by Travis Cravey
‘COME ON, FELIX, come on.’ Peter walked out of his room with a paper plate full of mostly eaten fried chicken, put it on the ground and sat on an old aluminum folding lawn chair, the fabric so frayed it seemed it could not possibly hold him.
‘Felix! Come on now.’ He ran his fingers through his graying hair and looked around the parking lot. There wasn’t much to see. The little ten room motel hadn’t been painted in years. The “no vacancy” light was out. There were only two cars: the pick up belonging to Randy, the owner, and the red wagon that Peter had driven there two years ago. Peter was, ostensibly, the maintenance man in exchange for his room, but Randy had won a scratch-off ticket worth a hundred grand a year six months ago and hadn’t mentioned work, or the room, since. Peter was, some days, bored with nothing to do, but most days he was content to sit in his lawn chair, look at the wet bottom lands across the road and read. A stray cat had begun showing up a few months earlier, and Peter had taken to feeding him. The cat hadn’t been around yet that day, and it was already close to noon.
Peter sat still for a moment, realizing that cats come and go wherever and whenever they please. If Felix wanted to roam that bottom land or just find some shade and sit, then so be it. It was hot and wouldn’t cool til the sun set. Peter closed his eyes and thought about the cool wind that would blow down from the mountains in New Mexico when he was younger. He smiled, remembering. A moment passed and the smile disappeared.
‘Felix? Felix, I got chicken!’ He sat back, looked over his shoulder, around the corner of his end of the motel, at the little road fifty yards away, the loblolly Maryland pines beyond that.
He saw a car come around the bend where the bridge crossed the tidewater. Peter watched the shiny sports car as it hummed, as it zipped tightly down the road.
It wasn’t very common to see a car, but not earth shattering either. People would, Peter assumed, occasionally get lost looking for something else. So he was surprised to see it pull into the gravel lot and stop ten feet away from him. A young man smiled, teeth perfect. ‘Hey, mister, how are you?’
Peter, still sitting, nodded. ‘You seem a long way off from wherever you wanted to be.’
The young man approached. ‘Just out for a drive. Never been down this far.’
Peter looked around him. ‘Few have.’
The young man leaned against a post and put his hands in his pockets. He looked at the motor court. ‘You own this place?’ His white shirt began to show signs of sweat and beads of it appeared on his forehead. ‘You live here? Retired?’
Peter pursed his lips. ‘Retired’ was code for old. Peter had left the Air Force after twenty years. He had ‘retired’ at thirty-nine. Hardly old, even now, pushing sixty.
He started to answer, sternly, that he wasn’t an old man, when a black cat, lanky, hair matted, one ear half gone, walked around the side of the building and moved quickly towards the plate of chicken bones. The young man knelt down. ‘He yours?’
Peter sat up, slowly. ‘Felix doesn’t belong to anybody that I know of. I feed him sometimes but he comes and goes as he pleases.’ The young man reached his hand out to the cat. ‘He won’t let you pet him,’ Peter warned, ‘he’s likely to bite you.’
The young man extended his hand and the cat purred under it. He stroked the cat for a few seconds and stood up. ‘Well, it’s getting hot.’
Peter stared at the cat. ‘Yeah, gonna be hotter.’
The young man started towards his car. ‘Think I’ll go on back towards the rest of the world.’ He opened the driver’s door. ‘Stay cool.’
Peter looked away from the cat. ‘Yeah. Be careful.’
The young man was already in his car starting the engine and in a blink of dust the shiny car had gone back around the bend, over the tidewater bridge, and out of sight.
Peter watched the road and then stood. He took the paper plate full of scraps and walked towards the dumpster. The cat followed behind, mewing. Peter threw the plate and the chicken away and turned. He looked at the cat, then stomped his boot down and clapped his hands. The cat, startled, turned to make a line for a field nearby. Peter screamed at it. ‘Get! Get!’
He walked back to his chair, slumped down. ‘Goddamn stray.’ He bent his head down and noticed a grease stain on his shirt. ‘Fucking stray.’
Travis Cravey is a mechanic and maintenance man in Southeastern Pennsylvania as well as an editor with Malarkey Books. He can be found way too often on Twitter @traviscravey in case you want to say hello.