Gray Don’t Matter
by T. Sean Steele
Lucia was apologetic about stealing all my money but mostly she was afraid of me because she thought I had killed her cat.
We were in the kitchen. I was eating broccoli and cheddar soup. My fourth helping. I had watered it down in the sink to make it last longer. Not that I wasn’t going to eat it all tonight. There was nothing else to do. I had to stay inside to avoid Thom, who was out looking for me.
Earlier that day Kim reported he had been back to her apartment where he thought I was still living.
“He was shouting a lot of mean stuff about you,” Kim said.
“Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.”
“He said you were fired. He rambled about the virtues of employment and asked what you had to offer the world now besides a brash personality and little stories.”
Actually, I was not bothered by any of that. What else did I have to offer the world, if you even accepted the premise that someone had to offer something to the world? I was still a babysitter, wasn’t I? Not that being a babysitter meant anything, either, but it was something I offered to the world. You couldn’t deny it was something. Plus, there were the intangibles…
“You know, the stuff in you that’s there but you can’t really articulate what it is, but you know it’s valuable.”
“And you’re sure it’s there?”
“It’s there all right… well, I’m pretty sure it’s there… I’ve always assumed… you have to assume… it’s possible it’s not there, but you can’t live your life like that… maybe it’s not there… I guess without any sort of proof you seem silly… no, forget everything about the intangibles… or, well… no… no, no, now that I think about it again, it’s there, all right… yes, it’s definitely real…”
Back to Lucia, in the kitchen.
“I’m sorry I took your money, hun. I realize it was the wrong thing to do. Also, I’m sorry I hypnotized you into thinking you were a wolf. Really, it’s my own fault you killed my cat, because you thought you were a wolf when you did it. You thought you were a wolf when you killed my cat, right? You weren’t yourself? You weren’t yourself. I don’t think you were yourself.”
She kept repeating that last part in slightly different ways because I was only responding with shrugs and eyebrow raises.
“I won’t do it ever again,” she said. “And I won’t use the money I took for anything other than to fix the hole you put in my wall, to buy myself a new clock, and to buy myself a new cat.”
I put down my spoon.
“Buy a new cat?” I said. “Why buy a cat when there are plenty of strays in the backyard?”
“Oh, I prefer to buy a cat.”
Out to the backyard. No strays at the moment. Probably they went inside at night to avoid the coyotes.
I dumped some of my broccoli and cheddar soup onto the pavement and waited for a stray to come pick at it.
Movement in the weeds at the far end of the yard.
A little boy fell out of them. I knew him. It was that hairless boy who stole vegetables from Kim and Moon’s apartment. Still adorned in naught but a purple cloth diaper. Splayed out chest-first onto the pavement. “Ow ow ow.” I jogged over to him and got him to his feet.
“Who’s that?” he yelled, slapping me away.
His eyes were closed. Gummy. Painted shut like old windows. The little hairless boy was blind.
“It’s me,” I said. “You remember me. The cake batter man.”
“The cake batter man?”
“I gave you a bowl of cake batter. Told you weren’t evil. Like a mile from here. It was a couple of months ago.”
“I think I remember that.”
I guided him to the back steps with the idea we’d have a seat. For stability he held me by the forearm but soon his fingers crawled north and began pinching the skin on the tip of my elbow.
“OK, enough of that,” I said. “If you want to hold my arm you can do that, but you can’t pinch my elbow.”
He lifted his chin at me.
“Why do you care?” he said. “People don’t have nerve endings in their elbows.”
“Where’d you learn that?”
“I went to school for half a second. You’ve got a lot of extra skin. That can’t be good for you.”
“How did you go to school?”
“Anyone can go to school. I learned that at school, too,” he said. “Does the extra skin look bad or does it only feel bad?”
“It only feels bad,” I said.
We sat down. I decided he was right. Why did I care if he noodled around with my elbow? “Hey, man, here’s my elbow back.”
He wouldn’t tell me anything more about the school except for other things he had learned there.
“Everyone has two cooters,” he said.
“Everyone has two cooters,” he said. “You have the cooter and then the cooter-crapper. One’s for pooping. The other is vestigial.” He didn’t say vestigial just like that. First he sounded it out for about a minute.
“That’s right. Nowadays surgery exists. You can just take a baby that’s been already been born and slide it into someone’s belly and that’s how you make a baby.”
“Where was this school?”
“I don’t know,” he said glumly. “I can’t see. The family that took me in told me I had to stop sneaking into gardens to eat vegetables before they’d let me go to school. They said that but they had the biggest garden I’d ever seen! Carrots and tomatoes plus plenty I didn’t know the names of. You know carrots and tomatoes?”
“A little,” I said.
“They musta sprayed something on the garden finally because one night I went out there and it was all dying and brown. I took what still looked all right but the next morning I had diarrhea and my eyes were glued shut with poison. I asked the man about it and he told me, ‘That’s the name of the game,’ but he let me go to school. Who cares about school if your eyes are glued shut? I stayed for a week and then I’m back doing this. You got any more of that cake batter?”
“No, all I’ve got is some broccoli and cheddar soup.”
“I’ll take some of that.”
“It’s highly diluted. There’s hardly any cheddar left. Also it’s gone all gray but again that’s just the water leeching the green out of the broccoli.”
“Gray,” he said.
“Gray don’t matter to me!” he screamed.
Much later in the night I came back inside with two strays. One was orange and the other was brown. I brought them to Lucia who was on the couch and told her to pick one.
“Those are strays,” she said.
“No, they’re mine,” I said. “You can buy them from me.”
“You’re making me pick between two cats? That’s cruel, hun. Means one of them is going to get rejected.”
“If you went to the pound you’d be rejecting hundreds of cats.”
“What’s the pound?”
“It’s where you get cats.”
“The pound,” she said, “must be a Midwestern thing. OK, I better take them both. But I’m only paying for one because I didn’t even want to get a new cat. I want my old cat. But he’s dead, isn’t he?”
“That’s right,” I said.
“I’ll name them Snoozin’ and Boozin’,” she said. “Call whichever whichever.”
“My money, now, give me my money,” I said, and she did. I set Snoozin’ and Boozin’ ont the floor then went back outside and split the money with the hairless blind boy. He rolled the bills into a tight tube and placed it behind his ear. After hunting for the cats his skin now teemed with mosquitoes but he told me not to worry. These weren’t natural mosquitoes. A corporation had released them to mate with the natural mosquitoes to make them not able to have babies. That type of thing still worked on mosquitoes because they didn’t have anything like the surgeries humans had.