Today our writing group met. I so enjoy these gatherings that don’t happen enough. We feasted, told stories, and then chose a random number between one and thirteen to draw our writing prompt for the afternoon.
(I rarely write in first person in my narrative writing. I save that for my poetry)
Cat and Bert
Cat counted the cash she’d taken from the ATM and turned around. Her next-door neighbor was standing before her with a gun in his hand.
“Put that thing away.”
Bert looked at his gloved hand. His mother’s pistol sat in his open palm. It was a good thing Cat would be the one to use it. It made him sad. It reminded him of his mother. Bert was afraid that if he were to be the one to use it, he might falter. Tears, you know. And that wouldn’t be a good thing.
“It’s about time. I waited as long as I could. I thought you’d never get here.”
Cat shoved the money into her coat pocket. Took the card and tossed it into a nearby trashcan. Bert followed.
“What took you so long?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake. I told you I would feed you. I always feed you. We needed money first. Where did you get food?”
Bert most often answered with one word, especially when he was under stress. Taking his mother’s gun out of the apartment made him stressed. Even though she had been dead, or gone to Dad as how Bert thought of it, for roughly a year now.
Bert left the apartment completely like it was the day she died. Except for his room. He would clean his room and Cat would do his laundry. But the rest of the apartment was gathering dust. He felt blessed to have Cat as his next-door neighbor. She was pretty. And smart. She could get anything they needed and she didn’t even have a job.
Bert was pretty, too. It actually caused him a lot of problems. When you are the way others like Bert are, people would usually stay away. But when you are pretty and are like Bert is, people have different expectations of you.
When your face is smooth with coffee skin and your hair is thick, black and curly. When your eyes sparkle a brilliant blue and change to match any color you wear. When your nose is perfect and your lips shaped just right, people accept you. People think you can talk with them because you must be charming.
Bert hated that because that was his nickname around the neighborhood – Prince Charming.
But he wasn’t. He couldn’t talk with people. Nothing would come out of his mouth when he spoke and if it did it was thick and garbled. It was never what he was thinking in his head. It just wouldn’t come out.
He hated being noticed. He couldn’t hold a job because he would have to talk with people. And he wasn’t smart either. His mom tried sending him to different schools, scrounging up different jobs offered by relatives. None of them ever worked out. Even if he made it to the job the first day, he would leave within ten minutes and walk.
Bert liked to walk. He walked for days once. His mother kept calling him on his cell. At first he answered until she started to stress him out. Finally, he threw the phone away and kept walking.
It was spring then and he could sleep outside. He liked that. He liked looking at the stars. He knew about some places where he was safe to sleep. He scrounged in dumpsters for food. He knew when certain restaurants threw out their remains so he could get them fresh.
After two weeks he went back home. As he was climbing the steps to the front door of the apartment, the door flung open.
“Who the fuck do you think you are? That’s my stuff. Come back here you little fuckers.”
And there was Cat. That was their introduction. She pushed Bert aside causing him to lose his balance and tumble down the steps as she took off running down the street.
Bert sat on the sidewalk rubbing different parts of his body as he watched Cat stop half way down the block. Whoever she was chasing disappeared into the crowd. His mouth opened just a bit to suck in enough air to be sure his ribs were okay.
Cat let out the loudest howl he had ever heard. It was as if she was a lioness on the plains of Africa who had lost her babies. Bert sucked in the little bit of drool that had started to creep out of the side of his open mouth.
Cat turned back, breathing heavily as she stomped toward Bert.
Their eyes met. Bert still didn’t feel stressed. She was magnificent.
“Why the hell didn’t you stop them from taking my stuff, you asshole?”
Now he was stressed. He tried to stand but kept stepping his jacket or catching something. As he was finally able to right himself, his knees buckled. He gave up and sat back down. Bert sighed. She would see him for what he was.
Cat took deep breaths as she watched Bert’s struggle. She closed her eyes and said her mantram. That always helped.
When she opened them, Bert had a tear running down his cheek. Cat sighed and reached out her hand. It wasn’t enough. Bert was tall and stalky. If he worked out that would have only added to his Prince Charming problem.
Cat reached to him with both hands. Bert grabbed on. She pulled with such force he was able to stand. But the momentum was so strong he just kept moving and landed right on top of Cat.
“Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.” Bert kept mumbling and rolled off of Cat.
He waited, still as he could be. And then it began. Not the string of curse words for which Cat was so well noted, but the most beautiful laugh he had ever heard.
They laughed together as people stepped over them, shaking their heads in disgust at the two drunks laying on the ground.
This is how Bert met Cat. And now they had some money and his mother’s gun.
Life was good.