Cat on a Leash Review
by Billy P. Gee
Arthur loved the opera. On Saturday mornings when the rest of his family and the rest of his street, for that matter, stayed in bed and woke up late, Arthur was in his shed, prying open a clock, or a broken vacuum or some other broken device, and listening to his opera.
The sunlight fell in on his wife's face as she lay fast asleep. Through the open window his radio could be heard. Buried beneath the constant stream of arias, she could just make out Arthur's quiet humming. She pictured him leaning over his awl, his eyes straightened before him as he carved table legs. He carved banisters. Even wooden vases for his wife to put flowers in. Her name was Naomi, but everyone called her Rita because that was her middle name and she hated Naomi.
Morning turned to afternoon. Rita’s youngest child, Buck, sneaked into the kitchen and climbed up on a chair, balanced precariously on the back, and reached up to the counter to pull cookies from the jar. Opera floated through the window. Sunlight was on the floor. Downstairs Rita was doing laundry. She was thinking about the camp meeting last night. She thought of the pastor’s sweat and wondered why he yelled. If he was so happy, why did he have to sweat and yell? She pulled up a pair of pants and began folding. The night had been beautiful and then suddenly it had rained. Everyone was sniffling today. She held out a shirt and folded. Brenda had found Jesus. That was strange. If anyone would find Jesus she wouldn’t think it would be Brenda. A man had raped Brenda once. His sons had helped. They had all gone to the same church as Brenda. Rita folded a pair of Arthur’s hunting pants. She put them in the pile, then stopped and picked them back up again. Something was in one of the pockets. She pulled out a damp little note with curly letters all over it. As she read it, casually, her face turned pale. She heard opera playing outside in the garage. She looked again at the note, understanding it’s full meaning, seeing the salutation “Love,” in a new light. She turned and ran up the stairs in a fury.
She burst out the door that opened the basement into the kitchen. Buck, seeing his mother sweep open the door with such intensity, stuffed half the cookie into his mouth and quickly shoved the other half into his pants. He tried to wipe the chocolate off his lips while still standing on the top of the back of the tipping chair. One arm wiped, the other steadied his small body by leaning unsteadily on the counter. His eyes grew big as he realized how precarious his position truly was. His balance shifted and he fell. There was a thump followed by the crisp sound of bone giving way and then howling. Arthur came running through the door opposite Rita. They stood facing each other, both alarmed and locked in confusion. Arthur saw Buck lying on the kitchen floor and Rita standing by the basement door with a small damp note in her hand. Her eyes were bright and a tear trickled down her cheek. She quickly shoved the note in her pocket. After the trip to the hospital, when Buck hobbled back into the kitchen, his tiny frame leaned on crutches, small ones made of wood, and there was still half a cookie in his pocket.
Later that evening, the moonlight fell on the carpet of the living room just beyond the edge of Arthur’s sitting chair. He was taking notes. He had questions for the pastor. The pastor lived next door in the parsonage of the Advent Christian Church that had stood at the corner of Pine Street for a hundred years. Arthur asked how death and faith could coexist. He wanted to know how to love enemies like the ones he watched kill children in the war. He had questions nobody had ever answered to his satisfaction. The pastor was used to fielding these questions. He was prepared for Arthur. They had developed a certain rapport. Arthur was sitting and thinking of more questions when Rita came and stood behind him quietly folding and refolding the note, passing it between her hands. Her shadow covered his thick middle aged body. He had little hair, but he had always had little hair ever since he turned twenty. That was the year he tried to join the army and defend this country. He went to the office. The recruiter took his name. The recruiter sent him to a doctor who checked him and took out a stick and checked his tonsils. His tonsils were bad, red and blurry. He could not go to war.
Rita had a belly-ache. She got them often. The years had been good to her, though. She walked straight and postured like a lady, and she was big bosomed. Her mother had given her those and her legs which made men follow her like dogs whenever she was to wear a skirt or even a sundress. With all this attention, she had always been steady and firm in her convictions. She wouldn’t have them looking after she married Arthur so she put the skirts away. Her belly ached now, a slow movement like a baby rolling, but that couldn’t be it. They had been safe for years now—ever since unexpected little Buck. Buck had stuck his unplanned nose into the world right in the middle of hard times. He fell out just as Arthur lost his job. Just as Rita took ill and needed expensive treatment. Just when no one wanted a little red ball of joy, that’s when joy came. They accepted joy gladly though, good Christian people that they were.
Arthur sat scribbling until the lead of his pencil wore low. He looked up, absently hoping to see a sharpener somewhere in the room. He noticed Rita’s shadow.
“Rita, you scared me.”
“What are you doing standing back there? Is Buck okay?”
“Buck’s just fine. I’ve just been up to check on him.”
“Have you seen a pencil sharpener around?”
Rita pulled the note from her pocket and held it up before Arthur, dangling it in front of this thin metal spectacles.
“Arthur, what is this?”
Arthur stared at the small piece of paper but wouldn’t touch it. A long time passed. A breeze fluttered the drapes, now silver by the moonlight, and Arthur clung hard to his pencil. The soft sound of an aria could be heard from the garage outside the window.
Billy P. Gee is a Chicago fiction writer who works in publishing, rides a bike everywhere he goes, and loves time with his family. His work is published in Cat on a Leash Review, Gravel Magazine, Mung Being Magazine, Raven's Loft, and the Minnemengo Review. He is a member of the writing group Chicago Literary Writers.