Cathy Eats Her Words

November 15, 2007

Day Nine

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 5:23 pm

After a sleepless night, Cathy drove down to the jail to see her baby girl. It was like a nightmare. The waiting room was full of people who obviously deserved to have family members in jail. They all wore mismatched thrift-store clothing and were sitting around with monster cups of coke, reading trashy paperbacks or watching slack-jawed as Jerry Springer entrapped another guest. Cathy sat as far from them as she could, put her trashy paperback back into her mismatching thrift-store bag, and carefully avoided looking at the TV.

When her number was called, she went up front and asked tearfully to see her daughter. There was a moment of panic when the lady told her that she wasn’t on the visitor list, but after thinking for a minute, Cathy asked her to try looking her up under her married name. Star must really hate the fact that she had remarried, because sure enough, she was listed under Richard’s last name.

She made a note to yell at her daughter later about being rude to Gray, but it seemed so trivial a point, and she forgot about after they looked thru her bag and frisked her and finally let her thru the door down a long, dirty, puke-yellow corridor that echoed back every step she took, large pipes running along the ceiling as if the corridor was built for them, and any human use was secondary. It reminded her of the entrance hall to the Wizard of Oz’s throne room, intimidating, beyond human scale, designed to make you sorry you’d come. She idly wondered about the manpower needed to keep the floor as shiny and polished as it was, and imagined a jail population who would fight for the chance to do something, even just using a polisher to keep the corridor gleaming its sick dirty ochre color. The corridor cut thru the bowels of the jail and ended at a door marked visitors. She went thru it, and it clanged behind her. She was in a gray room of little gray booths, hard gray stools, gray phones, and bulletproof windows. She paced behind the window, trying to see down into the middle of the jail where they were keeping her baby. It looked nasty. It was all painted cinderblock, painted ducts and pipes, and windows. She didn’t see any bars. She was looking down one floor into the middle of what looked like a holding pen, with rooms arranged all around it, and a control booth looking room in the middle with monitors and computers and blinking lights. Nobody was moving down there. It was very clean. There was no furniture, and no windows, and lots of fluorescent light flickering spasmodically from every other fixture.

Finally she sat down at a chair in the middle of the visitor room. As if by signal, a door opened at the far end of the holding cell and her daughter came scuttling out, peering into the control room as if asking permission to cross the room and climb the stairs.

Star looked haggard. Her hair was unbrushed, her eyes were tired. Her normally beautiful face was stressed by a frown as she slumped into her chair and picked up the telephone to talk to her mom.

“I don’t understand why I’m still in here,” she whined. “Why doesn’t Dad go ahead and pay my bail?”

Cathy so didn’t want to tell her that it was for her own good, or that they were hoping she’d learn a lesson, but Star beat her to it.

“I’ve learned my lesson,” she said. “I’ll do anything to keep from coming back to jail. It’s cold in here, all the time. And all I’ve had for days has been peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

Cathy knew how much she hated peanut butter and jelly. “What happened before you got arrested?” she asked.

Star looked stricken. “It was awful,” she said into the phone, running a hand thru her tousled hair. Her fingers caught tangles. “They tied up everyone but me, because I was upstairs. And when I came downstairs, they put a gun to my head, and I told them to get it the fuck out of my face.”

“You were very brave. Who were they?”

“Some guys. One of them was someone who used to come over to the house. He recognized me. They hit Spike with a gun, and gave him a concussion. And then the guy, he told me to go collect the stuff, because he knew I would know where everything was. They took Spike’s money and his guns, and they pulled the phone from the wall and took that, and his cellphone, and then they left. I followed them to the front hall and got their license plate number.”

“What were you doing upstairs?”

“I was changing Jennifer’s baby?”


“Yes. She and Allen. Their baby. They live there, too.”

Too many people to sort out. Cathy began to feel dizzy. “And then what?”

“Then Spike’s damn grandma came in and called the cops. He begged her not to, because we wanted to handle it ourselves, but she took one look at the blood on the wall and the duct tape, and panicked.” She seemed to think that it was silly to panic when you find your kin tied up and beaten. Cathy nodded. It seemed unlikely that they would have called the cops themselves, with drugs and guns in the house. She could understand if it had been grandma calling the cops.

“Why was he charged with having a gun if they took them all?”

She laughed. “They couldn’t possibly have taken them all. Besides, they threw a bunch of stuff out of their car window as they left. I saw them, and told the cops. Maybe they tossed the guns, too.” She shrugged, looking vulnerable. Cathy felt sorry for her.

“I wish there was something I could do to get you out of here,” she said softly. “But we don’t have any money.”

Star stared at her. “You could get a job,” she said.

Cathy ignored the suggestion. “I talked to Spike’s grandma,” she said. Star reacted as if she’d been talking to the cops.

“Why did you do that? You shouldn’t be talking to her,” she said, her eyes wide with some emotion. Fear?

“Why not?” Star didn’t answer. “We had a nice conversation. She’s a nice person. And she told me a lot of things I didn’t know.”

“Like what,” Star challenged.

“Like how they found cocaine.”

“It wasn’t ours. It’s Allen’s.”

“Who’s Allen?”

“Allen? And Jennifer? He lives there?” Like, Mom, you’re such an idiot.

Cathy was puzzled. “If he lives there, why didn’t the cops pick him up, too?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Was he there and they didn’t arrest him, or he wasn’t there at the time?”

“Well, he was there, and then he left once the cops got there. Granny showed up and called the cops, and then Spike’s mom came in later. They were going to arrest them, too.”

“Why did they arrest you? Did you giggle at the cops again?”

“Well, they were so Hollywood about it, and they threatened me and stuff, and I can’t stand bullies.”

Cathy nervously imagined Star showing attitude to a cop. “You didn’t do anything that they might have interpreted as resistance, did you?”

“No, but I did go to the bathroom and flush some of the stuff down the toilet,” she said, proud of herself.

Cathy groaned.

When she left the jail she sat in her car and cried for a few minutes. It was very hard for her to keep calm inside the jail, seeing her pretty, innocent daughter transformed into a hardened criminal in a jumpsuit. Star had hinted that she wasn’t getting along with the other women in the pod she was in. She said there’d been a fight the night before and they’d all been locked down. Cathy had searched fearfully for bruises, but Star looked okay, physically. The damage to her emotions was evident, tho. She wasn’t getting any sleep, they weren’t feeding her well, and she was bored out of her mind and unable to understand why people who said they loved her wouldn’t get her out of there.

Cathy returned home, feeling depressed. Richard was still insisting that she stay in jail until an unspecified time in the future, altho she could tell he was beginning to work himself around to where he would want her out soon. When she called him he said something about how when inmates fight, the guards shoot them full of so many quiet drugs that they lie in bed twitching, and how he didn’t want his little girl to be in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Perhaps in a few more days he’d be worried enough about her that he would bail her out. Cathy assured him that Star was suffering, and told him that she’d asked for him to come visit her. But he was still too mad. Cathy wanted to say mean things to him and hang up. She wanted to scream. She wanted to go over and knock some sense into him. She went to bed, instead, depressed.

She tried to get back to a normal life, but with Star in jail, all she could think of was her poor baby and her hopeless future. Most of the dog walks with Gray and the puppies were silent stalks thru the neighborhood. The couple walked apart down the sidewalks, Cathy staring at the ground, Gray busy with his own thoughts. He was absorbed by his several projects, and she was thinking of her little girl. The dogs were looking for smells and places to pee.

As they arrived back home one afternoon, they heard a noise in the alleyway between houses, a scuffling in the leaves. Cathy and Gray started toward the noise, and Gray handed her Tabasco’s leash and took off down the stairs as he saw what was going on. A pair of neighborhood dogs had cornered one of their cats. One of them had grabbed her in its mouth and was shaking her back and forth violently. The cat yelped piteously. Cathy looked for something to throw at the dog, but as Gray got to the bottom of the stairs the dog dropped the cat and sauntered off, wagging its tail. Gray disappeared into the basement and reemerged half a second later with a shotgun he kept behind the door for just such an emergency. He disappeared around the back of the house.

Cathy put Tabasco and Scootie into the basement and shut the door, then went to see about the poor cat. Her name was Isis and she was old, but she’d lived in Gray’s workshop for longer than Cathy had been there. She spent as much of her time as she was allowed curled up sleeping in Gray’s lap, and if he was too busy, she spent her time curled up sleeping on the futon couch, her customary space, coated with shed fur.

Now she was lying in the leaves, not moving, breathing with effort, her eyes open and staring panicky as Cathy knelt over her and tried to decide what to do with her. Her neck seemed to be broken. It was at a funny angle. Her breathing was getting harder and more uneven. Cathy knew she was dying. She scooped her up gently and brought her into the workshop, laying her on her favorite spot on the futon, hoping Gray would get back in time to pet her before she died.

Cathy had never watched anything die before. It was as fascinating as it was gruesome. There was no blood on the cat, no sign that she was irreparably damaged, but her head was still at a strange angle, and she didn’t move any of her legs or her tail, only her chest rising and falling with her breaths. And then she started making noises with every breath. Little raspy noises. And as Cathy sat by here, stroking her fur in an attempt to calm her down, the cat began hesitating between breaths. Each pause was longer than the last, and finally she didn’t take another breath. Cathy waited, holding her own breath. The cat lay under Cathy’s hand, still, her eyes open.

Cathy wondered. Was the difference between life and death movement in general, or was it pumping lungs? Was stopping breathing the simple trick to dying? Was a creature that was still breathing but paralyzed alive? Was a human who was still breathing but had no mind left alive? She thought of herself and Gray getting old and incapacitated, finally ending up breathing laboriously in a strange bed, alone, with the same panicky look in their eyes as the cat had.

She felt sick. This could have happened to her Star. Some guy had a gun to her head. Drug deals went wrong all the time. They could have come in and shot everyone there so nobody could identify them. She could have been found with a panicky look in her eyes, not moving, not breathing, her blood all over the floor, cooling and congealing, with nobody to find them until the rats had eaten all the juicy bits and the ants had started in on them.

Cathy sat next to the dead cat and cried for everybody who’d lost someone they love. She cried for all the wasted lives, she cried for all the people stuck in jail whether they deserved it or not, she cried for kids whose parents hadn’t raised them right, she cried for parents who despite all their good intentions were too fucked up to be good parents. She cried for herself. She cried for Star. She cried for Isis.

Gray found her curled into a ball beside the dead cat, also curled into a ball.

They buried the cat out back, next to a growing number of cats that had been killed by that pair of dogs or some other. Gray was determined to put a stop to it. He’d been unable to track the dogs far enough to get a good shot at them, and Cathy had reminded him several times in the past that being caught using a gun would get him an automatic prison sentence, no matter what his excuse. But he was full of options. There were other ways to stop murderers.

The next day, he concocted a powerful dog poison, ready for the next stage of his plan.

A few days later, Cathy and Gray went down to the house where Star and Spike had been robbed, a box of garbage bags in the back of the truck, ready to retrieve as much of her belongings as they could. Spike’s parents were already there; his grandma had called her to tell her they were going to empty the house. There was a dumpster in the driveway. A middle aged couple were toting full garbage bags and wheeling barrows full of stuff to the dumpster and tossing them in.

Cathy was tempted to go thru what they’d already tossed to see if any of Star’s stuff was in the bags, but decided to go ahead and collect what was still in the house.

The formerly messy house was now a shambles. The cops had undoubtedly gone over the place, not with a fine toothed comb; more like with shovels and a fire hose. There was trash everywhere. All the cabinets had been opened and everything dashed aside, all the drawers were out and upside down. There was junk all over the floor. Trash. Clothes. DVD cases. Empty coke and beer cans. Gun cartridges, shotgun shells, all kinds of ammunition. Boxes of them. Everywhere she looked, there were bullets. This is not how the house had looked when she stopped by a few weeks before. Where did all the ammo come from?

She looked at Spike’s parents. They were both thin, in their forties, looking grim and determined, shoveling everything they could find into bags to be hauled out to the trash and buried in the dump. She tried to make a joke. “I always used to fuss at Star about picking up her stuff. I guess she never learned.”

Spike’s dad grinned, but his mom frowned. “He never learned to clean up after himself,” she said, glaring at his dad as if he’d gotten the habit from him.

“At least they have that in common,” Cathy said, meaning that they were both alike in that way, but Spike’s mom took it differently.

“They’ve got jail and all those charges in common,” she said angrily. “It’s all their fault. They been warned a million times, not to keep on the way they were.”

Cathy wondered if the whole family knew they were in here doing drugs.

She started to stuff things she recognized into garbage bags. She went into Spike and Star’s bedroom, where the cops had overturned the mattress and spilled everything out of the drawers onto the floor. “This room looks just like I would have imagined it, given Star’s housekeeping skills,” she said to Gray, and he chuckled, but she abandoned any more attempts at lightheartedness.

She could picture Star in absolute panic, running around the room trying to get at everything a cop would find interesting, trying to flush it all down the toilet. What’s the penalty for getting caught trying to dispose of evidence? Shoes, dirty socks, underwear, inside-out t-shirts, scrunched up jeans, all of it went into the bags. Cathy felt confusion. It was as if they’d just left the house to go out to dinner, and here she was trying to clear her stuff out while she was gone. But Star was sitting in jail.

She came out with a full bag and headed toward the truck with it. And then stopped, as she glanced at the dining room wall and noticed that it was covered with dried blood. She put the bag down and walked over to examine it. Big splatters of blood. Streaks of blood where Spike must have been slammed up against the wall. Blood all over the carpet and the dining room table. It showed up very clearly against the white of the wall. She was horrified. She could see Spike being hit in the head with a gun, then picked up and flung against the wall while the gun was pressed to his mouth, big strong rival drug fiends threatening his life and then putting a gun to poor Star’s he had while she held a baby in her arms.

“What happened to the people with the baby?” she asked Spike’s mom, who was piling computer equipment into the wheelbarrow. She noticed that they weren’t saving anything, just junking it all.

Spike’s mom scowled. “They let them leave. Jennifer told me that Star and Allen took the baby to Jennifer’s mom’s house while the cops were searching the house.”

Cathy was puzzled. She never got the full story from anyone. “Star and Allen? Jennifer wasn’t around?”

“No, she was out getting McDonald’s.”

“But then why did Star get arrested, if she was allowed to leave?”

Spike’s mom looked irritated. “Because she came back.”

“To be with Spike,” his dad explained. “He was hurt, and she was worried.”

“Oh.” Cathy wished Star had had more sense. You never return to the scene of a crime.

“Then she went around trying to flush the coke, and they caught her.”

“Oh, no.” Caught her how, she wondered. With it in her hand? Swirling down the drain? Residues on the bathroom floor? “Where was the coke?”

“Upstairs. In an overnight bag. They might not charge them with it, because they might not be able to prove it’s theirs. A lot of people come in and out and stay here. I guess they’ll run the fingerprints and then decide.”

“Well, there’s something we can hope for,” Cathy said, tho she didn’t feel very hopeful.

More stuff into plastic bags. Cathy went into the walk-in closet and was appalled by how many gun belts, gun cartridges, boxes of bullets, gun lover magazines, gun bags, holsters, clips, shotgun shells and satchels of cleaning equipment there were everywhere. There was more gun paraphernalia in the closet than there were clothes. And of course, most of Star’s clothes were on the floor anyway, so there wasn’t much to be retrieved from the room. Cathy moved into the bathroom. Here was a place that was mostly Star’s. Enough cosmetics and hair things to sink a ship. Thirty kinds of shampoo and conditioner, curling irons, straightening irons, blow dryers, brushes, scissors and clippers, hair ties, sprays, all the girly stuff. There was almost no evidence of Spike in the bathroom. And all of Star’s stereo equipment was in the bathroom, which Cathy thought was strange until she recalled the plasma TV in the living room, and then it didn’t seem so strange anymore. She had a hell of a time getting the speakers down off the wall. A giant, probably Spike, had put them up there, and he could get to places Cathy could only just barely see.

She filled Star’s soccer bag, a game she’d given up when she got into drugs. She’d showed such promise as a soccer player. Cathy started sniffling. She filled Star’s laundry hamper with her pillows. They smelled of Star. Cathy started crying. She folded Star’s feather bed and comforter into quarters and crammed it into a bag, feeling as if her heart were being crammed into plastic. She couldn’t wait to get away from there and have a good cry on Gray’s shoulder.

Gray was out in the living room, talking to Spike’s dad, lightening the atmosphere because he’d come out of the bedroom to find them going on to each other about how it was all Spike’s grandma’s fault. Now they were talking about dogs. Gray was angling for information on how to destroy killer dogs, and Spike’s dad was explaining that he had taken Spike’s pitbull to his house to avoid it being confiscated, because pitbulls weren’t allowed in houses with children. The thought of a pitbull going nuts on a kid made Cathy mad, and she was about to start fussing at Spike’s dad, when Spike’s grandma walked in. Spike’s dad was long and thin, like Spike, graying at the temples. Spike’s mom was short and thin, with a careworn face. Spike’s grandma was a steely-eyed businesswoman with a hard edge about her. But she looked beaten when she walked in. Cathy remembered that the three of them were at odds about what to do about Spike being in jail.

They stopped work, and called out for delivery. Then they sat around the dining room table, which had never been used for eating at before, and dug into chinese food. Cathy and Gray kept filling bags and hauling them out to the truck. Cathy wasn’t hungry, and wanted to leave, and didn’t want to sit down and make idle chitchat. They were talking about TV shows and car races.

When Spike’s grandma asked if she’d like a bite to eat, Cathy said her stomach was in knots and she couldn’t eat. “I know what you mean,” she said. “I couldn’t eat for days. But life goes on.” She took a mouthful. “I feel that it’s all my fault,” she said, and Cathy could see Spike’s mom nodding agreement. “I never said no to the boy, I let him lay around all day watching TV and doing drugs, and never made him work for a living. I bought him this house, I paid for everything. And this is my reward. To see him in jail, his life ruined. I had such hopes for him.”

Spike’s mom nodded with every word. Spike’s dad just ate, keeping his head down. Cathy wondered at the family dynamic and kept her mouth shut. “But he’s going to stay in there until his trial,” Grandma promised, turning her attention to a spring roll. Spike’s mom looked daggers at her and went back to her chicken leg. Cathy took a bag to the truck and decided that they had about all they could fit in the back of the truck, and about all they could take from the family. She was exhausted, and went to bed early, too depressed to have sex.

Two days later, Richard came by the house and sat at the counter drinking tea and moaning about how Star had let him down, and how much she was costing him. Cathy felt like screaming at him about how he loved money more than his daughter, but she didn’t bother, because he would have agreed with her at that point.

She could see that he was trying to talk himself into getting her out of jail sooner rather than later, so she let him, feeding him encouraging noises every time he seemed to need approval.

“I just can’t stand the thought of my baby being contaminated by those hardened criminals,” he complained, even tho he hadn’t been to the jail to visit her. “It’s dangerous in there. She could be raped by a guard, or made into some hag’s bitch.” His face was all contorted with worry.

“Then maybe you should consider bailing her out.”

“Not a chance. She isn’t showing any remorse. And she seems to have no idea what this is costing me, or what she’s putting me thru.”

Cathy knew what was coming. Within a day or two he would get her out of jail; having worked himself into hysterics, he would go and rescue her, and Cathy would be the only one holding the hard line, and would have to play the badguy for sticking to her principals when Daddy was buying her love. Again. She was tired of it.

Sure enough, Star called collect the very next day to gloat that she was getting out of jail tomorrow. “I asked Dad why you couldn’t bring the money over and get me out today, but he said that you wouldn’t want to bail me out. He said you think I need to learn a lesson,” she accused, as if that was a horrible thing for a mother to want.

That spineless bastard. “We both sat down when you got arrested,” she responded heatedly, “and we both discussed what was going on, and talked about just what kind of lesson you needed to learn.” His resolve had lasted until the moment he visited her and she turned on the waterworks. Thanks, Richard.

“Well, I’d like you to come and get me out today, because it’s dangerous in here.”

Cathy could hear the echo of Richard’s voice.

“You don’t care how it is for me in here,” she whined. “You’re just picking on me, and trying to make life harder than it has to be, to satisfy some sick jealousy you feel.”

Cathy bit her tongue. She sounded just like her dad. “I’m not the one who put you in jail, and it’s the state that’s trying to make life hard for you. You need to concentrate on why you’re in jail and what you should have done to stay out of there.”

“The reason I’m here is because Dad threw me out of the house. He hit me, and I left home.”

He hit her. Hmm. “The reason you’re there is because you and Spike were living in a house with drugs and guns and some gang rivalry thing going on, and the state is going to punish you for it.” Cathy felt like a character in Star’s favorite TV show, Law and Order. Where did she get these snappy comebacks?

“I just want to get out so I can do the right thing,” she said, sounding like she was going to cry. Cathy suddenly felt like crying herself. “Dad says that when I get out I’m going to start going to church, and he’s going to go with me.”

Odd, Richard had mentioned something about church, but had hinted that it was Star’s idea. Cathy had laughed it off, because Richard hadn’t been near a church since his first communion.

“Star, you have to face the fact that you have a jail sentence hanging over your head.”

“You have no idea what I’m going thru,” she said angrily.

“That’s because you always keep everything secret.”

“You know, when I get out I’m not going to come and see you.”

That was mean. Cathy lost it. “Fuck you.”

“Fuck you!” Star answered, sounding much more like she meant it than Cathy had. “Fuck you, bitch!” she shouted, and as she hung up on her mom, Cathy could hear the sound echoing off the walls of the jail.

Cathy called Richard and yelled at him for making her the badguy.

Then Star called back, collect, and apologized for being so mean.

Then Richard called and said he was escaping early from work and did she want to go to the jail and visit Star together.

So Cathy got in the truck and went down to see her loving daughter.

Who complained that she wanted to get out of jail today, and talked exclusively to her father, and made faces at her mom.

Richard bailed her out of jail that evening, and dropped her of at Cathy’s on his way to work the next morning. “Someone’s got to watch her every move,” he insisted, looking apologetic as he handed over a bag of Star’s things. Star flounced into the house, already acting rebellious and abusive, made up her bed with sheets from the bag, screamed at Cathy about having stolen the big TV, turned the little TV’s volume way up, slammed the door, and stayed in the room all day. That evening she slammed out of the house to cruise around the neighborhood and didn’t come back until after Cathy and Gray were in bed. When Cathy asked where she’d been, she said, “I’m still mad at you,” and slammed off to her bedroom.

go to tomorrow’s writing


1 Comment »

  1. I like it! I wish I had time to go back and read the preceding parts, but I don’t. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by Daniel — November 15, 2007 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

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