The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

New Scriptor; Something for the Hurt pt. 1

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Below is the short story accept by New Scriptor.  It’s the same story about which I was commiserating when I started Itchin’ for some Fiction back in January.  I’m particularly pleased this was accepted–  it’s my first success with fiction.

Something for the Hurt

By Jeff Burd

                Cuddy was sitting in the lumpy recliner in his living room trying to find comfort among the awkward contours of the cushions.   He was stroking a glass half-full of bourbon and ice and had almost given himself over to a nap when he heard a slam come from the back bedroom.  The window by his bed had dislodged again.  He didn’t think much of it, only hoping that Sally hadn’t been lying in the sill like she did most afternoons for the breeze and to eye birds and squirrels.

                After a few moments, the cat limped into the living room and mewed plaintively.  She sat on her back end, cocked her right paw in the air, and mewed again, louder and longer.

                Cuddy wiped his wet hand across his overalls and moved slowly to the cat.  She was still new to him by less than a month, and didn’t yet trust him.  She had skittered away a handful of times when a door slammed, a siren blared in the alley, or if he moved unexpectedly.  She’d hide in the closet beneath a shoe rack.  A few hours later, the timid little kitty would emerge, slinking low to the carpet, her tail flat.  Late one afternoon a week earlier, she streaked across the basement flat after a car backfired.  Cuddy stirred awake in the recliner that evening and found her sniffing his glass and pawing at the dwindling ice cubes.

                He had picked Sally out at the animal shelter.  “Poor thing,” the lady in charge of cats said when Cuddy stooped to the bottom row of a stack of cages and saw the animal quivering in the corner.  “She’s unhappiest of all our cats since her family dropped her off last month.”  Cuddy took her home.  He wanted the company.  He needed somebody or something that would be happy to see him when he came home from work.  That used to be Doris, but she had left a few months before Cuddy decided to visit the animal shelter.  Besides, he thought, it’ll be good practice to prove that I can take care of something.  He could know the cat’s needs and meet them.  It’ll be good practice if Doris comes back.

                He leaned down to pick Sally up and she cowered.  He cooed quietly to her, slowed his reach, and was finally able to grasp her scruff.  She spun her head and snapped her fangs on his thumb.  He felt a dull pressing through the calluses that came from years of pulling nails and scraping paint.  It was her curt “No thanks,” and Cuddy could almost hear her say it.

                He wondered what it would sound like if she could say it.  Would it sound sharp and self-righteous, or dull and resigned like when his brother Mack had said the same thing?

                Mack, who could channel the rage inherited from their father, detonating it whenever he tackled some poor bastard on a football field.  Mack, the would-be football hero who instead became Texarkana’s leading underage drinker and hell raiser a generation ago.  They hadn’t talked for over a month.  The conversation ended badly, as it did more often than not, when Cuddy asked Mack if he’d found work.  Mack never answered the questions; he would sigh and mumble, “Don’t worry about it.”  Cuddy didn’t mention that Doris had left, though he had meant to.

                Cuddy and Doris had seen Mack six months prior at the bus station in Houston on a layover between Monterrey and Texarkana.  There were two hours to spend, and they found a café table to sit at in the terminal.  The time passed slowly with long pauses between the chunks of chat they pushed back and forth.  Even though Mack lived only twenty minutes away, it was a wonder to Cuddy that he came to the bus station at all given his reluctance to even talk on the phone.  Maybe there were vestiges of family obligation in him still.  Maybe he felt guilty.

                Cuddy couldn’t help but notice the bags of fat that overflowed Mack’s shirt collar and the waistband of his jeans.  They hadn’t been there six years ago when he had last seen Mack.  Cuddy thought how easy it would have been to slice Mack with comments about his bulk.  But he didn’t.  That was in the past, stuffed away in a trunk in the back of his mind.

                The fat was just one sign that Mack had been inactive since he’d ruptured a disc in his back carrying lumber.  Mack’s face was craggy and unshaved, his hair matted in places on his scalp.  His skin had yellowed, except for splotchy red patches across his cheeks and nose.

                If Cuddy knew anything, it was this:  One more medical bill, one more car repair, one water heater replacement or burst pipe, and Mack would never escape his spiral of debt.  He would sell what was left of his handyman tools and equipment one at a time until there was nothing left, and then his trailer.  He would live out of his pickup truck and suffer day after day with his back, killing the pain with whiskey, until he was too far gone to save or even find.  But it didn’t have to happen like that.  Mack could move in with them.  The three of them, that was secure.  They could make it.  They could be a family.  Mack could find work, lay off the booze.  Lose weight.  They could renovate a house or something.

                Ten minutes before his bus left, Cuddy floated the idea to his brother.  “Have you thought about coming back home?”  His eyes darted to Doris.  He saw her jaw clench.

                Another long pause.  Mack stared at Cuddy and squinted his eyes, and then batted the suggestion away with the back of his hand.  “No thanks.”

               Cuddy tried to cradle the sinewy cat.  He could feel her ribs beneath her dull fur.  She kicked; he steadied her while still clutching her scruff.  Her wounded paw stuck in the air like a thin tree branch.

                He slowly pressed his fingers down the length of her paw, trying to see where the pain started.  He pressed one of her pads; she yelped and swatted his face with her good paw.  He felt her hackles rise, and knew he was risking a feline meltdown.  He lowered her to the floor.  Her legs churned wildly, like a cartoon cat that couldn’t get traction.  Once she felt contact, she spun her head, and then hissed and spat with the intensity of a puma.  He released her. She bolted for the closet.

                In his mind, Cuddy could see the cat hunched beneath the shoe rack, her tail curled beneath her; eyes wide and wary.  It stuck in his mind how the cat ran to the one thing Doris left behind when she finally declared she had enough one morning a month after they returned from Monterrey.  She’d had enough of living in a musty basement.  She’d had enough of the drinking and meaningless waitress job she shuffled through each day with her eyes half closed (“Yours is no better,” she told Cuddy.  “All you do is tear crap apart.  That ain’t remodelin’.”)  She was gone by the time Cuddy got home from work that same night.  She didn’t even leave a note.  The only evidence she had been there at all was the shoe rack and the pair of tennis shoes she wore when they used to take walks and hold hands.

(continued…)

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Written by seeker70

June 8, 2010 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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