A fly and I got on the elevator. He was as dismayed as I was, without a sign of food or the hope of window glass. The taste of the last beer was on my tongue and the snarl in my stomach reminded me of the happy hour hamburger I’d waited too long to order. The fly buzzed frantically from stainless rail, to red emergency button, to the Otis permit, which had expired. In my hand was the Tahiti trip brochure Rick has just opted out of in a text message. I’d won the trip from a Chevron lotto, staged back when gas prices soared.
The fly landed on my right Ked. The white canvas was dirty enough that his silhouette was unclear. I shook my foot, then relied on the rail for balance. He crashed into the third floor button, as if trying to get out early. My button was ten, Angela’s floor, where I slept on a loaned futon, half under the dining room table. Undaunted by his headlong and fruitless flight into three, the fly buzzed my neckline and sat on the shoulder seam of my sleeve. A mere wriggle dislodged him. He landed on one of the doors, in a hopeful cling. We were passing seven, the number of days since I’d met Rick, the same number of days since I left Chet. Eight was the number of days ago I got the good news from Chevron. With his typical brand of impatience, the fly shot over to the side wall, still a vertical clinger. The brochure seemed less impressive since no one would go with me. I rolled it from the bound side and whacked the fly, oblivious on the side wall of the cab. The doors opened on ten. The fly had blackened the breast of a carefree Tahiti wader.
An old couple, each balanced by tote bags, stood in the foyer, mostly blocking my way out. I parted them, and the rolled brochure brushed the fuchsia pantsuit of the woman. I noticed Ricky, as I’d just come to calling the fly, reduced to a smudge on her pink polyester. I hoped the apartment would be empty and I could lie on my futon in the fort of someone else’s dining table.
The cat marched in the back door knocked up and unashamed. I knew she was knocked up even though she didn’t show her knocked-up-ness yet. It was a feeling. Her name was Tarzan.
Before she came home from that wild night – the night before the morning I found the lily bed in shreds – she’d been a cautious, futile cat with fish breath. I’d swooped her up from a box marked “free” outside the Maxi Mart and my mother had just nodded, loaded down with jug wine and soup cans.
The cat had a black leather collar with silver pointy studs because we’d bought the collar after we’d named her but before we realized she was more of a Jane. Pink salmon and 9-Lives chicken with kibbles were her favorite scores. During her pregnancy, she craved warm milk, raw hamburger, and a few odd things we couldn’t predict, like when I was flattened by bronchitis and she licked the Vick’s Vaporub off my chest where my mother had insisted I rub it, like I was six instead of seventeen. Tarzan’s tongue was like a #2 emery board. When she’d looked like she’d swallowed a keg; we knew it’d be any day now.
Tarzan was missing the morning after I was out late with Kenny. We’d been screwing in the backseat of his mom’s Pinto at our usual spot on Rocky Butte, using a condom so as not to end up like the cat. When I woke up after nine, she wasn’t curled in her usual position on the kitchen chair.
Even telling me sober the next morning, it still made sense to my mother that she’d insisted Tarzan spend the night outside. Baby kittens being born before our eyes was too graphic for her. She’d made me use the word “expecting” instead of “pregnant.” She and my father slept in twin beds before he moved to Vegas for good.
Tarzan returned three days later, slimmed down. “See!” My mother, partly sober, listing towards the right jamb of the back porch door. “Animals protect their young. She’ll show us.” She gestured wide with her left arm, like she was Marlon Perkins leading us through the animal kingdom. My mother was correct, Tarzan led us to her kittens. Still, I couldn’t help thinking the cat would have rather claimed birth in a warm house than hunkered under a box hedge at the neighbors during three days of rain.
The carton we took said “dry gin” on the sides and we lined it with a shredded doll’s blanket. In each corner, we placed a kitten and Tarzan insisted on getting in the box too. I carried the box to my room. My mother kept to her usual spot at the kitchen table, watching Jeopardy! and swilling screw-cap rosé.
When the kittens opened their eyes, I cut down the short end of the box. They squinted towards the daylight and bumped into bed and chair legs. After walking around in the morning they padded back to the pink blanket and slept together like a row of four logs. They liked the world with their eyes closed.