Joyland

Vancouver |

Kittens

by Erika Thorkelson

Around the time the kittens started going missing, I noticed a surplus of abandoned clothing in the streets. But maybe I’m mashing the two events together. It’s absurd that someone might think t-shirts hung from branches were a reasonable trade for those soft little lives.

I had started working at the local one-screen movie theatre. We didn’t need the money but with Marcus away for weeks on end dealing with the Asian accounts I needed something to fill my time.

When the movie started the three or four of us on shift would chat. I especially liked the nights I worked with Lindsay from the snack bar. She would tell me about her latest sexual adventures. She did it with everyone—street performers, dancers, actors, business students, young, old, Asians, Françophones, girls, and, she claimed on one occasion, a female-to-male transsexual.

About a week after the first kitten poster went up—maybe it was even the day I noticed the first shoe—she told me about how she’d done it with the guy who lived outside the Shopper’s Drug Mart.

“I don’t really know how it happened,” she said, her voice conspiratorial against the raging soundtrack of the special effects extravaganza on the screen. We were alone, organizing the storage closet. “I went out to buy some chips and there he was, all wrapped up in his blanket. I just had to talk to him, to know him, you know?” The thought of being skin-to-skin with that dirty man made me want to vomit. “I put some money into his hat and asked him if he was okay. I’d had a little pot so maybe I said it like I really meant it. I did mean it, but maybe I sounded too serious. He looked at me and whispered, ‘come to me.’”

“Come to me?”

“Just like that, like he was some kind of hypnotist. It was so weird, you know, because suddenly I felt the uncontrollable urge to fuck him, right there on the street.”

“Oh my god. What did you do?”

“Well, he stuffed the money from his hat into his pocket and we, like, went to the back of the store and by the dumpster he kissed me. He tasted like cigarettes and dry mouth, you know?”

“That is so gross!”

“I know, right? But it was so hot I didn’t even care. And then I stuck my hand down his pants and I had his cock in my hand,” she giggled as she always did when she used words for genitalia. “He was huge, you know? And so fucking hard.”

Our faces were really close together. I tingled with an urge to rub the seam of my jeans. I clenched my fists—couldn’t get past the image of her little hands on his giant dick.

“Like, what happened next?” I tried not to breathe strangely.

“He pulled down my pants—I was just wearing sweat pants, right? Because I was hanging out at home. He turned me around and started fucking me from behind. And I swear, I came right away, like five times.”

Lindsay always claimed to have ridiculous numbers of orgasms. I wonder if she actually knew what an orgasm was.

“Then he pulled out all and came on the wall.”

“Really?”

“Ya, then he zipped up his pants and walked away. By the time I’d gotten myself together he was back on the sidewalk wrapped up in the blanket.”

“So, uh, what did you…?” This wasn’t how I expected it to end. Lindsay’s stories usually ended with some kind of profound spiritual connection or her refusing a ticket to Europe or a marriage proposal or something.

“Nothing. He didn’t even look at me as I walked by. Isn’t that fucked up?”

I should have said something to her about how reckless she’d been, how she should get herself checked for STDs or, I don’t know, lice, but ours wasn’t that kind of friendship.

On my way home I saw a pair of cheap black boots in the street, flattened by cars and degrading into the pulp of autumn leaves. Kitten heels. I remember thinking that was weird.

After that I started to look at the street man differently. I couldn’t help it. He began to seem like this dangerous, sexy rebel. Maybe he was driven to this life by a broken heart. The next time I was in the drug store I had to make a connection. I don’t know why I chose a brick of cheese—I thought a street person would appreciate the comfort of a dairy product. I’d been avoiding them for years because a woman my age couldn’t afford those little indulgences. Maybe he needed the fat.

“Here you go. I don’t know if you could use this or whatever,” I held it out to him like it didn't matter, like my fingers weren’t burning.

“Every little bit is appreciated, ma’am,” he said.

Ma’am? How stupid could he be? Couldn’t he see the youthfulness of my body through my fitted yoga pants? It was his loss. Lindsay’s pussy may have been tight but I knew what to do with a man.

Around that time the missing kitten posters began to show up everywhere.

“Carol, did you hear about the Southworth’s kitten?” Lucy was my Filipino housekeeper. She organized the laundry while we watched <em>The View</em> together. She was the only person to see me before noon since Marcus went away.

“What?” I was trying to concentrate on a segment about Kegel exercises.

“They found that kitten in the garbage—the bones, anyway. It was picked clean.”

“How do you know this?”

“Rhea—their nanny—told me on the bus.”

“They could run that bus on the gossip you people produce.”

She stopped folding and glared at me.

“Oh god, Lucy, I didn’t mean it that way.”

“Of course not, Carol.” She picked up the laundry basket and left the room.

The next day another poster went up. This one was for the Westwoods—I was upset by it because I’d seen them at the pet store between the Java Jungle and the theatre buying it with their little girl. I thought about buying one myself that day—the store had a gaggle of them in the window, flopping around. One of them looked me right in the eye, like it needed to tell me something. But I remembered what Marcus said about the carpet: he paid good money for the taupe plush and didn’t want some creature shitting on it. He didn’t want to be married to a cat lady, either.

The poster was of their little girl, her face blurred in case of pedophiles, holding their tortoise shell kitten up with two hands.

I worked that afternoon, a matinee of some second-run Disney movie. Lindsay was there. I hung around the counter talking to John, the fat owner of the theatre who loved to go on and on about movies.

“This movie is the death of narrative cinema,” John said.

“Totally.” I was trying to listen to the conversation between Bob and Lindsay at the popcorn counter, looking for an in.

“What happened to kids movies that were scary? <em>The Black Cauldron</em>, now that’s a Disney movie I can get behind. But they messed it up on the rerelease. I’d do a retrospective if I could get a hold of an original print and this neighbourhood weren’t so tight-assed.”

“Yeah, totally.” And then it happened.

“Oh who cares about kittens, anyway?” Bob asked Lindsay. “Kittens are dumb. They get run over. Your kitten goes missing and you get a new one. It’s not like there aren’t millions out there. It’s not like they’re people.”

“Bob, I can’t believe you could be so callous,” Lindsay said.

It was perfect.

“Excuse me, John.” But he didn’t really notice I was walking away—he just kept mumbling to himself about unity of action.

“Oh my god guys,” I said. “I, like, heard that one of kittens was found in the garbage. Like, it had been eaten or something.”

“Oh, that’s so gross. You know, I bet someone’s using them in, like, dark magic or something.”

Bob snorted and went into the supply cabinet.

“You think so?”

“Oh yeah. I know this one guy, out on The Drive, he’s a wizard, but, like, a good one. A healer.” I loved to listen to Lindsay talk about The Drive, where all the hippies and weirdos lived. I never went, though—Marcus thought it was too trashy. “He works with crystals and stuff. He says there are people who use that kind of shit for evil. Animal sacrifice and stuff.”

“But that’s not real, right?”

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Carol, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. That’s Shakespeare.”

“Oh Lindsay, you have such a special mind.”

“Thanks, Carol.”

After work I stopped by the drugstore to refill some prescriptions. The guy wasn’t there but his hat was, neatly laid in his spot on top of the sign he carried that explained he needed money for food but not drugs or alcohol. I got the feeling that hat had some kind of power. I considered waiting for him but it started to rain so instead I took off my scarf and draped it over everything. The brightly coloured silk was cheerful next to the olive of the hat.

As I walked home the day got darker, until it looked like night time, though it was only four o’clock. My hair was soaked, water was dripping down my back, right into my jacket. I took it off and hung it on a juniper bush and walked in my t-shirt until it was wet too and felt heavy. I took my shirt off, tossed it into the road and walked the last block or so home in my bra and pants. The rain stung but I don’t think anyone even noticed.
The timeline’s getting all messed up. The kittens, the clothes, the street man, the theatre are all part of it. I just can’t remember the order right now.

Marcus was supposed to come home on Friday night but he called in the afternoon and said he wasn’t finished with the Asians. He said they spent more time bowing than working, which made me laugh even though it was a racist stereotype. That’s one of the things I loved about Marcus—he said what was on his mind and didn’t care what anyone thought about him.

I told him about my job at the theatre and he pretended to be annoyed until I explained that I was getting paid so little that it was practically volunteering. That made him feel better.

John called me and said he needed someone to fill in—there was a new blockbuster opening, the third in a horror trilogy that showed all the ways beautiful teenagers could die. The lines were going to be long and people would be pissy. I said yes and moved the steaks Lucy had set to marinate into the freezer.

When I got there people were already loitering out front. I found John on the phone with the credit card company. “I need this goddamn machine to work tonight,” he was saying. When the call was over he slammed the phone down so hard the battery pack bounced off and rolled under the counter.

“I really need you on popcorn tonight,” he said as he groped around the floor trying to find it. “I know it’s not your thing but I’m screwed. Eloise is on cash because she broke her foot and Lindsay’s fucking MIA and there’s no one else. I need you.”

I wasn’t familiar with the snack bar but it felt nice to be the lynchpin. Bob gave me the rundown but there wasn’t time because people were already demanding service. Scooping the popcorn into the bags was hard—kernels went everywhere and I’m sure I got more on the counter than I did in the bags. And then there was the butter, which squirted everywhere so I ended up covered in hot goo.

The previews were starting and we still had two long lines when this man came up, hopping back and forth. He ordered a super-combo—an extra-large popcorn and two large drinks—and kept checking around the corner to see if the feature had started

“Don’t worry, sir,” I said. “You’ve got a couple of minutes yet.”

From the screen a deep voice boomed, “In a land far away. In a time before history…”

I put the popcorn down and started to fill the pops.

“What is this?” he said.

“An extra-large popcorn, sir,” I said.

“It’s practically empty.” He tapped the popcorn bag on the table a few times and the level went down well below the edge of the bag. “Fill it up.”

“Sorry about that sir.” I gave him my best smile, the one that had gotten me on the cover of my high school yearbook three years in a row. I turned to scoop more into his bag.

“Whatever. Aren’t you a bit old for this job?”

What an idiot. I saw the woman he came in with and she looked ten years older than me. I had forgotten about the pop and it was flowing over the lip, across the counter, waterfalling onto the floor.

“What is wrong with you, Carol?”

“Oh god, I am so sorry.”

The opening credits began. The man snatched his snacks and tossed indiscriminate change at us.

The line thinned after that as people gave up. Bob, John and Eloise decided to leave cleaning up until later and went to watch. I stayed behind, pulled a mop out of the storage room and started to tackle the pop drying into a sticky film studded with yellow kernels that crunched where I stepped.

I heard a knock at the window. I couldn’t believe it—it was the street man. He wore my scarf around his neck, vivid against his dirt-crusted skin. He pointed to the door and I waved him inside.

“Can I, um, use your bathroom? No one else on the street will let me in.”

“Oh! Of course. It’s up the stairs.”

I was silly for thinking he was there to see me. Maybe it was a pretence?

I can’t lie—I got excited. The idea of him upstairs, unzipping his pants, his hands on that huge cock of his made me shiver. I told myself I was going upstairs to get the vacuum. Only, I found myself at the entrance to the men’s washroom, staring at his bare white ass in front of the urinal.

I was sure that he had called me there with his magic. His refusal to turn around immediately confirmed it—he was playing hard-to-get, the ball in his court. I did Kegel exercises as I waited for him to finish.

“Ahem.” I coughed. It was my way of letting him know he could have all the power. I didn’t mind. I imagined him chanting over the broken body of a kitten and, honestly, the thought thrilled me.

“Ahem,” I said again, louder.
He pulled up his pants and turned around to look at me. Dark lashes so long I could see them from across the room fringed his brown eyes. There, in the glowing fluorescent light of the bathroom stall, he was glorious.

He cleared his throat. Or did he speak? I felt compelled to stand before him and breathed in his musky scent.

“Did you,” he said. His sentence clattered to the floor. I leaned in and let my mouth rest on his until he responded. His hands groped for my breasts, squeezing, and then, as I leaned in, my ass, pressing my pelvis to his. I could feel his erection through his pants. His breath was rank, just like Lindsay said. He slid his hands under my shirt and they were cold. He lifted my shirt up and licked my nipples through my bra.

I unzipped his fly. The scent that was released in the room was manlier than anything I’d encountered in my life. I slid my hand into his underwear.

“Carol?”

He pulled away at the sound of John’s voice.

“What on earth?”

“Jesus, man. She, uh...” The man ran for the door and disappeared down the hallway.

All my clothes were still on but I felt more naked than I’d ever been, like my flesh had been stripped away and devoured. The only coherent thing I could think was that Lindsay was wrong—his cock hadn’t been that big after all.

I didn’t wait for John to fire me—he would never understand. I left while he was in the office hiding from what he’d just seen. I gave the drug store as wide a berth as possible. The streets were dark but for the glow of houses. Each one had its own movie screen window and inside families were watching smaller screens and smiling at each other. Outside with me the naked arbutus trees pushed their arthritic fingers into the sky, throwing crooked shadows across sidewalks.

A couple blocks away from the theatre I saw a nondescript lump in the middle of the street, another shoe. I wanted to put it on. But when I got close I realized it wasn’t a shoe at all, but a small tabby. Its coat and legs were unmistakable but the pieces were rearranged. It looked deflated, insides squeezed out. The wheel must have crushed its head. I wasn’t sad to see it, though. It was lucky to have died quickly, so young and loved.