Authors: Matthew Storm
Copyright © 2013
Cranberry Lane Press
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“May you live in
-- Chinese proverb
Jones was 32 years old, single, and had always presumed that he lived one of
the world’s duller lives. He lived alone in a small house he rented in the
quiet Sunset district of San Francisco. The house itself was an old Victorian
that dated back to the 1960’s and was completely unremarkable, even among the
unremarkable row houses that were characteristic of this part of the city. He
liked the neighborhood well enough, but it was never going to be on the front
of a postcard.
worked as a financial analyst at Western Pacific Capital, a small, unremarkable
hedge fund headquartered in the center of the city’s financial district. Every
weekday morning at exactly 7:04 a.m. he boarded the L train for the 45-minute
ride to work. He usually spent the commute reading the newspaper or looking
over spreadsheets he’d taken home the night before in order to get an early
start on work, but that was mainly an excuse to avoid making eye contact with
or speaking to other passengers. He didn’t think of himself as being
particularly anti-social, but San Francisco was a big city full of, as his
mother had once warned him, colorful characters. Most people were harmless
enough, but there were always the exceptions. One moment you were agreeing with
someone that, yes, it did seem unusually foggy that morning, and the next you
were realizing that particular comment hadn’t been aimed at you at all, but
rather to the invisible anthropomorphic rabbit sitting next to you. Oliver had
decided some time ago that it was best to simply not bother in the first place.
There were better places to meet people.
job was in corporate research, which meant that he tried to get a fix on the
financial health of different businesses. He did this by sifting through SEC
filings, 10-K reports, earnings statements, and any other piece of paperwork a
company might produce for the public to see. It was tedious work that he didn’t
particularly care for, but that he was generally acknowledged to be very good
at. When he finished his analysis he would recommend to the firm’s traders that
they either buy, sell, or hold that particular company’s stock. They were the
ones who had the joy of actually doing something with the information he
provided, while he moved on to his next analysis. Oliver was just a bit jealous
of the traders, feeling that their jobs must be much more exciting than his
own. If he’d had a few cocktails with people that didn’t know any better,
Oliver might imply that he himself was a trader, because he liked the idea that
he did something more interesting at work than study spreadsheet columns all
day. In fact, he did not.
work Oliver would typically ride the train home, microwave something for
dinner, and spend a few hours watching television. He didn’t have many friends
in the city so he spent most nights like this, alone. Weekends were not much
different. More often than not he would go to the office for a few hours on
Saturdays to get a jump on the next week’s work. It was not so much out of
necessity, but because he really had nothing else to do.
all, he thought, it was a dull life. He didn’t mind all that much, but on
occasion he would find himself wishing for more. A little excitement.
Adventure. Nothing crazy, though. He didn’t fancy exotic vacations in South
America or solo climbing up the side of a mountain with nothing but strong
fingers and a bag of powdered chalk standing between him and a fall to his
death. He just wanted a little something to get his adrenaline going.
he had been thinking about getting a cat.
already had a cat, in one sense. A stray tom had climbed onto his rear
windowsill several months before, when Oliver had been keeping his back window
open in a futile attempt to keep his house cool in the summer heat. Like most
people in this part of the city, Oliver did not have central air conditioning.
The cat had noticed Oliver eating and had meowed hopefully at him, and after a
moment’s consideration Oliver placed a piece of “grilled” teriyaki chicken from
his microwave dinner onto the windowsill. The cat had downed the food
enthusiastically and been a regular visitor ever since. Oliver wouldn’t
necessarily call him a pet, though. While he would permit some scratching
behind his ears, the one time Oliver had tried to pick the cat up he had been
hissed at angrily. Oliver hadn’t tried again, although he had taken to calling
the cat “Jeffrey” and found himself looking forward to his visits.
thinking about this while watching Jeffrey eat one evening. He had picked up
take-out Chinese on his way home and was feeding the cat pieces of shrimp picked
from his container of fried rice. The cat seemed to enjoy it much more than
microwave food. Oliver wondered if he were to buy a litter box, would Jeffrey
know how to use it? He had read somewhere that it was instinctive behavior with
cats, once they knew where it was, but he wasn’t so sure. Would the cat even
come inside? He had never shown any interest in coming any farther than the
windowsill, and Oliver was hesitant to try to pick him up again.
would be easier if you could talk,” he said to Jeffrey.
heard a strange sound in his ears, like rushing water coming up behind him. He
felt suddenly dizzy, and the world seemed to begin to slide, spinning slowly
around him, before equally suddenly snapping back into place.
glanced up at him, still chewing. “Nah, I doubt it,” the cat said.
froze in place, his eyes wide. He saw the cat’s own eyes widen in shock and his
tiny mouth dropped open, little bits of shrimp tumbling down onto the
talked!” Oliver stammered.
stared at Oliver. His head swung left and right as if trying to figure out
where the new voice had come from, then he yowled in terror and darted away
like a shot. Oliver watched as the cat easily scaled the wooden fence that
surrounded his property, and then he was gone.
spent the better part of an hour puzzling over what had happened. The cat had
talked, hadn’t it? He had heard it as plainly as…well, anything. But of course
he knew better. The only rational explanation was that the cat hadn’t spoken at
all. It could only have made one of the myriad sounds cats were capable of, and
in his loneliness Oliver had hopefully imagined it was speech.
perhaps one of his neighbors had observed all of this through a gap in the
fence, and also happened to be a skilled ventriloquist. Oliver would have had
to admit that as unlikely as that scenario may have been, it made more sense
than a cat speaking to him.
sighed deeply. If he were going to rank how pathetic this experience had been
on a scale of one to ten, it probably came in at about a nine.
for bed later that night, Oliver wondered what he should do about it. Maybe
getting a cat wasn’t such a great idea. He clearly needed to spend more time
with people and less talking to animals. This was probably how it started with
cat ladies, he thought. You start talking to one cat, then to another, and the
next thing you know you’re eighty years old, living with twenty feline
roommates in a house that constantly smelled of cat urine. He didn’t want to
end up that way.
should take a class. He’d always liked cooking, even though he rarely did it
anymore. A cooking class would be a good way to meet some people and also get
him away from microwave dinners and take-out boxes. He could kill two birds
with one stone.
definitely the way to go, he decided. There was a culinary school that held
evening classes not terribly far from his office. He had seen their commercials
on television. He could stop by there after work and see what they had to
offer. He’d do it tomorrow.
time, he resolved, wasn’t going to be like all the other times he had planned
to do something and then never followed up on it. It was time to make a change
in his life, and he was definitely going to make it this time.
And if a
cat ever spoke to him again, he’d make an appointment with his doctor and get
his head looked at.
week passed without any further incidents. Jeffrey did not reappear at Oliver’s
windowsill and no other animals or objects spoke to him. What had happened with
the cat seemed like a dream now. No doubt he had imagined the whole thing, and
his startled reaction to that strange fantasy had scared the poor animal away.
Oliver resolved to give the cat something special to eat if he ever returned.
He recalled that Jeffrey had seemed to particularly enjoy the Thai food Oliver
had brought home a few weeks before. Maybe he should order some and put a plate
out on the windowsill where Jeffrey might smell it and come calling. Oliver had
found he missed the little cat.
foggy Thursday morning a few days later Oliver found himself on a half-empty
train on the way to his office. He had just remembered, for the tenth or
eleventh time, that he had been meaning to sign up for a cooking class. He’d
have to look into that tonight. Or maybe tomorrow. Yes, he’d definitely have
train stopped at 16
Avenue and three people boarded. One of them
stood out from the usual crowd of morning commuters. He was a tall, lanky man
with bleached-blond hair, but what made him unique was his brightly colored
Hawaiian shirt. Oliver was surprised. That shirt probably would have been
considered a little over the top even in Waikiki, but in San Francisco it just
took a standing position a few feet away from Oliver as the train doors slid
shut and the train began to move again. Oliver wondered if the man was a
surfer. He looked like a surfer. Maybe he ought to take surfing lessons,
Oliver thought. There were a few surf shops in the Sunset down near the beach.
There must be a place there he could take lessons. He’d have to look into it.
the cooking class. Tomorrow.
train continued on as Oliver read his newspaper. There was trouble in the
Middle East again. Had there ever
been trouble in the Middle East?
In all of human history? He wasn’t sure.
felt a tingling sensation on the back of his neck. Someone was watching him. He
looked up quickly but the man in the Hawaiian shirt was reading something on
his smartphone and nobody else was nearby. The man in the Hawaiian shirt
glanced up to meet Oliver’s gaze. “Nice day today,” he said politely.
said Oliver, going back to his newspaper.
to be hot,” the man said. Oliver nodded without thinking about it. The train
was moving into the tunnel at West Portal station and would be in the city
of the commute was uneventful. Oliver got off the train at the last stop and
walked two blocks to his building, an elegant high-rise on California Street.
He worked on the 47
floor of a 48-story building. He liked it up
there. His own office at the firm was small, but it had a large window with an
expansive view. He could see all the way across the bay to Oakland and beyond.
spent his morning combing through a small tech company’s annual 10-K report.
There would be an earnings conference call in the afternoon and he wanted to
prepare a few questions in advance. Each analyst on the call would be permitted
only one question, but Oliver liked to have a few backups handy, just in case someone
else asked a question too similar to his first choice before he had the chance.
before noon Oliver walked half a block to a small Mexican restaurant. This
place could draw quite a lunch crowd and he liked to get in early to avoid a
long wait. He was third in the take-out line when the door swung open behind
him and the man in the Hawaiian shirt stepped inside. Oliver nearly did a
double-take. This guy again? It had to be. Unless he had a twin with a similar
terrible fashion sense.
in the Hawaiian shirt moved to stand directly behind Oliver and looked at the
menu board curiously. “Oh, you were on my train,” he said to Oliver. “Hello
food here?” the man asked. “I’ve never been.”