Welcome back to the seventh installment of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. The previous chapters can be found here and on the soon to be launched website.

Chapter Seven was written by my good friend Mike Hancock. A former commercial fisherman and outdoors and wilderness guide, Hancock currently teaches English and writing at Southern New Hampshire University, where he received his MFA in Creative Writing. If Cormac McCarthy, the author of bleak western novels No Country for Old Men and The Road, were to handpick a successor, Hancock's name would be in the running. But don't take my word for it. Read some of his published fiction in Xenith, Red Fez, the front view, and The Tower Journal to see for yourself.

All that said, if you ever drive across Oklahoma with him, be sure to print out directions first.

Picture
Me with Mike Hancock in Eureka Springs, Arkansas
            She opened her clenched fist, a handful of white sand blowing away with the heavy winds. A child’s hands. She stood barefoot on the beach, the wet sand wedged between her toes, staring out at the serene expanse of the Pacific, running wide, azure blue, the sunset reflecting its rays in a highway of gold, the dull rhythmic roar of the tide coming in. She glanced back, and there, perched under a palm tree, was a black cat, its tail curled around its haunches, gazing with yellow eyes. She smiled, and the cat meowed, strolled up to her, rubbed against her skinny leg. She bent down, scratched behind its ears.

            “What’s the answer, Tequila Kitty?” she whispered.

            The cat looked up at her, its eyes intent.


Chapter Seven - Mike Hancock

“Nice story,” Kitty said.

She smiled, the sharp smell of his whisky breath burning her nose, and she fought the urge to sneeze. Least it wasn’t bad breath, or B.O. That shit was the worst. It was usually her luck that the smelly bastards wanted a lap dance during the long ass hair band songs. Jesus.

“Crazy, right? One big fucking epic dream. Couldn’t wait to tell you.”


Weird kid, thought Kitty. Been at the club every weekend night. Couldn’t be more than twenty-one, twenty-two years old. Pale, glasses. Came by himself. Only a few years older than her son, she realized. But he always asked for her. Mommy issues, she thought.

“So why was the cat a guy?” she asked.

His cologne, which Kitty thought he practically bathed in, gave her a headache.

“Dunno. I guess in the dream, I was Sarah the dog.”

He laughed, Kitty pranced around, then straddled him, willed herself not to breathe in the clash of odors. Her hands gripped his bony shoulders, felt the growing bulge in his pants. She wondered if he had ever been laid. In between gyrations, she discreetly checked her watch. Good. Almost closing time.

The song wound down, the deejay’s booming voice thundered through the dim lights.

“And that was Lusty Laura on the stage. Give it up, gentlemen! Lusty Laura!”

A short-haired, petite blonde gave one final twirl, shook her butt, and bounced down the stage stairs, plastic smile, and equally plastic tits. Kitty had hers done, too. She called it “overhead”.

***

She parked the ancient Buick in the gravel driveway, got out, slammed the door shut. Dropping the cigarette butt, she trudged to the rickety front porch, hearing the usual voices on the television. Her mother in her decrepit recliner, her head tilted, mouth ajar, asleep. Kitty turned off the t.v., silencing that goddamn Pat Robertson and all of his “700 Club” minions. Her mother adored him.

In her bedroom, she kicked off her heels, reaching between her mattress, pulled out her gear. Second nature, could do it in her sleep. Shooting up, getting a guy off, all the same. Tourniquet wrapped tight, she crushed, added water, heated, let cool, drew it out with the syringe. There. Oh yes.

Carefully putting everything back, she lay down, tapped the vein, injected.

Euphoric rush, the day flashing briefly, then gone. The kid and his epic, two-song long blabbering about that stupid cat that some dumbass gave her stage name: Tequila Kitty. She couldn’t remember how many shots she had to down bought by the horny fuckers thinking she actually liked tequila.

But all gone now, all the mistakes, her bigot mother, her gay son who kept getting his ass kicked in school, her uninterested boyfriend. Sweet nothingness. She stared up at the ceiling, flat white, blank slate. Nothing mattered now.

***

“Mom.”

The hazy image of her son, David, sharpened as Kitty opened her eyes. Her mouth dry, felt like a cat shit in it. She half-smiled at the irony, grunted.

“Got any cash?”

He leaned against the open door, the long bangs of his thick black hair obscuring one eye. Tight orange t-shirt, belly button exposed, jeans.

“You can’t wear that to school.”

“They can’t tell with my jacket. Money?”

“For?”

He sighed, rolled his eyes.

“Ever hear of Valentine’s Day? My boyfriend expects something, you know. Well, besides other things.”

“Fornicator!”

Well, Mom’s up, Kitty thought.

“In my purse, twenty dollars. That’s it.”

David left, and Kitty groaned as she rose out of bed, noticed the empty syringe still lying on the rumpled sheets. Turned to the dresser mirror. Thin, bloodshot blue eyes reflected back at her through disheveled brown hair. Crow’s feet, lines forming around her mouth. She traced the wrinkles with her finger, and walked to the shower.

***

“What?” Tuna asked.

Kitty put down her cell, blew out a stream of cigarette smoke. She and her best friend, Tuna Tartar, were having lunch in downtown Beaumont, oyster po’boys and fries, oil-stained men in coveralls around them, stealing glances.

“Didn’t call. Didn’t text.”

Tuna peered at her, her chocolate brow furrowed.

“Don’t know why you mess with that fool. Can have any man you want.”

Kitty gazed out the cracked window, pickup trucks whizzing by, the feed store, the looming hardwoods beyond.

“Not any man. Ever want a different life? Be a different person? Somebody that would be in the same league with the man you want?”

Tuna cocked an eyebrow.

“Girl, you trippin’. Ain’t no other Tequila ‘cept you.”

Kitty laughed.

“What better friend can a Kitty have than Tuna?”

“Yeah, but watch out, because mess with me, and I’ll get tart on that ass.”

“Like sucking on a lemon?”

“Tarter, sugar. Like biting into a lime right before a shot of…”

“Tequila!” they said together, giggling at the old joke. Gray-haired men turned, glanced up and down, back to their food.

***

Back at the house, Kitty sat on her bed, gazed at the empty screen of her phone.

“Fuck it,” she whispered, and dialed the number.

“Hello?”

“Misael, it’s Kitty.”

“Hey you. Just finished a video conference, en route to a two o’clock meeting with a client. What’s up?”

She inhaled deep.

“Just wanted to hear your voice. And wish you a happy Valentine.”

A pause.

“Damn. Yes. I for…what? Okay, yeah.”

“Huh?”

“Sorry. My partner just reminded me about a phone call I need to make. Listen, babe, can I call you back?”

“Sure.”

***           

Another mix, heated up, injected. Blissful burn. Kitty walked outside, careful not to wake her napping mother, went around to the back, came to the edge of the hardwoods that lined the creek, the oaks, the elms, the magnolias. She wore jeans, but her sandaled feet were tickled by the thick grasses, the bluestems, the needlegrasses. Following a narrow game trail, she made her way to the water, just a meandering trickle over sandy bottoms, crowded narrow with the vegetation.

Finding a soft cluster of bunch grasses near the bank, she sat, lay back, the hardwoods on either side of the creek forming the sky into a wide, cobalt blue road, spotted with cotton clouds. Kitty gazed up at the spectacle, hands behind her head, imagined floating through the cool air above the tops of tallest oaks, high enough to see the vast expanse of the gulf waters to the east, and the miles of dense forest to the west.

“Mom?”

Kitty laughed. David made his way through the grass, holding a ziplock bag of crackers and a water bottle, plopped down next to her.

“At your place again. Now what?” he said.

“What nothing, my love, what nothing.”

David brought his knees to his chest, stuck a stem of grass between his teeth, stared at the slow-moving water.

“You got to get off that shit, Mom. I’m not going to always be around, you know?”

“I will, baby. Just need it to get through some stuff. I will.”

“No, I mean now. It’s been close to six months since you started. The drinking and weed was bad enough. Tired of protecting your ass.”

Kitty turned to him.

“Protect?”

“From grandma. You left your shit out in the open bunches of times. How do you think it gets back under the mattress?”

He spat out the grass stem.

“Here. You need this.”

Taking the water bottle, he gently brought her head up, held the edge to her lips. Kitty sipped gingerly, her eyes cast away from him.

“We’re going to sit you all the way up, okay?”

“Don’t want to.”

“Have to, Mom. You need to eat something.”

She turned to him, placed her hand on his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, David. So sorry.”

He brought her upright, handed her the crackers, stared at the ground.

“It’s okay. I want you to get better, that’s all.”

Kitty began sobbing, tears dripping from her cheeks, sprinkling on the blades of grass.

“You’re not going to leave me. Can’t leave me.”

“Not until I get out of high school. But I’ll be back to visit.”

“I need you.”

David sighed, kept his eyes lowered.

“Eat your crackers, Mom. Then we’re going back inside.”


***

They hiked back, David holding Kitty steady, telling her to step over the occasional exposed root, half-submerged rock, guiding her around the low-hanging limbs. Reaching the front porch, he opened the door. His grandmother sat in her chair, the television blaring. She lifted the remote, turned down the volume.

“Kitty, what the hell happened to you?”

“Not now, Grandma. She’s having a bad day, that’s all.”

She took off her glasses, wrinkled face scowling.

“Bad day my ass. She’s drunk, or on something.”

“Leave her alone. Go back to your religious shows and cheer for the murdered gay people in Uganda,” David said.

“What they get for sinning. They want to go against natu…”

David stopped, quickly turned to her.

“Shut the fuck up, you stupid old bitch.”

Grandma gasped, her mouth tightened. Realizing she still had the remote in her hand, she hurled it at him, the remote glancing off his shoulder, hitting Kitty in the mouth. She let out a cry and ran to her room, slammed the door.

“It’s my goddamn house, you little faggot!”

David turned away, walked back to his room.

“Why don’t you just die, and take your ignorant shit with you,” he said, closing the door.

Grandma got up, ambled over to the remote lying on the floor, grunted as she stooped to pick it up.

In her room, Kitty lay on her bed, face buried in her pillow. She thought of David’s father, out of his life for sixteen out of his seventeen years, god knows where now. Dead or in prison, probably, while he was around dishing out beatings in between gulps of whiskey and sporadic employment. David, for years having to deal with one guy after the next. And then Misael, beautiful, kind Misael. The first white-collar man David had ever been around, Misael accepted him without prejudice, spending time with him, taking him shopping, out for pizza. First man that really paid attention to him.

Kitty tried for weeks to keep where she worked a secret after meeting him in a chance grocery store encounter, telling him she was a waitress. After repeated requests that he visit her there, last week she finally relented and told him the truth. And now, the distance, the stifled emotion, the invisible wall.

He’s as good as gone.

So do something else, dumbass.

With what skills? Where else can I make that kind of money? Mom’s social security doesn’t cover shit. No. Gotta make sure David has what he needs. Because I need him.

You need him? How normal is that, bitch?

After a few minutes, she closed her eyes, fell asleep.

She opened her clenched fist, a handful of white sand blowing away with the heavy winds. A child’s hands. She stood barefoot on the beach, the wet sand wedged between her toes, staring out at the serene expanse of the Pacific, running wide, azure blue, the sunset reflecting its rays in a highway of gold, the dull rhythmic roar of the tide coming in. She glanced back, and there, perched under a palm tree, was a black cat, its tail curled around its haunches, gazing with yellow eyes. She smiled, and the cat meowed, strolled up to her, rubbed against her skinny leg. She bent down, scratched behind its ears.

“What’s the answer, Tequila Kitty?” she whispered.

The cat looked up at her, its eyes intent.


“This isn’t your life,” it said. “Go find it.”

“How do I…”

“Mom.”

Kitty opened her eyes, momentarily dazed.

“Huh?”

“I told Rafael that I’d meet him at the movies. We’re going to see Spiderman, and oh my god, Andrew Garfield. Know him?”

She lay there sideways facing him, her hair strewn over her cheek.

“Yes, David. I’m not blind yet.”

He smiled, his eyes dancing.

“So beautiful. That hair. That body.”

She slid her legs from under the blanket, put her feet on the floor, rubbed her eyes, yawned.

“Awkward. Tell me about your boyfriend, sweetie. We’ve never really talked about him. How long have you two been dating?”

He sat on the bed next to her.

“Couple of weeks. Sixteen days, actually. We try to be cool about it at school. Nobody knows except my best friend Janell, and she won’t tell anybody.”

“Rafael. Cute name.”

“I know, right? He’s got dark hair like ours, about 5’8, broad shoulders, but not muscle-ly, you know? Gorgeous brown eyes.”

Kitty got up, put on jeans, high-heels.

“What kind of guy is he, shy or no?”

“Oh my god yes. He kind of gets annoyed with my rants.”

“Tell him to join the club.”

“Whatever. But he’s into the political thing like I am. And tumblr. My man has to love tumblr.”

Kitty glanced at the mirror, put her hair up in a ponytail, faced him.

“Well, all right, you little shit, you ready?”

“Of course.”

She grabbed her purse, slung it over her shoulder.

“Hey,” she said. “I’m proud of you. And I want you to be happy. Always.”

David grinned, stared at the floor.

“I know, Mom.”

***

She drove the Buick quietly through town, past the mall, grocery and hardware stores, café. David had his finger to his lips, thinking. He finally turned to her.

“Hey Mom, you said you need that shit to get through some stuff. What stuff?”

Kitty stared at the road ahead, sporadic cars and trucks chugging by. She took a long drag on her cigarette, exhaled slowly.

“Told you about me growing up, remember?”

“Yeah. It sucked. Said your dad killed himself.”

A pause.

“Can’t blame the guy, being married to the wench.”

“C’mon, David. A little disrespectful. She IS my mo…”

“Who hates your son.”

“I don’t think she hates you. She just comes from a different time, you know? Can’t understand that you didn’t have a choice.”

He shrugged his shoulders, gazed out the window.

“But that’s beside the point,” she said. “I never told you how he did it.”

He turned to her, an eyebrow raised.

“Well?”

She sighed, another drag, stubbed the butt out in the ashtray.

“I was in high school, not too long before I got pregnant with you. It was at night. Dad had been drinking, of course. Through the walls I heard them get into it. Mom’s yelling something about him sneaking around on her. Could hear him tell her it was bullshit. Usual stuff. I just turned up the radio, like always.”

“Let me guess, Bon Jovi, right?”

“You gonna shut up and let me finish? And piss off, not that old.”

“Okay, okay.”

“They’re going back and forth, and I hear him say ‘No you’re not’, then I heard what sounded like a light bulb breaking, a little pop, and then a scream.”

Kitty turned off the main drag, onto the two lane.


“Should’ve never left my room,” she said.

David sat, wide-eyed, arms crossed. The overcast skies turning to an angry gray, thick droplets of rain began to pelt the Buick. David quickly rolled his window up.

“So what happened then?”

“I ran downstairs, and there was my father, slumped over the kitchen table. Blood on the walls, all over the table. Saw the pistol lying on the floor next to him.”

“Jesus,” David said. “Why did he do it?”

Kitty gulped, cleared her throat. Should I be telling him this now? Is he old enough? Screw it. He deserves the truth. And you started the damn story, might as well finish it.

“Your grandfather was touching me, David. In a bad way. I never spoke with your grandma about it, hell, she wouldn’t talk about it, but that night I think she threatened to turn him in to the police.”

“Mom, I’m sorry.”

“So that’s it. Guess it’ll be with me forever.”

Kitty pulled into the theatre parking lot, parked.

“There’s other ways of dealing with it, you know,” he said. “We’re going to make you better.”

“Okay, sugar. Now get that out of your head, and go have some fun with Rafael. I love you.”

“Thanks, Mom. Love you, too.”

David quickly got out of the car, slammed the heavy door. Kitty watched him dart across the lot, behind the dozens of parked cars and trucks, shielding his head from the pouring rain.

He didn’t see the van coming.

Kitty burst out of her car.

“David!”

It hit him head-on, David flying forward, crashing into the concrete, a crumpled figure. The van stopped, a group of teenagers got out, rushed toward him.

Kitty sprinted toward the small group gathered around. Felt like she was watching all of this from above, like she was somebody else, no feeling, no thought. Numb. She tried to scream, tried to wail, but there was nothing.


She shoved past the cluster of kids, saw the blood welling up, the rain carrying it away. David, curled up, one leg twisted, his head split open.

“911! Call 911!,” she heard from somewhere far off.

Kitty fell to her knees. The world around her spinning, the gray clouds, the red concrete merging, all the people hazy, distant voices, hands on her arms, trying to lift her up.

And she fainted.

Head raging, Kitty half-opened her eyes to the searing sunlight. Bad dream. Just a bad dream. The events from yesterday, sirens screaming, the paramedics placing him on the stretcher, she riding with them as they sped toward the hospital. And later, the words she knew was coming from the start from the doctor: He was pronounced dead at…

“Bullshit. Bullshit, David.”

She jumped out of bed, threw open her door, stormed down the hall to his room.

“Quit fucking with me!”

Opening the door, she inspected the room. Empty. Unmade bed. Rumpled jeans on the floor. A sock. Posters adorning the walls, a laptop still on, tumblr on the screen. Like someone swung a bat at her stomach, all the air gone. She picked up the sock, lay on his bed, cradled it to her face, sobbed.

Voices through the walls. Her mother talking to somebody. The voices getting heated. Drumming footsteps, louder. The door opened.

Tuna didn’t speak. She walked over to the bed, got in, curled up next to her, slid her caramel arm around Kitty’s waist.

“I love you, my sweet angel,” she whispered. “I’m staying with you through this. And after, we’re heading west. Getting you out of here, Miss Kitty.”

Kitty held Tuna’s arm, thought back to the dream the day before while David sat in class, his whole life ahead of him. She was a little girl, staring at the ocean’s horizon, a cat by her side, with all the knowledge to take away the problems of the world, to make her whole again.

So what’s the answer, Tequila Kitty?

 
 
Welcome to the resumption of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty. I would first like to apologize for the break in action in our chronicles. Tequila Kitty was away for a family wedding and, on his way back to Vegas, he was sidetracked by a twice in a lifetime opportunity (this cat has been and seen places) to see Mount Rushmore.

This week's chapter is brought to you by y0urs truly. As the creator of the idea, I still wanted to participate, and I held myself to the same rules as the other writers involved: as such I did not know where the story was going until I saw the third chapter by Brian Lepire. For those new to the novel, Chapters One and Two by Christopher Chik and Aimee Hamel can be found by clicking on the links.


Without further ado, here's Chapter 4:



It was never supposed to be like this. I was raised in a normal household, just one in a litter of six. How I got to this point...how I became known as Tequila Kitty (Tequila is not the name my owners gave me); where I got the sombrero that seems to be stapled on my head like Fozzie’s hat...well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe it. But everything I’m about to tell you is the tequila-soaked truth.
-excerpt from Chapter 4: How I Started, by Darren Cormier

Tequila Kitty Ch. 4: How I Started

It was never supposed to be like this. I was raised in a normal household, just one in a litter of six. How I got to this point--the most unwanted cat in Vegas, scrambling to maintain my six remaining lives, with just 24 hours to somehow track down $5500 to prevent getting killed by a Zuckerberg wannabe, and former protégé who wanted to be oh so much more, with my ribs almost broken, bloody whiskers, and my tail between my legs...well, I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe it. But everything I’m about to tell you is the tequila-soaked truth.

Just like everything in this town, it’s all due to a dame. That plastic, feline version of Joan Rivers--Hello, to be specific. But that’s not where it began… and I haven’t started drinking enough today to tell you that story just yet.

Where to begin… How I got involved in the mixed-up criminal underworld? how I became known as Tequila Kitty (Tequila is not the name my owners gave me); where I got the sombrero that seems to be stapled on my head like Fozzie’s hat? Poor Fozzie: tried to make it on the strip as a comedian and when he couldn’t bring in the crowds like he used to—after a certain point “wokka wokka wokka” can only carry you so far—he just ran out of material…fast—the owners of the Palace kicked him to the curb. Got hooked on speed. When he couldn’t pay his debts, they reinforced the brim and stapled the hat to his head. He can never remove it. This town is a cruel, dysfunctional mistress. You might try to leave, it might be what’s best for you, in your best interests, best for your health, but you can’t. Once you’ve tasted it once, you’re here to stay. They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. But with Vegas, once you’ve made it once, you don’t want to make it anywhere else. Everywhere else is just being a shnook, or in my case, a mangy alley cat.

Anyway…

As I said, I was one of a litter of six. Once ma had us, we lasted a few weeks before the owners tried to find us better homes. And before you try to pin all of this on the fact that my mother didn’t love us, all feline mothers are the same. After two weeks, you stay out of their way or you get whacked. Feline moms are a mafia of one.

Those first few months, though, were a kitten’s paradise: races up stairs, red laser lights, marbles and yarn, and ma carrying us around in her mouth. Unlike my brothers and sisters, I was born with opposable paws, so I had better grip, faster reflexes. Yeah, I was a prodigy cat. But I still hadn’t developed the ability to talk or walk on my hind legs yet so I was at this point just a very advanced feline. After three weeks all my brothers and sisters were gone, except me and Paulie: the runt. He had one folded over ear, a lopsided eye, and when he ran, he tripped over his back paws. He looked like Sasquatch sat on his head. One of our brothers once pinned him down, but after I took care of him… don’t ask what happened: I’m not proud of that day. But let me tell you this: if you ever messed with Paulie, you messed with me, too, I think the Newmarks realized Paulie wouldn’t survive without me there. Really, it was the other way around. And I don’t think they tried very hard to find a home for him. They felt bad for us. So there we stayed with the Newmarks.

The first few months were fun: exploring the house, exploring the giant barn at the far end of the yard. To us it seemed like it was a farm, but we’re cats: we’re one foot long, 18 inches tops. What perspective do we have on distance? Obviously now that I’ve been around the world and flown in the nicest private planes you can think of, hell, I jumped off the freakin’ top of the Eiffel Tower once (bad catnip experience, that’s all I can say, but I did land on my feet), since I’ve done all of that, I have a better idea of what the distance is, but at the time me and my nearsighted brother, we had no idea about size. But what he lacked in ability, he made up for in smarts. Smart as a fuckin’ tack, that Paulie. (Yeah, mixed metaphor. Who cares? I just had my ribs kicked to shit, okay? I’m sleeping under a dumpster at the far end of the strip. Far cry from the penthouse, okay? Give me a break.)

Paulie had the brains, I had the ability. We would chase down anything in that yard: mice, moles, squirrels, foxes, birds, deer. Yup, deer. One time. We had a system. I’d patrol the far area and swipe their faces with my claws, immobilizing and temporarily blinding them. I’d then corral them towards Paulie at the far side of the shed, who was waiting underneath the ramp for them to stagger by. Never underestimate how vicious a cat who can’t run well can be. Talk about somebody with something to prove. But, like I said, he had the brains. He’s the one who helped me figure out how to use my paws to my advantage, how to climb into the best possible places for food and jumping onto unsuspecting mice. If Paulie could have talked, there’s no doubt we’d be running the strip right now. He’s the one, who when I first got involved with the Dice Kids, taught me the best strategies for playing poker. And had Paulie not been there to teach me chess, I wouldn’t have been able to get out of that den in Chinatown. Chess roulette they called it, a combination of exactly what it sounds like. If you were checkmated, you held the gun to your temple. My paws, although I was able to hold the gun, were not strong enough to pull the trigger, but that’s a different story. I still wasn’t about to lose to Fingers Johansson. Dude was born with seven fingers on each hand. And after every move against him, he would just point and laugh. Yeah, yeah. I get it. I’m a talking cat. It’s a freaking novelty, I know. Get over it and play the game already, Fingers. The look on his face when I dragged him into an Accelerated Dragon…

Anyway… I’m getting off topic again.

That lasted a few years. We mostly stayed out of ma’s way, and she mostly didn’t try to rip our tails off. It was a mutual understanding. On a good day, she’d just give us the stink eye when we tried to eat a little too much of her food, and on other days, she’d let us get on the same couch as her. I can remember once, when ma was sitting on the youngest daughter’s lap, we each jumped up as well, sitting next to her and rubbing up against the sides of her legs. Now granted, the mom and older daughter were there so ma didn’t have to share the petting—we were each getting petted—but ma didn’t try to shew us off. Didn’t even hiss once. I think Aimee had a lot to do with this.

The Newmarks had three daughters: Erin, Michelle, and Aimee. Aimee was the youngest, and each daughter kind of warmed up to each of us: Erin had ma, Michelle had Paulie (Paulie would purr like a freight train when she picked him up); and Aimee chose me. What can I say? The girl had good taste.

This is how it was for a while, though: Paulie and me running around and killing anything in the yard and staying out of Ma’s way. Over time we’d get into more trouble, as he realized what my double paws and leaping ability made me capable of. We would start taking time in the barn and, instead of eating the dead mice or bringing them inside to Ma or Erin or Mr. Newmark, Paulie would hide them on the top of a landing that was just out of reach for me to jump to. He wanted to see how far I could stretch and see if I could start walking like Napoleon. He had heard Michelle talking about this book she was reading about a bunch of talking animals and one of them was a pig who by the end could walk on his hind legs. I don’t know how he knew what they were saying, but he did and he would scratch out things for me or, as he heard them say something, he would point to it in the house and told me to listen more. I owe everything to Paulie and if he were here now, I’m sure he could help me figure out a way to get that asshole Craig his $5500. Which isn’t even his debt. He stole that from the Dice Boys. It’s them that I owe the money to all because of that bitch Hello. (I know a cat can’t be a bitch, but you know how trustworthy dames can be. I’d say I trust her as far as I could throw her, but if I ever found her again, I could throw her a helluva far way, so that metaphor’s moot.)  I know the Dice Boys, I grew up with them, they and Paulie made me what I could have been, and I know that they wouldn’t care about the debt.

Anyway… back to Paulie. He’d have me hide the mice on these landings and wouldn’t let me jump. He couldn’t do anything to me, so he didn’t intimidate me with beatings or whacks and he was just as nervous about Ma as I was, but if Paulie asked me to do something or if he had an idea, I would run through a brick wall for him. He’s my brother and he’s so much smarter than a talking cat like me could ever hope to be, and vice versa. I know that if Paulie could trade with me he’d do it. Over time, Paulie would put the mouse in higher and higher places, and over time, in that barn, at least, I was able to balance on my hind legs and even to walk a little on it. The first time I was able to hold it without falling, I thought Paulie was going to mate with the wheelbarrow. That was where we’d nap in the barn. Mr. Newmark was a very neat and tidy guy: everything had its place. But one day after mowing the lawn, I think he was beat tired, more tired than an alcoholic cat sleeping under a dumpster, and didn’t feel like bringing the rest of the grass to the woods in the back of the yard. He wheeled the barrow into the shed, and left it there, instead of standing it on its end. Paulie and I saw the grass and jumped in, slept there until Michelle and Aimee came out looking for both of us, late at night, crying, clutching her doll to her side, the same doll whose hair she’d dangle over my head.

The Newmarks were a crazy card playing family, too. Every Saturday night, they’d have some friends over, and they’d all sit around the table, bottles of whatever being passed around, glasses clinking, ice spilling over the side, more and more alcohol staining the tablecloths as the night wore on. As the girls got older, they’d join at the table.

One night, Paulie had been in a particularly needy mood. One of the dad’s friends—Jonesy, loud, large, and stupid—commented on “what an ugly looking cat that is.” He usually would run and hide under Michelle’s bed on these nights. She had lots of furs and think white carpets in there. He’d sprint at full speed in there, stop on the carpet, and there he’d slide underneath the bed, curled up on whatever part of the carpet would slide under with him. Michelle had heard this, though, and since they were adolescents now, they were allowed at the card table. So she and Aimee grabbed each us (Erin was out with a boy, and ma didn’t want anything to do with them at this point) and brought us to the table. You know that moment when you finally do something that you’re destined to do, like how a chef feels the first time he’s in the kitchen; or that moment when you meet the love of your life. That’s how I felt when we sat at that poker table: the blur of the cards folding into each other after someone made a bridge shuffling them, the whirr of the colors, the secret code language; the lower sound a quarter makes when hitting a dime, the roar of the guys as someone decided to throw a five dollar bill on the table, chips slapping against each other. And it didn’t matter who you were: everyone was equal on the poker table. They all just wanted you to play, and play well, so they could take your money.

So Paulie and me became members of the Saturday night crew. But one night Jonesy said something particularly nasty. I was already on thin ice for the last time he said something. It had been a summer night and he was wearing shorts, so I treated his leg like it was a scratching post. He never came over in shorts again. But because of that night, I had to be on behavior or out in the barn I would go, no matter how much Aimee cried. So this one night after he talked about Paulie’s ear, I waited to strike. Jonesy liked his drink and nobody was going to get between him and his drink. One of the friends once tried to dump one of his beers when there was still an inch left in it. You would have thought someone had slapped Jonesy’s mama they way he reacted. Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, but he sure found a way. The color in the glass this night was deep amber, and the reflection of the ice made Jonesey even bigger, if that was even possible. So when he got up to pee, I jumped off Aimee’s lap, walked across the table and dipped my head into his glass, lapping up all of. Damn it tasted good. That’s the day I stopped being Mittens and started being Tequila.

***
           
On weekends and during the summer, Aimee would ride her bike to her friend Mitzi’s house. (Mitzi was the younger sister of The Dice Boys.)


“Aimee? What are you doing?” I heard Mrs. Newmark ask.

“Nothing.” Aimee was chasing me around the house with a cardboard box. She had cornered me onto the couch and was trying to put the box over my head. I was swatting at her, claws in mind you.

“Aren’t you going to Mitzi’s? You aren’t bringing Mittens with you on your bike.” Not everyone had taken to calling me Tequila yet, just Mr. Newmark and the Saturday night poker crew.

“That’s not what I was doing.” Aimee dropped the box on the couch and went to gather some other things to go to Mitzi’s. With everything relaxed, I pulled myself out from between the couch cushions. I had squeezed myself in there to make it harder for her to pull me out. If she did start pulling me out, I would have used my claws, or bitten her on the arm.

While I could hear Mrs. Newmark talking to Aimee in the other room, I climbed in the box and curled up. Can’t explain to you why I love boxes so much: the walls muffle the outside world, we can’t hear it as much, so it’s much easier to fall asleep. Okay, maybe I can explain why I like them.

Moments later I heard Mrs. Newmark’s keys rattling, and the box was picked up. We were going to the car! What the hell had I done to deserve such a fate as this? I just wanted to sleep, dammit! Apparently, Mitzi had a cat and she and Aimee wanted the two of us to play.

On the way over, Aimee kept trying to put me on her lap, thinking her petting would comfort me. You pulled me from my box sleep, kid. There’s no comforting me now.

I don’t know how long we were in the car (I’m a cat. I don’t tell time. I might be able to talk and walk and drink tequila like nobody’s business, but there’s a reason I don’t wear a watch) but when we got there, I still didn’t want to come out. So they pulled me out in the box. Mitzi was on the front steps, hair in braids, bow on the left side of her head, wearing a pink and black dress. She had a small cat in her arms that was dressed up the same way: a pink bow on the left side of her head, and wearing a pink and black dress. I don’t know if it was the car ride, my half-wakened state, or the fact that I had never seen a cat dressed up like a human before, but I was frozen.

Aimee held me in her lap. I inched my head closer to this new fine feline. I didn’t know what her name was, but I kept hearing Mitzi and Aimee, in high-pitched voices, as if speaking on behalf of us, saying, “Hello, Kitty. How are you?” Each would in turn grab our paws and gesture to the other one with them. People can be so stupid sometimes. Just let us cats do what we want.

I wanted to jump off and lick her face. I wanted to put my paw on top of the bow on her head and spin her like a ballerina in a music box. I wanted to run across country with her, she in her dress wooing people over to me to try to beat the cat at poker; and me taking all their money, a cat version of Bonnie and Clyde, but without the gunfire: Teqs and Hello, Hello and Teqs. We could be a vaudeville act, a mom and pop catnip shop,  traveling snake-oil salespeople, gypsy cats with patches over our eyes sailing on makeshift rats on the ocean, all the fish we could want. We sat like that for what must have been hours, staring at us each other, not moving, not saying a word to the other, just quietly assessing the other, wishing we were away from our human masters.

After some time, Mitzi’s mom came outside. “Aimee, your mother just called. She wants you to know she finished grocery shopping and is on her way to pick you up.” We left shortly after Mrs. Newmark pulled into the driveway.

Every time after that day when Aimee would go to Mitzi’s, I’d mewl and chirp and rub on her legs, trying to get her to take me over there. Never happened again. I don’t know what I did that day, either, but Hello clearly didn’t want to see me. She didn’t look like she does now. Her eyes were wide. Her legs were normal cat size. She could move; man, could she move. I don’t know how she made it over to Japan, but she did. Forgot all about us, about me, about her roots. Stepping stones for some dames wild dreams of fame, fortune, and the grand catnip in the sky.

Haven’t seen a cat like her since. Dames. Every dream we have, they manage to take our snow-globe world and trash it on the ground, porcupines in our world of bubbles. You end up sleeping under a dumpster with your ribs kicked in and owing some jackass $5500, lapping up leftover tequila from the broken bottle of someone else’s shattered dreams.

Dames.           

 
 
This is the second installation of audience participation Twitterstory. This week's word --'pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis'-- was provided by Timothy Woodward, author of If I Told You So, an LGBT Young Adult story about coming out in rural NH. It was recently listed on the GLBT Round Table's Rainbow List. (A review will be forthcoming.)

The audience participation Twitterstory is fairly simple: send me one word, any word, and I will write a Twitterstory with it and will link to your website, Facebook page, or site of your choosing. If you wish not to include a website, you still receive credit for having provided the word.

                                                                            ****

(character count: 154; without title: 140)

Cause of Death

“You sure?”

He nods.

“Maybe it was pneuomonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.”

Flash of a smile, sobbing laughter, like an abandoned seal.

 
 
Today marks the beginning of a new phase of the Twitterstory: audience participation.

After A Little Soul was released, a friend read the book and decided to have some fun both at my expense and with my cooperation. "Let's see you write a Twitterstory about mayonnaise... in two minutes." Condimental was the result of this challenge. Frustrated and intrigued, she continued to hurl words to me, and I would attempt to write a story with them, with varying degrees of failure and success.

But now I call on you, dear readers, to be active participants in the Twitterstory project: provide a word in the comments below, in an email with the subject "Twitterstory word", through the many social media outlets I utilize (Twitter with the hashtag #TwitterstoryWord; my Facebook page; LinkedIn; Fictionaut); or via carrier pigeon, smoke flares, or Pony Express, and I will write a Twitterstory using that word. You will also receive credit in all the media forums where the story is posted.

A few parameters to avoid confusion:
1. No word is off-limits except indefinite and definite articles (a, an, the).
2. If the same word is provided more than once by different people, that many stories will have to be written.
3. There is no limit for how many words one person can provide.
4. Stories will still be posted once a week.
5. If you have a website or any social media page you want me to link to when the story with your word is posted, please let me know.


The first installation of the audience participation Twitterstory is below. The word was "weeping willow." It was provided by Erica Dorsey, the same person mentioned in the mayonnaise anecdote above.

As always, thank you.

            ***                                    ***                                                ***

(character count: 146; without title: 132

Weeping Willow

She lay down, wishing its branches were hands, pushing her down
                                                                                                                 down
                                                                                                                          down

to the roots. There, she could start over.

 
 
(character count: 143; without title: 133)

Commitment

I have committed to nothing. Therefore I have committed to something. The first sentence is now moot, and this story will eat itself.



 
 
(character count, without title: 129; with title: 145)

Like a Metaphor

“There are many tools one can use to get out of writer’s block.” He turned, pressed the chalk to the blackboard, and just stared.

 
 
(character count: 99, including title)

Dreams for a Better Tomorrow

Scientists today cracked the genome of the computer virus programmer.


Picture
 
 
Picture
 (characters: 49)

Lipstick

He couldn’t believe her.





He just couldn’t.