Every evening at eight thirty-two,
after he starts the dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and
waters the plants on the patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat
food—Friskies—on the second shelf of the pantry to the immediate
right of the flour.
For days after getting the cat, he'd
debated whether he ought to put the cat food beside the currents or
move the flour—Gold Medal—next to the gravy mix.
In the end, he settled for the present
He's stuck to it faithfully ever since.
Now, he sits at the kitchen table
drinking his coffee, reading the newspaper one article at a time. He
prides himself on reading the entire paper, even the parts that don't
particularly interest him: Wedding announcements and the employment
ads. The awful business section thick with words and concepts his
mind cannot grasp. He saves the best section—Travel—for last.
He hears a key in the lock. The front
door swings open. Merry Jaffries bustles in, a brown paper bag tucked
beneath her arm. “How are you then, Thomas?” She pushes the door
closed with the bottom of her boot and Thomas immediately checks the
door for footprints. There's a small smudge near the edge. He makes a
mental note to clean it up after he finishes the newspaper.
“Brought you a surprise from the
grocery store,” Merry says as she enters the kitchen.
“I don't like surprises,” Thomas
says warily. He marks his place in the article with his index finger
and glances again at the smudge on the door.
“Nonsense. Everyone likes surprises.”
Merry sets the bag on the kitchen table
and begins unloading it as Thomas watches. “Four organic bananas,”
she says. “A bit on the greenish side.”
Thomas nods. “Good.” Again he looks
towards the door. He reaches for the handkerchief in his pocket.
“Three oranges. A bag of carrots.
Three quarters of a pound of turkey, shaved not sliced.”
“Perfect.” Thomas is pleased with
how well his new housekeeper is working out. Although...Again, he
looks at the smudge.
“Cat food.” Merry finishes with a
“Friskies,” Thomas corrects.
“No.” Merry beams. “Meow Mix was
on sale. Buy one get one.” She pulls out a bag.
“I don't use Meow Mix.” Thomas
began mentally scanning the contents of his pantry. Macaroni.
Macadamia nuts. Manicotti (or had he placed that in pasta?). “Take
it back,” Thomas says, shoving the bag towards Merry.
“I saved you eight ninety-five.”
“I don't care. And you smudged my
door when you came in.”
Merry squints. “Where?”
He points. “There.”
“Anything else I'm doing wrong,
then?” Merry pours herself a cup of coffee and sets the mug on the
travel section of the newspaper.
“As a matter of fact, yes,” Thomas
says. “You just put a ring around Romania.”
“Begging your pardon?”
He points. “Romania. You've ringed it
with your coffee mug.”
Merry's face reddens. Her lower lip
quivers. “You're impossible Thomas McMillan. You know what they say
about you, down at the agency?”
He does. He does know.
“They say there's nobody—nobody in
this wide world—who can please you.” She sneers. “You and your
demands. Why don't you just go out and do your own shopping, then?”
She picks up her purse and turns away. “I'm quitting you, Thomas.
Just like all the others.” She sets her key on the newspaper,
directly in the center of the coffee ring.
“Wait...” Thomas says. “I'm
“Too late.” Merry heads through the
front door and slams it behind her.
Thomas wets his handkerchief in the
kitchen sink and rubs away the smudge of mud from the door.
He spends the rest of the afternoon
rearranging his pantry to accommodate the Meow Mix.
“You know what this means,”
Thomas's sister Gerri says that afternoon at four forty-nine.
“No.” Thomas sighs.
“It's a sign, of course.” Gerri
puts great stock in signs and other signals from the universe. The
only part of the newspaper Gerri ever reads is the horoscope section.
“You're meant to travel.”
She points to the coffee ring. “Romania
“I know nothing about Romania.”
Truth be told, Thomas knows nothing about traveling anywhere. The
entire span of his life has been spent within one city block.
“We've a great something-or-other
from there. A famous poet or some such.”
“I have no use for poetry.” Thomas
thinks lovingly of his fiction collection—all first editions,
arranged alphabetically by author and dusted every morning.
“You could go swimming in the Black
Sea.” Gerri's eyes gleamed. “Think of it Thomas.” She gives him
a smile. “It'll be good for you to get away.”
“Who will feed the cat?”
She smiles. “I will. I promise.”
That evening, after he starts the
dishwasher and sweeps the kitchen floor and waters the plants on the
patio, Thomas McMillan puts the box of cat food—Meow Mix—on the
third shelf of the pantry to the immediate left of the molasses. He
sits down at his computer and books a ticket to Romania.
He goes to his room and packs his
suitcase. He packs his dress slacks. He packs four golf shirts—blue,
red, yellow and green. He packs a belt and underclothes and
handkerchiefs. He packs his swim trunks, folded neatly inside his
striped beach towel, never used.
Three days hence, Thomas looks out his
window at the Carpathian Mountains. The letter C reminds him of his
cat. He glances at his watch. Just after nine o'clock back home. He
wonders whether Gerri has put the cat food back in its proper place
in the pantry.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Katri at http://bookslikeher.wordpress.com/ gave me this prompt: Pick a country you've never heard of or know next to nothing about. Write a story about going to that country.I gave Kirsten Piccini at http://www.thekircorner.comthis prompt: Paint-splattered jeans.
Labels: flash fiction, scriptic.org