This one from Cats N Dogs (copyright Cage Dunn 2017), stories of our constant companions.
The traffic was snarled so far back from Caro’s turn-off she was tempted to drive along the emergency lane to get out. She was already so late, maybe even too late. Had to get there; had to pick up the order tonight. Before she went home. Couldn’t let them down. Not again.
It was the ritual. They paid a high price in exchange for that one little thing that was their special treat.
Caro worked two full-time jobs and two part-time jobs. She’d managed to get a loan – interest only – and bought the run-down beach shack. Now all she had to do was earn enough in the year she had to pay it out before the loan conditions changed – and she would pay it in full – after that it could be a normal life. In the meantime …
The house, their home, was a long way from where the jobs where. She drove to the city each day and worked the first job, five days a week, from zero one hundred to zero eight hundred – the cleaning job in banks and offices that required full security clearances but didn’t give her another body to be there with, and she spent a lot of time checking her back – and the second job went from zero nine hundred to eighteen hundred hours – also five days a week. As a personnel officer. The person who found jobs for everyone else.
That’s how she found the two part-time jobs for the weekends – no one wanted to work those hours, in that job, or on the weekends. So she spent twelve hours every Saturday and Sunday making offal and other stuff into dog food and kibble. And she tried to get rid of that smell for most of Sunday night, but at the end of the Monday cleaning shift, she’d always end up at the sauna in the gym next to the Lakeside Hotel.
She couldn’t smell it on her clothes anymore, but sometimes she caught people’s looks as they sniffed when she went past. It didn’t matter – at the end of the twelve months, she’d have her home, she’d own it, on her own, without help from anyone.
The jobs in the city were a long way from home, but the pay was good and she was in front of the game. What it meant was that she spent too much time away and not enough at home, and they spent too much time at home and not enough with her.
And Friday night was their highlight; their time for the goodies, for the close attention and affection and treats. The only night they had the whole night together.
If the traffic didn’t clear soon, Bob would close up, she wouldn’t get the order, and she’d have to go home to ‘the look’ that would break her heart. The abject disappointment.
It was guilt, and they manipulated Caro mercilessly, and she knew it, but they missed out on so much and all because she had a desperate need to have a roof over her head no one could take away from her. It might be a bit rough, an old shack in some eyes, and there’d be repairs and maintenance that would keep her busy for ten or more years – maybe fifteen, if she didn’t cut her hours as soon as she paid it out – but it would be hers.
Well, hers and theirs. They were part of it, too, weren’t they?
The traffic moved ahead; slow, slow, too slow – not even a full car length. She checked the time. Five minutes! She’d have to take the chance – pulled into the emergency lane and rumbled slowly – doing a little ‘roo hop every now and then for good measure; in case anyone might think she was cheating. The wheels turned onto the off-ramp and the foot went down on the accelerator.
The swirling blue light flashed in her rear-vision mirror. No! She pulled the choke out full so the engine sputtered and smoked; she gave it a chance to shudder, then pulled over.
It was all over, and now she’d have a fine to pay as well; maybe even some demerit points. Her hand hovered over the ignition – no, don’t turn it off; let them see she had a genuine problem; tell them she’d never get it started again. The value of an old car was in the games it could play.
The burly black-haired cop at the window smiled at her as she wound down the window.
“Bit late tonight, Caro?”
His face was so familiar.
“Um, do I know you?”
“Rick, Bob’s brother – you know Bob, don’t you? He rang to see where you were so he could get home to see his family sometime before midnight. I told him about this,” he pointed back at the freeway traffic jam.
Caro felt a little sick. The games were well known to Bob, so would Rick …?
“He gave me the steaks,” he lifted his other hand into full view, the one with the hefty package wrapped in white paper, “to save you time.”
The big grin showed bright white teeth and the dimple on the right cheek only. Definitely one of Bob’s mob.
“Am I in trouble?” she asked.
“For that little thing?” Rick rolled his neck. “I could do something about it, but I know what you go through, so – not tonight, Caro. Tonight, you get to go home to your family just like Bob will.” He waved as he walked back to the cruiser.
The air that huffed out of her chest almost moved the van on its own, but she let the choke back in and waited until the blue and white was gone before she guided it out.
The package of white paper sat on the seat next to her. At least now she could go straight home and not have to make the long detour to the main-street shops.
She dragged her two work bags out, flung them over her shoulder, gripped the paper package carefully against her chest and walked down the dark driveway to her front door. The noise inside meant they knew she was here. The dog barked as she stepped in.
The work bags fell to the floor just inside the door, the package of white paper landed on the island bench and she stepped up to unwrap it while they both watched.
Rapt attention as she opened one edge, then the other, then slid it fully open.
Tass, the bearded collie, with his big hair tail lashing like an air broom, and Mister, the almost-all-white cat, calm on the outside, with his tail lashed tight around his impatient body, green eyes flashing.
The first steak went to the cat, of course. Mister dragged it directly in front of Tass and sat down with it on the mat by the back door.
Tass waited, hopping from one foot to the other while he sat there and waited for his.
Caro dropped the steak onto the floor between his feet. The big grin she got before he dived on it and carried it out the dog-door – right in front of the cat – to the back veranda made it all worthwhile.
She’d come through on the Friday night Steak promise. Just.
Still working on Not on the Cards – final stretch; due for release end Feb/early March (fingers crossed). If you want to be a beta reader or a ‘first’ reader, let me know. Two spaces available still.