Huh?

Submitted by Christine Hungerford to Contest #13 in response to: Write a story about someone who sees a black cat cross their path... for the tenth time that day.... view prompt

That’s strange.      

               I stopped and stared at the black cat. It had crossed my path several times today. I couldn’t count, though—I was striving to get to work to do some paperwork, although it was a Saturday. Yes, but I wanted to work extra hard to show Mr. Pigs that I cared about being one of his employees. If I didn’t work hard enough for his approval, I’d quit. I was getting tired of his complaining. EZ Ways Corporation was an easy company to him, meaning that everyone was trying to get the easy way out. Meaning he was the only hard worker. He wasn’t. In fact, if he was a quarter as discouraging, he’d still need to work on being positive! Never in a million years would Mr. Pigs be right there with me, Pretzel Johns, working with diligence, grace and humor. But I was determined to help him see that his company wasn’t going down the easy path. He could be our boss and rise up to emotional positivity by shedding that discouragement and bitterness. So I was heading to work on an icy-cold, bitter winter day in Idaho Falls, Idaho to help my boss out for the rest of his life.                      

               And the rest of mine. And for the rest of the company. So this day was going to save me from firing myself.         

               But as I crunched through piles of snow and strived not to slip on the icy ground or slide into other people hurriedly but carefully streaming past me, the wind picked up. I wrapped my heavy cotton black jacket around me, and stuffed my thick glove-covered hands between my sides and arms as the bitter wind delivered its fiercest. If I was going to a place where I would do more than expected, I could first get through the difficulty that desired to turn me around. However, if I could do the biggest thing, I could through little things first. So I pushed on, walking carefully but briskly against my environmental opponent.       

               So, as I dodged runners who made me mentally scratch my head, jumped aside mounds and let elderly women and men slink past, I walked faster. Suddenly, my iPad rang.

               I hurriedly freed my left hand long enough to jam it into my pocket and bring out the phone, jabbing my black and grey finger against the green button.

               “Yes?”

I shivered as I maneuvered around people and talked, my foot pounding onto the snowy driveway. I checked for cars and then returned to the white-covered snow in between my black work shoes and the sidewalk underneath the office building right in front of me. The wind never gave up, as I froze for a couple of seconds, having sucked in some of it, desperately trying to breathe. I struggled with my balance as I felt the wind physically pushing me down and bearing down on me like my boss’ ugly attitude every day. But I pushed back, continuing with my wife and my conversation.

               “So, you saw this black cat?”  

               “Yeah!” I walked briskly into the office, telling Carla all about the cat I had seen this morning and up until now.

               “Maybe I could adopt it?”

               I passed the Human Resources Department to my right with its huge room, glass doors and sign in black and blue.          

               “Uh, no. You know I’m highly allergic to cats.” Her voice didn’t lower one decimal.

               “Okay—honey,” I almost whispered, “I’m in my office now.” I was taking my jacket off, so I switched hands. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

               Inside voice now. “Okay.”   

               “K—bye!”

I pulled the electronic gadget from my ear and reached around my black swivel chair. After toppling it onto my bluish-grey speckled desk, I then swung the chair around, plopping myself down. Wheeling forward, I took my medium-length light brown sweater shirt arms and got to work.                   

               I deserved a promotion one day, I thought, clacking away at one of my documents and then moving on to others. Because I cared about my job. I cared about the company. I interviewed for this position because I knew what I could bring to the company. I wanted Mr. Pigs to see that so by understanding his discouragement versus my overachievement, I could help him replace discouragement with encouragement.

               I wanted to do what was best for the company so that I didn’t quit over a negative-minded superior’s discouraging attitude. I wanted to stay here because I belonged here. And I wanted Mr. Pigs to know that for his own good and the good of the company. If I backed out, the company would fail.                             

I manipulated my mouse so I could print my documents. But as I looked hard at the screen before me, telling myself to Think, Pretzel Johns! I sat up straight, took my gloves off and tossed them onto the flatter-than-a-pancake-any-day desk and then let my mind take a break. I walked down memory lane, thinking about that black cat. I counted about the number of times I’ve actually seen it. It appeared the very first time outside our bedroom window trotting through the grass across the stone sidewalk and into the garden. It showed up as I was backing out, driving down the road towards the parking lot in front of the café at which I usually stopped and got coffee or a donut before heading off to work on. It appeared while I was getting out of my car, in front of my front door as I walked out into the freezing morning air and unwelcomed snow, again as I was trying to blast the heater and shut the door at the same time so I could box myself in a warm area rather than allow the winter to embrace me in a hug—which I would, and did, gladly return with a slam of the driver door—and finally a ninth time after sitting there and staring as it crossed my car, trotting mysteriously between my car and the closed beige garage door.       

That was six times. And oh yeah!—that time when I was walking from my car to the sidewalk and not really watching my step because my brain was somewhere with the cat. Well, it stepped on my shoe as I stood there contemplating whether to get a donut and again as I decided not to get one so I could just get to my office and do the work.  

               But the more I thought about the cat and its weirdness, the more I felt like I was wasting time. You know what! I chastised myself, shaking my head and returning to reality. It’s not even worth it. I need to focus.  

               But each clack pushed me mentally from my state of isolation in an empty office and further towards that cat I was trying so hard to push away from my life. Like the winter air, I wanted it to leave for good. I didn’t want to push away from my enemies—I wanted them to just leave. So I forced them away completely, throwing my hand on the mouse and clicking ‘Print’ for each paper. I then shoved myself away from my desk and jumped up smartly to round myself around my cubicle’s glass wall to enter the door to which I was heading. I turned the knob and flicked on the lights. Snatching the documents from the printer, I then reentered my cubicle and shuffled them, looking at my computer. I was going to befriend my keyboard once more so I produce more documents to add to this pile of papers.        

               As soon as I had taken advantage of the keyboard, mouse, ‘Print’ button and printer, I had a huge stack of paper—more than I thought I would have—ready for Mr. Pig’s review and comments on Monday. Taking the documents up and holding them like they were my precious newborn child, I carried the darling packet to his office that was right across from my cubicle. The lights were off, as usual, but I didn’t think they were necessary to turn on. I’d just leave a note with the packet, saying that these were extra copies. I stepped lightly and quickly into the man’s office, lay the documents gently like a mother lays a baby softly on its back and turned around to exit, feeling amazing.   

               Now I’m ready for that doughnut! I pushed my swivel chair into my desk, leaned around it to lazily turn off my computer and then grabbed my phone. I shoved on my gloves once I dropped my phone into my jacket’s left pocket. I felt its thud.  

               Let’s hope that I don’t slam on my brakes and thud against my seat while driving home! I thought, almost laughing, as I exited the whole building and reluctantly released myself out into the cold bitterness this world regretfully labeled winter.               

               I didn’t. But as I ordered from the café and took my donut, coffee and small mini chocolate cookies, I felt like I had to be on the lookout for that cat. I couldn’t just go home. So I drove slowly, looking every which way so I could see it, for it might run out in front of me. But I didn’t see it anywhere.           

               Finally, after almost hitting someone on the pedestrian sidewalk, I sighed.

Whatever. That cat almost cost me a life. I’m not doing this anymore! I comforted myself as I shifted myself upwards after storing my treats in the passenger seat and putting myself in the driver’s seat. I pulled out my phone. Averting my eyes from the angry walker, I let it ring, setting in on the console as I continued driving.     

               A noise and then, “Yes?”

               “Hi. I’m coming home. Stopped by Little Donuts, Sir after all that paperwork, so I’m coming home and relaxing!” I slowed down and stopped at another stoplight.

               “Okay! Hope you’re safe.” Carla encouraged. Then she switched tones. “You were saying something about a cat? Did you find it? Was it lost?”

               If she only knew what I was trying to do and what I’ve been through.

               “Uh…I didn’t find it.” I chuckled. “It’s been finding me.” I told her what was going on while focusing on my driving. When I pulled into the driveway, the sun was out and the snow had melted partially off the bushes. Oh wait, no—that had been the wind. And that environmental antagonist was about to get me when I stepped out of the car. Well, I was going to tell it that it wasn’t this time. I was blocking my treats with one coated arm as I pushed myself against my car door and immediately wrapped the other around my goodies as I walked quickly on the stone walkway. When I reached the door, a second later, Clara opened it hastily.  

               “Come in, hon!”       

She then shut it hard once I had planted myself for a second in the hallway. Then I slowly unwrapped myself, letting her take everything as I freed myself of my jacket and then whirled it around to reach in and grab my iPhone. I hung it on the nearby coat hanger and then bent down to slip my work shoes off.

               “What a day!”

               Suddenly, my phone rang. It was Mr. Pigs. I picked up immediately. “Yes, sir?”      

               “You need to come to the office. I need to talk to you.”

               I wanted to wake up to hot, steaming pancakes. Anything to get away from this reality of going back into the warzone between the wind, snow, ice, that cat, me and Mr. Pigs.

               “Y-yes, sir.” I agreed respectfully and then hung up. On went the coat, the shoes and then the gloves again. Out went my body as I exited the house, yelling for my wife to just leave everything there on the kitchen table. As soon as I made my car my second home again, I relaxed and did what Mr. Pigs wanted me to do—drive to his office, plant myself in front of him and hear his stupid words that were never enough for him to spew out and for me to hear. Well, maybe I would look past that stupidity!  

               After all, he would, soon, see the hard work that went into me coming in again on a Saturday. He would see, I cheered myself up while backing out of the driveway. When I managed to make it from my warm, toasty home and car to my heated but not-as-welcoming office, I also managed to make it from my loving, welcoming, encouraging wife to my cold, discouraging, aloof, frustrated, tired, complaining boss.         

               With the lights blaring down on my poor, short black-haired head. And my warm coat. It was as if Mr. Pigs was striving to outwit the wind by making me feel as cold on the outside as I knew his selfishness made me on the inside. Thanks to Mr. Pigs’ unappreciated look given me as he turned his oversized brown stuffed chair towards him, struggled up into it and then turned around, his sea-green eyes staring indifference into me. Into my soul.   

               “Pretzel,” he continued, causing me to look hard at his eyes, questioning myself on where I had seen them, “what are you doing here?”

               “Uh…” I thought hard, ignoring Mr. Pigs. Then I widened my eyes. “Uh, at your office, sir. But do you have a cat?”

               “What?!” He spat, laughing superiorly. “A cat? No!”

               “Then…” I looked away and thought. “Hold on!”

               “What—” Mr. Pigs yelled. “What are you doing, Pretzel Jones?!”

               But I had already fled out of the building and jumped into my car. I have to figure out where that cat is up to! No more interruptions or rejection anymore! I backed out quickly, looking, hoping people walking around my Genesis G70 would move quickly. Finally, I was driving up next to a movie theatre, in front of an eerily empty trash area. I slowed down despite my anticipation, in case the cat would be around again. Inching my way onto the gravely, snowy path, I slowed down and then stopped.

               I waited, looking around for it. Soon, I saw the black cat’s head peek out from behind Little Donuts, Sir and was looking in the direction of the movie theatre to the left. I looked that way and then looked back. It was still standing there, staring at something—or just looking absentmindedly, like one whose brain isn’t focusing on that which he is looking at.

               I got up, not caring about the wind. The cat had green eyes, and Mr. Pigs had the same color around his iris. So…

               Could the cat be his?

               Then I had a crazy thought. Could he be the cat? I had to find out.

               I walked steadily but quickly up to the cat. It had looked back at me, or at least in my direction. Then it jerked its head up at me and started at me. But unlike Mr. Pigs’ look, it didn’t glower or stare indifferently.

               It almost looked… happy to see me.

               Like relieved. Maybe.

               I crouched down, putting out a gloved hand. I waited for the cat to even sniff me. It blinked and then circled around a little farther from me. I smiled.

               “It’s okay.”

It’s me, I told it. I’m the one you’ve been crossing, and I’m here to find out what’s going on.

Then I ventured. “Do you belong to Mr. Pigs?”

The cat stared at me like I had seven heads. Or maybe it did by the way it looked at me. But I had a feeling it wasn’t just staring at me like an animal does when you look at it. It was staring at me like it knew but it didn’t know what I was saying. Like it was going to ask, “What?!” like Mr. Pigs but without the attitude.

               It continued to look at me and opened its mouth a little. It then blinked and looked down. It made a noise.

               “What?” I was actually talking to the cat. But I didn’t care what people thought as I saw, out of my peripheral vision, some people standing there in front of the movie theater. They were all standing there, staring at me.

               “Hey.” I boss-like answered and then returned to the cat, hearing shoe shuffling down the ramp and voices rising into the air. But I continued looking at the cat and it turned its attention to me like a child does before he is about to ask a question to an adult.

               “I need—”

               But the cat walked up to me and started nuzzling my jacket. Really surprised, I blinked and then stood up. The cat continued its interest in me by walking around my left ankle, nuzzling my shoe.

               I waited for it to do anything else—maybe it was just being friendly—and it did! The cat looked up at me and meowed, like it wanted me to pet it. But no—as I bent down and then grabbed it by the scruff, it curled into my arms and purred.

               I looked warily around, seeing whether anyone saw this scene. But no one was there. So I went around my car and put the cat into the passenger seat. Actually, I told it to get on the floor, as it could lick up some chocolate on the seat. It did, and I went around to my seat and then, two hours later, found myself sitting on my couch, cat in lap and wife in front of me.

               She shook her head and walked away. “You take care of that stray!”

               I looked down at it. “How about it …” I thought. “Shooting Star?”

               It purred—happily. 

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