Boris and Alexandra
The Word: WEED
The taxi pulled over in front of the house in the hazy light of late afternoon. Weeds crowded the planters. Alexandra pulled her suitcase out of the trunk, the taxi driver didn’t even get out to help her. What had happened to her yard? Her house-sitter, Don, was supposed to pay the gardener. She lugged her bag up the front stairs, let herself in the front door, usually the best part of any business trip.The house was silent. That closed-in smell—all the plants were dead. “Hello? Don?” And where was the cat? “Boris?” No familiar gray tabby, no meow. Where was the damn cat? Where was Don? Had he taken the cat to the vet? She ran to the cat box by the back door. Clean.
There, on the dusty dining room table, a note on yellow foolscap. Sorry Alex sweetie, had to leave. Last minute job in Martinique, I couldn’t find anybody to cover, but can’t miss this opportunity. Boris’ll be okay, I left plenty food for him out on the patio. SORRYsorrysorry. D.
How long had been gone, a week? Two? He didn’t date the note but by the look of those weeds… She hadn’t hired a fucking housesitter so he could leave a week’s worth of food for her cat and piss off to Martinique! She run outside. “Boris! Boris!” Trying for the top of her range, super-soprano. “Here kitty! Kitty… Boris!” The hillside was full of weeds, the steps clotted with leaves. There was Boris’s bowl, out on the back terrace, and a cereal bowl beside it. Both empty.
“Borya! Kotik!” She climbed up to the very top of the yard in her heels, looked up the slope, across the chain link. “Here kitty kitty kitty…”
He was gone. Damn Don to everlasting actor hell. Coyotes walked boldly down the center of the street up here, she saw them all the time, on towards twilight. People regularly found the dens full of dog and cat collars. Sobs caught her by the throat. Don was on some white beach in Martinique and her cat was dead. She lowered herself into a patio chair. It was hard to breathe. A lizard ran out from the rocks, rustled in the fallen leaves.
It had been a crappy trip too, an endless series of trade shows, Florida, Atlanta, Austin, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis. All she wanted was to get home, pour herself a glass of wine and see her cat. She started to cry. Borya. She’d found him as a kitten by the dumpsters outside her dorm at Cal. She’d had him through both of her marriages. Fucking Don. She hoped he drowned. She hoped he was eaten by a great white shark. Actors, they were always available, but anything free that came up, they were gone like greased shit. “Borya!”
She was weeping now, great racking sobs. She never should have gone on this trip. She never should have taken this fucking job, come to this horrible city, she should have stayed at Cal, she could have had a nice job in Slavic languages, she’d be a professor by now. “Borya!”
Weeds everywhere. She grabbed a handful and yanked them from the roots, threw them into the bushes. Why didn’t she have any friends who would feed her cat? She worked too hard, she traveled too much. She didn’t have anyone. There was just Susie, the marketing girl at the McLelland Group. Her mother, in Florida. Representative Flores who kept calling to make sure she’d vote in November. “Borya!” she screamed.
“Hey!” A disembodied voice called out to her from the south side of the massive bougainvillea growing over the wood fence. “Looking for your cat?”
“Yes!” she called back. “Yes, the gray one! A big gray tabby. “Have you seen him? I was away, my housesitter left.”
The voice called back. “We’ve been feeding him. He seemed pretty hungry.” One of her neighbors, The Kids, there was a whole house of them. Early twenties, dyed hair, noisy parties.
But they were feeding Borya! He was alive. “Oh, thank God. Thank God!” She swiped at the tears staining her face. “When did you see him?”
“Come around to the front, okay? It’s weird talking to a bush.”
She ran down, slipping on the dead leaves, past the empty cat bowls through her empty house and out, down to the house next door, up their front steps. She had never climbed their steps, had never met any of these kids. Had only gritted her teeth at the cigarette butts The Kids threw out on the driveway from the front balcony, the drumming in the garage.
A boy about twenty-one years old waited on the front porch. He wore a plaid shirt, a full beard. He smelled like pot. “I’m Sam.” She shook his hand. Sam. They had names. Up to now, she had only thought how noisy they were. “Come on in.”
A plaid couch. An enormous TV. Electric guitars. Magazines, plates and the bong on the table. “Want a beer?”
She was going to refuse, but really, she could use a beer. She followed him into a dirty kitchen, he found two cans in a magnet-laden old fridge. Pabst Blue Ribbon. She imagined it was supposed to be was ironic. “About Boris…”
The boy grinned, hopeend his can of beer with a noisy spurt. “We call him Maxicat. ‘Cause he’s so big. ” He drank, wiped his moustache on his hand..
They sat in the living room on the plaid couch. “He comes around all the time. He likes Friday, that’s Devin’s cat. She’s his girlfriend.” A shiny black cat with white feet and chest and white whiskers lay cleaning herself on the armchair across from them. Boris’s girlfriend. She had never seen another cat in the yard. But then again, she was gone most of the time. She wiped her tears, sipped her metallic-tasting Pabst. Her cat had a girlfriend. He had another name, and a girlfriend. She suddenly felt very out of place, in her suit, her nude nylons, her high heels, she seemed so uptight–even to herself. Her cat had a girlfriend, and she had what? A rolling suitcase, a houseful of dead plants and half a million frequent flier miles. She started to cry again. “Sorry, sorry, I’ve just had him forever.”
“No worries, he’s your cat, man. He’s a great guy.” Sam. All this time, she had never said so much as hello to any of them. He really was a very nice boy.
That’s when she heard the clattering in the kitchen. A girl with blue streaks in her dark hair, ironic hornrimmed glasses. ”That’s Devin. This is Alexandra, she’s Maxicat’s mom.”
“Hey,” the girl said. “We’re just going to have dinner. Tacos, want to stay?”
Suddenly, she realized she was imposing. Coming at dinnertime. She stood, straightening her skirt. ”I should be going.”
“No, stay,” Sam protested. “Maxicat’ll show up at dinnertime, he always does.”
“You’re very kind,” she said, imagining what they thought of her in her suit, her nylons. Don’t impose on people, her mother used to say. She always pictured people secretly rolling their eyes and wishing she would leave. “I just got back, I should unpack.” She wrote down her number and handed it to the boy, asked him to call her when the cat reappeared.
She returned to her own quiet, empty house. Dust all over the glass table. The wilted orchids. The unopened mail heaped on the kitchen counter. More in the mailbox. Junk mail. Bills. Hot and cold running crap. Even Borya had a girlfriend. and she had ATT, Sprint, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. She picked up the phone, listened to the beep of the voicemail tone, entered the codes. Susie from McLelland Group. Cal Builders. Someone from her alumni association. Peace Action. Lexus, time for the 30,000 mile service. Her mother launching into a longwinded message about her neighbors at the condo complex putting their trash in her cans.
Alexandra hung up before it was done. So much wine in that wine rack. She pulled out a Cab, Chateauneuf 2001, a better wine than The Kids had probably ever seen in their lives, and marched it next door, knocking lightly on the wood underneath the ugly bubbled glass.
Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: CAPE