Chapter 3: Cat
Jersey City, NJ - June 3rd, 1994
You can find an audio of this chapter here.
Cat panic-pressed the doorbell until Sarah stuck her head out of the top-floor window of the townhouse. Cat stepped out from under the porch roof and waved up to her best friend. Sarah just shook her head, frowning.
“What the Hell, Cat? Georgie could’ve been sleeping.”
It had taken Cat fifteen minutes to walk/jog into the Heights, and her work clothes were soaked through. The wet heat snatched at her breath as she gasped for oxygen. This was a nicer area than where Cat and her dad lived, but it had yet to begin the gentrification process that downtown Jersey City was currently experiencing around the river. Sarah’s boyfriend had a half-decent job as security in one of the fancy recent developments in Hoboken, but they could never dream of living down there. Hoboken rents were four figures even if you lived on the Presidents.
Cat waved up at Sarah again and pointed toward the door. “Emergency Sarah. I’ve got exactly forty-two minutes to get to work and no money.”
The external door buzzed, and Cat pushed inwards. Sarah’s apartment was on the top floor of this once-grand old townhouse. The interior hallway was sweltering. The 90-degree weather outside felt like a cool spring day in comparison. Cat gripped the banister and her sweaty hand slipped, causing her to tumble forward and slam her knee on the third step. Screw this crappy day.
“You look like shit.” Sarah was leaning in her doorway, baby Lea on her hip and toddler Georgie gripping her leg. Georgie’s face split into a grin when he spotted Cat, and he lurched toward her, transferring his sticky grip to Cat’s sticky leg.
Sarah frowned. “No. He’s working. Why?” Cat attacked the buttons of the polyester nightmare pretending to be a shirt, and pulled it from her torso. Sweat drenched her bra too, but she would spare Sarah that view.
Sarah tutted. “At least get inside if you’re gonna have all that hanging out.” She stepped out of the doorway and Cat staggered in with Georgie still attached to her.
"Let me guess," Sarah said, turning from the front door which opened into her tiny kitchen. She lifted a bottle from a pan of water. "He drank your wages."
"It was my fault." Cat reached down to Georgie and lifted him up, but he squirmed against her sweaty stomach so she put him down and he toddled into the living room. "I left my bag out. I didn't think he was coming home." She lied.
"He's a fucking loser." Sarah opened the under-sink cabinet with her foot and bent to retrieve a small plastic crate filled with baby bottles. She opened a box labeled “nipples” and dumped a small roll of bills onto the counter. “Kevin would never open this box.” The attempt at a smile faltered when she caught Cat’s frown. “How much do you need?”
“$3 for the bus there and back.” Might as well get a bagel, too.
“I’ll need it back by next Friday night or I'll be one drink short of a drunk." She stepped into the living room and plopped onto the futon, sticking the bottle in Lea’s mouth. “My Mom’s coming over to watch the kids and Kevin’s working. If I’m back before midnight, he’ll never know I went out. You coming?”
Sarah shrugged. “Was your dad home? Did you ask him for money?” Cat raised her eyebrows and Sarah huffed. “Well, was he?”
“Yes, he was home. He was unconscious, so no, I didn’t ask him for money. I went through his pockets, but based on the bottle of vodka and packet of Marlboros, I made like Sherlock and figured he’d spent it.”
“Fucking men.” Sarah grabbed a juice-stained throw pillow and stuck it under her elbow to prop her arm holding the bottle. She smoothed strands of her frizzy hair away from her sweaty forehead and collapsed against the back of the futon. “Your Dad. Kevin. There’s no real-life knight in shining armor, is there? I mean, I know I screwed up, but you freaking graduated from high school. You graduated! And you’re so smart. Like so good at writing and talking with good words and stuff. And you’re some kind of math freak. What do they call it an idiot savi-something?”
Cat cracked a smile. “Thanks, Sarah.”
“No, I mean it! Why don’t you tell your dad to shove it and take off? Move to fucking Florida, or somewhere the sun shines year-round, and get a job on the beach or something.” Cat said nothing. Lea’s rhythmic sucking filled the sudden silence. Sarah lifted one bare foot to scratch at her exposed calf with her toes. Her broken nails and chipped red polish made Cat sad. “I mean, you’re freaking hot too, Cat.” Sarah continued, “You should be a dancer. Remember how we always used to say we’d be dancers and make bank? Better than working as a glorified cleaner in that hoity freaking toity hotel. Better than living with your asshole, Dad.”
Sarah dissed Cat’s dad every chance she got. Sarah’s dad had run off after Sarah’s mom ended up in the hospital a few years ago. Sarah dissed every dad after that. Especially after she’d met Kevin and got pregnant. She said Kevin proved her theory dads sucked. Once men became one, they all turned into jerks. Cat’s dad wasn't perfect, but others had worse. Sarah's mom's bruises had proved that.
“I’m not a cleaner, Sarah. I’m a bus person.”
Sarah raised an eyebrow. “Same thing.”
Cat swallowed her annoyance. “And Dad pays the rent. I’d never afford a place without him. Anyway, he'd be a mess if I left. It's just me he's got. And he takes care of me too, you know.”
Sarah scoffed. “Come on Cat. You and I know that rent only gets paid because he digs through your purse, knows all your hiding places, and sometimes picks the right horse or wins a few hands.” The blood rushed to Cat’s face. Sarah smiled at her and deep lines creased into her dark under eyes. No twenty-one-year-old should be that tired. “Maybe it's time you thought about just taking care of yourself,” Sarah said. She surveyed the messy room and smiled again at Georgie, who was trying to shove the wrong wooden dinosaur into the wrong puzzle hole. “You could be something. Go somewhere.”
Sarah had given this speech so many times Cat could recite it. She shook out her wet shirt, and wincing, slid her arms into the sleeves. “You’re right, I could be something, alright. I could be fired!” She buttoned up and tucked the $3 into her pocket. “Thanks, Sarah. I’m good for it.”
Cat stepped from the doorway into the pelting rain. Now her socks squidged when she walked. She'd be doing her shift in wet feet. That’s if they let her do her shift. She checked her watch. She’d be at least twenty minutes late. Sleazy Shane, the head waiter, and her boss, hated her. The first few nights she’d worked there, he’d tried to buy her a drink at closing, but she’d refused. She knew what she’d owe him if he did. He was pissed off she’d turned him down. Truthfully, he was just begging for an excuse to get her fired. She reached Palisade Avenue and crossed her fingers that the timing was right for a van to come along. The way today was going, she had no chance.
*Note from LM - So many times I hunted for quarters so I could make it to my job in NYC on the van. At the time I was pursuing my acting career, so to support myself I sold re-manufactured toner cartridges from my office in a factory in Queens. The commute was an hour and a half to get to work each way. But I liked the job and my awesome boss (he died in his thirties from a drug overdose - I had no clue). I reckon that Cat loves her job too. Just like the people and the flexibility were reasons to love my job in Queens, the surroundings and the people are reasons for Cat to love her job, no matter what she has to put up with. Oh - and I can’t tell you how often I had to deal with a Sleazy Shane. They were everywhere.
I’ll be delivering this book to you chapter by chapter, hopefully, every other day. I’ll also be creating behind-the-scenes glimpses into my creative writing practice, including deleted scenes, character stories, inspiration, etc…
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