. I mean really big! If I stand on end it almost reaches my head. And the coolest part is its eyes. They don’t look normal. They’re all glassy, deep black and vacant like. They remind me of . . . well . . . they’re very cool. You’ve got to see it.”
“I’ve got Springer,” she replied, “a real dog. Why on earth would I care about a fake one from the dump?”
“Well, no. I guess you wouldn’t.”
“You could have a real dog,” she pleaded, “if you weren’t so stubborn and moved out here.”
“Well . . . I’ll just have to enjoy my ‘pretend’ dog by my old stubborn self.”
“Don’t go all sad and sorry for yourself on me. You know what I mean.’
“Yeah, I know. Grow up, right?”
“You said it, not me,” she laughed.
She always wanted me to be someone or somewhere different, but she kept calling and seeing me anyway. If I could mint how many times she’d said, “Grow up.” I’d be a billionaire. I have grown up! I like my life just fine. It’s safe, secure and pathetically terminal . . . except for my nightmares. They may leave me sweating in terror, but they’re consistent, predictable and more painfully present then anybody I’ve known dead or alive. She keeps hoping I’ll change. She’s like that, full of faith and seeing the good in people. Some folks can’t help it.
“Why don’t you come stay with me this weekend? We could take Springer to the lake, go fishing and camp out at Crescent Cove.”
“Sure, but I’ve got to work Saturday morning. I’ll drive out in the afternoon. Maybe we could get in a little hook and sinker Sunday morning.”
“I guess that will have to do. See you then.”
“Later,” I said and hung up.
The truth be known, I could only handle being with Annie for a day, two max. Something about her always made me feel inadequate, like I was lacking some prime ingredient for her stew.
I looked at the chair and saw the dog had fallen on the floor. I picked it up, brushed it off and found myself staring at those eyes again. They held me like a voodoo curse. I shook myself free and placed it by the wall, under the window with the dirty blinds I never open.
It’s been a year since I started working at the dump. Annie finally got smart and left me alone. I heard she’s hooked up with some organic strawberry farmer who loves the country and has lots of “real” dogs. I’m still living in the same immaculately disastrous apartment, enjoying a Sunday to myself and reading the paper. The stuffed dog I found last year is still lying under the window, sagging a little more in the midriff, obediently collecting dust. I pick it up now and then, whenever I need a good shot of collected misery.
I put down my cup of cold coffee and am drawn to an interesting add.
WANTED. NIGHT DRIVERS. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY. WILL TRAIN. REFERENCES REQUIRED. CALL SEASON’S MORTUARY. 639-4518.
“Well now,” I say out loud, “talk about a dream job. I think I’ll call them first thing in the morning.”