Walter, who quietly practiced oboe during reasonable hours, came out of his apartment early one morning to drive to a dress rehearsal for Vivaldi’s Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra in C Major, RV 451, for which he felt he was not prepared. He was dressed in his formal black pants, his jacket slung over his shoulder. In the parking lot was one of his neighbor’s cats—Delia was it?—playing with a locust. Another neighbor, Mrs. Duggin, was idling in her car nearby, a silent black Lexus. There were no other cars that were that nice in the complex; Walter wondered why she lived here, where rent was only $425.
Walter locked his door and walked down the stairs. The cat darted after the cunning locust, pausing just behind a rear tire. Mrs. Duggin slipped the car into gear and began to back out, pinning the cat and briefly stopping the car. She continued to back out, crushing the cat, then ran over it again with her front tire. She finally stopped, the front fender a cold balcony over the dying animal.
Walter ran over to the car.
“Oh oh oh oh,” said Mrs. Duggin, holding her cheeks and squeezing her breasts together with her elbows. “Is that yours?”
“No,” said Walter, bending down and looking closely at the cat’s wounds. “It’s hers, in that apartment.”
Walter pointed to apartment 240.
“God, will you tell her? But wait, I have to go. Don’t tell her it’s me? I couldn’t stand to have someone hate me, not now.”
“I’ll tell her,” said Walter, who wondered if there were other times when the woman could stand being hated.
Mrs. Duggin drove off in her silent car. The cat tried to lick its crushed belly but couldn’t reach. It laid its head down.
Walter knocked politely but urgently at 240. He was nervous and had never dreamed that this was how he was going to first speak to his new neighbor, whose name he knew to be Alicia, because he’d heard one of her friends call her that, a big strong man who wore shirts so tight the veins in his muscles were visible beneath the fabric.
Alicia answered the door in a T-shirt that fell past her knees. She looked at him without saying anything. She didn’t look as if she’d been asleep. She smelled of cigarette smoke and beer. Walter stood directly between her and the disaster thirty yards away.
“Hi, I think your cat was run over?”
Walter stood aside and pointed.
She ran toward the stairs, beginning to wail, and Walter followed.
“Who did this?” she looked up at Walter. “Did you do this? Was this you?”
“No,” said Walter. “I don’t know who did this.”
Alicia tried to touch her cat, but it bit her.
Alicia carefully picked up the cat, who lashed out feebly and drew its face back in the posture of a hiss, but no sound came out. As soon as she had the cat in her hands, she began to run in the direction of the street.
“Wait,” said Walter. “I’ll take you to the vet.”
Now her T-shirt was slick with blood. The cat was limp, but kept opening its mouth. Alicia got in the car.
“Hurry,” said Alicia. Walter took off as fast as common sense allowed.
At the vet, Walter ran to open the door for Alicia but she’d opened it herself and was already heading toward the office.
He examined the passenger seat for blood, but there wasn’t any that he could see. He couldn’t wait for Alicia; he was running behind. He drove to campus. The rehearsal did not go well, and the other musicians avoided him afterward.
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Nick Laird, XY
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