Cathy Eats Her Words

November 14, 2008

day six

Filed under: NaNoWriMo,Novel — jeanne @ 6:48 pm

Gray was down in the workshop. He’d escaped to it early, right after breakfast. Mom had awoken in a foul temper and he couldn’t stand the way she berated his Cathy. Mom never spoke to him that way, in fact she went out of her way to be nice to him. Gray got the impression Cathy’s mom was a little afraid of him, or intimidated, the way she smiled at him. As if she were trying to placate him for some power she imagined he had over her. It creeped him out. And since he was not the kind of fool to try and get between a squabbling mother and daughter, especially since he suspected they enjoyed the squabbling, he found one day that he’d been hiding down in his workshop for a few weeks now.

But he wasn’t wasting his time. Gray had a control room now, and that took constant tending. A dozen televisions stacked in rows in the middle of the workshop, a battery of stereo speakers hung up on the pegboard behind the workbench. Mom’s TV was on the bottom of the stack, in the middle because it was the largest screen. As a token gesture, Gray had the feed from her bedroom showing on it. Mom liked to sneak food.

He was keeping an eye on the street, the front yard, the sides and back yard, mom’s room, star’s room, their room, the kitchen, and the bathroom. He needed another half a dozen cameras to get everything. And there was the need for backup. But he was stretched for materials, and wondering about the wiring.

He made up for a lack of eyes by a vast proliferation of ears. He’d been collecting speakers and microphones for donkey’s years, and saw nothing wrong with putting them in closets, under tables, in vents, trees, overhands. He had the whole street covered. If you where whispering at the end of the street, it came out of a bent and tinny speaker on the left side of Gray’s board. The gay couple down the street was having huge screaming fights every other night, and the kid next door seemed to be running a gambling ring on his cellphone.

It was a calming sussurus of white noise coming from all those speakers. They picked up the traffic, the wind, the creaking steps and beds and doors, the rustling of bedclothes, the tread of feet, the bark of dogs, the slam of cabinets, the flush of toilets and the running of water. Strangely enough, Gray found that his mind could pick out the significant things from all the background noise. Words popped out of the noise in soundbites, coughs expressed meaning, footfalls communicated attitude. Star liked to talk sex and cuddles into her cellphone all night.

Gray was weighing the expense of going to the thrift store for more TVs against the trouble of scrounging the wider neighborhood for tossed-out computer monitors. Cheap won immediately. Gray was practical. Where Cathy had insisted on practically nailing boards over the windows upstairs, he couldn’t stand turning on a light when it was daytime, so his windows were uncovered, and to minimize the glare on the control room monitors, he was rigging a false wall out of braces and pegboard, and was fixing to transfer the speakers and rearrange them, this time with labels so he’d know where a sound of interest was actually coming from.

Gray was the type of genius inventor who gets carried away with a sudden inspiration, selects a previously inspired mess on some tabletop, sweeps it away onto the floor, and sets up the newest inspiration right there in the rubble. That’s why the TVs ended up in the middle of the room. There was space there. But only because a folding table and a complex piece of parquetry that hadn’t yet been laminated onto the board had been in that space, and he’d been loathe to dismantle it until now. He’d probably lost some of the intricate pieces of wood he’d cut when he swept them all into a bag to stick on top of the shelves in the other room. Oh well.

His latest fascination was with the world of 1s and 0s. Cathy’s computer had a password, but any fool could guess IXSTAR. She claimed she couldn’t remember a  string of numbers and letters like the internet safety experts recommended. When forced to use another one, she picked GRAYYY. In the face of his wife’s transparency, Gray was going on the assumption that either Star or Grandma, or both, was able to send emails and visit websites.

So he installed a keystroke monitor program while nobody was looking, built himself his own computer from lucky finds on the street, figured out the wireless network thing and hooked himself up to Cathy’s computer. It only took superhuman feats of persistence and alien thinking to figure it out. That, and a computer geek buddy of his.

Star had been busy tracking her pregnancy on her MySpace page, complete with cellphone-shot photos. She took the precaution of pretending to be updating her page from a Secret Location, but her pictures showed the attic stairs and the bathroom and even the front porch. And Spike’s truck.

The other evening, Cathy mentioned – well, she went on and on, heatedly – about Mom’s veiled threat to turn her in for dependent abuse. “After unleashing her on the hair dresser woman, I don’t dare let her out again. She’d go up to Spike himself and invite him over for dinner.” She had her arm in Grays’ and she was tugging him down the street, dragging the dogs behind them. Tabasco was very much put out. “Can we put in land mines on the walkway or something?”

He’d been thinking along those lines for awhile. The electric-shock door knob. The automatic bird dropping and dog shit dispensers. The subsonic sidewalk that induced a fear reaction, and the subliminal-message cricket and tree frog deterrents. So he was working on a wooden owl that would be the source of a nauseating aerosol derived from tear gas. He had part of the workbench cleared of its electronic parts to make way for the bits and pieces he wanted to put into the owl. He could watch his monitors as he worked was why he’d chosen that spot, tho he had a woodworking area on the other wall. However, it was being used to stage vcrs that recorded select close circuit TV feeds. So okay he was getting sawdust on his electronic workbench, but he was careful enough, and blew it away before it got too plentiful. He was almost thru carving and sanding the owl now, anyway, and going to need to clear up a little more space once he decided  how to paint the markings. He was glancing at the reference photo of the real owl, and one of the monitors attracted his eye. He stopped to watch Cathy sneak down to the back yard to sit by herself and smoke pot.

The final, important thing that kept Gray occupied, aside from all the unimportant things that kept Gray occupied, was Spike. He and Spike were in a pissing contest. Spike had the money, the professional expertise, the dog bounty hunter attitude. Gray had his wits, spy enthusiast magazines, and family to protect. It was an even match, so far. Cathy’s Mom made it so much harder. Gray suspected, but couldn’t yet prove, that Grandma was in league with Spike. He was aware of Spike’s comings and goings, he heard one if not both ends of their nightly lovebird cellphone calls, he’d caught objects being passed from Spike to Grandma to Star and back again. He suspected more but as yet had nothing on tape. Certain cameras kept fuzzing out; he was planning to replace the corner camera altogether. That materials shortage. He looked up, and stopped to watch Star uncover a hole in the attic floorboards and light up, blowing cigarette smoke down onto Grandma’s ceiling tiles.

The latest challenge Spike had lain before him was a handy little gps monitoring system he’d found attached to his car. He’d downloaded the manual and was trying to decide whether to slap it on Spike’s truck or do something else more creative. Who did he need to track, and why?he could put it on the dogs. He could let that yappy Stumbles run loose with it on her collar, and see how many times she successfully crossed the main drag on her romp. Or maybe he could combine it with something else, or send the information somewhere else, or send the wrong information somewhere else. He twisted the thing in his hands, this way and that, thinking. His eye caught movement on a monitor. He watched as Cathy’s mother took a flashlight and did rhythmic, then spasmodic things with it under the covers. She seemed to like it better with the light on.

go to tomorrow’s writing

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1 Comment »

  1. […] go to tomorrow’s writing Leave a Comment […]

    Pingback by day five « Cathy Eats Her Words — October 12, 2009 @ 2:19 pm | Reply


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