Updated: Apr 28, 2022
by Sinclair Conley
The house felt much too big, he thought, sliding his shoes off at the door. It was his childhood home, little more than an apartment in an okay neighborhood that looked like it stepped right out of an 80’s catalog. The furniture, dishes, and wall of old family photos reflected the occupants quite well. Or it had anyway.
He dropped his keys on the table, the noise a sharp contrast to the strange quietness that now pervaded. The house was never quite like this. Something was always making noise. The Jeopardy reruns on the box tv, the washing machine that made its own suspicious sounds, the scrape of utensils on pans in the kitchen. Quiet. Even with the windows open to let in street noise it seemed too quiet to be comfortable.
Today it seemed darker in the house than normal, cave-like and cold as he watched rain roll off the porch roof. “Look at that my busy bee, guess you’ll have to stay in with me today!” Her voice chimed, dumping the contents of a one-thousand piece puzzle out on the table as she patted the chair beside her for him to occupy. The puzzle was framed, she had loved it enough to do that much and have him hang it across from her bed. She talked about it often, it was something only she and her boy had done together. They hadn’t done anything like that as just the two of them in a while. The puzzle was now sitting in the closet, wrapped in packing paper and placed carefully among boxes of her things.
He rummaged through the fridge and cabinets for something to eat. The sight of half-bare shelves reminded him that he needed to get groceries again soon, but he had take-out left over from a couple nights before that would be a fine dinner. “You’re too skinny, don’t you eat?” She chastised, pinching his waist. “You’ll blow away like a napkin in the wind! Eat! Do I need to make you something? Let me cook, sit, sit. Always so busy, my busy bee, are you now too busy to eat?” He argued but failed to sway her mind. Such a stubborn woman. Instead he hovered around her and snuck in his help as much as she would allow before she would swat his hand away. So instead he just talked to her. About his day, the weather, annoyances and funny happenings. She would laugh or scold, ask when he would bring his ‘cute friend over again’. A sloppy kiss on the cheek was payment for the meal in her book.
He stared aimlessly out the window. The rain and half-warm leftovers that he tossed from a lost appetite made great companions, carrying a chill into the dark house with them.
His bed had remained empty for a couple weeks now. It was neatly made, yet stacks of folded laundry occupied its surface. He would put it away soon, but it wasn’t a priority. He liked sleeping on the couch better anyways. Sometimes she needed help at night, he was closer to her that way, in case he needed to help her out of bed or bring her medication. Why hadn’t he moved back to his room yet, he pondered as he pulled a sweatshirt over his head. The fabric smelled nice, just like her favorite detergent that made boys less smelly’. He smiled to keep from crying.
The air was sharp and cool, the sound of the rain mingling with the street noise a welcome change from the quiet of the house. An earthy aroma lingered in the wash from above, his condensing breath spiraling away into the atmosphere before his eyes as he breathed it in and back out. He could almost feel the soil between his fingers again, slipping from his palm to its final resting place upon the plain box six-feet down. His chest felt tight, yet the pressure gradually dissipated as his mind busied itself with thoughts of errands to run and unfulfilled grocery lists. There were plenty of reasons to not be at that house, even on damp days. He didn’t mind the rain, he had an umbrella and it was just water after all.
He stepped off the stoop, the thin veil of street water sloshing under foot before he paused. What was that small sound? It was barely audible over the rain, but it was there. Thin and wet, curled behind a trash bag. It mewed.
“What are you doing out here?” He asked as if it would understand, slowly moving to crouch beside the bag. It mewed again. “Come here,” He said, fingers gently tapping the wet concrete as the tiny animal shrank back behind the bag.
He produced his phone from his pocket and dialed the shelter. No answer.
He let out a sigh, rocking back on his heels. “Let’s wait and see if your mom comes back.” He said tiredly, glancing up and down the street in hopes of spotting the stray mother. He watched the small creature slowly emerge from hiding in his periphery, water dripping off its small head. An arm outstretched, holding the umbrella over it to block the rain while the other called the shelter again. A different one. Nothing.
The rain was heavier now, the cold permeating through his clothes and plastering his hair to his face. “What am I going to do with you?” He murmured under his breath, watching the little animal, crouched and shivering just out of reach. He guessed he had made up his mind and would worry about the street water that had stained the knees of his jeans later.
There was a trail of water up the stairs and down the hallway, a puddle forming in the foyer of the house. The lights were on in the kitchen, warm water pouring from the faucet as a damp rag was rinsed beneath it. The kitten was unsure as to how it was feeling about the matter, occasionally mewing in protest of the gentle bath it received. The hair was lighter than it had been, free of the dirt and grime of the outside. It’s eyes and nose were wiped free of gunk. He would need to take it to a vet soon, he thought as he wrapped it in a soft hand towel.
What did one feed an animal this small? Milk? Ham? Both? Leave it to him to have an issue like this, the one who never had a pet growing up. He set the animal loose in the bathroom, stripping out of his own soaked clothes and putting on something dry. He watched it play with the corner of the bathmat. He didn’t know the first thing about having a cat, but he guessed he could learn.
The house felt less quiet. There was new noise, new life inside which kept him on his toes. A flash of fluffy gray flying down the hallway in pursuit of toys, or jumping playfully around corners and wrapping small legs around his calf before bounding away once more. “Come eat Busy Bee! Bee-bee, let’s go, hustle!” He called, the slender creature running at the sound of food shaking in the bowl with a sock in its mouth. That was her. His busy bee.
Sinclair Conley is an alumna of Lincoln Memorial University and future Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry with Appalachian American roots stretching back to the 1700s. The second academic and author in her family to bear the name ‘Sinclair’, she enjoys writing and playing with her dogs in her breaks between course work.