Copyright is held by the author.
NOAH TYPED the first two lines of the poem:
If I ever get a cat
I will name him Norton,
Pounding on the door stopped him from writing the third line gelling in his mind. Only one person hammered on his door like this, the divorced woman who lived across the street. Noah got up from his desk, looked through the peephole and saw Betty, arms clasped across her chest, a fierce look on her face, staring at the peephole so intently Noah thought she might try to crawl through it if he didn’t open the door. She knocked again, louder this time.
Betty walked in without saying anything when Noah opened the door. She sat on the sofa, leaned against the back cushions and put her hands over her face.
He sat next to her, tried to remember the third line of the poem, and waited for Betty to collect herself.
“Will you make me some tea?” Betty said behind her hands.
Noah went into the kitchen and returned a few minutes later with two mugs giving off the rich aroma of apples and cinnamon. He put a cup on the coffee table in front of Betty, sat down next to her and balanced his mug on his right thigh.
Betty dropped her hands, picked up the mug and took a sip. Looking straight ahead, she said, “I hate my therapist. I want to kill that bitch.” She clutched the mug with both hands and held it close to her face.
Betty said things like this from time to time when her emotions were out of control and she was having another personal disaster. Noah knew she needed to get this burden off her chest and wind it down so he waited. The heat from the mug seeped into his thigh and felt good.
Betty broke the silence. “My ex got a court order served against me today because of that bitch. The court order prevents me from seeing my kids. I might even have to have a psych evaluation. My therapist thinks I’ve got homicidal tendencies. Can you believe that?” Betty took a swallow of tea and turned to look at Noah with stricken eyes fallen deep into their sockets.
Noah didn’t say anything. The poem swirled in his mind as he waited.
“I can’t believe it either,” she said.
He sipped some tea.
“That bitch betrayed me, Noah.” Betty put her mug on the coffee table. “She doesn’t give a damn about how much I hurt. Is that what a therapist is supposed to do? Stiff her patient? I don’t think so.”
Noah nodded affirmation and took another drink of tea.
“Let me tell you something, Noah. Don’t ever believe that stuff about confidentiality when you’re spilling your guts to a shrink. It’s all lies. Nothing is confidential to those jerks.”
Betty looked at him. “You know what happened to me, right? You know my ex took the kids, our money, and ran off with my best friend. My best friend! I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t.” She shook her head. “Who even does that?” Betty snorted. “Some best friend all right.”
Noah nodded in affirmation again, drank some tea and waited. More lines of the poem gelled in his mind.
“I screwed up by telling that two-faced shrink I wanted to shoot my ex and my ex-best friend for what they did.” Betty picked up the mug. “I said they didn’t deserve to live. I was just venting, of course, but my therapist, bitch that she is, got juiced and ended the session early.” Betty rolled the mug between her hands then put it on the coffee table.
Noah reached for her hand, squeezed it, smiled at her then released his grip. Betty picked up her cup.
“She called the cops and told them I was going to kill two people. How could she even think I would do something like that? This morning the cops showed up at my house with a swat team. That really scared me. Can you imagine? A swat team right on my doorstep! It’s a good thing you weren’t home. They might have shot you by mistake.” Betty drank the last of the tea, set the mug on the coffee table and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’m still shaking over that.”
Noah didn’t say anything. He had lost track of the poem he was trying to write.
“I convinced them I wasn’t going to shoot anybody. They didn’t find any guns in my house so they must have believed me. Right after they left that creep with the court order about my kids showed up.”
When Noah didn’t say anything, Betty turned toward him and said, “You got anything stronger than tea?”
Noah went into the kitchen and returned with a bottle of bourbon. He poured some into her empty cup.
Betty took a swallow and sighed. “Jesus, Noah, I would never shoot anyone. You know I wouldn’t do that, don’t you? Well, except for my ex. Really, I’d shoot that weasel dick in a heartbeat if I thought I could get away with it.”
Betty drained the cup, put it on the coffee table, stood up and walked to the door. “Thank you, Noah.” She put her hand on his arm. “You always know just the right words to say to calm me down when I’m freaking out. I don’t know what I would do without your friendship. I’m glad you’re my neighbor.” She kissed him on the cheek and left.
He returned to his desk and wrote the poem as it came to him:
If I ever get a cat
I will name him Norton,
teach him to swear
and feed him raw liver
soaked in beer.
We will walk in the park,
and blow smoke rings at the midday sun.
By god, that will
make a man of him
and me, too.
He stared at the 11 lines on the monitor for a long moment and failed to hold back the sudden flow of tears. He wondered if he should have told Betty his ex-wife did the same thing to him, that he understood the pain she was suffering. Maybe his confession would have eased the desolation she felt by the betrayals of her husband and best friend, but he knew people were not interested in hearing the woes of others when they were being consumed from within by their own agonies and grief.
Noah wiped away the tears, shut down his computer and said, “Tomorrow I’m getting a cat.”