The original version of this chapter had lyrics from the song “Would I Lie to You?” by The Eurythmics, but I changed it to “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince after the Royal Purple One’s untimely death on April 21. I’m still mourning. I think the change works a lot better. But then, isn’t everything better with Prince?
A novel by Peg Cheng, Draft 1
Chapter 4: Joe
With leaden feet, Doc stepped off the crowded bus onto 15th Avenue and trudged up the hill, weaving through hordes of University of Washington students as he made his way up to 45th Street. Damn students. Why did they all have to look so cheery? His hands itched to smack one of them and tell him there was nothing to smile about. Nothing at all.
He turned right at the intersection, crossed the street, and then turned left at the gargantuan brick house with the concrete lions out front. Some idiot had painted the lions in purple and gold. Doc wanted to spit on them but there were too many frat boys around. Another time.
The leaves on the giant trees that lined the middle of 17th Street had turned into deep shades of red and gold but Doc did not notice them. He shuffled down the street known as Greek Row with stately fraternity and sorority houses flanking both sides. Music blasted from one of the houses.
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the afterworld
In this life
You’re on your own
That’s right. You’re on your own. Doc jammed his fists in his jean pockets and trudged on. His mouth formed a thin line and the vein on his neck pulsed like a tiny snake making its way through the tall grass. Prickly horse chestnuts dotted his path like woodsy sea urchins. He kicked one with a resounding thump and it skittered a good twenty feet.
A brown tabby cat bounded up to Doc, and his face did a 180, going from dark to light in a split second.
“Whatcha doing, Joe? Huh, buddy? Whatcha doing?”
Doc crouched down and ruffled the fur around Joe’s face, then rubbed down his sides and back. He then patted down the cat’s sides hard like he was fluffing a pillow. Joe purred loudly. After a while, Doc stood and continued walking. Joe walked beside him.
“Shitty day, Joe. Real shitty.”
Joe stopped suddenly.
Doc looked back at him and waved for him to follow but Joe did not budge. “Okay, okay.” Doc backtracked, crouched down, and rubbed down Joe’s sides again.
Joe cocked his head. “Meow?”
“Don’t look at me like that. You think I wanted to be fired? I liked that job.” Doc stood up and continued down the sidewalk. Joe followed, meowing loudly over and over.
“I know that. You think I don’t know? It’s just–” Doc’s hands tried to grab something in the air. “Sometimes I say things and I don’t even know where they’re coming from. I just blurt some stupid shit out and then I’m screwed.” He shook his head. “And I had that dream again.”
Doc’s shoulders slumped as he walked on. Joe padded beside him in silence. When they got to a large house painted red with white trim, Doc crouched down once again and gave the cat another set of good, hard pats. “Thanks for the talk, buddy.” Joe purred and twined through Doc’s legs.
Joe watched as Doc made his way to the front door of the house. Unlike other houses on the block that simply sported a lawn, this yard was a hodgepodge of plant and vegetable patches, separated by a path made of empty hazelnut shells. As Doc walked, his steps made a crunch-crunch sound. He slowly trailed his fingers on the edges of hosta leaves and collard greens and walked even slower up the short flight of stairs and onto the porch filled with an assortment of rickety chairs; eight, to be exact. Some were rockers and they swayed back and forth in the cool October breeze.
Male voices floated out from inside the house.
Doc sighed and reached his hand around the doorknob. He turned his head to see Joe sitting on the sidewalk, watching. Doc gave a half-hearted wave and stepped inside.
Photo of brown tabby cat by Alvesgaspar