Cathy Eats Her Words

November 6, 2007

Day Four

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 7:08 pm

Day Four

She came up with all sorts of reasons, but Miranda was a lawyer, and countered every point. She kept circling back to one argument: Cathy needed someone to take care of.

“But I have Gray.”

“He takes care of himself, and you don’t have Star anymore, either. You said yourself that you’re wandering around lost.”

“But Tabasco.”

“He’s Gray’s dog.”

“But I’ve never had a little dog.”

“They’re a lot easier to handle than that mutt.”

“But Tabasco’s so big. He’ll eat a little bitty dog like that.”

“They’ll get along. Tabasco will protect her from being stolen.”

“But I can’t afford the vet bills.”

“I’ve got insurance on her. You don’t have to worry.”

“But.” She’d run out of objections. She couldn’t say they already had too many pets, because they only had the one dog and three cats, and they were no trouble. She couldn’t say she didn’t want another dog, because she really enjoyed spending time with Scootie, who always curled up in her lap and went to sleep, and stared at her with those big eyes of hers and melted her heart. The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. “I’ll have to see what Gray says,” she finished weakly.

“Great.” Miranda was excited. “I’ll bring her over when I get a break in my case this afternoon. I really feel bad about not being able to spend any time with the poor thing,” she said, sounding like she was summing up before a friendly judge. “I work such long hours, and Joe isn’t interested in small dogs. She really needs almost constant attention, and you’re the only one I know who’s at home all the time. And besides, she already loves you. What more perfect home could I find for her? Thanks a bunch,” she finished, giving Cathy the impression she was checking her watch. “I can’t tell you how much it means to me to see my little Scootie happy with someone who’ll love her like I do. I owe you one.”

Cathy was embarrassed. “Owe me,” she repeated. Miranda was always ready to do favors for Cathy, and maybe the whole world. She was the best friend Cathy had, and they’d shared so much that she couldn’t imagine her owing anything. After hearing Miranda’s speech, Cathy felt like she owed her.

So Cathy got a dog.

Scootie ( still a puppy. Cute as a bug, but still learning the basics of house training, completely untrained as far as Sit and Stay and Come and No. No, most of all. Scootie didn’t understand No. Cathy caught her squatting on the kitchen floor to pee, and said No in a stern voice, and Scootie just continued to pee, looking at her and thinking, That’s my pee, yes it is. I put it there.

Miranda had bought Scootie because she was the most affectionate of the toy dogs. She’d thought she’d be able to spend enough time with her, but ended up leaving her alone all day, crated – no, caged – and only had time to take her for abbreviated walks to the patch of grass in front of her condo. Being a lap dog, Scootie hadn’t minded this, because she lived to sleep in someone’s warm lap, and didn’t much care for exercise. But she really hated the cage. King Charles Spaniels are lively, friendly dogs, and love to spend time with their people. Being isolated was like being in jail.

She followed Cathy everywhere in the house. She was in the middle of her dinner of expensive puppy food that Miranda had supplied, and up and left her bowl to the ravages of Tabasco just to follow her into the other room. Cathy turned around and saw Scootie sitting in the doorway, watching her, and heard Tabasco’s chain clanging against the plastic of her bowl. She rushed back into the kitchen in time to see Tabasco hunched over the remains of the bowl, licking it clean. “You bad dog,” she said angrily. “You can’t eat Scootie’s food. It’s not for you. Bad dog.”

Tabasco looked at her guiltily and moved back to his own bowl. But I detect several distinct varieties of genuine meat. There’s lamb. There’s chicken. And is that duck? My delicate digestion requires that kind of high-quality nutrition. What do I care for cornmeal when there’s duck around?

Scootie cowered away from Tabasco at first. He liked to hang out in front of the front door, chewing on what had once been a sapling and was now more like a large dog toothpick. He liked to throw it in the air and let it bounce before jumping on it and wrestling it to the ground. Scootie chilled underneath a low table and watched, staying out of his way. She only went up to sniff him when he was crashed out on the floor, asleep.

They all went for a dog walk later. Cathy found an old leash at the bottom of the coat closet and wrapped it around Scootie’s neck, making a mental list of things to get from the pet store. Collar, tag, leash, more puppy food. She could hear dollar signs. She’ll probably need winter clothes, too, she thought. This isn’t just a dog from the pound, she’s always going to cost more money than Tabasco. She wondered if she’d made a mistake.

Tabasco was deliriously happy to have another dog to patrol with. Scootie stayed within half an inch of Cathy’s feet, and even so they managed to get their leashes tangled a dozen times. Gray and Cathy were so busy that they hardly had time to discuss their day.

Gray had been working in his basement sanctum, tinkering with various projects. He was currently absorbed in making alternative candy for Halloween, which was still months away. He was trying for razor-blade peppermints, and while he had no trouble getting a sharp edge on the candy, it hardened too fast for him to cut without shattering, and he was frustrated by the precision necessary to turn out consistent boiled candies. He was also wanted to make a line of sugar skulls, and skeleton fingers. And he was not happy with the results. They weren’t realistic enough for him. And it was really hard to get shredded flesh-like candy gristle to stick to the digits.

Cathy rarely went down to the basement. Gray had it all cluttered up with various machines and equipment, and half finished projects that dated back to the ‘60s. Time, labor, and energy-saving contraptions that mostly didn’t work; some that did work but that took up too much time, effort, and electricity. There were various sculptures, too, half of naked women, half of scary monsters. A psychiatrist would have a field day with Gray’s subconscious.

There was a makeshift greenhouse near the north-facing window, with the corpses of a dozen different seedlings. A huge spider had made its home there, and seemed to be doing quite well for herself. The floor was covered in old paint footprints, due to some refinishing job Gray had abandoned in a corner, the footsteps leading up to and away from it, and milling around in the center of the room, blending together into a pool of treads, now obscured by dust. One wall had been turned into an electronics shop, with tubes and wires everywhere, and old TVs and computers stacked on the floor all around the workbench. Another wall was a woodshop, with sawdust coating everything. There were two shop-vacs on the floor, but they’d been scavenged for their moving parts.

Gray was a man of many talents, all practiced at once. But at least he was happy. He never came up from his basement sour or distressed. He was always humming a tune under his breath. He never suffered from boredom, or a lack of things to do. He actually had too much on his plate, and was often working on several things at once, which tended to interfere with each other, like when he attempted to carve a new chair-rail while fixing a radio, getting solder on his lathe and sawdust in his wiring.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Cathy said as they strolled down the block, the dogs crossing each others’ paths, Scootie wanting to stop and smell something in the opposite direction from Tabasco. “I heard from Star’s dad today.”

Gray yanked Tabasco away from a car tire. “A new crisis?”

Cathy frowned. “No. He bought her a car.”

Gray dawdled while Tabasco fertilized a bunch of weeds. “That doesn’t seem very practical if he’s trying to keep an eye on her.”

“He says it’s so she can get back and forth to her job. But the restaurant is within walking distance.”

“Puzzling. Well, there are many reasons to get her a car.”

“Yeah. Bribery occurs to me.” Cathy watched as Scootie discovered a small rock and picked it up in her mouth. It was cute the way she pranced when she had something in her mouth.

“From what you’ve said, he’s capable of it.”

“He’d rather give her money than attention. And he’s a sucker for those wide eyes and pleading words.”

Gray didn’t say so are you. He yanked Tabasco to a halt so that he wouldn’t strangle Scootie with his leash. Cathy untangled them. Again.

“I imagine there’ll be trouble now that he’s gotten her a car.”

“My kids never got a car from us. They got a job and saved up the money for an old banger and the insurance.”

“My parents didn’t do it either. But kids these days, they’re so spoiled.”

Gray chuckled. “Don’t we sound like a pair of old codgers.”

She patted his arm. “Yes, we’re old. I can feel the need for a nap after lunch, as a matter of fact.” She grinned at him. “Care to join me?”

He yawned and pinched her butt. Tabasco rolled his eyes. Scootie ran after a leaf blown by the wind.

Star called later to brag about her car, waking the couple out of a blissful sleep. Richard had taken her to the dealership and let her pick it out herself. It was the coolest car on the lot. Cathy wondered if it was a Hummer or some other monstrosity. “Is it a new car?”

Sadly, no. “But it cost him $10,000.”

Cathy was out of touch. Their pickup had cost them $2,000 ten years ago, used. Ten grand sounded like a lot of money, but for all she knew, Richard could have bought Star a wreck. Except that Star would never have accepted it.

“And he bought me a dog,” she squealed. “You’ve got to see her, she’s the most beautiful dog on earth.”

Cathy said, “I’ve got a new dog, too,” but Star wasn’t listening.

“She’s called Stumbles, because the first thing she did when I got her home was to fall down the stairs. She’s really cute. She’s a Maltese (, with papers and everything, and she cost Dad almost $800 at the pet store.”

Tabasco had cost them a tenth of that at the pound, shots and neutering included. Scootie was a gift. The cats were strays. The basic difference between Richard and Cathy was that Richard always went to the official dealer and paid top dollar for this things, while Cathy tended to get things out of dumpsters and thrift stores.

“So, when are you going to come up here and show me your new possessions?” She didn’t ask why Star didn’t call or answer her new cellphone until she had something she wanted to show off. Star made a vague answer. Cathy tried another tack. “How’s your job?”


“Are you making tips? Do you like waitressing, or would you rather be back in the kitchen?”

“I don’t care. I’m making okay tips. The kitchen looks like too much work for me. And they get dirty.”

“But they’re making dinner.”

“Mom, if you’re trying to get me interested in learning to cook, forget it.”

Cathy was chopping vegetables for chicken soup. “Fine. Why don’t you come by in the next couple of days and bring your dog? I’d like her to meet my new dog.”

“You have a dog? You don’t need a dog. Where’d you get it? The pound again? I’ll bet it’s nothing like as cute and wonderful as my Stumbles.”

“Probably not. But I think they’ll like each other. They’re both toy dogs.”

“But you love mine more,” she insisted.

“Whatever you say. Just hurry up and come and see me. I miss you.”

Star acted allergic to that, and got off the phone in a rush.

She eventually came by to visit, a week and a half later. She stayed for twenty minutes, long enough to get another armload of clothes from her ex-room, glance dismissively at Scootie and insult Gray, who wasn’t sufficiently impressed with her ride or her new dog.

“Looks like a dirty mop,” he said, and she shot arrows at him out of her eyes.

Cathy got more out of Greane and Saphyr, who stopped by to use her bathroom and fish around in the refrigerator for food.

“She’s talking about moving in with Spike,” Greane said as she squatted down to look in the vegetable keeper, her massive butt coming half out of her sweatpants. She was more pregnant every day, and wasn’t a little girl to begin with. Cathy estimated that she was over 170 pounds, with several months yet to go. How could she squat down like that, she wondered.

“Spike is a very bad man,” Saphyr observed. “He’s got a black aura. You shouldn’t let Star have anything to do with him.”

Cathy laughed. “Like I could stop her. You should tell this to her dad.”

Greane straightened up, a pair of oranges in her hands. She stuffed them into the pouch of her hoodie, making her belly look like it had boils. “That’s why he bought her a car. He’s trying to keep her from moving out.”

“But that’ll just make it easier,” Cathy said. “What is he thinking?”

“She’s got him snowed,” Saphyr said. “He’ll do anything she wants. She’s put a spell on him. I know, I’m a witch. I can do that, but I won’t.”

Cathy said, “Good for you. It’s bad karma.” Saphyr nodded wisely.

“You should see who she’s chilling with now,” Greane said, munching on a bar of cheese she’d found in the egg keeper, where Cathy kept it within easy reach. Cathy reached over and took the cheese out of her hand, cut off a hunk of fingerprint-marred cheese with her knife, and handed that to Greane, putting the rest of the bar back in the fridge. “She’s been hanging out with Jonathan, who does loads of coke and owns a porn business. He wants her to star in his next movie.”

Oh great, thought Cathy.

“Yeah. And she’s been seeing a lot of this guy Chris, who’s the head of the Crips gang at the high school. She lets him stash his guns in her car when he goes to class. It’s right near the restaurant where she works.”

Wonderful, thought Cathy. “What’s her boyfriend think about all these friends she’s hanging out with?”

Greane turned to look at her with a serious expression. “He’s getting very mad. That’s why he wants her to live with him. So he can watch over her and see she doesn’t get into any trouble.”

“That sounds like what her dad is doing.”

“Yeah, but her dad doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on. He thinks she’s his little darling, and she’s heading for real trouble.”

Saphyr added, “That’s why we came up here, to tell you so you’d be able to influence the situation a little more. He won’t listen to us.” She sniffed. “He thinks we’re children.”

“But you’re…” Cathy said, fishing.

“Twenty-two,” Greene said proudly.

“Twenty-four,” Saphyr said.

Babes in the woods, Cathy thought.

“It’s just that you’re so sensible,” Greane said, polishing off the cheese and reaching for the loaf of freshly-baked bread that was sitting on its cut end on the bread board. “Got any butter?”

Cathy looked at her. Greane was obese to begin with, and her pregnancy made her waddle and lurch. Her hair was lank and greasy, unlike most pregnant women’s, and her eyes were large and bulgy. She suspected nutritional deficiency. “How’s your pregnancy going?” she asked to change the subject.

“Oh, fine. The doctors have me on a different prescription, and it’s a pain in the ass, but I’m on top of it.” She crammed bread into her mouth, making yummy noises around the dough.

“Yeah,” Saphyr added. “She doesn’t get as crazy as she used to. And the side effects aren’t as bad.”

“Side effects?”

Greane shrugged. “Yeah. I can’t sleep much, and I get hyper. And I’ve got to pee all the time.”

“That could be because you’re pregnant.”

“Nah. It’s the drugs,” she protested.

“Whatever. I’m surprised they give you drugs at all when you’re pregnant. They wouldn’t even let me have an aspirin when I was pregnant with Star.”

“Oh, Greane needs her drugs,” Saphyr laughed. “She’d be psycho without them.”

Cathy was even more worried about Star by the time they left. She was hanging out with drug dealers, gang members, and pornographers, her dad was enabling her with a car and money, and bribing her with expensive pets, and she was getting ready to escape what little supervision he could provide and run into the arms of a dangerous, unstable – but polite – bounty hunter. She would have been so much safer staying with Cathy. But she wouldn’t have been able to stand any of the behaviors her friends were telling her about.

She checked with Richard about it all. What he had to say wasn’t much of a comfort. “Her so-called friends are a pair of neurotic – no – psychotic, pathological liars,” he said dismissively. “I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them.”

“Do you know a guy named Jonathan?”

“Nice kid.”

“How about a guy named Chris?”

“I actually like Chris. He’s going to go to MIT and learn to program. I’ve shown him all thru my computer lab downstairs.”

“From what Greane and Amber say, you should probably reinforce the locks on your doors after that.”

“I repeat myself. The two of them are vicious, lying sluts and drug addicts. Don’t pay any attention to what they tell you.”

Cathy was confused by all this. Everywhere she looked, someone with a plausible story was coming out to accuse everyone around them of perfidy. And everyone contradicted everyone else. “Who should I believe?”

“Believe me. I’m keeping a good eye on our little girl. I’ve got a GPS tracker on her car, she can’t make a phone call or send a text message without my monitoring it, and I can see everyone who comes or goes from the house. She’s perfectly safe with me.”


So Cathy decided not to worry too much about it.

And the next thing she knew, Star was living with Spike. Richard called her up one morning sounding defeated. “She’s gone,” he stated flatly.

“She’s okay?” Cathy didn’t like the melodramatic sound of his words.

“She’s dead to me,” he replied.

“Oh, please. What happened?”

“After all I’ve done for her, the little bitch moved in with her criminal boyfriend. I kept her dog, tho. She doesn’t deserve to have a dog. I’d keep her car if it wasn’t in her name.” Cathy could hear the venom in his voice, and something else. Depression?

“Okay. When did she do this? Where is she living? What else happened?” Needing something to do with her hands, she went to the dryer and took out some clothes to fold.

“Nothing. She moved out one day when I was at work. I came home and the door was open and all her things were gone from the house. Except her dog. She’s never getting it back, either.”

“How long ago? How come you didn’t tell me?”

“About a week.” He sighed. “I was too upset to tell you, and decided I needed to calm down before I thought about what my response should be. I needed a lot of tranquilizers, had to go to one of my friends for a fresh supply. Now I’m calm again.”

Great. It wasn’t depression she was hearing in his voice. It was chemicals. She separated a stack of Gray’s clothes from hers, and started on the socks. “And what’s your response?”

“She’s not getting another thing from me. Not ever. She betrayed me with that – that criminal.”

“You keep calling him that.”

“I’ve seen no reason to change my mind.”

“Okay.” He was like a machine, the way he kept going around the same thoughts. “Where is she living?”

“I don’t care,” he answered immediately. “Off in some subdivision around here. He’s got a house. It’s more of a crack den. There are a bunch of people living there, evidently. She wouldn’t tell me a whole lot. But I know exactly where it is because I can track her car. I can see it right now on my screen.”

He must have peered at his computer because his words trailed off. He was slurring his words, Cathy noticed. “How are you? You don’t sound very well.” He sounded drunk.

“I’m a wreck. My little girl has left me for that scumbag. I’m cutting her out of the will. I’m not paying for any more legal help. I’m changing the locks on the doors.”

“You don’t have a will.”

“Well, I will now. I’m going to download one right now, and write her right out of it.”

“Okay, have fun with that.”

Cathy was worried, but there was nothing she could do until Star got hold of her. And then she’d be able to ask a few questions, annoy Star, and be hung up on without hearing anything more than the tales and rumors she’d already heard. It was very frustrating.

Gray tried to calm her nerves. “She’ll probably be fine,” he said, but Cathy wasn’t convinced. “She’s a big girl. She might be making a mistake, but she’s young, and she’ll live thru it, and she’ll learn. And one of these days she’ll come back and you’ll realize she’s become the adult you’ve always wanted to raise.”

It wasn’t long before Cathy got the chance to see how Star was living. She called up one day, asking her mom to bring her the rest of her clothes, and for a special favor.

“Mom, I want you to go by Dad’s and get Stumbles for me.”

Cathy shook her head. Not with him watching the place. He probably had land mines in the front yard. “No, sweetie, that’s not something I can do. You’re going to have to talk to your dad.”

“I’m never talking to him again. He threw me out, right after I moved back home because he was miserable without me.”

“Oh, he was, was he? He said that?”

“Yes. He was pleading with me the whole time I was living with you to get me to come back and take care of him. He’s a wreck by himself.” Cathy was afraid Star was going to start criticizing her for leaving him in the first place. “That’s why he got me a cellphone, and a car, and my little Stumbles.” Her voice cracked. Cathy listened to her cry for a few moments. “That’s why you’ve got to go get her for me. I can’t go back there, and I need my Stumbles.”

“I’m sorry, honey. I can’t do it.”

“Well, bring me my clothes, and we’ll see.” Cathy could tell she thought she could talk her into it when she saw how pitiful Star looked. Maybe I should offer her Scootie until she gets over it, she thought. Nah.

“Why did he throw you out?”

“He kept being incredibly unreasonable about keeping in touch with him. If I didn’t call every hour he’d threaten me, said he’d take my keys.” Her voice cracked. “Or my dog. And one day I couldn’t call because my phone died, and he threw me out.” She sounded battered. Cathy felt sory for her.

So she went down to see where Star was living. The pickup was old, and rickety, and made loads of noise because the exhaust manifold was cracked. Star refused to ride in it, and turned shades of red whenever she heard it coming down the street. She grimaced when Cathy drove thru her new neighborhood. “I could hear you all the way out on the road,” she said when Cathy came to the door. “Couldn’t you rent a car when you come to visit me?”

Cathy just laughed. She was looking around at Star’s new residence. It was in a subdivision just like any other, and Cathy was allergic to the sameness of subdivisions. This one announced that it was for middle class people who wanted to pretend they were better off, and were willing to shoulder larger mortgages than necessary so they wouldn’t look middle class. Small McMansions, ( rooflines, stonework on the chimneys, fake dormers in the roof. Affordable elegance, from the low $300s. Gag me, she thought.

Star turned from the door and disappeared. Cathy followed her inside. The place was the same kind of mess Star’s bedroom had been. Clothes and trash were everywhere. Empty pizza boxes, plastic coke bottles, crushed beer cans, moldy towels, dirty shoes. But not a book anywhere. No plants, no ornaments, no art. Just a huge plasma TV screen ringed with three long couches and a few recliners, an overflowing ashtray as the centerpiece of a coffee table crowded with trash.

Spike slumped in the couch, watching a Nascar race on the tube. He barely looked up as Cathy entered. Not very polite at home, Cathy mused. Star stood over him, straddling his legs, and fussed at him about something. Cathy couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but it made her uncomfortable to see her daughter standing with her crotch in his face. He didn’t seem to notice, tho. He tried to watch the TV while she was fussing at him.

Cathy looked around. No glasses or dishes in the kitchen, no pots or pans. Empty rolls of paper towels, plastic plates, a microwave, instead. She was willing to bet that the fridge only had beer and maybe a half gallon of milk in it.

It was a huge house. The living room was enormous, the kitchen was spacious, even the downstairs bathroom was huge, however filthy. What appeared to be their bedroom twisted off into the distance on the other side of the TV set, and stairs led up to what might have been three or four more bedrooms, and down to what was probably a finished basement with a pool table and several half-built car engines. Or maybe storage for all their dirty clothes.

There was a strange smell in the air. It was a mixture of cigarette smoke, plastic carpeting, stale beer, dog, and some chemical that Cathy couldn’t place.

The two kids continued to ignore her, talking softly so she couldn’t hear her. She felt like she shouldn’t be there. “Okay, well, I guess I’ll just bring in the clothes you wanted me to bring,” she called. Star looked over at her and nodded. You’re still here?

So she went out and fetched the carefully washed and folded clothes, set them down in a clear space on a massive dining room table that was never used for eating, and left.

“What was it like?” Gray wanted to know when she got home.

Cathy was dispirited. “It was way too big, and there was nothing in it. It’s like they’re camped out in there. I don’t know how many people live there with them. Could be a whole group of them, for all I could see. It was a pigsty.”

“Do you think he can afford a big house like that on a bounty hunter’s salary?”

“I don’t know.” She thought about it. “We don’t know anything about him, do we? Is he renting or does he own it?”

“Does Star seem happy?”

“That’s just it. I can’t tell. She was certainly more animated than we ever saw her here, but she was fussing with Spike, and he seemed to be ignoring her. I just can’t tell what’s going on.” She was tired, and a little depressed at finding her daughter in a more expensive mess. “I think I need to go lie down.”

Gray knew she didn’t mean lying down to play around, so he tucked her into the bed and went downstairs to work on his projects. Today he was involved in stopping the neighborhood cat-killing dogs, and needed to get back to his makeshift chemistry lab before something boiled over.

go to tomorrow’s writing


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