The room was cold. He lifted from the bed and went to the bathroom in the dark.
In the bathroom he felt how thirsty he was.
The light from the refrigerator falls across the linoleum, his legs. Briefly he wonders where Max is off to. He stands there drinking water from a cup that has a map of Wisconsin on it, a bird and a rat.
He recalls that his daughter calls Wisconsin the beaver state, which always makes his wife smile and steal a glance at him. He pours the rest of the water into Max’s enamel dish on the kitchen floor and turns toward the bedroom.
They had been drinking for hours. Torn pieces of beer mat and cocktail napkins with drawings on them. The TV endlessly flickering images. Eventually they left; the bartender had looked unconcerned at their advanced state of drunkenness. It was that kind of place.
The bar was in a neighborhood of single-family homes. Walking along the sidewalk quietly because by now it had grown late, she came upon a cat. It was longhaired and began doing figure eights around her ankles. She clumsily bent and began to coo, taking the grey flat face in her chapped fingers.
“You like me, don’t you!’ she said.
He turned, smoking a cigarette. “What?” Was this directed at him, he thought. He turned again to look up at the silvery leaves of the tree above him, they swayed in his vision and he decided it was he, not the leaves that moved. He looked up the quiet street, for what he did not know.
The car was cold, the smell of cold plastic and old ashtrays overwhelming. The sound of his keys too loud. He looked over and saw her standing at the car’s passenger side, she had a coat on he did not recognize. He leaned over and unlocked the door.
“He wants to come with us, don’t you?” She was nose to nose with the cat, which wore a blue flea collar. It wasn’t a coat she held, now he saw.
“We’ll keep him and he can drink milk, I always wanted a kitty.” Her gushing baby talk and noises are making him sick.
He couldn’t find strength. He pulled the car into gear as she closed her door, began complaining that her purse strap was closed in the door.
She opens the door then slams it again quickly, tosses the purse to her feet.
He’s concentrating on driving, the streetlights wet pools streaming toward then over them. The cat scratches her and for a moment is under the pedals of the car, he yells violently at her. He is driving. She yells back and he slams the steering wheel repeatedly until they realize nervously that they are being watched by a cabbie, the car has a single moveable light affixed near the rearview mirror, a retired patrol car. The cat has begun to groan deeply from under the seat behind him.
At the next corner he realizes he has missed the turn and is lost. He tries to focus on the green sign swinging beside the red light but cannot. She wants to pee.
You can’t wait? He looks around nervously, the cat is making noises like a raptor from a movie. No I can’t wait she says, she is pulling on the cat’s leg, the cat and the floor mat it is holding to is coming out from under her seat. The cat’s eyes judge him suddenly yellow in the light from the dome light of the car.
She leaves the door ajar and walks away into the shadow of a Honda with red plastic letters ’99 ACCORD LOW MILES across the window. He begins to doze, his wrists resting on the wheel, he awakens: she is yelling, cussing. She falls back into the car, licking the meatiness of her thumb, bloody. Let’s go. He pulls the car out into the night.
When things like this happen he sometimes wonders if he is cut out for this daddy thing. It’s not that he is ever violent, but the rage that wells up in him at his inability to keep her from harm, at the futility of being a father unable to fix something. He could kill the people who drive too fast down his street. It scares him. His wife had put out food, then called in that voice that made her sound as if she would be an excellent auctioneer or maybe run a square dance. Maxwell had not appeared, which was not like him. His daughter had not noticed the cat missing as she readied herself for school and ate breakfast. After dropping her at school he drove deliberately around the streets in search of him, his mind and stomach lurching as he slowed near culverts and gutters in fear of what he might find. Fearing the worst, finding nothing, which turned out to be far worse. At work his wife calls, he’s anxious when he answers but she is only calling to say she isn’t going to stop at the dry cleaners after work. He downloads a picture from his Facebook page. At the copier he makes signs.
He does not want to go home. He’s walking around posting the signs when a man approaches him quickly.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“yes?” He is electrically shocked by the interaction. He has been dwelling in his head too long as he slapped the signs against the phone poles, thinking abstractly about the bands and bars advertised on the posters he covered with Max’s image, slap slap slap slap the staple gun cold and heavy in his hands, his anger welling.
He assesses the man quickly, a fight or flight feeling. He resolves to calm himself.
“Yes?” he says again.
“Can you tell me where the 264 stops on this street?”
The number means nothing to him, the question is like a dot on a white page for a moment and he feels flustered and is worried that he may seem deranged, a crazy with a staple gun…
“Oh, yes. Umm, Well it stops uh, down there,” he points past a row of cars to the nearby stop sign and the familiar rectangle of the bus stop where the grass has died and he sometimes sees the forlorn girl in the blue parka standing.
“Thanks, lose your cat?” the man says.
He will be able to go home now, his daughter will not cry! Tonight the familiar solid paperweight shape by his foot will not make him cranky, he promises.
He is elated, he breaks into a smile and says, “yes, I have! You know where Max is?”
“No, I just see your poster. Good Luck, though. “ The man begins to walk towards the stop.
He turns and drives a staple.