Johnny America


Hold­ing the Bag


Illustration of hamburgers and fries.

Bruce Park­er near­ly stum­bled over Mis­sy. The cat was stretched out on the kitchen floor up­on the ter­ra­cot­ta tiles that Bruce him­self had put down and sealed less than a year ago (a damned good job, even if he had to say so him­self, a job he had nev­er been prop­er­ly thanked for).

Missy’s eyes, glazed, life­less, like the mar­bles Bruce played with as a child— cat’s eyes, they were called — were fixed on the han­dle of the dish­wash­er, her mouth slight­ly ajar. Still pli­able when he gin­ger­ly nudged her with the toe of his sneak­er, poor Mis­sy ap­peared small­er in death than in life. Her tab­by stripes didn’t quite match the tiles, but ac­cent­ed them taste­ful­ly, as if she was des­tined to be right where she was, sprawled out on the cool tiles reach­ing for fe­line eter­ni­ty. Bruce didn’t re­al­ly be­lieve in heav­en, and he doubt­ed Mis­sy had ever giv­en it all that much thought.

The one day when Bruce came home ear­ly thanks to an overnight in­ven­to­ry at the store would have to be the day the cat died. Just his luck. Usu­al­ly, Grace was the first to come home af­ter work. She should have been the one to dis­cov­er the tragedy. She should be the one to deal with it. Af­ter all, Mis­sy was her cat.

He had no idea what to do. What does one do in a sit­u­a­tion like this? He couldn’t bury the cat on the apart­ment complex’s grounds — there must be rules against that sort of thing — and the dump­ster didn’t seem ap­pro­pri­ate. And be­sides, who in the Bilt­more Apart­ments owned a shov­el? Not Bruce. He couldn’t even find a screw­driv­er when he need­ed one. And a dead cat in the dump­ster would cer­tain­ly cause, if not an up­roar, a stink.

Yet, if Grace were to come home and dis­cov­er Mis­sy on the floor, and Bruce do­ing noth­ing about it, all hell would break loose. Re­crim­i­na­tions and ac­cu­sa­tions. Things were bad enough in the re­la­tion­ship; Bruce knew he could nev­er make it through an ex­tend­ed pe­ri­od of celi­bate mourn­ing on Grace’s part and guilt on his own. And worst of all: guilt over ab­solute­ly noth­ing that he had done.

Grace, his wife, or sort-of wife — they’d been to­geth­er six years — cared more for the cat than she could ever care for him. He could live with that. It seemed fair, in a way: Mis­sy had been with Grace for­ev­er, or so it seemed…fourteen years. Bruce’s con­tentious half dozen years didn’t amount to all that much. The cat had tenure. Bruce didn’t. He was still on pro­vi­sion­al sta­tus, ad­junct, at best.

He combed through every clos­et in the two-bed­room apart­ment. Oth­er than a wadded-up can­vas laun­dry bag on the floor of Grace’s clos­et, the walk in lo­cat­ed in what was still re­ferred to as “Grace’s bed­room,” the best he could come up with were two shoe box­es, women’s size six — not good enough. The cat could nev­er fit in­to a shoe box un­less the pair be­longed to Sasquatch. Mis­sy had put on a few pounds since Bruce moved in with Grace. Grace blamed him for the cat’s weight is­sues. She might’ve been right. He spoiled the cat. Since he was a boy, Bruce had treat­ed him­self to a gen­er­ous bowl of ice cream near­ly every night, and Mis­sy, usu­al­ly a finicky eater, had come to ex­pect a scoop, though she turned her nose up at choco­late or any­thing with nuts or chunks of cook­ie dough. Vanil­la was her fa­vorite. So, vanil­la it was.

It was now four-thir­ty, half an hour be­fore Grace’s ar­rival. He had a dead cat on the floor and no idea as to what to do. The last thing Bruce could af­ford was to be caught stuff­ing poor Mis­sy in­to a laun­dry bag. Grace, a grade-school prin­ci­pal with the tem­pera­ment of every prin­ci­pal Bruce had ever crossed hairs with, didn’t re­al­ly see him as a suit­able part­ner, and that was be­fore this calami­ty. This could eas­i­ly be the last straw. She had al­ways been more than a tri­fle miffed that his job at Moon­beam Used Records and CDs wasn’t up to snuff. She thought he could do bet­ter, what with a de­gree in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture and all. She al­ready had ma­jor is­sues with him; she’d blow her top if she caught him in a cov­er up. Of what? Ab­solute­ly nothing.

The cat in the bag, the tiles wiped clean, Bruce was ready. For what? He hadn’t much of a clue. If Dr. Miller, Missy’s vet, was still in his of­fice, he could drop the cat off there. Dr. Miller, an ornery sort, with a young as­sis­tant, Lupe, a woman Bruce had a thing for, should be able to do some­thing with the body. Cer­tain­ly, an­i­mals died at his clin­ic al­most dai­ly. He eu­th­a­nized dogs, cats, tur­tles, fish…whatever. He must do some­thing with the bodies.

The key in the front door lock clicked. Bruce knew he was about to be caught red hand­ed, hold­ing the bag, so to speak. But this was not an oc­ca­sion for lev­i­ty. That was for sure.

“Is that Mis­sy in the bag?” asked Grace. She set her purse on the counter and frowned.

“I haven’t seen Mis­sy since I got home,” said Bruce.

“How could you miss her. She was right there on the floor when I left this morn­ing. Dead as a door­nail.” She shook her head. “And you’re hold­ing my laun­dry bag. With some­thing in it.”

Bruce looked at the bag in his hand, then back at Mis­sy. “I thought you’d be pissed. Re­al­ly upset.”

Again, Grace shook her head. “She’s just a cat, for Christ’s sake. And cat’s die. It looks like you’re tak­ing care of the sit­u­a­tion. Why should I be pissed?”

Bruce shrugged.

As he car­ried Mis­sy to his car, he thought what a great day it had turned out to be. He’d pick up ham­burg­ers on his way home from the vet’s office. 

Filed under Fiction on June 30th, 2023

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