Face, Meet Sidewalk

Dave’s new friend

Posted on: January 2, 2012

Dave adored women. He liked their company far better than he liked the company of men. He reflected on this often, noting with interest each time he checked in on his motivations that his interest in women was not (always) sexual or even romantic. More so it was pure preference. He liked how they talked, moved, thought. Smelled. Young or old, it didn’t matter. He just loved women.

It was part of the reason he got along well with Violet. She had gender going for her, along with an interesting, feisty streak that kept him laughing. For whatever reason they had been brought together, he enjoyed every minute.

Much of his free time was spent with Violet these days, but when she was occupied with her not inconsiderable social life, Dave divided the vast majority of his time between work and the gym. He freely acknowledged that the majority of his motivation for maintaining his impressive level of fitness was to score points with the ladies, but it had its benefits in other ways too. It was nice to be able to escort a drunk and boisterous asshole out of the bar without breaking a sweat, or to move Violet’s piano for her so she could vacuum underneath it.

But mostly, his buff physique set the stage for many a friendship, short-lived though they tended to be with women. Although he rarely turned down the side benefits, sex was never his main motivation, and any woman that only wanted to enjoy his spectacular body never remained interested for long, especially when she realized he was not just interested in her, but in any woman. Most had trouble getting past that.

And his love of women was not limited to human women either. Cars and boats held significant appeal, and he always had a soft spot for the hot aliens on Star Trek. But as far as humans were concerned, he could count on one hand the number of women he had not found attractive in some way or other.

The only place, besides the bar where he worked and the gym, where Dave spent any significant time was the Humane Society. He had been doing it since he was fourteen, when his mother caught him smoking behind the school with his buddies one weekend. She declared then and there, right in front of his friends, that he would be busy the rest of the summer. She marched him down to an old folks’ home and signed him up to call Bingo. She dropped him there every Saturday afternoon for months, and once he got over the embarrassment of being caught out in front of his friends, he had a whale of a time entertaining the old ladies with extravagant compliments and amateur magic tricks. One day, a Humane Society volunteer brought a boisterous puppy to visit the nursing home. When he saw how much pleasure it brought the residents, he went down there and volunteered. While they wouldn’t let a fourteen-year-old take a dog out to a nursing home, they did let him clean out kennels and pet cats. He loved it, even more than his time at the nursing home. Even back then, it was always the female animals he gravitated toward. He got along with them the best. Dogs were his favourite.

Even now, in his mid-twenties, Dave still made time to go once a week. He worked it into his exercise routine, choosing the dogs with the highest energy and taking them for long runs around the city. They all came back happily exhausted. The Humane Society ladies loved him, because his dogs were always too sated to misbehave. They rarely stayed at the shelter long. Dave had the touch – his girls were always adopted quickly. The ladies’ theory was that he had some kind of come-to-Jesus talk and put the fear of God into the dogs when they were out on their runs. Dave just figured it was about time that some human showed these animals how it could be, if they chose the right home.

He’d made many friends at the Humane Society, none of which crossed over with his bar-and-gym crowd. In fact, he took some pains to keep his volunteering quiet at work, not entirely sure what kind of razzing he’d be forced to endure if the boys ever got wind of his soft spot for an entirely different kind of bitch (which was also why he kept his preference for romantic comedies a secret – the flawed-yet-desirable heroine got him every time. Reason number 347 that it was better to spend time with women than men. Women didn’t disparage one’s choice in pastimes or movies).

So it was with some discomfort that Dave recognized a particular car in the Humane Society’s parking lot one stunning afternoon in late fall as he returned  from a brisk five-miler with a beautiful German shepherd. The sun was shining through trees that were almost bare and there was a bite in the air, which had kept the magnificent dog, named Duchess by some unimaginative intake worker, from overheating as they ran.

The car had been in the parking lot of Dave’s bar on any number of Sunday mornings. It belonged to one of the regulars, a lazy slacker named Ivan. They’d gone to high school together, but that was where their similarities ended. Ivan was headed toward a permanent spot in the trailer park, his beer gut leading the way. He’d never had a job for more than a few months at a time, and he usually paid his bar tab with the change he scraped out of the console in his car. He had recently managed to get a girl pregnant and, to the boys’ suprise, agreed to move out of his mom’s place and in with her. Dave suspected that it would be short-lived, once she realized that a guy who wears the same threadbare underwear for a week at a time (he didn’t wear a belt either, which was how Dave had come to recognize the frayed Fruit of the Loom waistband) was not likely fatherhood material. Besides, he was almost sure that she was not the last girl Ivan had taken back to the room in his mom’s basement where he still spent many nights.

In any case, Dave preferred to keep the compartments of his life separate, so he took Duchess in the back way and gave her a long cool drink from the hose. By the time he’d settled her back in her kennel, still panting but wagging happily, and changed his shirt for a clean, dry one, he’d almost forgotten about Ivan.

He walked toward the front office to sign up for next week’s volunteer shift, and stopped short.

He heard Ivan’s voice as he approached the desk, and ducked behind a wall. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t want Ivan to see him, but the tone in Ivan’s voice was one that Dave was completely unprepared to acknowledge. The man sounded miserable, a fact which was being studiously ignored by Gail, the woman assigned to intake.

Gail was a middle-aged woman who looked like she’d seen hard times. She’d worked intake for years, and had just about heard it all. It was a crappy job, which by necessity quickly muted any sense of empathy that the staff might have. Some of the sob stories people came in with when they wanted to surrender an animal were pretty creative, if not patently false, and the resulting despair for humanity caused the staff to find ways to make it as difficult as possible. Anyone hoping for sympathy left sorely disappointed. The prevailing opinion among intake staff was that the people could fend for their own mental health. The only therapy Gail dispensed was for the animals.

Dave paused, sensing that intervention in this particular exchange would be unwelcome.

“It was my girlfriend’s,” Ivan was saying, then corrected himself. “Ex-girlfriend, I guess.”

Dave noted without satisfaction that he’d been right about Ivan as a baby daddy.

“Is there anything wrong with it?” Gail asked.

“No,” he replied. “I just can’t have it in my apartment. She told me she’d drown it in the creek if I didn’t take it.”

Since to Dave’s knowledge, Ivan had never had an apartment, he guessed that Ivan’s mom had refused to let the creature in the house. He wasn’t sure if Ivan was referring to his mother or the girlfriend, but would not be surprised to hear that either  had threatened to kill the cat; from what he remembered, both were pretty much a class-A bitches (two of the few women about whom Dave could find few redeeming features). But even if it was the girlfriend, Ivan’s apparent misery at the “ex” part of his description was a bit of a surprise. Or was it over the cat? It was hard to tell from the sound of his voice. Dave peeked around the corner as Gail finished up the paperwork and made Ivan sign over the cat.

He watched Ivan push himself away from the counter and walk toward the door, pausing a moment to say goodbye to the cat. Dave saw abject regret painted all over Ivan’s face as he crouched down and poked a finger into the cage to scratch the poor thing’s ears. With a jolt, Dave saw Ivan wipe a tear away as he hurried off without looking at anyone else.

It was a shock, to be sure. Dave had never seen the side of Ivan that would grieve over either a woman or a pet. Dave had done both, but had not seen it coming from Ivan, whom he’d always considered little more than a waste of space. He was truly taken aback.

As soon as Ivan’s car had left the parking lot, Dave went over to the cat. It was wary, with reason, but within a few seconds was rubbing its head against Dave’s outstretched fingers, and even purring a little. It was a pretty cat, black and white with nearly perfect symmetrical markings on its face and back.

“Hey, buddy,” he murmured. It was all he could say. Ivan’s stricken face kept coming to mind, and Dave was surprised to find himself choking up a little.
Gail appeared beside him, so he composed himself quickly.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with this one,” she said. Despite her cool demeanor with those surrendering animals (irrespective of their reasons, legitimate or otherwise), she was genuinely fond of the creatures that came in. Like Dave with women, there were few irredeemable animals, according to Gail.

It was the people who too often deserved a rougher fate, according to Gail. Dave tended to agree.

“What will happen to him?” Dave asked. He wasn’t sure if he was asking Gail about the cat, or a rhetorical question about Ivan.

“It’s a ‘she’, according to the guy who brought her in,” Gail said in her gravelly smoker’s voice. “She’ll get checked by the vet, and head for Adoptions if everything’s ok. She’s a little older, though, so it’ll be tough to place her. And he wouldn’t sign the form saying he’d take her back if she was slated to be euthanized.”

Dave let the thought linger a moment. The instant she’d mentioned the cat was a female, Dave felt a familiar connection, the one that led him to befriend nearly anyone with two X chromosomes. He heard himself speak before his mind fully processed the implications of his words.

“Can I take her?”

He wasn’t sure if it was the haunting look on Ivan’s face, or the fact that the poor thing could well end up in the dumpster out back of the Humane Society after a few miserable weeks in captivity, but suddenly Dave needed this cat.

Gail looked quickly at him. They’d always remarked on how unattached Dave was to the animals to whom he showed such affection. He’d never indicated wanting to keep one before. And truth be told, Dave had never even entertained the thought of taking one home. Especially not a cat.

“Really?” she asked.

Dave nodded quickly, realizing he was irrevocably committed now.

Gail shrugged. “Come back tomorrow. I’ll get her checked by the vet and we can do the paperwork in the morning.” Her face clearly said she never expected to see Dave again.

Dave nodded and said his goodbyes to Gail and the cat. He stopped on the way home and bought a litter box and all the fixings. He spent a disproportionate amount of time choosing the cat’s first homecoming meal. Who knew there were so many kinds of cat food? Finally, when he was nearly late for work, he settled on an expensive can of some sort of tuna-based cat gruel. It sounded horrible but a pretty girl shopping in the same aisle assured him that cats loved it.

He left with her phone number, too.

All evening, all through his shift at the bar, through a few hours of fitful sleep, he kept expecting to come to his senses. He considered who would look after her when he wanted to travel. He thought about the expensive furniture in his apartment that was currently free of claw marks. He even acknowledged the possibility that his roommate might not agree with his decision. He fully expected to wake in the morning with the clarity of a new day, understanding the ridiculousness of his offhand comment to Gail, and be forced to retract his offer. But his resolve was only stronger in the light of day. None of the reasonable objections to the idea seemed to hold any water when he thought of the sweet little furry face that was waiting for him in a cold steel cage.

He was back at the intake desk the minute it opened. Gail looked surprised to see him.

“You change your mind?” she asked, sounding almost resigned.

Dave shook his head. “Nope,” he said, plopping the shiny new cat carrier on the desk.

Gail raised her eyebrows, but said nothing, and retrieved a sheaf of papers from the drawer. Dave answered all the questions truthfully, except the one about whether his landlord allowed pets.

“Technically we’re supposed to call them and make sure,” Gail said.

Dave shook his head. He was pretty sure the old bastard would say no, but Dave had no intention of ever letting him know about the cat, and besides, he had a sense that if he passed up this cat, she would never see the inside of another house. Dave made a quick decision.

“Aw, come on, Gail, you don’t need to do that,” he said. “It’s cool.”

It was unfair, he knew, but years of loving women had taught him all the right moves to make when he wanted something. He rarely used his powers for personal gain, but this didn’t feel self-serving at all. It was for the cat, he told himself. It was her only chance.

He leaned forward and touched Gail’s hand, “accidentally”. She jumped visibly, obviously unused to being touched by a human, but when she didn’t pull away, Dave knew he’d won.

“Okay,” she said. And that was it. Dave signed the papers, handed over the carrier, and Gail brought it back in a few minutes with Dave’s new cat.

He gave Gail a silly grin, indescribably excited about his new adventure, despite the fact that it hadn’t been even an inkling twenty four hours previously. Gail laughed, realizing she’d been had, but knowing at least this cat was not one they’d see again.

“What are you going to call her?” she asked.

“Don’t know yet,” he said with a wink. “But she looks a little like a Gail to me.”

“Oh, go on,” she said, and Dave could see she was flattered. The cat had a name.

“See you next week,” he said cheerfully, and hauled his new friend out to his car.

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