The Nature of These Things
Vi’s been touring the country in a VW van named Swizzle—touring slowly and with many pauses when the thing breaks down to locate parts and get things fixed, usually by odd-job men. During these pauses, she’s able to make more stone and seed jewelry to replenish her supply and also to walk around, exploring ancient woods, windy beaches, or sleepy, rain-worn towns. When she found the Pacific Northwest, she kept trying to move on, but then she’d circle back around again.
Her boyfriend and travel companion said he needed to go a different way from her for a while; said maybe they’d meet back up on a lonely road somewhere. He must have gotten that from a song. But she knows he followed another woman to Florida, a damp-air place she was less likely return to. She avoids extreme humidity at all costs. And she didn’t mind too much—he claimed he lived a vegan lifestyle but she found him crunching on carnitas tacos behind a food truck before he thought she could catch him. She could handle it if he ate meat, but his lying about it was too strange for her. Turned out he lied about many other things; nothing very surprising to her—alone time with other women, alone time with himself in adult roadside attractions, and money and pot missing from her stash. She resented having to find new hiding spots, which were already so limited in the van.
Driving along a county road north of Seattle, Swizzle steams then stops, though she’s able to pull alongside the road near the line of trees that extends ahead and behind for miles. She can’t recall the last town she saw or what the last sign showed as the next town—which happens, but this time it gives her a deep chill and shudder. Cars pass intermittently, but she chooses not to wave anyone down. She slides the side door open and notices the scents of the earth coming alive again with spring. She turns toward the woods and inhales deeply. She needed this breather; clearly Swizzle did, too. The sound of wheels on road was becoming too loud for her.
When no cars are passing, there aren’t many sounds she notices, so her ears perk up when she hears the mewing. She walks into the treeline, stepping carefully, and sees a black kitten. Not so little a kitten, though, that it couldn’t see or move around, but too little to be on its own, perhaps.
The too-skinny cat rubs against her lower calf, getting a little twisted in her long, paisley skirt. The cat is wet and muddy from the spring-damp leaves and earth. She squats down to pet it and speaks softly; the cat speaks back and bumps its head into her hand.
“Hey there little one. All alone out here? Too?” Vi doesn’t notice the bird land a few feet from them until the cat springs on it, grabs it, and shakes it before bringing it over to her and dropping it by her. She doesn’t choose to catch her breath and hold it, but after a moment her breath escapes in a tiny explosion. Her new little friend brought her a gift and she doesn’t know if she wants to cry or laugh. Her tiny murderous friend. But, of course, that’s what they do. And a hawk could come by anytime and snatch up this little one. She’s been living so far outside a predator-prey lifestyle that she has forgotten it’s her choice and that she can make that choice.
“Okay, well thank you, you small, ferocious beast,” she mustered. “Yes, thank you. You must really like me.”
The kitten seems proud, somehow, and hungry. It takes the bird away a few feet and feasts. Vi turns away and walks among the trees, gathering her sense of the peace of the place again. A feeling of calm overcomes her. She’s certain she’ll take the kitten along with her and they can find a place to pause for a long while. Find those slants of light and let the changing seasons find her in the same place for a change. Instead of selling jewelry from the van, she can rent a booth and sell from it regularly. And try her hand at other crafts, too.
She and kitten will welcome a man in their lives, she’s sure. And he can hunt or fish or buy tacos, but he’ll be honest with her. Like the cat is honest.
She walks back around to peek at it cleaning its paws and face. When finished, it looks up and sees her, mews, and prances over. Still so proud. As the day turns to dusk, she loses the sun in the trees and feels how fragile the day is.
“What name would you like? How about Starkweather? You’re a friendly little murderer, after all.”
She scoops up her new friend and heads to the van where they’ll sleep for the night before they abandon it and take some kind person up on a lift to whatever the next town is to the north. Maybe that will be their spot.
“I wouldn’t stop wandering for that man of mine, but for you I’ll change my world,” she tells Starkweather. “Ready for a new adventure?”
Starkweather settles into the crook of her arm, takes a sleepy look up at her, and dozes off without a care.
Angela Jones is a fiction writer and technical editor and loves that flash fiction helps with a sense of accomplishment. So far, she has published work in Memoir Mixtapes and Red Weather. She lives with her husband, daughter, and two cats in Iowa.