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Frank Polizzi

The Blue Cat

The blue cat wandered into a court of brick houses, lined up into neat rows with an oblong garden as its center. The exception to this Brooklyn postcard scene was the two houses in the back, one with paint curled up like the ocean waves nearby and its side iron gate rusted off the hinges, the other one with ivy draping the entire front, wrapping its way round the columns of the portico, leaving a one-eyed bedroom window with a view. The cat had been abandoned when his owners transplanted themselves abroad. He needed food and this place was as good as it gets. The blue cat was tired of sparring with street cats who feared his prize fighter jabs, leaving a bunch of them mauled while his carpet coat remained plush.

At the end of the court he saw a grisly man with his head stooped, sitting on the top step of his house. The blue sniffed about but the old guy didn’t budge. It wasn’t till the blue tried to snoop through the large mail slot at the bottom of the door that the man swooped up the cat, placing a vise-grip around his neck. He sat down with the cat in his lap and stroked the fur until it bristled, snapping him off. “Damn pous, get lost!”

The blue showed his fangs and the man guffawed. “All right, you got some spunk, not like your sneaky, beggar friends. Rocco will feed your belly.” He went inside to get some food. The cat sat in the same spot as he placed two soup bowls down, one with tuna and the other milk. The blue circled his meal, ate and sipped, popping his head up every so often to monitor the man’s position. The cat figured on staying in the court awhile.

A young woman from the house across the garden noticed the blue cat while she adjusted her wooden blinds in her living room to block the afternoon heat filtering through the vines clinging on the outside bricks. The neighbors didn’t see Rita much due to her late night walks. No one ever spoke to the disgruntled man in the back either, not counting the time two years ago that the self-appointed mayor of the court gossiped with the old bugger about the young woman who lived opposite him. Rita had lost her husband in an automobile accident. He shrugged as he listened to the story and shuffled out to the avenue to pick up some things, never giving the news much thought.

One evening Rocco trudged through the court, weighed down by his shopping bags, when he heard a chorus of children’s voices calling, “Faccia brutt!” He panned his eyes across the intermittent bushes and heard some laughter. Scrunching his face, he continued on his way and found the cat in a sentinel position in front of his house. Rocco carried out the cat’s dinner and then sat in his usual place. While blue ate, a mangy cat stepped within the marked territory. The cat charged the trespasser and ran him out of the court, swaggering back and sitting on the ledge, as Rocco gazed upwards waiting for the first star of the evening.

A teenager delivered some groceries to Rita’s house, and Rocco hoped to catch a glimpse of her lovely features, since she always used the back door of house. The front door opened but she was not visible to Rocco. The delivery boy placed the packages down and she tipped him. He could see her long auburn hair covering the bags. Rita turned towards Rocco, thinly smiling. Her delicate face reminded him of a memorial card of Santa Lucia that he still kept from his wife’s funeral. Rocco nodded in respect. She picked up everything and the cat galloped over to her door, squeezing in before she could shoo him away.

Rita shut the door and brought the bags into the kitchen. She turned to the cat who had followed her in. “Okay, I’ll give you something and then you’re out of here.” She squatted and stroked his head with her long fingers, as fragile as mother of pearl, scratching his chin while he purred. The blue munched away and she busied herself preparing some pasta with cauliflower. The cat mused about how long it would take to con Rita into plying him with treats just so she could stroke him. Before sitting at her dining room table, she ushered the cat out and switched on the CD player to listen to Nancy Lamott, the hypnotic lyrics of a deceased singer filling up the house. After that fatal moment of her husband’s, it wasn’t long before Rita had morphed into some kind of autistic persona, contrasted by her graceful face and curvaceous body. She failed to convince herself that it was crazy she hadn’t looked for someone else by now.

After Rita had finished eating, she turned on her laptop to check her e-mail, her zero-one communication with the outside world – forget about writing letters, it would make her cry, forget about answering the land line, she didn’t like idle chatting. Her cell phone had been powered off right after the funeral. She liked e-mail because it was acceptable not to acknowledge the sender, but she felt obligated to respond to her mother on the west coast, as ‘You’ve got mail’ echoed in the room.

Rita typed a phony response to her mother about how she had met someone and that there was no need to worry. Before Rita finished her e-mail, an instant message alert appeared from a former boyfriend. She shut down the computer and turned up the volume on the CD player, sinking into the sofa, staring at the ashen fireplace.

Rita woke up before midnight and decided to take a walk along Shore Road Park next to the Narrows. It was one of their favorite activities when her husband and she were first dating. They used to sit and make out under a lone ash tree on a slope that faced the Verrazano Bridge tower, ignoring everyone who passed by. Rita walked under that tree and stayed awhile with her eyes closed. A man, leaning on black broken street lamp at the top pf the hill, watched her.

When Rita returned home, she entered through the back door and double locked it, repeating the same pattern at the front and went upstairs to her room. Someone else could see her shadowy outline in the window untouched by the ivy, while she moved about in preparation for bed. Within the hour the entire court was asleep, except for the person who was sliding his hands over the handles of the door, budging each window until the side window leading to the basement cracked open. The blue cat had bristled at the sound and stealthily proceeded to its source, following the man inside the house.

The intruder crept through the basement and stopped by a clothes line of Rita’s lingerie. He selected her black panties, rubbed his cheek against it and stuffed it in his pocket. The blue was still perched on the base of the window and waited until the man went upstairs. Rita never got used to sleeping in bed without her husband and often lay half asleep. By the time the intruder found his way to the second floor, the lids of her eyes flickered, opening when he grabbed her throat and squeezed the breath out of her.

Before she could scream, he pummeled her face red to shatter her resistance. He taped her mouth and tied her hands and feet. Hovering over her, he spat out, “We’re gonna make love, baby.” Rita thrashed her body about in frantic anticipation of what was sure to happen. The intruder heard a menacing, elongated hiss at the door and his eyes fixated on the blue’s extended fangs and dripping saliva. “I’ll take care of your beast first.”

Within minutes Rita tumbled herself off the bed and hurt her back, while the cat was trapped at the front door, crying like a car skidding around the forked street outside. Rocco jumped from his bed and opened the blinds with one loud clapping sound. He slapped on dungarees and ran barefoot to her door, banging for Rita to open up. The intruder scooped up the flailing animal and flung him across the room. The cat screeched and Rocco wondered what the hell was going on in there.

He ran back to his house to get a crowbar and returned, prying the door off its hinges. The door crashed down from the weight of his six feet two frame and within seconds the intruder slashed Rocco across the side of his stomach. The old man roared in a rage, snatching the knife out of the intruder’s hand and smashing the blade against the wall. Before he had a chance to escape, Rocco seized him by the scruff of his neck and torso and threw him through the wide, picture window, the plate glass crashing into jewel-like crystals, the green vines sprawled over the ground. The intruder picked himself up and dodged all the startled neighbors trying to grab hold of him. Rocco held his stomach wound as he dragged himself up the stairs with the cat beating him to the top. He set Rita free and within minutes and consoled her until the volunteer ambulance blared its way to the entrance of the court.

In the fall, the grey clouds stamped the sky, as Rocco and Rita planted a rose bush in the place that divided their garden plots, all under the supervision of the blue cat who sat Buddha-like during the ceremony. Rocco poured some wine from a jug of Carlo Rossi Paisano, toasting the blossoms of future roses, their clever blue cat and themselves.

Rocco motioned Rita to sit on his stoop while they drank. He broke the silence as if Rita were reading his thoughts. “Lost my wife years ago.” Rita sipped some wine. “First met her jitterbugging in Harlem. You know, a lot of Italians used to live in East Harlem, a long time ago.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“My Rosina trusted the way I held her just right – not too loose, not too tight. She was unbelievable - could always anticipate my next move on the dance floor. You’re gonna think I’m pazzo,” he tapped his head, “but we still dance together in the evening.” Rita put the glass down and held his hand. “Memories help kill the time, you know.”

“I understand, Rocco. Tony and I used to hit the hot clubs in the city. It’s just that I’m so much younger than you.”

“I know maybe the pain will go away fro you.” He shrugged. “For me it’s too late.”

Rita gave him the wine glass while she picked up the tools, trying her best to hide her face from Rocco. She placed them in a sack and felt something was still missing.

“Wait a minute Rocco! Where’s our blue guy?”

“Ah, don’t worry about him. He’ll come back to his easy touches.”

The blue had returned to his old haunt but this time a new pack of street cats charged him. He burst out of their lair like a big cat in pursuit of an unsuspecting prey, turning his head when he heard the sound of a speeding Mustang that clipped him in the middle of the street. Rocco and Rita roamed the neighborhood and found the blue’s crushed body. He picked the cat up and brought him back to the court, covering the body with a blanket. They met at midnight to bury blue near the rose bush. Rita kept watch, while Rocco prepared the grave. No stars shinned that night.

Every year the roses continued to bloom in bursts of wedding white from late spring till the fall, culminating with the last cluster on the bush inducing its petals to turn solid blue-gray, instead of the ordinary traces of rust – now an unknown marker between two gentrified houses.