Thanks for hanging in there this month, while I wrote out loud for a while. Let’s stick a fork in Sled. 
If you need yesterday’s post that set the stage for today’s, you can click the link at the bottom of the post, or just click here for the link in a separate window.

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I Think I’m Going Sane

“I’m coming.”

Lane stepped into workout shorts and thrust arms through a t-shirt as she ran to the door. On the other side of the peephole, she was being watched by a distorted, bloodshot eyeball. No, not him, not today, not now. Please just go away.

She slipped a $20 into her shorts pocket and opened the door as far as the security chain permitted. Sled stood in the doorway shifting his head until one of his eyes made contact with hers.

“I took the crickets out of your pool.”

“That’s nice.”

They stared at each other one-eyed. As usual, Sled didn’t ask to come in, and Lane didn’t offer. Harry never offered either, but he always opened the door completely to talk to Sled, and sometimes stepped outside to talk to Sled if things got heated.

“Sled, we’ve been over this.” And by this, I mean going into our back yard without asking, or maybe going into our back yard. 

Lane’s communication existed on two levels. She spoke her mind through a thin filter, then she tended to say to herself the unfiltered words that she wish she could say out loud.

“We’ve got a pool guy. He’ll dump the dead crickets out of the skimmer basket the next time he’s here.” Too bad he didn’t come today before you showed up.

“No, I don’t mean the dead ones. I left them. I rescued the live ones from your pool. I saved the little critters.”

“Oh,” so they can live to make eve more little critters, so they can all hop in the pool and die.

“You and Harry are rescue people, so I knew you’d understand. No reason to let them die,” Sled said. “They didn’t hurt anybody. They’re just crickets.”

“Well, I’m sure they appreciated it.” Now go. I don’t want you here when the pizza guy shows. It would be awkward to not offer you any.

“Anything else, Sled?” And, here comes the awkward Sled silence.

Sled didn’t speak. He pressed his face against the door opening and looked over Lane’s shoulder. Harry’s urn was on the mantle.

“Harry looks shiny. I bet your glad to have him back, huh?”

“Yes, it’s nice. Thanks again for bringing him home.” In a garbage truck, to my front door, unbuckled and carried in onto the carpet, piece-by-piece.

“So you haven’t opened him yet?”

“Opened what?”

“Harry. His urn.”

“Um, no Sled, I haven’t opened Harry up yet. It’s not like a bottle of wine.

“I understand. It’s hard having him back like this.” But, if you ever get the courage to dig around in there, you’ll find that Sara’s college costs should be covered. No thanks needed. I owe Harry at least that. Just never question the money’s origin. Never question any money’s origin.

“Listen, I’m really tired, and not emotionally prepared for company now.”

“Are you and Sara hungry? I could get us something?”

“No we’re fine, Sled. We just ate.” Behind Sled, a compact car screeched to a stop next to the Harry and Lane’s mailbox. “Hot Pizza” flickered from the sign on the car roof. A teenager wearing a green and red uniform rushed a large flat box to her front door.

“$15.75. Sorry I’m late.”

“Here. Keep the change.”

Lane had to turn the pizza box vertically to get it through the door opening. Okay, this is moderately awkward.

“Awkward,” Sled said.

“I’m sorry, Sled. Do you want a slice?” To go?

“No thanks, I’m fine. I just ate.

“You really shouldn’t be here, with the middle school just down the block, and with your restraining orders and all. I know you’ve got your own place now, but you’re still owned by The Powers, right? Don’t they track your location?”

“Yeah, with an embedded chip just like the vet uses. Sometimes if I do well, they look the other way. Sort of like an off-route garbage pick-up, $20 per pound.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Never mind. I was just leaving. You can turn me in if you want. I won’t lie.”

“I won’t turn you in, Sled. I never have.” Harry would never let me.

“I just stopped by to invite you to the grand opening of Mary’s Home on Saturday.”

“That’s right. I knew it was coming up soon.”

“The full name is, “Mary’s Home, a safe house that’s one step closer to a safe home.”

“Sled, I’m so happy you’re doing this.”

“Do you like the name?”

“Very much.”

“It’s a play on, ‘Mary is home,’ and the possessive, ‘Mary’s home,’ so it’s like Mary’s back home, and it’s her home to come back to. Get it?”

“I do. Witty. It’s going to help so many people.”

“I hope. Even if it helps just one. I’m trying to keep expectations low.”

“Harry would have been proud of you.”

“So you’ll be there?”

“I don’t know. Sled. I’d love to, but things are really busy around here with Sara and school and dirty clothes and cats.”

“I understand.”

“Truthfully, I’m still raw from Harry’s death. It’s hard to be in public.”

“It’s okay. I know you’d to be there if you could, if only to honor Harry and his work.”

“I’m sorry. I just can’t. Not at the opening. I’ll stop in and check it out another day, okay? Always good to see you.” From a distance, “and if there ever anything we can do,” from a distance, “let us know.”

“Thanks. I should go. Enjoy the pizza. Tell Sara Sled says hey. Good bye, Lane.”

“Bye, Sled.”

Lane closed the door and rotated the deadbolt knob.

“Sara, pizza!” Sara was downstairs before the second syllable of pizza came out. “Take this to the kitchen table. I’ll get plates. Be careful, it’s hot.”

There was a frantic knock on the door, then the doorbell, then another knock. She looked out the peephole. Really? She undid the deadbolt and opened the door until the chain caught.

”Yes,” Sled said.

“I’m sorry?”

“Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“Yes, there’s something you can do for me.”

“Sled, this isn’t the best time to ask for money. The life insurance guys are dragging their feet, and a widow on an agent’s salary doesn’t leave much left over. “

“It’s not that. It would mean a lot if I had something to…,” Sled stopped talking.

“Something to remember Harry by?”

“Something to care for,” Sled said, “something that needs me, something alive. I will always remember Harry. I don’t need a reminder for that. Lane, can I have one of your rescue cats? Harry told me about the new kittens. Maybe one of those?”

Lane tried to form the right question in her head before she spoke. Maybe one of those? Can you, I mean, are you able to… not eat them? Can you be responsible after the fun wears off? Would a kitten be safe with you, Sled? Would an animal be living in a safe home, or a Sled home? Because, I don’t think they’re the same thing.

Lane felt two small things rub her ankles. Lane blocked the front door exit with her foot.

“Sara, you left your bedroom door cracked again, didn’t you?”

Two small heads peeked around Lane’s leg. She pushed the door almost closed, but the all-grey kitten maneuvered around Lane’s ankle and dough-rolled itself nearly flat through the tight space and out onto the porch, where it became regular size again.

The kitten climbed on Sled’s shoes and played with laces, rolled upside down, then slid head-first off Sled’s shoes, purring.

“Hey, buddy. What’s your name?”

”He’s Malcolm,” Sara said standing next to her mom. Lane pushed her daughter behind her. “Go play, but stay inside sweetie. We’ll eat in a minute.” “I want to watch,” Sara said.

“Hello Malcolm.” Sled ran his fingers through grey soft fur. Malcolm closed his eyes and stretched all legs straight.

“The little girl is Mollie,” Sara said.” Mollie stood in the shadows, just close enough to the doorway to see out, but not enough to be exposed. Sled stretched wiggling fingers inside the door. Mollie stayed just out of reach.

“She’s afraid of some people,” Lane said. Mollie was a random blend of varying shades of burnt umber and bright oranges, slashed with streaks of charcoal.

“She looks like she’s been baptized in a fire pit,” Sled said.

“Harry calls her damaged goods. Harry called, I mean. I will never get used to living in past tense.”

“Sometimes past tense is a nice place to visit.”

Sled picked up Malcolm. The kitten nibbled at his fingernails. “I think I’ve found the one I want.”

“Malcolm’s all yours,” Lane said.

Sled kissed Malcolm and fed him back through the door opening. “I want Mollie,” Sled said. “I want to rescue the one in the shadows.”

“But she’s –”

“Damaged goods? Then we’ve already got something in common.”

“I’ll put together a starter kit, cat food and litter. I think we’ve got an old litter pan and scoop in the shed.”

“No offense, Lane, but I’d like to have a new fresh. New everything. I’ve got a box and a blanket in the car. I’ll stop for the rest on the way to where The Powers let me stay. It’s nice. You and Sara should visit some time.”

Sara, please don’t say it. Please don’t. 

“Mommy, can we? I want to see Mollie in her new home!” Sara scooped up Mollie and handed her through the opening to Sled. “Bye Mollie. Be a good girl.”

“Can we visit, Mollie?”

“Anytime,” Sled said. “Just be sure to sign in and bring three forms of ID. Sara, does it make you sad to say goodbye to Mollie?” Sled asked.

“Sad for me, happy for Mollie. She has a new home. I still have mine.”

Mollie’s feet kicked, searching for purchase in the air beneath Sled’s grasp.

“Support her feet like this.” Sara cupped her hand like holding water. He copied her gesture. Sled felt resistance. Mollie was stiff and anxious to pull away.

“Sled, if you ever don’t want her, don’t just turn her out, okay? Bring her back here. If you ever –”

“She’s not going back, Lane.” He repeatedly whispered something to Mollie, and she relaxed. She leaned her head against Sled and closed her eyes. He rubbed face with his thumb.

“Wow,” Lane said. Wow.

“Animals like me. I don’t know why.”

“What did you say to her?”

“That we’re never going back.”

“You’ll make a good cat daddy,” Sara cheered. “Yay! Another successful rescue!”

“You have no idea, Sara. Thanks, Lane. Maybe I’ll see you Saturday?”

“I’d like to, Sled. There’s just so much in my way.”

“I understand. Wave bye-bye to Sara!” Sled shook a paw at the closed door.

Sled didn’t leave. He stared at the door knob. “Those are some good people in there, Mollie.” The corner of a window shade raised and lowered. Lane engaged the deadbolt with an audible clack.

“Good. They’re safe. We can go now.”

He opened the cardboard flap of the box he had already secured and buckled into the passenger seat. He put Mollie on the soft blanket inside the box, and bent up the corner of a flap for ventilation.

“You two get to know each other. Next stop, Pet Madhouse.”

While he drove, he made a mental list of things Mollie would need, and some things she may not need, but may enjoy owning. At a stop light, Sled slid his hand under the bent flap and stroked his two rescues.

All three had found a safe place to rest, Sled, Mollie, and Harry’s skull that Mollie had sniffed, accepted, and curled up next to. The car and everything in it smelled a little like black ashes, but only a little.

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