This is a new ongoing series from Potluck. Every Friday, Ray Belli will provide us with another piece in his puzzle. It's kinda like 'Serial' but not sponsored by MailChimp.
You’re eating a bowl of cereal in bed when Aunt Bailey calls. You know it’s Aunt Bailey without having to pick up the phone because she’s called you every night this week, just as you’re about to go to bed. You’re starting to feel guilty for ignoring her, so maybe if you answer she’ll stop calling for a while.
Hey, you say.
Hey, she says. What’s up, sweetie?
Just trying to fall asleep. Crunch. I have an exam tomorrow. You?
Take a guess what Psycho dropped off at my doorstep this morning!
A bomb, you say. Psycho’s your crazy relative who bought a fire truck off the Internet and uses it to water his grass sometimes.
No. Another baby girl!
She’s already fixed, I think.
Crunch. You mean he gave you a cat? Crunch, crunch.
Her name’s Lucky! Psycho was about to throw her out on the street. Can you believe it? You don’t just throw away a cat named Lucky! Well, you don’t just throw away a cat, period, but especially if her name is Lucky! He don’t understand that some people in the world need all the luck they can get. I need all the luck I can get.
I mean … sure, you say. Sure. You can sense where the conversation is headed, and you don’t like it. You attempt to sidestep the drama by asking why Psycho decided to get rid of his cat.
He’s moving in with his mother, didn’t you hear? She’s getting sick and he’s going to take care of her, but she doesn’t want to have a cat around.
Oh. So Psycho’s the good guy.
Yeah, the good guy who throws his cat out the window. To die. He’s a son of a bitch sometimes, she mutters. Am I being hard on him?
A little, you say.
A little, she repeats. Oh, you’re right. Because Psycho is a good guy. Don’t tell anyone, but I think he was gonna move out anyway ’cause he’s having trouble paying the rent.
Well, there you go. Crunch, crunch. Cats don’t have to take care of sick parents. Cats don’t have to pay rent.
But she’s beautiful! You have to see her. Hold on a sec, I’m going to pour a drink.
The refrigerator door opens, closes, and something goes clink.
Can I call you tomorrow? I’m trying to go to sleep and—
No, no, don’t go. I’ve got a few things I want to talk about. But tell me about your week first. I want to hear about your week. Tell me what your week was like.
You finish the last mouthful of cereal—crunch—and tiredly exhale.
Well, you know. Nothing much, really. It’s finals week. I’ve been studying a lot and … and that’s about it. My roommates are crackheads, but—
Not actual crackheads. But they got busted smoking pot in the dorms and—
You don’t have anything to do with that, right?
Oh, God bless you for keeping your head on your shoulders. You know, you’re like me, the only other person in the world who can be around losers without becoming a loser. It’s different for you ’cause you’re in the city now, but … you know how it is, beat as ever back home. You having fun in the city?
When I’m not too busy. Sure.
She swallows the last mouthful of her drink, and it sounds like she goes to pour another.
Let me tell you what happened to Joe-Dog the other day!
You really don’t want to hear it, but you let her mouth fly. From what you gather, Joe-Dog’s car breaks down on the Parkway. He drives illegally without insurance, so he has to hitchhike home and ask a friend who works at a local towing company to take his car to his driveway where his neighbor, who Joe-Dog swears is an effing homo, decides to key it up in the middle of the night. Except there’s no proof it’s actually him.
… but I tell him not to worry about it ’cause Psycho does touch-ups for cheap. So I call up Psycho to talk about it and we shoot the shit for a while, and I don’t know how it comes up, but he says he’s getting rid of his cat. I go, No, you can’t do that! No, no, no! You know me. I flipped out on him. My heart’s just too big. Bailey with the big heart!
Right, you say. Two hearts.
Two hearts, exactly. Which is why I’m taking care of the cat even though I ain’t got a pot to piss in. It’s bad, she says, and her voice drops to a whisper as if the whole world’s tuned in to what she has to say. She’s says she’s scared. The quiver in her voice is real, and it takes you by surprise. You straighten out and actually start listening.
She repeats that it’s bad and that she’s scared and puts the phone down to add a little more alcohol to her drink. You want to point out that she probably doesn’t need more, but you know she won’t listen and there’s nothing you could do to stop her over the phone.
There’s something wrong with me, she says. Look, promise you won’t tell your mother, okay?
What is it?
I’m not telling, but the doctor said it could be bad. I don’t have health insurance since I’m out of a job … and here I am in the meantime adopting a fucking cat. But her name’s Lucky, you know? Maybe it means something. It has to mean something. Maybe I won’t die by the end of the year.
There’s a long silence, mostly because you don’t know what to say and you think she’s expecting you to say something.
After a while, she says, I might die, man. Shit.
Well that’s not good, you say, and a few more seconds go by before either of you speaks again. The stillness in the room makes it worse.
Are you going to miss me if I die? she asks.
Jesus. Of course I’ll miss you.
Are you messing with me?
No. I’m serious. I have one heart, at least.
Sometimes I’m not sure. I just need to know because I love you.
It’s weird to hear Aunt Bailey say that she loves you. You know that she loves you, but you don’t think she’s ever said it before, not aloud and earnestly like that. You think she’s sniveling. It sounds like she’s holding herself back from crying like crazy.
Would you be sad? she asks.
Now that’s a good question. You have to think about it for a few seconds. You tell her that you would miss her but would try your hardest not to be sad.
You know, you really are more of my son than your mother’s. Everyone used to say that to me when you were young. Sis would go berserk. You know her.
I do know my mother, yes.
You really are my son. When my mama passed away, I said the same thing to myself, that I’d miss her without getting too sad. Christ, it’s been ten years and I’m still sad and I still miss her. God, I miss my mama. You remember Grandma?
A little bit, yeah.
I’m strong, but not like you. I just don’t want you to be sad. ’Cause the doctor—sniffle—the doctor said I’m really sick, you know.
And listen, whatever you do, do not tell your mother.
Because she don’t need to know. If I die, it’s my business. Joe-Dog’ll take care of the—ha! Joe-Dog’ll take care of the cat. Get it?
Yes, I get it.
He’s broke too, but he’ll find a way. But you know, maybe I won’t die because her name is Lucky. You know, it’s a good thing I never had any real kids ’cause they’d never live up to you. I really love you. I do.
Same to you, you say, and it’s not entirely untrue. It’s just a little weird for you to say the words.
Aunt Bailey drifts into a monologue about Lowe Township and how she hates everyone back home, even her friends and family; mostly her friends and family. You can’t blame her, but you miss Lowe Township sometimes—the streets, the stores, the smells. It was naïve of you to think you’d never want to go back, even just to visit. But you definitely don’t miss the people Aunt Bailey’s talking about.
She pours another drink and promises it’ll be the last one, but you tell her that you really need to get going because of that exam.
Oh, all right. You’re such a good student. You make me so proud. I never used to study for exams when I was in college. Maybe that’s why I’m stuck in this hole now, ’cause I didn’t study hard enough. Only God can find me a job nowadays, and that’s a fact. You turn my age and start believing in God again. Imagine that. I’ve even been going to church with your mother on Sundays, but that’s another story. We’ll talk about that next time.
The ice cubes in her glass jangle loud and clear through the phone. You picture them floating, swirling. She takes a long gulp that pulses with a steady beat down her food pipe. A high-pitched sigh in an artificial voice punctuates the last drop.
But don’t you worry, she says. It’ll never get to this point with you. Not with your talents. I promise.
She’s not very reassuring, but you tell her that she is and that you’ll visit as soon as you’re back in town. She asks if you could talk for just a little bit longer, but you tell her yet again that you really need to get going because of that exam.
After you hang up, you turn on the TV and stare into the muted screen. It’s going to be hard to get to bed after that.
Huh. You wonder what’s wrong with her, if anything. She’s got two hearts all right, and it’s sometimes hard to know which one of them to take seriously. It’s a good thing she’s got another cat. Hopefully that’ll keep her from doing anything stupid. You do love Aunt Bailey, after all.
To Be Continued …
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Raymond Belli is a professional drummer and writer originally from New Jersey. You can email him at email@example.com.