Jerry watched as the kitten tried to scramble onto the sofa. Her front claws were sunk in the threadbare fabric. Her head hovered just above the cushion and her hind legs flailed, before she collapsed onto the floor. It was her fifth failure of the morning.
He snickered. “I be damn. They ain’t never supposed to land on their backs like that.”
In the apartment’s other room, his bed was unmade. He passed it by and stood on a bare patch of linoleum that separated the kitchenette from the bathroom and broom closet. A galvanized bucket had been placed just outside the latter’s door. A box of Morton’s salt and a gallon jug of water lay beside it. An empty light socket with a string attached was immediately overhead.
He stood and studied the collection of items. The presence of this suicide assortment, this anti-survival kit, brought an odd sense of comfort. If the pain ever got bad enough–when he simply could not bear living anymore–he knew he had only to shed his boots and socks, step into a bucket of salt water, stick his finger in the socket and pull the string. Zip, zap, I’m outta here. No deposit, no refund.
Jerry had never attempted suicide. There were no scars on his wrists to mark ineffectual slashings of years past. No record of treatment in mental hospitals to document former pleas for help. He was too thorough, too methodical, too independent for such as that. No, if he ever decided to kill himself, the event would be singular.
He opened the refrigerator door and removed an open tin of tuna from the top shelf. Picked a dirty fork up off the counter, knelt, and scooped a small portion of fish into a stainless steel bowl. “Solomon! So-lo-mon,” he repeated in a singsong voice. The kitten was female, but the male name had stuck before Jerry had realized his error. So hard to tell with cats. She bounded into the room and began to gobble the tiny chunks.
He rose and turned toward the broom closet. Stepped past the bucket and other items, and opened the door.
The enclosure was full of weapons. A 12 gauge shotgun leaned against one corner, a 22 rifle against another. On a shelf about waist high, lay two handguns. One was a nickel-plated 9mm, the other, a blue-steel double-action 38 snub nose. Sometimes, a man wanted to announce that he was armed. On other occasions, he preferred it be a secret. He picked up the smaller, darker pistol and slipped it into his coat pocket.
The tuna was gone. “I be back in a little while,” he told the kitten, the words trailing from the side of his mouth as he walked past. Her head stayed down as she continued licking the empty bowl.
His hands were cold at first, but after he walked a couple of blocks through the Lipscomb streets, Jerry began to warm up. He dreaded the coming of full winter. Frost on his windshield in the morning. Always watching the weather forecast and wishing his water pipes were insulated. The imperative to drive on his evening sojourns past Doris’ house. He stopped in the shadow cast by a cedar tree across the street from her place. Blew hoary breath onto his hands, and surveyed her driveway.
A red pickup was parked there, same as last Tuesday. So it was confirmed: she had a new fella, and Herman had moved on down the road.
Before the divorce, Jerry had been with Doris for seven years. It was the longest she had stayed with anyone. Since they split, though, she’d had a revolving bedroom door. None of her lovers stuck around more than a few months. Within a week or two of the departure of each, a new truck or work van would be parked outside her home.
Jerry watched as shadow images flickered on the curtains that covered her picture window. Lightly fingered the trigger of the pistol in his pocket. Wondered if they were making out. They were newbies, so the good times were on. Their embraces would be tender, their kisses, passionate, their sex, athletic. Only after the guy moved in, and had lived there a month or more, would the trouble start. The new would wear off the toy for each. Some little thing he did, like chewing food with his mouth open, would begin to irritate her. He would decide to to go shoot pool with his buddies, and she would bitch. A argument would flair. Voices would be raised. Within a couple of weeks, dishes would be broken, then eyes blacked and lips bruised, and finally the police would arrive. Watching her court a new man was like seeing a slow-motion film of two freight trains approaching a head-on collision. There could only be one outcome. You were powerless to stop the carnage, and the tension was excruciating as you waited.
Eventually, she would come to her senses. Surely to God. She had to know this wasn’t working for her. It had never worked, and it never would. Everyone had always said Jerry was the best thing that ever happened to her. She was bound to figure out that was true, one of these days.
He stepped out of the shadow and started walking again. Paused for a few seconds and stood, his face turned back over his shoulder, toward the window, his fingertips resting lightly on the grip of the pistol in his pocket. Then he withdrew his hand and resumed his trek.
Back at the apartment, Jerry found that Solomon had succeeded in climbing onto the couch. “Well, look ah chew,” he congratulated. The cat watched silently as he passed.
He opened the broom closet door and returned the weapon to its place on the shelf. Closing it again, he noticed the metal pail resting at his feet. He bent and caressed its rim. His friend, his comforter. His escape hatch.
Tonight? Was this the night? Should he step in the water and pull the string this very night?
No, not tonight. The game wasn’t over yet. He’d give it a while longer. Eat a sandwich, get some sleep, and see what the sunrise looked like in the morning. But he wouldn’t put the items away just now, either. They had been in place for a year and a half, ever since his divorce. He thought perhaps he’d need their solace for a few days more.
Returning to the living room, he found Solomon still atop the sofa. She was reared on her haunches, front paws lifted, belly exposed. Kitty Victorious. Jerry reached down and goosed the fur on her chest. A paw snaked up and slapped the side of his hand, but with claws retracted.
“I be damn, Sol,” Jerry chuckled. “You think you’re King Shit now, don’t you? I be damn.” Then, for a moment, he stood silent. His eyes focused on something in the distance, outside the window, and his brow relaxed. He voice was a whisper when he spoke. “One of these days, gal, you and me gone get this here business figured out,” he told the kitten. “The both of us will. Just you wait and see.”
Don Jennings lives alone in a tiny apartment stuffed with books in Richmond, Kentucky. A grandfather hailed from Lipscomb, Alabama. His stories have been published in Fried Chicken and Coffee, Wrong Tree Review, and elsewhere, and he blogs about fiction and other truths at http://oaknpine.blogspot.com .