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Lee continued his work. He’d learned that if you wait for the conversation to end with Karl before doing anything, you never got anything done. He was sure Karl would never get the hint.
“You’ve got a fine yard here, Lee,” Karl continued. “Of course, it looks like it needs some TLC. Last year I cut down all my ferns and a nasty bunch of those lilac bushes like you have there. You know what I replaced them with?”
Lee shrugged and emptied his shovel into a white plastic garbage bag.
“Bamboo. Man that stuff grows fast. You have to stay on it, but it looks nice and it’s growing tall along my back fence, which it perfect because I’m tired of looking at my neighbors back porch all the time. And the blackberries aren’t growing there anymore either. They’re like weeds around here you know. Nasty stuff. Looks like you’ve got quite an infestation on the side there.”
“I’m grateful to have them,” Lee said, knowing he shouldn’t engage in the discussion. “Just a small bowl of those cost like $15 where I grew up in D.C. They take some tending, but they taste good.”
“That’s what you say now. You just wait. They are a scourge, I tell ya. I burned all of mine up last year. Gasloine works real good on them. There’s still a few coming back. It’s the stinking birds, you know. They eat the berries and poop out the seeds all over my yard. But I just send the kiddos up to pull up the runners.”
Lee didn’t push it any further. He walked over to the garbage bin by the house.
“Say, that’s what you need,” Karl stated profoundly. “You need to have some kids so they can do the yard work.”
“Not me,” said Lee.
“Aw c’mon. Best thing that ever happened to Carol and I. The pride of my life, them boys. Wouldn’t you like to have some little Huelet kiddos running around.”
Lee droped the garbage bag into the bin and slammed down the lid.
“No,” said Lee. “I wouldn’t. And there is no such word as ‘kiddos’. They are ‘kids’ or ‘children’. Not ‘kiddos’. That’s just a word that teachers and pediatricians made up to made the kids seem less obnoxious than they really are.”
“All right there, Lee,” Karl said with a laugh. “No need to get all bent out of shape.”
Lee sighed. He had overstated his case. He didn’t feel that strongly about it. Karl was just putting him on edge. He rested the shovel over his shoulder.
“Look Karl, I hate to run you off, but I have a lot of work to get done.”
[to be continued...]
Jen may have been enjoying her new job; but Lee was frustrated with his. Since the cat incident, Lee had been pulled into a floundering controls project at a lumber mill near Medford. Another engineer, one Karl Metz, was in over his head, but hadn't told anybody until it was too late. Now the customer was upset because their production was critical. After many long hours and pretty much living in Medord for a couple weeks, Lee and Karl were able to get it to the point where the mill could consistently run lumber, but there was still a lot of cleanup and efficiency to work out.
It didn’t bother Lee so much that Karl got so far behind. Lee had been in that position himself and had needed someone to help bail him out a time or tow. But Karl was so ambivalent about it. He continued to blame others for his mistakes, and he took credit for things that Lee had actually solved. Karl constantly talked himself up, but it didn’t take long to see through the blowhardedness. Not that he wasn’t capable. Karl had more expertise than Lee in several things, but he often just did things halfway or with shortcuts to avoid doing the work.
Lee struggled with Karl on the personal side as well. First of all, Karl never stopped talking. He also had no filter when it came to what was appropriate, which led to issues with customers. A considerable amount of the damage control Lee had needed to do involved customer relations moreso than controlling the machinery of the mill.
To make matters worse, Lee had moved into a neighborhood that wasn’t too far from Karl’s. Had he known, he would have kept searching the market. Now, since Lee helped him out in Medford, Karl considered them to be good pals. Carpooling to Medford was a necessary evil, but Karl wanted to carpool to the office now, and thought it was okay to drop by unannounced on weekends.
In fact, it was a Saturday afternoon when Lee heard Karl bellowing from the front driveway.
“Hey, Lee, are you back there?”
Lee was in the backyard shoveling up dog doo, so that he could mow the lawn and tackle other yard work that had been long overdue. He wondered if he should try to hide, but felt that would be silly. This was his yard after all. Maybe if he just didn’t answer, Karl would go away. But then be saw Karl’s head pop up over the side gate. Was he standing on a rock or something?
“There you are,” Karl said. “Nobody answered the door, but I saw you’re truck in the driveway.”
Lee sighed. “Hi Karl. Do you need something?” He tried to neither sound rude or inviting.
“No I was just coming back from dropping my kids off for their dirt bike practice rally, and I thought I’d drop by.” Karl said.
Of course. thought Lee. Because we are best buddies.
“You didn’t want to stay and watch?” Lee said.
“Naw. This coach doesn’t want parents there for the practice rally before the big race. He says it’s too distracting for the kiddos. I think he could use some help. I usually try to show the boys a few pointers.”
I’m sure you do. thought Lee. The no parents rule was probably implemented simply on account of Karl.
[to be continued...]
I know why I don't write very much. Well, first of, I'm lazy. But besides that, I'm slow. It takes me forever just to write a few paragraphs. Not always, but often. The major factor I think, like I said earlier, is that I can't turn off the editor. I should just be writing and writing freely, not worried about good sentence structure, or spelling, anything. Just get it out on the page, and pick up the pieces later. Maybe it's the engineer in me that needs everything laid out. I'm definitely not OCD. I don't mind leaving a physical mess. You know, clothes on the floor, stuff in the yard, junk on my desk. There is a limit, but I'm not a neat freak. But if I am going to write something, and especially if I am going to post it on the internet, then it should be somewhat edited, right?
Months passed. Life didn't stop just because Lee killed a cat, or because he was having bad dreams.
Jen got a job working the front office for a pediatrician. She liked the doctor, which wasn’t often the case in her experience as a medical assistant. She also made easy friends with a couple co-workers.
Lee was glad for her. It was nice to see his wife happy, and in her words, “being productive”. Selfishly, he was also glad that she wasn’t at home anymore because he feared that she might start having second thoughts about not having kids. They had talked about children a great deal before they got married. Lee did not want children; and Jen made it clear that she was on board with that. Her opinion wasn’t quite as intense as Lee’s, but she just didn't feel like she was the motherly type. However, after the cat incident, Lee worried that she might feel lonely—that those maternal instincts would kick in, that she’d hear the ticking of her biological clock, and so on. But Jen had shown no signs of hankering for a baby, and that was fine by him.
From an early age, Lee had decided he didn’t want to be a father. Adults would ask him how many kids he was going to have when he grew up. “None,” Lee would say flatly. Most would just laugh and say something about him changing his mind, but he was adamant. His mom would always fend them off.
“Stop pestering the child,” she would say. “Lee can sure enough make up his own mind.” She also protected him when people came to her concerned that Lee didn’t have a lot of friends. “Some of the most brilliant men in the world kept to themselves.” And sometimes Lee would hear her append in almost a whisper, “Poor thing.” He was always a bit confused by that.
[to be continued...]
After several weeks, other elements started to enter into the dream.
Jen came out of the house yelling at him. “You big dummy. What are you doing? Don’t you know how to kill nothing. What kind of a man are you? You ain’t nothing like my daddy. You’re getting blood all over my dress.”
Jen had never been this cruel or dismissive to him in real life, even when they argued. But dreams have a way of projecting fears and insecurities onto its characters. Her east Texas accent was exaggerated almost to the point of satire.
Lee noticed the sun dress she was wearing. It was the white one with yellow roses on it—the one in which he first laid eyes on her that first semester at Texas A&M. He had been in the engineering department, Jen in agriculture. There had been some kind dance going on in conjunction with a big rodeo. Lee’s friends had drug him to it against his will, but once he saw Jen in that dress, he had been eternally grateful to them. However, now Lee observed the dress was marred by streaks of blood.
“Give me that shovel. I’ll show you how it’s done,” Jen demanded. “Shouldn’t leave it up to no city boy. My daddy showed me how to kill chickens. What’s a matter, Lee, don’t you know how to kill a stupid old cat. Give me that shovel.”
Lee looked up at the shovel to find it drenched in blood. Was there that much blood before? He heard the sickly cry coming from the cat. He looked down at it. All of the familiar gruesome features were there, but the head of the cat was also caved in, sinking into the ground like rotting fruit.
“Come on,” Jen mocked, as if talking to a small child. “Give me the shovel.”
Rage flashed through Lee’s mind and he thought, I’ll give you the shovel all right.
He reared it back as if to strike.
Lee sat up in bed. Sweat dripped from his forehead. His stomach turned, his throat convulsed, and the taste of metal and phlegm rested on the back of his tongue. He rushed to the bathroom, but his sickness never rose above his warning symptoms. Eventually he returned to bed.
“Have another bad dream?” Jen asked, partially muffled by a pillow.
“Yeah,” said Lee.
“You want to talk about it, sweetheart?”
“Okay then, get some rest.” Jen sounded almost relieved, and was back asleep within seconds.
Lee stared into the darkness for a bit, but eventually drifted back to sleep as well.
[to be continued...]
Word Count Today: 435
Word Count Total: 1815
[to be continued...]
Word Count Today: 57
Word Count Total: 1380
But the stinky old cat stayed with him. Well, not so much that anyone would notice, even Lee, as he busily took on the day-to-day ramblings of life. But his dreams.
[to be continued...]
Word Count Today: 31
Word Count Total: 1323
“Well, I’m done,” he said. “Sorry about that, honey. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. Lee was surprized her face was not tear-streaked.
“I’m glad. I thought you would take it a lot harder.”
She frowned. ”I am very sad. I will miss our little afternnons on the front porch. These things happen, though. I remember when my daddy had to shoot our dog.”
“Why did he do that? Rabies?”
“No. Oscar was just too old.”
“He didn’t just take it to the vet?”
“Not my daddy. You know him. He said he owed it to Oscar to be man enough to do it himself, not have him killed by some stranger.”
“Yeah,” Lee said blaankly.
Why did killing a stupid straggly stray cat seem to be bothering him so much? Was he not “man enough”? Of course, Jen’s dad probably killed it quickly with one shot. He didn’t torture the animal first.
Jen was saying something.
“What’s that?” Lee said.
“Should we bury the cat in the backyard?” Jen asked.
“No.” Lee said, much louder and sharper than he intended. He tried to cover. “I’m sure there are city laws against that. This isn’t the Texas range.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it. I better get off to work now.”
“Well, have a good day, even though it started so badly,” Jen said.
Geez, Lee thought. It’s almost like _she_ is comforting me.
He gave her a hug and a kiss, and then left.
On his way to work, Lee pulled behind one of the big grocery stores and dropped the cat-filled bag into one of the big dumpsters. He felt as if he were some mobster dumping the body of a mark that didn’t make payments, getting rid of the evidence. He could have just dumped the bag in his garbage bin at home, but for some reason, but he felt better knowing it was far from the house.
Lee did get some work done that day, but he felt somewhat detached, apart from who he used to be. At one point, he shook his head, half-heartedly chuckled, and murmured, “All this over a stinky old cat?”
[to be continued...]
Word Count Today: 376
Word Count Total: 1292
Half of the cat’s face was sliced off, exposing its back teeth and jaw. A chunk of its scull had been removed just behind where its ear used to be. Its left eyeball dangled from a pus-filled socket. However, what affected Lee the most was the blank half-crazed stare he received from the remaining eye, both accusing and pleading all at once. Lee also noticed a long swath of the cat’s side had been shaved off; and there was a small gash near its stomach.. The poor creature was still trying to walk, but only managed the drag itself in a circle, leaving blood trails on the driveway.
I have to put this thing out of its misery, Lee thought. He walked toward the garage to grab the shovel, but as he approached the house, he noticed Jen through the front room window looking at him questioningly. She hadn’t seen the cat yet.
He opened the front door and said, as gently as possible, “Honey, the cat got torn up by the motor. It’s in bad shape. I need to kill it so that it doesn’t suffer any more. I don’t want you to hear it so please close the curtains, go in the back room, and turn the TV on or something. All right. I’ll come in after I’m done.”
Jen didn’t burst into tears as he had expected. She just stared at him for a bit, and then simply said, “OK, thanks for telling me.” Then she started to close the front curtains.
Lee fetched the shovel as he had intended, and returned to the fumbling feline. He looked around warily. What a site he would be--wailing down on some animal in his driveway in broad daylight. Luckily most of his neighbors had already gone to work; and it was too early for anybody to be at the school across the street.
Secure in the knowledge he was alone, he raised the shovel high in the air, and brought the back of it down hard squarely on the cat’s head. Its body curled around; and it let out a long mewling growl. Thinking his job was done, Lee noticed that the cat was still moving a little. It worked its mouth back and forth like it was licking something, but its tongue lay motionless. He repeated the violence. Again, a pitiful moan emerged from the crumpled black mass, accusing him of murder with its one good eye. The damned thing wouldn't die!
Later, he scolded himself for not using the edge of the shovel, and bringing it down directly on the cat's neck. But he wasn't an expert in these things. He’d never killed anything like this before. Lee let the shovel fall one, two, maybe three more times, he didn't keep track. Finally, the cat was still and silent.
Lee was sweating profusely and felt like he was going to puke. He walked back and forth on the lawn a few times to quell the nausea. Then he got a garbage bag and scooped the cat into it, glad to be rid of the reproachful gaze of that one eye, still open, even in death. Depositing the bag into the bed of his truck, Lee proceeded to hose the blood off the driveway the best he could.
[to be continued...]
Word Count Today: 547
Word Count Total: 916