9. Rats

May 13, 2010

Kitty had killed a rat.

Not only had the big orange tabby caught a rat, but she—or he—had left it on the backstairs of the music store.

“She’s just brought you a gift,” said the matter-of-fact Liz.

“I think it’s a he. Orange tabbies are usually male. He was probably worried that you weren’t getting enough to eat,” added Rose, eyeing Arnold’s slight figure.

“I know,” said Arnold, “but that doesn’t make any difference. They still flipped. I’ve seen orange tabbies that were female.”

“You have?”

“Who flipped?” On track, Liz didn’t waver.

“Gavin and Anne.”

“Which ones are they?” Rose had been introduced to several Plutonium workers but their names had slid through her memory like a skateboarder on a greased track.

“Gavin’s the big guy in black leather. He looks like an ex-wrestler who hasn’t had a haircut in fifteen years. Anne has black hair.”

They all have black hair, thought Rose, dyed black hair. And didn’t wrestlers have long hair? No, that couldn’t be: it was too easy a handhold for an opponent. Wrestlers were bald. “Well, you’d think they wouldn’t mind a rat or two, stylistically speaking. They could tie them by their tails to their spike studded belts.”

“It was half eaten,” emphasized Arnold. He wasn’t finding Rose funny. “The rat.”

“Disgusting,” said Liz.

“Even better,” said Rose. “Unless it was the lower half that was eaten. Then he—or she —would have to tie the rat on his—or her—belt with rubber bands.”

Arnold pursed his lips again. This was serious: Kitty’s future was at stake. For several seconds everyone was silent.

“Stall,” asserted Liz.

“Yeah,” added Rose, “you wait long enough and they’ll leave. Like everyone else. Or they’ll forget.”

“No,” countered Arnold. “They’ve been here a really long time. They’ll never leave.” He launched into a long recitation on his life at Plutonium Music—LPs and CDs, during which he described in detail his many battles with Gavin and Anne. Three things were clear to Rose. One, Gavin and Anne were not about to leave, and, two, compromise on the issue of Kitty was impossible—clearly Kitty was only a skirmish in an ongoing war. And three, working with Arnold must have been tedious beyond belief.

“I can’t take Kitty home. My cat would never allow it.” Arnold concluded in despair.

“Hmmm, maybe,” countered Rose. It was time for her break, and when Nate appeared, she and Liz left Nate and Brad to comfort the heartbroken Arnold.

It was a sunny day for November, and sitting in coffee house, next to the large glass windows looking out on the Avenue, Rose felt warm and at ease. The late afternoon suffused the buildings with a honeyed light creating an ambience of simplicity and effortlessness. Steam rose from her tea, bringing the aroma of herbs and comfort.

“I talked to Meg,” said Liz, “about Sid. His last name is Levrant.”

Rose nodded.

“He lives by himself but he used to live with his father, until his father died about ten years ago. There’s something wrong with him. Meg didn’t know what, and neither did her neighbor, who she got all this information from. Except when Sid was young, his mother wanted to put him in some kind of facility. But his dad said no. Isn’t that great!”

“Maybe,” said Rose. Clearly there was something wrong with Sid, but if Sid was the product of dad’s nurturing, Rose was unimpressed. Maybe Sid would have been more functional if he had been nurtured somewhere else by people who knew what they were doing. But, then again, Sid was quite a bit older than Rose. He’d grown up in the snake pit era. Some bozo would probably have sliced out his frontal lobes and left him to drool.

“It’s a happy story,” insisted Liz. “When his dad died, he left Sid a fortune.”

Rose nodded.

“He’d make a great catch,” said Liz, eyeing Rose.

“Right,” said Rose, “if you wanted to be a caregiver for the rest of your life.” Frankly, Rose would rather tie a half-eaten rat to her belt.

“Well, something has to be done about him.”

“You’re right.” Rose marveled over how agreeable she became after fifteen minutes of sitting in weak sunlight. “But I can’t do anything. I think he’s afraid of women.”

“Well, how ’bout the guys at Plutonium?” Liz asked, “Can’t you organize them?”

Rose contemplated the men she knew well enough to ask to intervene with Sid’s lifestyle—Nate, Arnold and the alarming Bob Winston.

“Mmm. I don’t think so.”

And then there was Brad.

Rose leaned back in her chair, sipped her tea, and looked at Liz. With the diminishing sunlight falling softly over her young friend’s features, Rose was beginning to have visions. She could see Brad and Liz, flashlights in hand, entering Sid’s house, a twilight structure with stacks and stacks of old records and CDs piled everywhere. Feral creatures skittered into dark corners as the two intrepid pioneers made their way slowly through the rooms to arrive at Sid’s den—a cluttered smelly room with a mattress on the floor, where the old man lay, curled in a fetal position, wrapped in old clothes and rags. Half-open pizza cartons with stale crusts littered the floor. And then … ta da! It was as if a light had been turned on: Sid was living in sanitary splendor, and Brad and Liz were waltzing around the smiling Sid, folding his clean laundry and ironing his shirts.

“Well, maybe one of the guys,” Rose said at last, “but you’d have to ask him. He wouldn’t listen to me.”

Whatever, thought Rose, was she doing?

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