The awaited continuation of The Adventures of Tequila Kitty.

Chapter Eight was written by my friend, the esteemed young adult novelist L.A. Kuehlke, who doubles as one of the most genuinely optimistic people on the planet. She is the author of the Pursuit series, a spiritual romance thriller, consisting of Pursuit, Redemption, and the forthcoming Ransomed. She also teaches English at a private middle school in New Jersey. Kuehlke is comprised of at least 35% chai latte.


She needed some time to think, clear her head, process through some... of the past almost-twenty-four hours.  She wandered through the backyard and settled on a bench by the water.  The sun was hanging low in the sky, filling it with shades of pink and gold and purple.  She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, soaking in the serenity of the moment.  Tequila jumped onto the bench, startling her.  She allowed the cat to crawl into her lap and stroked his fur....

Was any of this real?  Which of her lives was reality and which was fantasy?

Chapter Eight

Kitty stood on shaky legs.  She wasn’t sure what to do next, but her mind screamed that she had to get out, run, disappear.  Being in this house was too painful.  Everywhere she looked she saw reminders of all she’d lost. 

“Have to leave,” she mumbled. 

Tuna put a hand out to stop her.  “You gotta rest, Girl,” she said.  “Come with me.”

“No,” Kitty protested.  “I can’t -”  Her words caught in her throat.  An emptiness the likes of which she’d never experienced filled her.  What was the point anymore?  She had nothing, and there was no way to ever get beyond it.

She looked to Tuna for help, but before she could say another word, she crumpled to the floor and her eyes rolled back in her head.  The world around her went dark, and the last thing she heard was Tuna’s voice calling to her from the abyss.  Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, she felt herself being pulled to some other place. 

Anything is better than this, she thought. Anything.

“Mom, wake up!  You overslept again!”  David was shaking her. 

Kitty jumped and cried out.  David.  Her mind, her grief was playing tricks on her.  He was gone.   David

She backed against the wall, away from him.  “What?”  she asked, dazed.  Kitty looked around.  Where was Tuna? 

She squeezed her eyes shut tight.  “Wake up, Kitty.  Snap out of it.” 

The memory came rushing back.  She passed out in David’s room, and Tuna must have given her something to sleep.  She wondered if she was still dreaming.  It was also possible that this was the after-effects of the sleeping pills or some hallucination from the poison injected into her veins. 

She opened her eyes to see him standing over her.  “How are you here?”  she asked, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.

“The stairs?”  David shook his head. “Quit joking, Mom.  Raphael will be waiting, and like always, I’ll be late.”  He pulled the covers back.  “Time to get up.  You’re lucky you own your own business!”  He laughed and turned from the room. 

“My own what?”  she called out, but David was already gone.  Kitty sat up in bed, running her hands over the 500 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets.  She glanced down at the tank top and matching pajama bottoms she wore.  What the hell?  Whose clothes was she wearing?

She slowly rose from the bed, expecting the haze, expecting her head to hurt, expecting something.  But her head was clear, and she’d never felt better. 

When she entered the kitchen, she saw David seated at the kitchen table, a bowl of cereal in front of him.  The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air.  The paper was open, and he was so focused on reading the news that he didn’t notice Kitty enter the room.  She watched him for a moment, taking advantage of his distraction.  He wore dark jeans and a button-down.  The expression on his face was...happy, carefree.  When was the last time she’d seen him look so at peace? 

Never. 

The house was too quiet.  No TBN blaring on the television, no harping from her mother, no yelling.  No sound of any kind.  Just silence.

“David, where’s your grandmother?” Kitty asked.  That must be was why he was so happy; the bitch was nowhere to be seen. 

He looked at her quizzically.  “Uh, Mom, Grandma is at the nursing home.  Same place she’s been for the past year after her fall.”  His eyes narrowed, and he studied her.  “You feeling okay today?  Did you have one too many glasses of wine with Tina last night?”  He smiled.

Tina?  Who the hell is Tina?  “That must be it,” Kitty agreed slowly. 

She still had no idea what was going on, but she figured she’d let this hallucination play itself out.  At least it got her time with her son.  A tear fell as she remembered the accident, saw the van, heard the screeching, the crunching of bones against metal. 

Oh, my God, the blood.  Kitty gasped and put a hand to her mouth. 

“Drink this, you’ll feel better.”  David smirked and pushed a steaming mug of coffee across the table.  He laughed, and she jumped. 

Kitty lowered herself into one of the chairs and raised the mug, hands shaking, to her lips.  For the first time, she noticed the house.  Something wasn’t right; this wasn’t where she lived.  A plush couch, matching chair, and coffee table in the living room.  A wall-mounted flat screen t.v.  The walls painted in rich, deep earth tones.  The kitchen complete with top-of-the-line stainless steel appliances and one of those French door refrigerators.   The entire place looked like the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog she’d seen once.  She blinked a few times.  Where was she?

“You’re acting stranger than normal today, you know,” David said, his head cocked to the side.  “You feeling okay? Maybe I should see if Raphael can just pick me up instead.  I’m sure his parents wouldn’t mind.”

“No, no, I’m fine.  Just a little groggy,” Kitty protested and smiled.  “I think I’ll take a quick shower. Don’t want you to be late for -”  she paused, her eyebrows pinched together.

“School, Mom.”  He set aside the paper and raised his eyebrows. 

“Right, school.” 

Kitty made her way to the second floor of the house, her feet sinking in the plush carpeting.  Waiting for her at the top of the stairs was a small tabby cat.  He seemed to be watching her, almost as if assessing her reactions.   His eyes were focused so intently on her that for a minute Kitty wondered if he was trying to tell her something.

Have you found the answers yet, Kitty?

She bent down to scratch between the cat’s ears.  “Hey, little guy.  Are you mine, too?”

In response, the cat purred and rubbed against her leg.  He remained near her as she walked down the hall toward the bathroom.  Kitty reached for a towel.

“You stay here,” she said to the cat.  Obediently, he sat outside the door.  She shook her head.  “Odd little guy.”

She stepped under the warm water and sighed; it felt like a hundred hands massaging her body.  What kind of business did she own?  She must be doing well, judging by the improvements to her home and the life it seemed she lived.  Kitty rinsed the shampoo - organic - from her hair and lathered herself with some expensive-sounding body wash.  The name on the label caught her eye.

Ga’Ta

Organic Soaps, Lotions, and Body Wash

There were products from the store all over the shower.  Her shampoo, conditioner, and body wash.  All from the same place.  Kitty turned off the water and stepped from the shower.  A lotion on the counter was from the same store.  She seemed slightly obsessed.  And since when would she spend that kind of money on organic body products? 

The cat was still waiting for her when she opened the bathroom door.  He meowed loudly and followed her to the bedroom.  He didn’t enter, just sat by the doorway waiting.  He acted more like a dog than a cat.  He was cute, but she found him to be really strange.

Kitty opened the closet and another gasp escaped her lips.  Row after row of sweaters, shirts, camis, jeans, dress pants, dresses, skirts, shoes, boots, sneakers...more clothing and footwear than she’d ever owned in her lifetime...lined the walls and filled the cubbies of her walk-in closet.  She chose a pair of black jeans, a gray cami, a sweater, and black riding boots.  She quickly pulled her hair up in a ponytail and did her make-up.  All organic, all from the same store.  She wondered if she was getting a bit eccentric, all of these products from a place with a cat-like name, owner of a cat, her own name being Kitty.  When she looked at herself in the mirror, she smiled.  The woman smiling back at her looked polished, professional, and gorgeous.  She hadn’t felt this good about herself since...ever.

“Mom, are you ready?  We should go,”  David called up the stairs. 

“On my way!” Kitty answered.  She looked for her purse, grabbed the Coach bag that hung on the back of a chair in the corner of the room, and almost skipped down the stairs, buoyed by a feeling of elation and a sense that life was finally working out for her.

She found her keys hanging on a rack in the kitchen.  David waited, laptop case slung over his shoulder, texting. 

“Tell Raphael that we’re on our way,” she said, smiling.  The cat had followed her downstairs, and she shooed him with her foot.  “This crazy cat keeps following me.”

“Tequila is all yours, Mom.  He doesn’t like anyone but you.”  He looked up from his phone.  “Wow, you look great.  Jeans, huh?  I guess you’re working in back today?”

I named the cat Tequila.  Tequila Kitty.  She cringed.

“I...am,” she said, hesitantly.  “Busy day ahead.”

David opened the door to the garage and stepped inside.  “So, what’s it going to be today?  Candles, soap, lotion?”

“I haven’t really decided yet,”  Kitty replied, hoping that more conversation would give her an answer to what he was talking about and why seeing her jeans would make him think of candles, soap, or lotion.

“Well, whatever you make, customers will love it.  I’m really proud of you, know that?  I mean, you put yourself through school and started Ga’Ta with Tina.  You guys built it from nothing, and the store is a huge success.  I know it was hard for you, raising me on your own, and I don’t say thank you enough,”  he paused.  “Thanks, Mom.  I love you.”

More tears slid down Kitty’s cheek.  “I love you, too.  Now, quit it before you make me wreck my make-up.”  She nudged him with one elbow. 

He grinned, looking young and beautiful and invincible.   “Can’t have that, now can we?  What would the customers think?” 

She owned the store.  No wonder she had the products all over the house.  And at least now she knew who Tina was - her business partner, and, apparently, a friend with whom she drank wine.

Realizing she had no idea where Raphael lived, in this life or her prior one, Kitty handed the keys to David.  “You know what?  You need the practice driving more than I do.  How about you drive to Raphael’s?”

David’s eyes sparkled.  “Really?  You’re letting me drive the Benz?”  he asked.  “You must not be feeling right today!”

The Benz?  Her world was getting weirder by the second.  A black GLK350 sat in her garage.  Her black GLK350.  Kitty grinned.  She could definitely get used to this life.  David cautiously backed out of the garage and proceeded towards Raphael’s house. 

“So, how are things with Raphael?”  Kitty asked once they were on their way. 

“Good.  Only one or two people know about us; a lot of people are still pretty closed-minded.  But, we’re good,” he answered, shrugging. 

“He treats you right?”  she asked.

“Yeah, he’s great,” David smiled.

“I’m so happy for you, Honey,” she said.  “You deserve nothing but the best.”

We’re going to make you better.  David’s voice, but sadder and sounding so much older than his seventeen years.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said, blushing. 

“Just keep your eyes on the road.  No accidents.”  A chill swept through Kitty’s body.  No accidents. 

David turned onto a quiet, tree-lined side street with one enormous house after another.  The lawns were perfectly manicured, and he pulled into the driveway of a large stone-front mansion and hopped out. 

“I’ll be right back,”  he said.

Kitty watched him jog to the front door and ring the bell.  She scanned the property from the passenger seat.  Raphael came from a very affluent family, and she wondered who he was in the other life, the one she was trying to forget.  Had he been the same then, too, or was this another by-product of whatever she was experiencing?  The door opened and a blonde woman of around forty-five step out, give David a hug, and raise a hand, waving to Kitty.  No one like her ever would have given Kitty the time of day before.  She waved in return. 

A blonde-haired boy walked beside David to the car.  Just by looking at him, Kitty could tell that he was fantastic.  A genuine, compassionate energy seemed to surround him and shine through his eyes.  Tears welled up in hers; finally, her son had the life she’d wanted for him. 

She’d done it right this time around.

“Morning,” Raphael said, sliding into the backseat of the SUV. “Thanks for the ride.”

“Morning, Raphael,” Kitty replied, unable to stop herself from grinning.  “Anytime.” 

David caught her goofy grin and shook his head.  “You’re just being so weird today.”

Kitty listened as the boys talked about a test they had in third period, a movie they wanted to see...plans.  She was sitting beside her son listening to him make plans.  Her mind drifted to another life, one in which he was no longer able to make plans.  Their voices faded into the distance, as she stared out the window. 

“Uh, Mom?”  They were parked on the circle at the high school.

 She blinked and turned to look at him.  “Daydreaming,” she said.  “See you after school.”

“Have fun playing mad scientist today; try not to blow anything up,” David said, reaching for his laptop.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,”  Kitty remarked. 

He laughed and they all climbed out of the vehicle.  Kitty leaned forward on both arms, resting against the roof of the SUV.  She watched the boys walk toward the building, already caught up in another conversation.  As he opened the door to go inside, David turned back and waved.   Kitty raised her hand in response and smiled. 

She got back in and once again realized that she had no idea where she was supposed to go.  She pulled out her cell phone and Googled the address to her shop.  Once she had it in the GPS, she pulled away from the curb and headed in the direction of Ga’Ta.   Kitty had no idea how to do any of the things she supposedly did at work, but she figured she could spend the day wandering through the store, smelling things, selling products to customers.  It beat the way she used to spend her days.

Ga’Ta was beautiful.  Correction - exquisite.  And she’d done all this?  Really. Glass shelving held bottles, tubes, candles, boxes tied with natural raffia ribbon, and various earth-friendly displays.  Kitty shook her head in wonder.  She’d never thought of herself as having the potential to create something so amazing. 

“I should have tried harder,” she said out loud.  She’d allowed her past dictate her present and steal her future. 

She walked behind the counter, running her hand along its length.  Her world had become filled with beauty, success, and joy.  Kitty wondered how long she’d be allowed to stay here; she never wanted to leave. 

The bell on the door rang, and a slender woman with long, brown hair came in bearing two cups from Allegro.  Her smile was radiant, and Kitty guessed that she must be Tina. 

“Caffeine,”  she proclaimed.  She set a large cup on the counter in front of Kitty.  “You’re welcome.” 

“Thanks, Tina.  Just what I needed.”  Kitty began.  She took a sip of what turned out to be some kind of pumpkin latte.  “You ever have one of those days when it feels like you’re living someone else’s life?”

Tina waved a hand through the air.  “Your life is incredible.  The only thing we need to get you is a decent man.”

“Have to agree with you, and don’t get me wrong.  I love the life I woke up to.  Today has just been strange, I guess.”  Kitty sipped her latte.  Strange was a bit of an understatement.

Is everything okay?  It’s not something with David, is it?  He’s a good kid, Kitty.  You’re an awesome mom, and you’ve done a great job with him.”  Tina leaned on the counter. 

“It’s not David.  I’m just in a weird place, I guess.”  Kitty tapped the counter.  “I’ll figure it out.”  She smiled to confirm this to her friend.

Tina eyed her suspiciously.  “Okay, Hun, but if you want to talk, I’m here for you.”

“Thanks,”  Kitty said. 

Customers began coming through the door, and the day got busy fast.  David was right; she had made a success of her career, of herself.  Kitty felt pride surge within her spirit along with something else, something she hadn’t ever let herself feel before...hope. 

After picking up the boys and dropping them off, Kitty decided to go for a walk.  She needed some time to think, clear her head, process through some of the oddness of the past almost-twenty-four hours.  She wandered through the backyard and settled on a bench by the water.  The sun was hanging low in the sky, filling it with shades of pink and gold and purple.  She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, soaking in the serenity of the moment.  Tequila jumped onto the bench, startling her.  She allowed the cat to crawl into her lap and stroked his fur. 

“What do you think, Tequila?  Has today been nothing but me going insane?”  she asked.  The cat didn’t answer, just remained on her lap, purring contentedly.  “I mean, yesterday my life was one train wreck after another.  I lost everything that meant anything to me.  I couldn’t see a way out of the corner I’d backed myself into.  And today?  Everything is perfect.  Can I trust it?”

She pulled her legs up onto the bench.  Kitty sighed. 

Was any of this real?  Which of her lives was reality and which was fantasy?

Tequila looked into her eyes.  He stared at her for a long time then meowed. 

Still looking for answers, I see.  What is reality, Kitty?

 
 
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?

 
 
Hello all,

Let me take a moment to thank everyone, first and foremost the writers who participated in the making of Tequila Kitty, for taking such an interest and for following along the convoluted, sometimes non-sequential adventures of our four-legged, sombrero-wearing, tequila-swilling friend.

That said, I owe everyone an apology for unceremoniously dropping the ball, er, bottle (probably many bottles at this point) in posting the chronicles of our feline friend Tequila. I could give many reasons, but they would all be excuses, and there are no excuses that can be made. I have not lived up to my responsibilities in posting each chapter on a weekly basis. And, I also erred disastrously in not deputizing one of the many extremely talented, more responsible, and patient writers involved in the project to post the chapters weekly in the case of my grave negligence. To everyone involved, I can only apologize for not getting your words out fast enough and to as much of the reading world as they deserve. And to those who have been following the project, I can also apologize for the same reasons: for not getting the words of the talented writers who gave a lot of time to this project out to you for your enjoyment.


I am taking this as an opportunity, however, to get the series back on track and posted on a weekly basis, and to win back the loyalty of those who had started to follow the series. This will be an ongoing effort and it will start today with the posting of Chapter Six by my talented friend Jon Stern. As mentioned already, too many writers gave too much of their time, talent, and energies to this project to let it die at my irresponsible hands.

I am grateful to everyone's patience and their involvement in this project. I can only hope to win back the initial trust you all showed in my by becoming involved by living up to my end and getting this story and your words out to the public in a timely manner.

With many apologies,

Darren Cormier

 
 
"So what's the Tequila Kitty project about?"

Enough people have asked me this question lately* so, since today is the official launch of the project, I figured an introduction was in order.

(*Actually very few people have asked me this question, but I wanted an excuse to write about and shamelessly promote the project. Pretending that people have asked me about it would give me an excuse and make this post sound much more conversational in tone. Anyway, I digress...)

The Tequila Kitty Project is an 'exquisite corpse*-type project involving 14 writers. The main character will be the cat in the above photograph.

(*I explain below what Exquisite Corpse is. I mention this technique as it allows me to be slightly pedantic**, and perhaps attract greater readership to this blog since I'm trying to sound all smart and literary and stuff. But I'm digressing again...)

(** Didn't you just say you wanted to make this entry more conversational in tone? Now you're saying it's going to be academic so you can introduce the 'Exquisite Corpse' technique and, by extension, show off how much you've read? Make up your mind!)


Picture
The Exquisite Corpse was a technique introduced by the Surrealists in the 1920's by founder Andre Breton. One artist would start a drawing or a story and send it to the next artist/writer, who would add the next part, without being allowed to see what was written before it, or only being allowed to see the last page or paragraph, or, if it were a drawing, the last section. (Examples of surrealist Exquisite Corpse drawings can be seen here.)

(Okay, the pedantry/digressing* is over. This now returns to the little-read blog it has always been.)

(* "You just used the word 'pedantry'!"
"Actually, I thought he said, 'peasantry'."
"Peasantry?! That's class warfare. **)

(** Sorry, dear readers. I keep digressing. Welcome to the Tristram Shandy of blog posts. Back to the explanation of The Tequila Kitty Project...)



Picture
Each of the 14 writers, myself included, will compose one chapter. We will only be able to see the previous chapter written. Each writer will have one week to complete their chapter and send to the next person on the list, but they will have full autonomy to create whatever they want, so long as it involves the cat above.

Also, over time, an interview/bio sketch will be posted with each participant of The Tequila Kitty Project in order to introduce each talented writer to a greater audience. *

(* "What if the project doesn't generate as much interest as you think it's going to? What if you don't follow through on your intent to post an interview of each participant?" **)

(**Hey, interior monologue! I'm not going to let you bait me into a hypothetical argument that will prevent me from finishing this blog post. It's not going to happen this time... Oh, damn. It just did. Anyway... Back to the subject.)

As the project progresses, I will be making more public updates to keep people interested, without exposing any of the work-in-progress. It
is scheduled to be completed in mid-February with dissemination of the final product yet to be determined. Some ideas have been proposed and, perhaps, we'll even pull in external/audience suggestions, make it a fully interactive project.

Stay tuned for more news on the Adventures of Tequila Kitty.


As always, thank you.


 
 
This week's twitterstory represents a bonus, as it will not appear in A Little Soul: 140 Twitterstories. It was written the other day, after the book had already been sent for eBook conversion. I hope you enjoy.

(character count: 162; without title: 137)

New User Advisory Label
(Inspired by and dedicated to my good friend Mike Hancock)

To prevent irreparable damage to equipment, do not place contents of cell phone into microwave.
Customer: Who was dumb enough to do that?