Mites

By Bob Shar

“Erbe, Pooley: USDA, ARS, EMU”.

It’s 11 p.m.  I’m running down Sunset, inhaling that sweet tobacco air, feeling young, strong, and on the mend, when I run over a damn cat.  Drive my right Nike into its gut, hear it gasp. I stumble, regain my balance, continue my run.

Now I feel guilty, left ankle begins to throb, and I round the corner of Sunset, turning down First.

The nibbled ear.  The attitude.  That cat might be mine. Found her in front of the newsroom two years ago when she was just bones and fur living off handouts and throwaways from the Tasty Diner.  Took her home as a present for my wife – an exchange of pussies that made everyone happy for a day or two.  Then, out of the blue, the wife leaves and there’s this note on the fridge:  “Going, going, gone!!!  Try not to kill the pets, Turdsucker!!!”

Three exclamation marks for each sentence. Typical.

She took the credit cards, stereo, TV. Left me the animals.  Also typical.

The hamster didn’t last long.  Annoyed the cat and me, running its butt off on the squeaky wheel all hours.  Never caught on it was going nowhere.  Yell at it to stop and it’d run harder. One night, I left the cage open. Problem solved.

Halfway down First, and here’s old man Willis lying on his lawn, weeping like he does when he can’t fit the key into his front door lock.  Jesus.

The cat, though. She had qualities you had to admire.  Kept clean, kept quiet, did whatever she felt like doing.  Mostly climbing curtains.  I’d yell, squirt water, throw books, whatever. She’d stop when nailed, but ten minutes later? Climbing again.

Turning off Reynolda to Northwest.  Right ankle’s sore and my chest burns.  If I’m still hurting at the top of the hill, no second lap. Best thing about night running: nobody around to impress.  Nothing out here but God above, sidewalk below, and the runner in between.

Tiny animals moved into the cat’s ears.  Mites, loads of them.  Nothing but a membrane between them and the cat’s brain. The vet prescribed drops to be administered twice daily for five days.

What can I say, I’m busy, but I made it a point every morning before going to work to sit on that cat, pin down her four legs with my two, and force a double dose in each ear.  Three days into treatment, she walks out on me.  A month later, she’s moved in with the Japanese family down the street.

There’s sweat in my right eye, but I can see out the other and I’m feeling fine as I top the hill and turn down Hawthorne for the last leg.

Two more days and we’d have established a healthy, master-cat relationship. Two days.  What’s that to a cat?

I can see her lying there a couple steps in front of me.  The tail still thumps the sidewalk, eyes still shine with the pampered-pet’s knowledge of human nature.  You’ll go around me, the eyes say.  This time you know I’m here, so you’ll go around.

Again I disappoint, this time driving my left foot down on her head, resolving the mite problem with a moist melony crunch that saddens me momentarily.

She should never have left.

A light breeze greets me as I turn back down First. Juices flowing again and the stars wink down on me.  A deep inhale and I shift into overdrive, losing myself again to the rhythm of the run.

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Bob Shar is a former journalist, burned out little magazine editor (The Crescent Review 1984-1988) and recently retired librarian, living, writing and being extremely kind to kitties in Winston-Salem, NC.  His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in various print and online publications including The Greensboro Review, South Carolina Review, Cold Mountain Review, Bartleby Snopes,Foundling Review, The Flash Fiction Offensive and others.
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