28 June, 2010


The kitchen was a goddamn sauna and Rox was in no mood to sit back there just because she was supposed to. The only other people who ever went back into the kitchen at the Moose Head was Kay-Kay, Coletta’s fifteen year old niece who worked when she felt like it and a repairman on the rare occasion one was actually called. Sometimes, Coletta’s brother – who was also the mayor of Mt. Arliss – interrupted his various duties (that Rox knew amounted to fucking around and jacking off) would come in and fix the clogged grease pit drain; but that was only if he couldn’t find an excuse not to and only after Coletta asked, begged, and nagged him for a few months. Before Billy was mayor, he’d been a not too successful plumber. Rox supposed he just didn’t like to be reminded of his shortcomings.

“Heh,” she laughed, lit a cigarette, and settled in on the outside stoop for one of the many smoke breaks she allowed herself when things were dead. She never took a break when the kitchen or the bar was busy. But she’d been taking a lot of break lately because business was so slow. “Heh,” she laughed again. “Shortcomings.” Before Billy was the mayor and before he was a plumber, he’d been ripe little son of a bitch who happened to be her boss’s son. One time she walked in on him – he’d been in high school at the time – with some girl. He had her on top of one of the back tables, naked from the waist down and spread eagle, ready to do his business. Rox’s interruption spoiled the mood. And not only did she have to see more of young Misty Cavanaugh – the preacher’s daughter who ended up running off to California to join a hippie cult – than she had ever wanted to see, she’d been forced to see Billy’s most pronounced shortcoming.

She let the smoke fill her lungs slowly, enjoying the moment. A few years back, she would still be busy with the lunch rush; but that was Before. Before Harold died. Before the statewide smoking ban. Before the economy tanked after the chicken plant closed. And there was always a rush on Fridays, too, after the first shift ended and everybody had their paychecks. But that was Before. And nothing lasts forever.

“Glad to see you’re workin so hard.”

The sound of Joe’s voice made her cringe whenever she heard it; and the only thing more annoying than Joe was Beth, Joes’s wife. She’d known them both for more than 25 years, and in all that time, Joe had never proven himself to be anything but a Class A Son of a Bitch. When he was younger, he liked to drink and chase women and, when neither of those things worked out in his favor, he took his frustrations out on Beth and their kids – all of whom had the sense to move away from home the first chance they got and never come back. Joe was older and slower; he knew he was too old and ugly to chase women, and he’d learned from the absence of his children that beating people wasn’t an effective way to make them love him. But he was still a nasty bastard, as far as Rox was concerned. And Beth, who stayed with Joe through it all and took his abuse, was just a dumb old bitch who probably didn’t have any sense to knock out of her in the first place.

“What’s your excuse?” She didn’t bother with the civilities with Joe, and he didn’t expect them.

“Oh, I did my work today,” he smiled.

“I thought Beth was the one who rolled you outta bed. But I guess if you managed it yourself, that’s all anyone ought to expect.”

Joe didn’t have the chance to answer her because Beth walked up from where she parked the car up the street. She looked at Rox. “You’re not workin the bar are you?”

I should tell them I am. Rox shook her head instead. “ Gary’s workin today.”

Joe chuckled. It was a hollow, humorless chuckle that reminded Rox of a death rattle. “Does he know HOW to work?”

About as much as YOU do. “It’s not busy,” Rox said, looking down at her cigarette. It was almost out.

“Let’s get inside,” Beth said, pushing Joe a little. “Before Gary decides to sit down. He may never get up again if he does.”

Joe and Beth didn’t offer a “See ya” or a “Talk to you later.” Rox didn’t offer them one, either. She took the last drag off her cigarette, crushed it under her foot, and lit another. They never ate at the bar when she was working, and the only other person in the bar was W.D. Schmidt. He never ate the bar regardless of who was working the kitchen. After Joe and Beth went inside, Rox’s hands shook a little and she shook her head. It didn’t seem to matter how many years had passed, but whenever she ran into Joe, her lower back and legs hurt in the exact same places he used to beat her Back in the Day. She pictured the young woman she’d been when, on the rebound from her first husband – who had also decided she was a good punching bag – she let herself fall for Joe’s bullshit. He’d been older; but that had been part of the attraction, probably. She didn’t blame Beth for not liking her. But she couldn’t abide any woman who didn’t have the self-respect to know when to leave.

She finished her cigarette slowly and looked in her pack. Only three more left. If I can make them last until my shift was over, she thought, I can buy another pack on the way home.

24 June, 2010

On The Stoop

She’s been tired so long the ache in her bones
and the soreness in her feet
feel normal; the day passes
the way they all do
and nothing changes:
not the ache in her bones,
not the pain in her feet
or the things people say
when they pass her on Main Street
during those few occasions
in course of her day
when she sits on the stoop
and smokes a cigarette –
looking at the same buildings
she’s been smoking and watching
for longer than anyone else
could stand and longer
than most of the memories
of the people who pass her by,
and certainly longer
than anybody else could stand
before dropping dead from boredom
or having the sense of adventure
to find a different stoop.

22 June, 2010

Deputy Dog

The mid-morning sunlight seeping in through the mini-blinds that covered the bedroom window woke him up. Erle moaned and grunted loudly – to himself because there was no one else in the room. Joanne was already at work. The kids were at her mother’s for the weekend because she wanted him to take her out over the weekend. On a date. He’d been married to Joanne for nearly fifteen years and had settled into the idea that he wasn’t obligated to date her anymore. That’s why people get married, right? So they don’t have to sneak off just to have a quiet dinner, a movie, and a fuck in the back seat of the car?
His feet hit the floor and a sharp pain shot up his left leg. It was hurting more than usual lately. Like if he sat too long, or when he first got out of bed. Joanne had been on him to get it checked out, but that would mean going to the doctor. They had insurance – mostly for the kids – but Erle just didn’t want to be bothered. The doctor was an ass, anyway. Another Ivy-League dipshit who was paying off his medical school loans by handing out flu shots in farm country. The last time Erle let Joanne nag him into going to the clinic, all that city faggot did was get on his case for smoking and tell him to cut back on fried food. And for that, he charged a $25 co-pay. To hell with that. The leg hurt, but he’d deal with it.

There was coffee left in the pot from earlier that day, so Erle poured some in a cup and nuked it for a few seconds to warm it up. There was coffee at the station; but Eugenia, the octogenarian secretary, couldn’t make decent coffee to save her life. It was more like dirt colored water, and that was about how it tasted. On a good day. Most days it had no flavor at all and it was so weak he could see the bottom of the cup when it was full. If they’d a made ME Chief of Police, he thought, I’d a gotten rid of that wrinkly old bitch and hire someone who knows how to make coffee. Or at least someone useless who would be worth looking at.

Joanne’s coffee was only slightly better; but at least he could add sugar to that and make it bearable.

The new chief – Chief Dolarhyde – put him on the mid-day shift. Dolarhyde was an out-of-towner. Sort of. He’d been BORN in Mount Arliss, but his parents moved to Chicago before he was even school age. Dolarhyde was a veteran – he’d done something to earn a medal in Iraq – and had been a deputy two counties over for five years before the City Council bent down and kissed his ass. Dolarhyde moved him, he had said, to “make better use of the city’s resources.” Bullshit. If that Schmidt woman hadn’t killed herself while in custody and forced Cleary to retire, Erle would’ve been next in line for the job. It was all but his. Everybody pretty expected him to be the next Chief. He was prepared for it.

And then that bitch… bah. He tried not to think about it. He’d gone to school with her. They’d even dated – if you can ever date a girl like that – and he visited her off and on over the years. Even after Joanne got pregnant and he married her and even after Rachel married that drunken idiot Jeremy Burns and popped out two more little bastards. Everyone knew what Rachel Schmidt was; and the only thing that anybody ever wondered was whether Jeremy was ever sober enough to consider the probability that those kids weren’t his.

But she’d finally gotten Erle back. When she hanged herself that pretty much ensured that he would never be Chief of Police. And since Joanne had no intention of moving more than ten minutes away from her mom and sister, that meant Erle was stuck being a deputy until he retired or died from the boredom.

Mid-day shift meant babysitting prisoners until the afternoon arraignments. Then, once they were back in their cells, on their way back to the towns they were arrested in to sit in cells there, or out on bail, Erle was out on patrol until his shift was over. There was nothing to patrol. Mount Arliss wasn’t big enough to drive around in. Sometimes he’d sit out in front of Siegerson’s or the Moose Head and try and catch drunk drivers; sometimes he sat out at the end of town to catch the speeders who missed the barely visible speed zone sign as they barreled into town.

And when he didn’t feel like doing any of those things (He just had to accessible by radio, which he mostly was) he dropped by Marie’s house.

Marie was from Someplace Else. She worked out of her house on Codger Street and lived off the money her husband made serving over seas in Afghanistan. She was another one like Rachel – just another whore – and he didn’t feel at all bad that she had hooked some soldier into marrying her. How some men were so dumb was beyond him. Marie wasn’t the kind of girl you married. She didn’t carry herself like a marriage-minded girl. She called herself an artist and she wore outfits that made her stand out. She had a tattoo right above her cunt. It was a small heart with three initials: JBF. Erle never asked her what the tattoo meant, but he’d seen it up close more than three dozen times since the two of them met.

When he was at home with Joanne, he thought about Marie. When he couldn’t avoid fucking his wife, he fantasized that he was fucking Marie. Joanne was still a pretty woman, even after having the kids; but she didn’t do the things Marie did. She didn’t treat him the way Marie treated him. When he was passed over for Chief, Joanne hugged him and talked about finances and adjustments that would have to be made since the expected pay raise wasn’t going to happen. Marie, on the other hand, greeted him at the door naked, carefully peeled his uniform off him and gave him a mind-numbing blowjob – and that was just on the enclosed front porch. By the time she got up off her knees and shimmied into the back bedroom, the only thing on Erle’s mind was how Marie liked it when he fucked her from behind and how she begged him to give it to her harder and faster.

There were only a five prisoners in lock up and of them, only one needed arraignment. Jefferson. He was from Yonkapple County. Brought in for being behind on child support. Erle didn’t know him or his situation, but from the way the prisoner talked, his ex was a queen bitch. That seemed right enough to Erle; but the law is the law (that’s what Old Man Cleary always said) and it didn’t matter how he felt about it. It came out in arraignment that the prisoner had been fired six months back and was unable to pay. Judge Henderson gave the poor bastard 30 days in county lock up and ordered restitution within a year.

After the hearing, Erle sat in the office and talked to Martin, who was just coming off the day shift and filling out paperwork. Martin bitched about his wife and the kids needing new shoes every two months. Then Erle asked how he liked the new Chief so far.

“Eh.” Martin answered, not looking up from his paperwork. “He’s alright I guess. Doesn’t talk much. When he does, it’s usually something important.”

“WELL now,” Erle snorted. “When you can break your lips away from his asshole, maybe we’ll have time to talk.”

Martin looked up and shook his head. “It’s not my fault you got passed over. And it’s not the Chief’s fault neither.”

“You sayin’ it’s MY fault??”

“No.” He sighed. “Things are what they are. What about that job over in Whiteside? You think about applying for that?”

Erle didn’t want to talk about it. He’d brought it up to Joanne, but she refused to move, and he couldn’t be Sheriff of a county he didn’t live in. He’d been friends with Martin going on 30 years; they played high school ball together and had gone to the State Championships both varsity years. He’d been the best man at Martin’s wedding and paid for that stripper to do a little extra for his last hurrah. They’d both been on duty when Rachel Schmidt hung herself; but as far as Erle could tell, Erle was the only one paying for it.

“Aren’t you supposed to be out on patrol?”

Erle looked up. Chief Dolarhyde was standing there, looking down on him. Dolarhyde struck an imposing figure. He was tall, wide-shouldered, and stood like a military man. The uniform made him seem even more intimidating, even though it wasn’t much different than the uniform Erle wore; Erle always thought the uniform made him look like a gas station attendant. He was pretty much right about that; but Dolarhyde would look like he was in charge regardless of what he was wearing. Erle stood up.

“Uh, yeah. I was just on my way out.”

Chief Dolarhyde nodded. “Good. Report any problems.”

Erle nodded and retreated from the office, not bothering to look back at Martin. Goddamn turncoat, he thought.

Without even bothering to pretend to patrol, Erle drove straight to Marie’s. He needed to relax and not think about his trouble for a while. When he got there, she was in the studio, covered in paint. Erle didn’t understand why she called her paintings art; they didn’t look like anything to him – just splashes of color on canvas. He asked her once why she didn’t paint something that looked like something – a tree or a deer or a house. She laughed and never really answered him. That didn’t bother him, though, because not long after that she climbed on top of him and rode him until every thought was gone from his brain.

She smiled when she saw him. “Don’t you knock anymore?”

He smiled. “I didn’t know I needed to.” Erle looked her over. Even covered in paint and wearing those overalls she wore when she painted, she was beautiful. He didn’t know if it was her deep dark eyes, dark hair, and olive skin, or maybe just her childless, beautiful body. Maybe it was the fact that she never wore anything under her overalls when she painted and he was two easy hooks away from absolute heaven. He approached her, kissed her, and reached for the hooks that held up her overalls.

“I should take a bath first,” she giggled and sighed.

“Why don’t we both take a bath?”

The bath was nice; Marie had a large bathtub with little air jets. They did it in the tub, laughing and sliding across one another in the soap. And after, they got dressed and Erle grabbed a beer from her refrigerator, feeling absolutely refreshed. He sank into her couch and closed his eyes, feeling the contentment a person feels after an impossible itch has been scratched.

Marie came in holding a beer and smoking one of her clove cigars. She say down on the couch next to Erle. “Rough day?”

“It’s a lot better now.”

She smiled and blew O rings. “That’s good.”

“Sorry I interrupted your … uh… painting.” He wasn’t sorry; but it was something to say that sounded nice.

“You like it?”

She was referring to the piece she’d been working on when he walked in, but Erle didn’t really look at it. He didn’t really look at anything she painted. “Sure,” he answered, taking a drink. “Sure I do.”

“That’s good. You’re going to see a lot of it.”

“How’s that?” Maybe she wants me to come over more often, he thought. He didn’t know if he could manage it. But after all, what else did he do all day? He couldn’t have her getting too attached, though. Couldn’t have her getting the wrong impression.

“It’s going to your house when it’s done.”

Uh-oh, he thought. Can’t have something like that around. How would I explain it to Joanne? “I appreciate that,” Erle said. “I really do. But don’t you think you’d be better off selling it?”

“I did.”


“Your wife wants it. Says it will go with the new dining room.”

He nearly choked on his beer. “My wife?”

“Yeah.” Marie blew more O rings. “I ran into her on the street. She saw some of my paintings at the Arliss Town Festival last month and asked how much a commission would cost.” She smiled. “I gave her a good deal. A policeman’s discount.” She laughed.

The new dining room. Right. Joanne’s new and entirely unnecessary house project. New paint, new furniture. Joanne always had her nose stuck in design magazines. Erle felt his heart stop. “She doesn’t know does she? You didn’t SAY anything, did you? She didn’t…”

“She doesn’t know anything,” Marie reassured him. “And I don’t know that she’d care if she did know.”

“What do you mean??”

“Look, baby, don’t get upset.” She stood up, walked over to the ashtray by the recliner, and mashed out her cigar. “Why do you care? You’re here three days a week, anyway.”

He sighed, almost feeling relieved.

“It’s almost finished,” she went on. “The painting. I expect to deliver it by Friday.”


“Yeah. She said the painting would be finished by then. That’s part of the service.” She laughed. “I deliver and hang the art. When the customer wants me to. I like to make sure they have good homes.”

Erle was tuning her out. Marie in his home? In the home he shared with Joanne?

“She told me she was going to surprise you with it,” Marie said. “So be sure and act surprised.”


“And there’s something else.”

What could possibly be worse than Marie and Joanne talking?

“John’s coming home.”


“John,” she repeated. “My HUSBAND.”

Oh. “Really?”

“Yes. He’s being discharged, believe it or not. His unit’s coming home and they’re letting him out. So he’ll be home in a few months.”


“Yeah,” she sighed. “So this is going to have to be the last time, Erle.”

“Last time? What are you talking about? You just said MONTHS.”

“I want to be ready for him,” she said. “And anyway, this thing,” she motioned between them, “has run its course anyway. So you can’t come around anymore after today. Unless,” she smiled, “you’re interested in buying art.”

“Why does it have to stop?” Erle asked. “We can make adjustments. We can…”

“What? Meet in cheap motels two towns over? Or maybe we can fuck in YOUR bed when the wife and kids aren’t at home?”

“Listen,” he said. “If it’s about the painting or something Joanne said…”

“It’s not either of those things. One is business and the other is your business. This is about John coming home. It’s about me wanting him to come home.” She smiled down at Erle. “We’ve been screwing around, that’s true. But I love my husband. And you’ll never leave Joanne. It’s not like this could go on forever. She waited for Erle to respond; all he did was take a long drink from his beer. She shook her head. “Why don’t you finish that and head out, okay? It’s been … fun. But we both knew what this was. Right?”

He slumped even further into the couch. “Right.”

“And besides,” she said, “you’ll have the painting to remind you.”

Erle drained the bottle and set it on the small table next to the couch. When he stood up, pain shot up through his left leg and seemed to go straight to his head.

“You should get that looked at,” Marie said.

“Right,” he mumbled. Erle didn’t want to look at her; he didn’t want to remember her in this moment at all. In his mind, he was telling himself the way he would remember it so he could look at her when he saw her around town with her war hero husband. He put his gun belt and radio back on and walked out the door. When he got to his cruiser, a call came over the radio. It was Chief Dolarhyde ordering him back to the station

18 June, 2010

Pop Art Fung Shui

Lamps in the shape of
Michelangelo’s David’s head
(made to look just darling
in that tiny nook by the door
or at the foot of stairs)
illuminate little but tell us a lot
about what we think of the past
and what we should expect
people to do with our memories
when at last
we have the good grace
to become one.

14 June, 2010


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Click Publish America link on the right side bar to go to the online bookstore.


The first ever Dead Machine E-Edition:

The Greyhound Quarto. 8pgs.
$1.50/download. Click on the link. MC/V accepted.

08 June, 2010

Balancing the Books

Life has taught me
belief is futile
(How I need
that sensation
to walk through
the world!) and
faith is an illusion
best suited for those
who sit and wait
and whittle away
the hours to their
inevitable end; but
that still does not
erase the feeling
that all of this
ought to be
for Something
or the knowledge
that all the certainty
in the world
is never as absolute
as the miracle
of the following day.

03 June, 2010

The Cat Situation

The problems with the cats had been going on for a week and a half, and they were fighting more when no one was home; I’d leave and run errands (on the days I had the car) or to walk to the library or the Restaurant on Main Street to sit and drink coffee and read, and when I got back home the carpet was covered with tufts of long dark hair intermingled with short orange ones.

Muriel and I talked about it a little, but in our conversations it became clear that the cat problem was my problem; she didn’t have time, she said, to deal with One More Thing. The subtext of her statement was, I understood, that I had all the time in the world. Maybe she didn’t mean it that way, and maybe she wasn’t aware of the assumptions she was making; but it did seem like, from the beginning, because I was the one who accidentally stepped on Che, I was the one who would ultimately deal with it. Then again, there was some truth in her assumption – not that I had All This Time To Do Stuff (which I probably did, if only I had managed my time more efficiently), but that it was My Job to take care of the problem.

Even in the most enlightened of marriages – which our certainly is – there’s always a certain amount of role playing and delineation of duties. Neither of us is particulalry organized, and neither one of us is especially Type-A enough to need that level of control in our relationship. But her level of organization, which was precise and exact in her work life, was the exact opposite in her private life. In some ways I’m probably opposite. My public life is a disorganized mess; I’m lousy at remembering peope’s names; I forget birthdays, important dates, less promininent holidays, and less than pleasant obligations I’d rather not deal with. In my private life I had managed, through repetition, to simplify my life and save myself certain troubles. I always put my glasses in the same place when I take them off at night, even when I’m drunk. I always put my red Bybee coffee cup in the same place. One of the first things I do whenever I move to a new place is establish a new routine. I know that’s supposed to be the hobgoblin of mediocre minds, but when I have some semblance of routine it allows me to save energy I’d waste in more pleasing ways. I don’t have to think about where my glasses are or where my coffee cup is or where I put my keys. My cigars are always in the same place, and so are my pens and paper. Most of the time, I put things back in the refrigerator where I found them so I don’t have to spend time scanning to find it again. I am horribly reliable in my routines; and when I am forced to break my routine, it pretty much fucks with my entire day.

This problem with the cats was one of those things that was screwing up my routine. I was constantly having to separate them, yell at them, shoo them back into hiding. They wouldn’t eat in the same room anymore, wouldn’t drink from the same water bowl, and if they happened to cross paths somewhere in the house – and since the house wasn’t very big, it happened often – they would immediately square off against one another.

The top of my right hand still bore the scars of my last attempt to pull them apart phyiscally, but they were healed more or less. Since then, though, I refused to pet them or pick them up or do anything other than feed them and clean their damned litter box; and I didn’t like doing those things. I would’ve put them both out and let them fend for themselves if it hadn’t been for Muriel’s insistence that it would be cruel.

“They’ve always been house cats,” she protested.

“They didn’t always use me for a fucking scratching post, either.”

She also tried to make me feel guilty for not making nice with Che. Sometimes he’d come out of hiding and want to get up in my lap and I wouldn’t let him.

“He’s trying to make up!”

“No. He’s trying to trick me so he can try and claw my nuts.”

“So you’re not going to forgive him?”

“Let him scratch you and see how forgiving you feel.”

“He’s just a CAT. It’s not like he really remembers it.”

“So why’s he trying to make up?”

Whenever we talked about The Cat Situation, I always ended up feeling like I was the one being unreasonable; but I refused to accept that as the correct response. I wasn’t the one who mauled them, after all. I was the one who got mauled. And more than that—I was also the one who fed them and who cleaned up their disgusting fucking litter box. I cleaned up after them because Muriel couldn’t deal with the smell. Whenever they decided to puke up a hair ball onto the carpet, I cleaned it up. Whenever they didn’t like the change in food and puked – always on the carpet – I cleaned it up. The time Che decided to sneak and eat beans off the stove and he got the running shits – again, all over the carpet – I was the one who cleaned it up. When his claws had to be clipped, I was the one who did that most of the time, because (at the time) I was the least likely to get scratched.

The solution had always been in front of us, but we usually didn’t have the money to get the cats declawed. They’d been destroying our furniture for years; but we resisted getting them declawed because, well, it seemed so MEAN. What if they got out accidentally and had to defend themselves? Not that either of them would ever wander further than two steps out the door before trying to get back inside; they were spoiled and on some level, I always suspected they knew it. Che especially. Nine could survive on his cat food box lable cuteness and whorish personality; Che had pretty much always been a little fucker to everyone except me and (most of the time) Muriel.

Well, since he felt like being a fucker to the one who actually took care of him, I told Muriel they HAD to get declawed.

“Are you sure you want to do that?”

“I’m sure I don’t want to be a scratching post again.”

“What about the money?”

“Call the local vet and find out how much it’ll cost.”

“Why do I have to call?”

“Don’t you know somebody who knows somebody there?”

She hated when I used her ability to network against her. “Yes.”

“Then call and ask. You might get a special rate.”

“They’re not gonna give me a rate.”

“They might.”

She knew she couldn’t argue with me. She’d gotten every stick of furniture we owned because she people knew her from when she’d been at the theatre those summers working with props and scene design; and they all liked her. “Fine.”

But that didn’t solve the immediate problem of what to do with them. The problem was usually two-fold. For one thing, we rarely had the pool of expendable cash; even when we were both working, we never managed to do better than living paycheck to pay check; and we were both college educated and prepared for our inevitable entrance into the middle class. But that entrance never happened. We both made the mistake of following our passions rather than Being Smart. The guidance counselors tried with me, as I’m sure they tried with her, as I saw in my students when they sat in my classes as college freshman. The advice is almost always the same and it hasn’t really changed: study something Smart. Something that will help you Get A Job and Live The Way You Want To Live. Have a passion? Leave it as a hobby; live a Good Life and once you retire, THEN you have your passion to keep you company in your decrepitude. Even as a kid it didn’t make sense to me that the whole goal of it all – college, marriage, life – was to Live For Later. As a result, I have tended to make decisions and live in ways that Weren’t So Smart. It was only on small ocassions that it came back to bite me in the ass. When the car needed repair. Whenever I talked to my extended family. When I quit a job because my dignity is more important to me than a paycheck. When I dared to presume I had a right to a fair shake from the administrative zombies who run colleges and universities.

The Cat Situation was another one of those times when my lack of disposable income came back to bite me in the ass.

The other problem was that Che, since he was more than 5 years old, cost more to declaw than Nine. There was a greater risk that something might happen – i.e., when they anesthetized him he might not wake up – so naturally they charged more. It was a goddamn racket; veterinarians hadn’t yet organized themselves into Animal HMO’s, but it’s only a matter of time. The last one we went to in Arizona told us it would cost a $1000 to declaw Che. And that didn’t include the medicine and post-operative check up. Nine was younger, so he would cost around $600. And even when I was working at ASU and Muriel was working overtime, that was more money than we could afford.

I expected the vet in Mount Arliss to be considerably cheaper; but a dollar for a cup of coffee is still too much when you don’t have a dollar to spare.

When she came home later that evening, she told me she’d called the vet in town.

“How much?”

“Not as much as I thought.”

“That sounds promising.”

She told me it would cost $250 dollars a piece to get them declawed.

“It doesn’t matter that Che is older?”



“I set up an appointment for next week, on Monday. I can drop them off on my way to work; but you’ll have to pick them up after.”


Che must have heard us talking, because he came out of hiding. He rubbed up on my leg and tried to get in my lap, and a shooed him off.

“He just wants in your lap!”

“Maybe after he gets declawed.”

“You’re just being stubbom. Are you sure you want to do this? We can call and cancel.”

Che hissed and arched his back because Nine came out of his hiding place and into the living room. Nine started yowling and crouched, ready to attack. They hissed at one another and yowled and I shooed them both back into their respective hiding places. Then I looked at Muriel. “Monday was the soonest?”

She sighed. The decision, although necessary, wasn’t sitting well with her. That she is soft-hearted is one of the things I love most about her; she helps remind me not to give up on humanity, in spite of however much I want to. She doesn’t try to see the best in all things; it’s something she just does. And no matter how many times she gets disappointed by the general mediocrity of everyone around her – sometimes including me – she never gives up. But she knew we didn’t have a choice this time.

“Yes. It was the soonest.”