“No. Wow. I’ve seen six-toed cats but you’re saying your cat has seven toes on one foot and six on the other?”
“A regular Johnny Bench.”
“What about his back feet?”
“They’re normal. I don’t know if cats ever have that digital mutation on their back feet.”
“Imagine that guy climbing a tree if he did. 26 toes!”
“Yeah, actually, the little three-toe cluster is like a super-thumb. We’re here. Come on in. I’ll make you some tea and show you Johnny Bench.”
Terry and Julie entered the 1950’s tract house repurposed as two two-bedroom apartments. “We live up here,” Julie explained as they opened the front door. “A couple of hookers live in the basement apartment.”
“You know they’re hookers?”
“Judging from the sounds coming up the ducts all night every night, and the constant slamming of the back door. I’ve never seen them.”
“Yeah. It’s awful. Howler! Howler!” Julie called her cat, an innocuous looking but ferocious pocket-tabby who’d given birth to a litter of 8, one of them on Julie’s bed. The kitten bonded with Julie and followed her everywhere. From the kitchen came the banshee wail that had gotten Howler her name.
“She’s with the kittens. Come on.”
Almost weaned, the kittens mostly hung around their mother out of habit and a need for security — and sometimes milk.
“Here he is.”
“Amazing. I wish I could have a cat.”
“So, now we’re here and we’re alone, what do you…” Terry reached for her.
Julie was nervous. She was wanted Terry, but…there were a couple of problems smack in between them like concrete freeway dividers. Never one to allow objective reality to impinge on illusion or desire, Julie looked at her feet.
“You want to…?”
“Yeah, but I feel weird doing it in your matrimonial bed,” said Terry, a light edge of New York Irish dark irony sharpened the abrupt cadence of his Flushing accent. “I don’t see why you don’t leave that d***.”
“On the floor in my office?”
“With Mr. Spock looking on?”
“Yeah. We can turn him around.”
Julie had a six foot cardboard image of Mr. Spock standing guard in her home office, an “office” that was, in fact, usually her bedroom.
Holding hands, they walked through the living room and down the short hallway of the grotesquely anonymous tract home. “Hurry up and build those things bub, them GI’s are home and breeding like rabbits!’
Julie spread out the bedroll on which she usually slept. Her husband, well, he was, he was, well, Terry was right. Julie should leave him. She just couldn’t, somehow. She wished she knew why.
They undressed and lay down beside each other. They’d wanted this for a while, but ended up falling asleep in each others arms. No wonder. The hookers kept Julie up all night and Terry?
The winter sun ran its short course, and the light showed pink on the curtains when Julie woke from her nap. “Terry, Terry, wake up. It’s getting late.”
“We just SLEPT????”
“I guess we needed it.”
Julie stood and wrapped herself in the quilt her grandmother had made for her long, long ago and far, far away. Terry saw a pack of cards on the desk. Julie and her husband sometimes played cribbage.
“Can you play poker?”
“OK. Sit down. I’ll deal. Every time you lose or I lose, we have to put on a piece of clothing.”
“Yeah! UN-strip poker!”
“Exactly. But I get to tell YOU what piece of clothes to put on and you get to tell me, OK?
Neither Julie nor Terry was very good at the game and the hands they drew weren’t great, so before long they sat on the floor of the living room in socks. They were halted in mid-giggle by the sound of a key in the lock.
“Shit. It’s him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me he was coming home?”
“What should we do?” Terry stood about to make a dash for the office and his clothes.
“What’s going on?”
“We’re playing poker. John, this is Terry.”
Terry, well-trained, reached out to shake hands with Julie’s husband.
“Terry needs a ride home.”
“What the F*** are you doing?”
“We’re playing poker.”
Terry had gone into Julie’s office and pulled on his clothes.
“What HAVE you been doing?”
“Nothing. I need to take Terry home.”
“I’ll take Terry home,” said John.
“I don’t think so. Not without me.”
“I have my bike.”
“No, it’s OK, Terry. It’s my car too. We’ll put your bike on the rack.”
“My dad bought the car,” said John.
“No. Your dad made the down-payment. I made the payments.” Julie thought of all the days and nights working in the ski factory paying for the car and putting John through school. “Damn,” she thought. “It’s MY car!”
The three got into the VW Bug. John enraged, Julie and Terry both terrified. They dropped Terry and went to a Mexican restaurant and ate in silence. Julie knew John would not do anything until the event had festered inside for a while, fermenting and fulfilling itself in blind rage. John would not talk about it or think about why it had happened or the part he might have played in it.
The next day, Terry called. “I don’t see why you think that guy is so bad. I thought he’d beat me up but he just gave me a ride home! Maybe you’re wrong about him.”
“I’m not wrong about him.”
“Well, it was incredibly embarrassing, sitting their naked in your living room when your husband came in. Are you OK? Did he do anything to you?”
“No. It hasn’t registered yet. But it will.”
“Why do you stay?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t fucking KNOW.” Julie started to cry.
“Are you coming to school?”
“I don’t know how. He took my bike to work with him.”