Waiting for Martin

Waiting for Martin

“They must’ve applied your makeup with a spackling chisel.” Albert whispered, using a tissue to thin out the thick layer of makeup from his mother’s lifeless face. “A cake decorator uses thinner layers than this.” The substandard work performed by the mortuary’s makeup artist was one of many things that frustrated him. “Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look good.”

Albert stepped back to admire his work, then shook his head in disapproval. “That’s as good as it gets, Mom.” He turned and surveyed the area around the casket. Tables resting nearby held photographic memorials of her life.

Berta’s dying wish was to remain in her home till the very end. She despised funeral homes. “They’re just so impersonal in those places,” she’d say. “A person should be at ease even after they die; and there’s no place more at ease than your own home.”

Albert shook his head in disgust as he analyzed and scrutinized everything from the placement of the photos to the arrangement of the chairs. After all, he grew up in this room. The once warm and welcoming family room was now a cold, menacing shadow of what was once his childhood home.

The curtains swayed ever so slightly as cold winter breeze blew through the drafty cracks around the window trim. Little if any upgrades had been made in the thirty-plus years they’d lived in the home. The plaster revealed it’s true colors from behind the faded and peeling lead-filled paint. The vanishing roof shingles made way for slow and steady rain drops that pooled atop the cracked and molded, water-stained asbestos ceilings.

The age-old slats of the faded brown hardwood floor creaked as he strolled from one table to the next, focusing his attention on each photo. “Why the hell did you need all those damn cats Mom?” he whispered as he eyed a Persian atop her lap in one of the photos. In another, she shared a bowl of milk with a Siamese. “I hated those damn things.”

He swatted at a Himalayan creeping across the lid of the casket. “Get the hell off their!” The cat squalled as it hit the hardwood floor on all-fours before racing out of the room. He booted a yellow tabby circling his right leg. “You’re like cockroaches, every damn one of you!”

In life, Berta had the distinct honor of being dubbed, the Madison County cat lady. All strays were welcome and in most cases set up permanent residence in her already overcrowded home. At any given moment, as many as thirty-five felines called Berta’s house their home.

Albert adjusted his black tie. He glanced down to see the, all too familiar white cat hairs adorning his black suit coat. He sighed in disgust as he brushed away the visible white strands, all the while looking down at a fluffy white British Longhair who was obviously admiring her handiwork. “I wish I could send every last one of you with her!” Albert scoffed as he motioned toward the casket holding the remains of his mother.

Albert turned to the sound of a creaky door hinge. An aged gentleman dressed in black with a white pastor’s collar wrapped around his neck stepped inside. He reached up, to remove his tophat and caressed the brim with both hands as he spoke.

“Hello, Albert,” he began, “Am I disturbing you?”

“Not at all, father,” Albert replied stepping toward the clergyman. “Thank you for coming.” He extended his arm to shake hands; the pastor reciprocated.

“I’m sorry about your mother.” The pastor said as he sheepishly admired the peeling paint and molded ceilings. “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather have the ceremony at the church?”

“No sir. It was Mom’s wish to be laid out here at the house. She’d blister my hind end if she knew I did otherwise.”

The pastor stepped toward the casket, then leaned over to admire the array of photographs. “Ms. Berta was always a friend of the church. I’m honored to perform the ceremony for her.” He picked up a photograph, “She sure loved her cats, didn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Albert chuckled, “they were the only things she truly loved.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” the pastor continued, “she loved you very much.”

“Well, she sure the hell didn’t show it.” Albert grumbled. “At least she’s in a better place.” He looked around the room and motioned toward the sagging windows and doors. “Anyplace would be better than this.”

“What are you going to do with the place now that she’s gone?”

“I’m getting rid of it.” Albert answered. “It’d take more money than this place is worth to fix it up. Besides, this place is mortgaged to the hilt. She had to take out a loan on the place just to feed these filthy mongrels. I’d be surprised if I made enough off it to pay off the loan. I think I’m just gonna let the bank have it.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, son,” the pastor replied, placing his hand on Albert’s shoulder. “Where will you go?”

“I’m not sure yet.”

The preacher turned toward the wood stove. A blazing fire roared inside the bloated old cast iron tank. He held his hands above the stove and rubbed them together. “Sure feels good to get out of the cold. It’s got to be ten below out there. Looks like your Mama’s gonna be buried under at least of foot of snow before it’s over.”

“Mom hated the snow.” Albert said with a chuckle as he stared out the window. I think that’s part of the reason she kept these damn cats.” he covered his mouth with his hand, “Sorry for the language, preacher.

“No worries, son. How would the cats help with the cold weather?”

“They all slept with her.” Albert answered. “There wasn’t a night that went by when she didn’t have at least a couple dozen of these fur balls piled around her. Hell, when I was a kid, I’d awaken from a nightmare, go to Mom’s room and those stupid cats would hiss and slap at me if I tried crawling in bed with her.”

“So, what’s going to happen to the cats?” The pastor asked.

“Don’t you worry, preacher; I’ll take care of them.”

The pastor stared a look of confusion in Albert’s direction, then turned to continue warming his hands. “I’ve got a few errands to run, but I’ll return this evening to greet the mourners. Is there anything you need?”

“No, thank you pastor; everything’s fine here.”

The pastor turned toward the door, placed his hat atop his head and twisted the knob. A strong gust of winter air rushed in, forcing it open. Cats scattered in all directions. Albert walked up and grabbed the door. “I’ve got it. I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Good day to you, son,” the pastor replied as he shoved his hands into his coat pockets and ran toward his waiting vehicle. Albert shut the door and walked toward the wood stove. He grabbed the handle of the heavy metal door and pulled it open. Glowing embers crackled atop a pile of gray ash. He reached over toward the wood pile.

The furry white tabby cat rested comfortably atop the woodpile. This was the one Berta called, Martin, but Albert never bothered to learn their names. As Albert reached for a slab of wood, Martin lunged forward. His sharp white fangs glistened in the firelight. The teeth met Albert’s hand and clamped down.

Albert screamed before briskly pulling his hand away. Martin’s body flew from atom the woodpile. Martin’s vice-like jaws remained locked on Albert’s knuckle. “Give me back my hand, you crazy bitch!” Albert screamed. The cat growled, releasing it’s grasp for a split second before digging his teeth into Albert’s thumb.

Albert shook his arm from side-to-side in a desperate attempt to force Martin’s release, but to no avail. He continued shouting obscenities at Martin, who seemed to tighten his grip with every harsh word. “I’ve always hated you the most!” Albert scolded. You’ve bitten, scratched and clawed me for the last time!”

Albert looked over at the open stove. Small yellow and blue flames feathered above a pile of bright red embers. He turned to face Martin, who seemed oblivious to Albert’s devious plot. Blood dripped from his hand as Martin shook his head, forcing his fangs deeper into the knuckle.

“Let me go, or you’ll regret you ever knew me!” Albert said. Martin continued shaking his head and started to back away with his jaws firmly planted on Albert’s fingers.

Albert eyed a steel fireplace poker resting against a chair. He reached to grab it. With his free hand, he swung the steel rod of the poker, toward the cat; hitting him on his right ribcage. The cat growled and tightened his grip on Albert’s finger. Albert screamed in pain. Again and again, he swung the steel rod, hitting the cat harder and harder with each striking blow. The cat’s grip tightened with each strike.

Albert pulled the cat toward the stove. With all the strength he could muster, he swung the arm. Martin hit the door of the stove and Albert forced him inside. Martin’s paws landed on the hot coals. His mouth opened wide as he screamed in pain. Albert removed his arm and slammed the stove door closed, trapping Martin inside.

Albert listened as Martin screamed from inside the stove. The squeals seemed continue for several minutes, but only lasted about ten seconds, before the flames consumed the carcass of Martin’s lifeless body.

Albert looked down at this hand. Blood continued to drip from it. The skin of his right forefinger was torn away exposing his knuckle bone. He turned to see a t- philadelphia phillies philadelphia phillies hawaiian shirt draped over a kitchen chair. He grabbed the philadelphia phillies philadelphia phillies hawaiian shirt and wrapped it around his finger before sitting down on the chair. He looked toward the casket holding his mother’s remains. “Are you happy, Mom? Martin’s gonna be right there with you now.”

His attention focused toward the floor. Fifteen or twenty cats surrounded his chair and stared into his eyes.

“What?” Albert screamed. “Get the hell out of here, or you’re next!” The cat’s stood like statues. Albert lunged toward them and the cat’s scattered. He stepped toward the bathroom. He looked up at the mirror above the vanity and grabbed it, opening it and revealing several shelves of medicine. He grabbed a tube of antiseptic, a roll of gauze and a package of bandages. He flinched in pain as he held his hand under a pool of water in the sink. With his free hand, he squirted a generous amount of antiseptic onto a bandage. He removed his hand from the sink and wrapped it in a towel. Upon removing the towel, he got a closer look at the carnage resulting from Martin’s attack.

“Damn cat!” he whispered as he wrapped the medicated bandage around the open wound. He walked out of the bathroom and with all the force he could muster; he kicked three different cats that stood in his path. The felines shrieked in pain; one hobbled on a possible broken leg. Another suffered a broken rib and collapsed from the shortness of breath caused by a collapsed lung.

Albert walked toward the door, grabbed his coat from a waiting rack and slid it over his shoulders. He turned to face his mother’s lifeless body, then down at several cats that had returned to the room. He raised his good hand to his lips and kissed it before pulling it way.

“She’s all yours you little heathens! Good riddance. I hope you all rot in hell!” A loaded suitcase lay next to the door. He grabbed the handle of the case, opened the door and stepped outside; slamming the door behind him.

The cold breeze pierced like needles into his exposed face and neck. small flakes of snow soared like bullets in the strong steady wind. An old blue station wagon rested against the curb. Albert waded through the ankle-deep snow toward the vehicle, opened the back door on the drivers side and tossed the suitcase inside. He opened the front drivers door and sat inside before slamming the door shut. The elbow of his wounded right hand rested atop the center console. He reached his left hand around the steering wheel and grasped the keys which hung from the ignition and twisted. Under a dark plume of blue and black smoke, the car roared to life.

Albert drove, not knowing where he was going. He just knew he had to get away from that house. Away from his Mom’s viscious pets who now ruled the house. The arrangements were made. The minister and the funeral home was in charge now. As far as he was concerned, his family was gone. the life he once knew no longer existed. He needed to start a new life; one without cats.

Albert had reached the outer limits of town and began to see nothing but snow covered fields and trees. The car began to sputter and surge. “Dammit!” Albert screamed as he looked down at the dash panel. The flashing red light that he’d been ignoring for the last several miles, now alerted him of the empty fuel tank.

He steered the car off the road and onto the snow-covered shoulder. The car quickly succumbed to its lack of liquid sustenance; and died on its own. Albert slammed both hands down onto the steering wheel, cringing in pain after raising his wounded hand from the wheel. He looked down at his watch; it was seven-thirty in the evening. It had been dark for at least two hours. The one advantage of his piece-of-crap car was that the heater worked really well. He sat, cushioning himself in the radiated warmth that the car continued to hold.

He reclined his seat back and closed his eyes. A tear ran down his right cheek as he began to reminisce about life with his mother. It wasn’t all bad; well, most of it was, but not all of it. She dedicated her life to those damn cats and very little time was spent with him. She never much cared about things that were important to him. She never attended any of his sporting events. She considered parent/teacher conferences a waste of her time. She never cooked for anyone except the cats. Albert became a connoisseur having to cook his own meals. Most days that consisted of a bowl of cereal or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Albert often referred to himself as a cat orphan.

The snow storm passed during the night. Albert woke to the glimmering rays of orange and yellow light glistened on the horizon as the sun slowly made it’s way toward the surface. He reached over and turned the ignition. The engine turned over, but never fired. He opened his door but it stopped. The wind had blown a drift of snow up against the car door. With his left shoulder, he forced the door open, shoving the snow off to the side.

He stepped out into the snow, which buried his leg; halfway up his shin and calf. He stepped out and brushed snow away from the back door. He opened it, grabbed the suitcase and began to walk.

After walking two or three miles, a four-wheel drive truck with chain-covered tires approached. The driver’s side window lowered and a ball-cap clad gentleman smiled a toothless grin. “Where you headed stranger?” The old man asked.

“Anywhere out of this crap,” Albert answered.

“You ain’t quite dressed to be walking in this stuff, are you city boy?” The old man continued.

“I ran out of gas a few miles back. Would you mind giving me a ride to the nearest gas station?”

“Well sure! Hop on in.”

Albert walked around the truck to the passenger side. He opened the door and three his suitcase up onto the seat, then climbed in and sat down before slamming the door shut. It took three tries before the door latched.

“That door’s easy to open, but it’s hard as hell to close.” The old man chuckled. “It’s a good thing I came by here, city boy. The closest gas station is five miles away. You would’ve froze your ass off before you made it. How long you been walking?”

“About an hour or so,” Albert answered.

The man extended his right arm. His hands were stained with oil and grease. Black gunk was caked under his fingernails. “Name’s Delbert,” he boasted. Albert reached over with his left hand and reciprocated the hand shank. “Most people just call me, Dub.”

“Nice to meet you, Dub.”

Dub leaned forward to steal a glance at the blood covered bandage on Albert’s right hand. “What the hell happened to your hand?”

Albert raised his hand and moaned, “Oh, I had a fight with my Mom’s damn cat.”

Dub laughed. “A cat did that? What the hell did you do to piss it off?”

“Long story,” Albert continued. “Stop here,” Albert said pointing through the snow toward a flashing motel sign. “I’ll just stay here for the night and take care of my car tomorrow.”

The driver slowed before steering the truck into the half-vacant parking lot. He stopped just a few feet shy of the front entrance.

“Wish I could do more,” Dub said before extending his arm to shake Albert’s hand.

“You did great.” Albert replied. “I really appreciate your help. How much do I owe you for the lift?”

Dub waved his right hand in Albert’s direction. “It’s on the house. I might need a favor from you some day.”

Albert opened the door and stepped down out of the truck into the snow before closing the door. He stepped briskly toward the entrance, turning to wave as Dub drove away. The automatic doors of the motel’s lobby opened and he stepped inside. He brushed the snow from his milwaukee brewers hawaiian shirt and turned to see a smiling concierge.

“Welcome, Sir, how may I help you this evening?”

“Albert reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. “I need a room.”

“No problem sir, how many nights will be staying with us?”

“Just one night,” Albert replied. “Someplace quiet please.”

Albert finished his transaction and stepped down the hallway toward his room. He slid the key card into the slot, turned the knob and pushed the door open. Exhausted, he emptied the contents of his pockets onto the dressing table and fell backwards onto the bed. He loosened his tie before removing it, then stripped down to just his t- philadelphia phillies philadelphia phillies hawaiian shirt and boxer shorts. He pulled back the blankets and turned the knob on the nightstand lamp to shut off the light. The glowing digital display on the nightstand read; 1:30 A.M.

The day had tired him to the point of complete exhaustion. He was practically asleep before his head hit the pillow.

He was asleep for nearly an hour before a voice began to speak through the darkness. “Aaallbert.” the voice echoed. “Aaallbert.”

Albert’s eyes widened as he sat straight up in bed. “Who’s there?” he whispered.

“Aaallbert.” the voice continued. “Wake up Albert.”

Out of the corner of his eye, a blue mist began to form. Albert turned to face it before jumping to the opposite side of the bed. The blue mist slowly formed the shape of a large cat. “Hello, Albert.” the cat whispered.

Albert rubbed his eyes in disbelief. “I must be dreaming,” he whispered as he continued rubbing his closed eyes. “That’s it, I’m dreaming.” He removed his hands and slowly opened his eyes. The apparition had not gone away. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“Why, not a thing, Albert,” the cat continued. “I’m simply waiting for Martin.”

“Martin?” Albert asked, “Who’s Martin?”

“All in good time, Albert,” the can whispered. “All in good time.”

Albert threw himself back down onto the bed and pulled the blankets up over his head. “It’s just a dream, it’s just a dream.” he continued whispering to himself. He stayed buried beneath the blankets. Through the sheets, he could see the glowing blue mist fade to darkness. He gently lowered the blankets to see that the room was indeed empty.

Albert breathed a heavy sigh of relief. “Whew, I must really be tired.” He rolled over and within minutes, was back asleep.

An hour went by with no other disturbance. Suddenly, Albert’s bed rose three feet above the ground, then violently crashed down to the floor. Albert’s eyes widened as he looked at the clock. It was three A.M. “What the?” he whispered.

“Wake up, Albert.” another voice echoed.

Albert reached over and twisted the light switch before turning back toward the door. “Who’s there?” he shouted. Another mist began to form; this time it was larger than the last. A few seconds passed before the mist took the shape of another cat. A Cheshire grin adorned the cat’s face.

“Wake up sleepyhead.” the cat’s voice echoed.

“Who are you?” Albert shouted. “What do you want from me?”

“I want nothing, Albert.” the cat continued. “I’m simply waiting for Martin.”

“Who the hell is Martin?” Albert screamed. Again, this cat, just like the last, disappeared as quickly as it came. Albert combed his hands through his hair. “What is going on here? I have got to get some sleep.” He stared at the clock, then turned back to where the cat had appeared. He left the light on as he lowered his back onto the pillow. He rolled his body onto his left side, facing his back toward the door. The light remained on.

Within about five minutes, he was back asleep. One more hour passed.

“Albert.” a deep voice shouted, startling him back up to a seated position. This time a very large, fat cat stood completely overshadowing the doorway. Flames protruded from it’s fur. It’s head rubbed the ceiling as it began walking in Albert’s direction.

Albert leaped from the bed and stood between the bed and the adjacent wall. The large cat continued it’s stride. Albert grabbed the lamp from the nightstand, pulling the cord from the wall socket. With all the energy he could muster, he threw the lamp at the cat. The cat’s image faded slightly as the lamp soared through the image, hitting the door behind him.

The cat grinned. “Nice try… Albert.”

Albert turned toward the nightstand and grabbed an inkpen. “I’m dreaming,” he shouted. “I’ve got to be dreaming. This is impossible! He grasped the pen with his right hand and stabbed a hole into his left arm. “Ahhh! he shouted as blood began to form from the self-inflicted wound. Dreaming, he was not.

Albert faced the cat. “Who are you? what do you want from me?”

“You don’t know?” the cat asked as he leaped atop the bed, dumping molted flames onto the blankets. “Surely, you remember me?” the cat continued.

The cat grinned a wide, fang-filled grin. “I’m Martin!” he growled before leaping from the bed onto Albert. The can disappeared but not before setting Albert’s clothes aflame. He frantically danced around the room trying to distinguish the flames. He lost his balance and crashed through the bedside window. His convulsing body plumited six stories onto the sidewalk below.

Upon investigation of the room, the police found the charred remains of a small white cat hiding beneath the bed. A portion of Albert’s finger was found lodged in it’s mouth.

write by Ionel Pascan