Movement in the Wire
Out my window, I watch Cat Man tramp down the darkened sidewalk of our mostly-quiet neighborhood as he often does at 2:00 a.m., his bowl of livers in one hand, his bowl of kidneys in the other. "Kit! Kit! Kit! Kit!" he trills, only the moonlight guiding his way. Bloated and bent, he heads in his stockinged feet for the small traffic island and the orange glow cast by the street lamp "Gotcha all covered, kits. Come to daddy."
Tonight, a Chevy fan belt abruptly shrieks like wild animals, out of control, on one side of the triangular island. Shivering in my nightgown, I watch Cat Man duck by the palm tree and then shout, "Incoming!" An Impala bottoms out on the other side, rusted metal grinding asphalt. "Movement in the wire!" Cat Man cries, no doubt seeing Viet Cong, invasion. He flails to the ground, squirms his way over broken glass on his elbows, hides beside a parked car. He keeps a grip on the bowls, like they're C-rations, indispensable.
I turn my lights out. Transparent curtains in the murky apartment across the way ripple abruptly, so I know the woman there is vigilant, too.
We know he has important front teeth missing. We know he sleeps all day. We know about the methadone. We watch his bungalow deteriorate, his roof cave, his porch sag. We cover for him, yet some nights when I make my way to the bodega for a bottle, I cross the street so I don't have to pass his place alone.
Two-story cathouses stacked like condos snuggle in by his front door and often make me smile when I'm passing. One awning says, "Cats only!" The other, "No dogs allowed!" Cats are always napping inside, on his dead Bermuda, his driveway, under Darts and Hyundais parked at the curb. Cats with missing eyes, smelly wounds, disease. Cats who won't let you near them. Others scramble over fences, lurch from shrubs and alleys, stalk their pied piper, coveting their organs.
A slow car menaces. A window rolls down. Kids and heavy metal. Metallica blasting: It comes alive it comes alive it comes alive and I die a little more.
"What the hell you doing under a car, ya stupid old man?" a boy's cracking voice shouts into damp air. The music cuts.
Crickets chirp their forewings, calling, mating, steadfast. There is laughter, beer cans ping, chatter down the pavement. A pitched bottle soars, explodes, glass chinking against the glittery, moonlit sidewalk. Whoops, catcalls, dares. Car doors groan and boys wearing large Adidas jump out. My hand reaches for 911.
The old man runs for his life, flinging Styrofoam bowls skyward, livers and kidneys landing everywhere. Strays, lustful, arch suspiciously.
Cat Man's beer belly swings in his way. His legs move like they probably haven't since Southeast Asia, spinning, machines. He thuds headlong onto the dirt of his property. He rolls under shrubs, into shadows, setting up a defense. Another neighbor, from the apartment below mine, stands barefoot in the street in front of our building. Quiet. Watching. Baseball bat in hand. He knows I'm up here.
The boys jump back in. Squealing tires charge after Cat Man. Burned rubber gasses the neighborhood. The car stalls in front of his place, and the driver thinks about it, the boys are ready, but then they move on. Felines scatter farther in the peeling wake, gravel spitting, voices knife-like, scary, high-pitched. They leap fences, sneak back to their alleyways, others slithering through thistle and blue hibiscus, returning to the bungalow and its lighted porch. Cat Man slips furtively behind a palm, a jacaranda with lavender flowers. He finally makes it inside, screen banging.
Then cats converge on the sidewalk, dozens of them, wolfing.
My downstairs neighbor jerks his head up toward my open window. I nod. We scan the bushes, the darkness, the block.
No more VC.
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