The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

March 12th, 2015

Cat’s Paw

I’d lost track of how long I’d been living alone, Padre, but some habits die hard so every June I still hauled the beach chairs out of the cellar, mine and Edna’s, wiped away the cobwebs and dust, cleaned off the mildew, then lined them up straight and neat as a firing squad against the wall of the trailer. Get the joke, Padre? Neat as a firing squad. No matter. I liked the view of the mountains from under the carport, especially in the evening when the sun did things to the greenery. I’d take supper in the carport those evenings, setting my plate on Edna’s chair. Nothing ever changed ‘cept for the weather. That was my only visitor, the weather, until Lemmie, short for Lemieux or Lemoine or Lemaire or Lemanger or some name like that, slouched by walking on the shoulder of the road where no one ever walked ‘less their car broke down and they were looking for help.

Lemmie didn’t stop that first time, just trudged by with a nod. I liked a man what respected another man’s privacy. I wished Lemmie did stop that first time ‘cause if he had I would’ve run him off which means you and me wouldn’t be having this chat.

Few weeks later, saw Lemmie again, this time at the Key West. Funny name for a bar in a place where first snow’s October and ice-out comes late May. Some barkeep converted the last unit of a factory row house into an after hours place with plastic pink flamingos and inflatable beach toys shaped like palm trees and sharks and an old fishing net or two and called it the Key West. Even hung a picture of Ernie Hemingway over the bar, telling the factory workers Ernie was an old fishing buddy. I didn’t read more than the next guy, but I recognized Ernie from Life magazine. That’s why I liked Life, the pictures.
Where was I? Lemmie. Right. Anyway, that night Lemmie sat down the far end of the bar, away from the pinball and the juke box and the horny factory girls wondering where their beauty went, sipping Canadian. Not nursing, sipping. Drunks nurse; drinkers sip. Lemmie was a drinker, never looking nowhere but deep into his glass like some special secret was hiding out  under the Canadian. Me, I only drank beer, one or two a night, and there was no secrets at the bottom of the schooners favored by the Key West. No one but me ever noticed how schooners fit the décor of the Key West more than mugs. I mentioned it to Scales, the barkeep when all this went down, and he gave me that look he saves for people he asks to leave against their wishes.

You say get to the point. You in a rush? Well, one thing I got is time, the whole rest of my life as a matter of fact, and stories always expand to fill the time you got.

Speaking of time, it was the time of year for me to take my chairs in for the season. You remember the chairs, mine and Edna’s, in the carport. I always waited for the third frost, more trustworthy sign of winter than some weather man with maps and radar; but third frost came late that year, postponed by one of them long stretches of Indian summer that lingers like a woman’s smell on your skin after one of them nights. When it came though, it came with a vengeance, like waking up the morning after to an empty bed and an empty wallet and knowing you been had. Still, when the sun warmed the chairs enough to melt the frost, I took them in for the season, stacking them behind the furnace which was the warmest place in the cellar, the place where the cat slept. Always had one. That’s why my friends call me Cat, ‘cept for Scales who didn’t call me nothing. The mildew you ask? I could never figure where it came from neither.

One morning shortly later the doorbell rang which confused me ‘cause I didn’t remember what it sounded like; but I figured it out by the second or third ring. Lemmie looked like he hadn’t found much truth in Canadian, but he didn’t smell like he’d been drinking and I’d already made the coffee so I figured there’d be no harm being neighborly and asking him in to share it. What did I know, huh Padre?

If Lemmie was anything he was direct. Said, they say you’re good with ‘lectricity. I just stared into my coffee, not letting on how right he was, asking him if them’s the same they that call me Cat. Lemmie said he’s looking for a good ‘lectrician so I figure he’s working construction and tell him about some of the others, the ones good with wood, plumbing, bricks, drywall, things like that; but Lemmie just shook his head and said he only needed a ‘lectrician and only one at that. Cash pay, Lemmie said.

Lemmie stopped coming to the Key West after that and I didn’t see him around town none. No one did, but then so many people drifted through on their way to or from that strangers didn’t keep their novelty too long. That’s why no one at the Key West remarked ‘bout Lemmie’s absence. Finally, come early November, Lemmie phoned, said to pack for a few days, said he’d pick me up sunrise in the morning. Not an early riser but I needed the jack so I said I’d be ready. I thought about saying adios to Scales since most others just snuck off without saying good-by. Don’t know why I decided ‘gainst it. Might have been different if I had, do you think? Spare me one of those smokes, Padre. Thanks. Always said I’d quit someday. Guess someday’s finally here.

Anyway, Lemmie picked me up and drove me down county to Munroe Falls, the biggest city in the whole county and all, but Lemmie said he’s got more people on his block back in Brooklyn. Big block, I said, but Lemmie he just smiled and said he liked it that way. Person could get lost in Brooklyn, he said. Person could get lost anywhere, I said back. Anyway, I wired the Christmas displays, doing everything ‘cording to code, testing and retesting the connection, the grounds, thinking nothing ‘bout it ‘til I read in the paper how the Mayor was ‘lectrocuted turning on the Christmas lights. Paper figured someone rigged the wiring, did a big write up on crosswiring, front page. Funny, though, it never actually explained what crosswiring was. Just quoted the FBI report how the wires was rigged to send a killer jolt through the switch. Anyway, that’s how I got fingered for the Mayor’s murder.

Next day, Chief arrests me so I tell him about Lemmie and Brooklyn and all, but no one’s seen Lemmie since he returned me back to my trailer and Brooklyn never heard of him. Lot of blocks in Brooklyn, I guess. Chief asks about fingerprints but that coffee cup Lemmie used it’s been washed ten times over. I still had the hundred Lemmie paid me stashed under the living room rug. Hated to part with it, but, as Chief said, I’d have no use for it if he couldn’t turn up a print. Only turned up mine. You know how it goes when you see a big bill like that ‘specially when it’s been a lifetime since the last one. Another joke, Padre. Get it?

You don’t believe me, do you, Padre? No matter. Everyone here’s innocent or they wouldn’t be here. No, I don’t blame the jury. I’d vote the same way. And that lady attorney, she did her damnedest, but, hell, whoever messed with them wires was a damn better ‘lectrician than me.

Regrets? I’d like my last supper in my carport, beach chairs and all, watching the sun do its thing to the greenery. It’s almost the season to take ‘em out. Instead of lettin’ you pick what you want to eat, they ought to let you pick where you eat it. I’d pick the carport, facing the mountains. Hell, they could do me right there soon as I finished. Wouldn’t be so scary then. Well, Padre, thanks for hearing me out. If you ever make it to the Key West, tell Scales Cat said, hey. Tell him I still got eight lives to go.

*

 
S. Frederic Liss, a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Prize sponsored by University of Georgia Press, has published or has forthcoming 36 short stories and has received numerous awards and other forms of recognition for his short fiction including The Florida Review Editor’s Award for Fiction; James Still Prize for Short Fiction sponsored by Wind; Midnight Sun Award for Fiction sponsored by Permafrost; Third prize in the Arthur Edelstein Prize for Short Fiction; Finalist for the Raymond Carver Award for Short Fiction sponsored by Carve Magazine; and Honorable Mention in the New Letters Literary Award for Fiction and the Glimmer Train June, 2014 Fiction Open. Liss has also been published in The Saturday Evening Post, The South Dakota Review, The South Carolina Review, Dogwood, The Worcester Review, and Fifth Wednesday Journal. In addition, Liss was a finalist in the Bakeless Prize Competition sponsored by Middlebury College and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Liss earned a MFA from Emerson College, Boston, MA and was the recipient of a Grant-in-Aid in Literature from the St. Botolph Club Foundation, Boston, MA where he leads a workshop in writing fiction.  

What motivates him to create:
“I write fiction because I enjoy it. When it stops being fun, I’ll stop writing fiction. This doesn’t mean its easy as enjoyment is often more difficult to attain than disappointment. I appreciate this response may seem selfish compared to those who claim they write fiction to communicate great truths, but it goes to the heart of the matter. Truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”

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