Fiction by Kyle Seibel
Gang all at the bar in their suits and ties and dresses and clacky shoes. Coming from Carter’s sentencing is why so fancy.
Gemma, Carter’s most recent whatever, openly sobs. Six months, she says. No one knows what to say to that.
Why Carter got six months is because he was getting beejed in St. John’s Park after Birdie’s last call when a patrolman spotlighted him and he took off running. It is worth noting that the individual doing the beejing was not Gemma, but someone else. A married someone else, who I know for a fact, recently experienced a death in the family, her favorite aunt, and was not in control of her impulses due to grief and also because her husband is a known prick. As it happens, Carter is also a prick, but not because he ran or because he was getting beejed outside of his arrangement with Gemma, but because of something else.
The going rate for fleeing from police and resisting arrest with your johnson flapping out in Jacksonville is six months. Or so the precedence had just been set. Or so goes the discussion from the gang at the bar.
Gemma pokes me. Were ya at the courthouse, she asks.
I shake my head. She’s pretty blown out on something. Her makeup is all everywhere. She’s new to this gang. I’m old to it.
Did Annie text ya or something, she asks and I shake my head again.
I’m just here because I’m here, I say. We worked together.
With Carter? she says and I nod. At The Grotto?
The Grotto is this restaurant. Or used to be. No, I say. Alfred’s. It was a salvage yard. Years ago.
Salvage? Gemma looks me up and down. Like how?
Ya know, I say. A junkyard. She’s sending me signals maybe, I think, or at the very least dangling it out there. What the hell. I smile at her.
A junkyard, she repeats back to me and I can see the cylinders click into place when she decides to sniff me out, at least a little.
You don’t like Carter, she says to me after some rounds. The rest of the gang has drifted. We have not.
No, I say. Not much.
She had been asking about what Carter was like when we were working salvage but up until now I hadn’t been drunk enough.
It was this thing with the cat, I say, now drunk enough.
A cat, Gemma says.
I’m not some big cat guy or anything, I say. There were just so many. They helped out, ya know? Caught the rats. So we’d started putting food out and a couple of them got pretty friendly.
Cats, Gemma says.
Yeah, I say. Dumpster cats, but okay. Dumpster cats aren’t so bad. In some cultures, dumpster cats are sacred.
Gemma nods. That’s true, she says.
And there’s one that’s just very friendly. He’s just this nice little guy. More than the others. So Alfred, or really his wife, scoops it up one day and takes it to the vet and all that. Names it. Saves it, really.
Names it what, Gemma says.
Well that’s the thing, I say. The cat was friendly to me in particular. And it was because I just happened to be the guy who would set out the bowls of food. It was one of my jobs. So that’s why. It’s not like, ya know. What Carter said. Like I wanted to fuck the cat or something. Like he told everyone I put tuna fish on my balls or something. And I think he kicked it one time. But whatever. I set the food down. And this cat, it just preferred me.
God, Gemma says.
Yeah, I say, signaling for another round. And this cat, there was this thing it did. Bowed its head kinda. Before eating.
She shakes her head like she doesn’t get it.
Well, I say. It would close its little eyes. Head down low. Ears back. I don’t know. So the first time it happens, I go like, ya know, as a joke, I go, Amen.
No, Gemma says.
Yeah, I say. And then the cat starts eating.
No, she says.
Yeah, I say. But then the cat kept doing it. Every time. Closing its eyes. Bowing its head. Waiting for me to say Amen. So I kept saying it. So we don’t name the cats officially, but we start calling it Preacher, because of how he does that thing.
Preacher, Gemma says. That’s good.
Yeah, I say. But then Carter starts saying he wants to kill one of the dumpster cats just because, ya know? Like, saying no one would care and nothing would happen. Probably just trying to fuck with me. But maybe not too, right? I knew he meant Preacher. So I tell Alfred and he tells his wife and that’s when Alfred’s wife makes it official. No longer a dumpster cat. Now he’s a house pet. And she names him Preacher from how all the guys called him that. Happy ending, right? Except not. Except a few weeks later, Alfred’s wife brings Preacher to the yard while she helps with some paperwork and Carter, who was supposed to be repainting the road sign, sees Preacher laying in the grass in the sunshine and decides—for no good reason—to paint him.
Gemma doesn’t say anything. I take a long drink. I’ve been shouting. I’m shaking a little. Painted him red, I say. From neck to tail.
I don’t understand, Gemma says. Why would he do that?
For no reason, I say. Or maybe because he’s a piece of shit.
I finish my drink. She touches my wrist. I don’t know what they call it. A moment. She feels it too and what I mean is that we’ve come to an understanding. The lights in the bar come on.
That piece of shit, she says.
I insist on driving her car. Because I’m a gentleman, I guess.
I’m still at my folks’ place but you don’t care, Gemma says in the passenger seat.
No, I say. I don’t care.
We can go in through the side door, she says. And we can turn the TV on so they know I’m home safe. So they won’t come down. But if they do come down, promise to be cool, okay?
She rolls down her window and lets the river stink in. What happened to Preacher, she says, taking off her high heels and putting her feet on the dash.
Well, we tried to wipe him off. I mean, I tried to wipe him off. But ya know.
Crazy, she says.
He had eaten the paint or something. Trying to clean himself. He wasn’t doing great. Kept puking up red paint. Alfred’s was way out there. Old Kings Road, if ya know where that is. On the way to the vet—well, he just didn’t make it.
Damn, Gemma says. Damn, damn, damn.
Alfred fired Carter for it. But then Carter sued him for wrongful termination. For the unemployment. Kept getting rejected, but Carter kept opposing the judgment, which is a thing, apparently.
Gemma reclines her chair back. I’m just going to close my eyes for two seconds, she says.
Took it all the way to the state review where Carter was granted full unemployment. He ended up winning, I say. Can ya fucking believe that? Got paid. And legal fees too. But it didn’t matter. He didn’t get the whole thing. Alfred was wiped out. He sold to who knows. Wife left. Just a mess.
Gemma opens her eyes and tells me to turn right. This is me, she says after a few houses.
I park on the street and she leads me in through the kitchen. Dinner dishes in the sink. Some kind of pasta. She’s got a room in the basement. She turns on the TV.
In the end, I say and she shushes me.
In the end, I whisper. It was because in our employee agreement, it wasn’t specifically outlined that we couldn’t paint cats. That was the reason the labor board gave. Can you believe that?
I’m sitting on her bed and she’s standing, facing her closet.
I’m going to put on my mermaid costume, Gemma says. It’s from Halloween last year. That’s when I met Carter and I looked so good. She puts her hands on her hips. I just want to be Ariel right now.
She digs the costume out from the bottom shelf in her closet and takes off her dress and steps into an ankle-length form-fitting green sequin skirt. She asks me to fasten her shells.
A funny thing about Preacher, I say, hooking the clasp in the back as Gemma holds her hair up. Was that he had seven toes on one foot, which I learned is called polydactyly. He was just a special, special cat.
The zipper is stuck, Gemma says, struggling with the skirt. The more she pulls at it, the more green sequins she sheds on the carpet. She gives up. God, I’m such a cow, she says. She goes over to the mirror. God, I look like total shit.
I come up behind her. I hold her. Another funny thing about Preacher, I say, is that I started actually praying over his food, as strange as it sounds. At first it was just like, ya know, pausing, and then saying Amen, but then I started really praying. I mean, praying to God, weirdly enough. I’d be all like, dear God, bless these kitty kibbles so Preacher can do his kitty duty, kinda thing. Started as not so serious, but then turned into real prayer. I mean, what should I make of that?
Whatever Gemma had been on, she’s coming off. I can see it leaking out of her. She’s crying.
It’s because I’m so fat, she says. It’s all my fault.
I stroke her hair. It’s not like I’m some big praying guy, I say. But hey it can’t hurt either, right? I just felt like I was praying on his behalf, if that makes any sense. Like he was the religious one. I kiss Gemma on her neck, right below the ear. Is it weird that I still do it? I say softly. Pray for Preacher, I mean?
I’m going to kill him, Gemma says, wiping her face. She turns to me. We should kill him.
Make him eat paint, I say.
Yeah, Gemma says. But really murder him.
We move to the bed.
We can tie his hands down, I say.
Yes, she says.
Sit him down to a big bowl of red paint.
Yes, she says.
Teach him a lesson.
Yes, she says.
We hear footsteps creak overhead. We stop. I hold my breath. The toilet flushes.
Amen, I say.
Gemma reaches for the lamp. I find her in the dark.
Amen, she says.