OAKLAWN CATS-a TR vignette
Billy died at dusk and the cats came out. The moon rose fat and they prowled the backyards and alleyways, slinking up and down the Strip to lick each other’s fur, tails held high. All the clubs were open, music gushing out the doors just as if Billy wasn’t dead; and the bookstore was bright-lit like always. Inside, they curled around coffees and eyed warily, each measuring each, and all coming up short. One spits, back arched. Another hisses.
“You remember Jack? Jack O’Brian?”
“Oh, hell, yes. She was a trip and a half.”
“You know his ex? Chuck?”
“Uh-huh, I think so.”
“Well, I remember, back when the Station was open, the first one, of course, and they had this swirling silver thing.”
“Yeah, well, Chuck had just broken up with Jack, one of the times he broke up with Jack,” Both laugh. “Right, well, Chuck was feeling pissy and you know how Jack always was, when he drank.”
“Fuck, yeah, she was a mean drunk.”
“Mean and crazy. Always had to dance when he was drunk.” Chuckles. “And you remember how he used to dance when he was drunk.” They laugh.
“Yeah, said she had to take her clothes off, couldn’t dance with her clothes on, she’d get out there-“
“Oh, god, yes. Stripped down to his panties and dancing…”
“He didn’t look too bad, you know.”
“No, but he was crazy. Dancing naked, drunk as a skunk and acting the fool every time.”
“Well, Chuck was angry, you know, you know how they always were together, and, well, he brought a video camera, this was when video cameras had just come out, you know, and he brought it to the club.”
“Oh my god.”
“Right. Jack so drunk, stripped down to his shorts and dancing, oh you should’ve seen this, dancing on the damned silver things, hugging onto them and talking to them. The DJ was a friend of Chuck’s so, that night, he’d arranged ahead for everyone to move back and just…watch Jack.” Both laugh.
“Oh my god.”
“Yes, and they did! The whole club pulled back and watched Jack stripping and dancing and singing to himself, nearly naked, and not too bad looking but, jesus, what a drunk.”
“And the camera?”
“Right. Chuck was waiting, and he filmed Jack that night. All by himself, drunk, draped over those silver swirly things. Oh, Jack was so mad when he found out. The guys were all looking at that video, passing it around, you know?”
“Oh my god.”
“Yes and that’s not the worst part.”
“Oh my god, what?”
“Chuck showed it to Julie, you remember Big Julie? The Station manager back then?”
“Oh, hell, yes. Biggest tits in Texas, used to bring her two-year-old kid up to the bar on weekends to watch the faggots get drunk, she’d sit him up on the bar right up to closing time. Child abuse, if you ask me. Keeping a kid that little out late.”
“Right, I remember. You know? I think that kid’s queer now. Friend of mine, you remember Frankie? Well, Frankie saw the kid in TMC last month.”
“Oh my god, really? How old’s that kid now, he’d be…”
“Dunno, thirteen, maybe fifteen. At most. Cute as hell, Frankie said, and wearing tight blue jeans without a shirt.”
“Oh, really? Wouldn’t that be funny if Big Julie’s kid turned out to be a faggot, after all?”
“Hell, yes. She always hated us.”
“Teach that woman a lesson.”
“Oh, hell, yes, honey. But back then, what happened was, Chuck gave the tape to Julie.”
“Oh my god, no.”
”Yes! Showed it to her, damn near got Jack fired.”
“Oh my god. But it would have served that bitch right, getting fired. No one else but Big Julie would have put up with her shit.”
“Oh, I know. She didn’t fire him, but he did lose all his points and customer comps. He was so pissed off.”
Pause. “He never did know who showed Big Julie that tape.” Both laugh.
“Served him right, though.”
“Oh, hell, yes. Girl was a nasty drunk.”
Billy died hard at sunset, holding on too long to what wasn’t worth having. Dying rough and long and finally silent, eaten out with the sickness. Dying hard is bad to watch but it’s always done alone; no one else can know the whys of all that struggling, all that wiggling on the hook. Maybe it’s only that last breath that’s really worth it; maybe it’s the last breath that redeems everything.
Moon rising high, lighting up the dark. Cops watch narrow-eyed, hands on their sticks, as couples walk the Strip, men holding hands with other men and smiling secret smiles. Doors open, lights and sound explode, doors shut.
Cats walk the Strip, stand on the corner, fat and smooth. Trash bins fall, echoing noise down the alleyways. Cats sidle up and rub each other, wary, eyes gleaming.
“Oh my god, no. You’ve been out with him?”
“So, honeybunch, what’s it like to fuck a preacher?”
Laughs. “He’s not a preacher, bitch, he’s a deacon.”
“Yes, well, a man of god. Is the man of god any good in bed?”
“You just wish you knew.”
“Fuck yes, honey. He’s hot.”
“Yes …” Sighs.
“Well, so, tell me. Are you two are dating?”
“Oh, no, girl, just feels more like an extended trick. Oh, I don’t know…it’s not dating, we’re not dating.”
“How many times?”
“Tonight’ll be six.”
“Six! Six is dating.”
“I don’t know. Are you sure?”
“Oh, hell, yes. An extended trick is when you go home with him, then maybe go over to his place the next day. But six times-“
“I don’t know.”
“I’m telling you, six times is dating!”
“I really don’t know.”
“Ooo, will you look at that.” All heads turn to watch a young man take his coffee to the patio.
“Oh, honey, he’s a baby.”
“Hmm, well, I wouldn’t mind changing his nappy.”
“Oh, please. Like you’d say no if that boy so much as looked at you.”
“Fuck yeah I would. He’s a baby, a baby. What am I gonna do with a baby?”
Still watching the boy. “Honey, I can think of one or two things.”
“Did you see that ass?”
“Girl, you wouldn’t say no.”
“Hell I wouldn’t. I don’t do children.”
“But did you see his-“
“Oh, please, that baby and me wouldn’t have two words to say to each other.”
“Who’d wanna talk to anything that pretty?”
“Oh, please. No amount of pretty can make up for life experience, honey. That boy and me, I have just no interest.” The other laughs. “I’m serious.”
“Some kids are pretty mature, you know.”
“I don’t care! Life experience! I’ve had two husbands die on me, I’ve watched friends drink themselves to death, I nearly followed them myself before I got sober. Now how can some baby compete with that? What’s he got to offer that makes up for being such a baby? Nothing.”
Chuckles. “Oh, I don’t know. Did you see his-“
“Oh, sister, please.”
“You wouldn’t say that if he’d looked at you.”
The cats preened and walked back and forth, tails twitching, up and down along the Strip. The moon hung low, heavy in the sky, giving off a phosphorous and moody light. The sound of someone yowling, off in the distance.
The one who watched to the end with Billy wasn’t a cat; just someone married to suffering and in love with a dying man. Busy buying himself ten years worth of guilt. Asking, why wasn’t it me? Knowing now the secret, that survivors are painfully, resentfully, happy to be the ones who lived. Better you than me and all that.
And so he sat, watching silent in their fancy Uptown condo, holding the cold hand of the only man he’d ever loved, while the cats prowled the alley out back, sniffing in trash bins and singing to the moon. Meow.
C’est la vie. C’est la mort.
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