by Kathleen Clauson, Copyright 2007
I don't know what upset me more--the way Ray picked up the dead cat by its tail and dropped it, head-first into the garbage can, without even looking at its jeweled collar. Or, what I called his "predictably unpredictable" fit of red-faced rage, which I seemed to bring on, regardless of what I did. Today's catalyst was stopping by his place uninvited, with a plate of leftover meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and buttered corn for his dinner and expecting Ray to look at a dead cat, stiffening among the garbage and beer bottles scattered on his patio.
I opened my purse and fished around blindly for a pen and something to write on, cursing myself for never being able to find anything quickly in that damned bag. As I approached the steps of Melly's house next door, Ray whipped open his cell phone as if pulling a six-shooter from a holster. He dialed 911, which for Ray, was his signature version of foreplay; this time he reported I was a trespasser on his property, for maybe the tenth time in a two-month period.
Within minutes, two squad cars blocked me in, blue lights flashing, their sirens wailing. Lights dimmed in nearby windows as neighbors peeked through the curtains to watch. I could tell the cops were fed up, just by the way they jerked their cars off from the highway and into Ray's driveway. By then I had an old receipt and a pen in hand.
Miss Melly, old as dirt, lived in a tiny house blistered with pink Pepto-Bismol paint. She had waitressed at the Moonlight Diner in town for more than forty years, until she simply couldn't get around well enough any longer. Everyone knew her, including my parents and Ray's. Her porch roof sagged from the weight of a jungle-bush tangle of wisteria, its vines dangling off the roof like twists of crepe paper streamers. Cat food bowls of all shapes and sizes were lined up on the porch; on each end were brightly-colored water bowls, from what was once a rather expensive set of stoneware pottery. Cats darted everywhere as I approached, except for one chocolate-tipped Siamese that froze in its tracks, bushed its tail, and hissed at me.
I started scribbling out a note to Melly on the back of the crumpled receipt, hoping the dead cat didn't belong to her. There were cats at the windows, and inside, cats were lounged everywhere, like sleeping meatloaves. Melly's cats were like her children--she signed all their names on Christmas cards, every one of her cats had a collar.
The cops got in my face as I stuck the note in the screen door. "Watch out,, Ray's drunk again," I told them, as if I was oblivious to the idea they could haul me off to a small cell painted with the ugliest shade of yellow I had ever seen.
The youngest police officer acted like I was a crazed stalker and that he was a police stud super-trooper on a TV cop show. "I've seen Ray after he's had a few. I can tell you he's not wasted--don't you get it? He doesn't want anything to do with you."
"Oh yeah," I said. "Ray just called me like he does every night. More often than not I come up here for marital relations between the sheets." I lit a cigarette and puffed blue smoke in the young guy's face. "Or on the kitchen table."
"You got caller ID?" A voice boomed out of his walkie-talkie and he acknowledged the dispatch of back-up.
"Yeah, I've got caller ID at home. Look Junior, Melly loves her cats. I'm just trying to be thoughtful. For Christ's sake, she will be heartsick if that cat is one of her babies."
"We're not concerned about dead cats," said the other officer, an older guy, balding, with a beer belly. He kept looking at his watch as if he was running late for his dinner break.
"Well, I am. Why must you insist on letting Ray piss down your leg? If it were anyone else, you'd charge them for misusing 911, which I thought was just for valid emergencies."
"Ray claims he's filing a complaint against you with the State's Attorney," Junior told me with a smirk on his face.
"Uh-huh, I've heard that one before," I said. I blew a ring of smoke that floated over the heads of both officers.
The senior officer stepped up to me. Several blocks away I could hear another police siren. "Look--leave now and don't come back. if you do come back here, we'll have to arrest you,"
"You'll have to move your squad cars so I can back out." By that time, Miss Melly was standing at the screen door in a faded pink robe and pink sponge rollers in her hair.
The next night, Rita Lossey called me. She was a bleached-blonde bar fly who kept her ears open and kept me up-to-date on gossip. "Like a broken record, Ray sat at his regular spot on the bar, bragging about calling the police on you and how he still pulls strings in the Sheriff's office," she told me, snapping her gum every other word.
The dead cat wasn't Melly's, but after she read my note, she left a small bouquet of flowers on Ray's patio in an empty beer bottle.
Predictably, Ray warmed up a couple of days later. Hoping to get lucky, he told me he loved me over the phone. After dark, he showed up at my house and greeted me with a sloppy kiss. We stood there making out in a steamy prelude for a few minutes, just long enough for a few neighbors to drive by.
"Honey, you aren't planning to trespass are, you?" I fluttered my eyelashes like a Southern belle and coyly started to unwrap my plush red robe.
Ray frowned. "Don't worry darling, I won't call the police." I told him sweetly.
He turned to leave and I threw my arms around him, acting like I couldn't bear for him to leave me. He reached for his cell phone and I flashed my bare breasts at him, before his trigger finger could dial 911. I turned on my heel and marched back inside, locking the door behind me.
Ray pounded on the door with his fist and then climbed back in his pick-up truck. As he burned out of my driveway, pissed off again, a black kitten chased a luminous lightning bug, blinking off and on like a green Christmas light.
I knew he'd call me in a day or two.