- All the Times We've Died
As soon as I jam my key into the lock, I can hear him on the other side of the door.
"Meow. Meow. Meow. Meow."
I turn it, and the bolt slides imperceptibly. It's a new lock. The old one wore out from keys being jammed into it over many years, keys in tired hands searching in the dark, scratching the brass casing before hitting home. Jam. My roommate, Adam, and I lived for a few weeks with a hole in the door where the old deadbolt was before we got this new one—something you can do in our small Nebraska town.
"Meow. Meow. Meow."
I open the door and almost trip over Ace before I can turn the kitchen light on.
"Already with this?" I say.
I didn't ask Ace to live with me. He and Adam were a package deal. I needed a roommate, and I've known Adam since kindergarten—his mother calls me her "good son." But I can't say the same about Ace. He was a street cat before being rescued the first time. Then he spent more time on the streets before Adam rescued him, and Ace will never let me forget it. Adam adopted him, and they lived a spare bachelor existence in a small ground-floor apartment darkened by blackout curtains before moving in with me. Now we all live a spare bachelor existence together in a beat-up, 120-year-old house. Ace's still pretty wiry, but being well fed and sheltered has fluffed out his long coat into a majestic mane, which he often proudly displays with raised chin. Perhaps I [End Page 129] should remind him that he could easily be a street cat again. The problem is that he is unwilling or unable to take me seriously. I assume the former, of course.
"You fuckin' dick!" I yell, and swipe at him with my foot—not actually meaning to hit him—and he scurries into the living room like a large gray squirrel, jumping immediately up onto the back of the couch because, apparently, I can't get him there.
I'm done caring. I'm tired, brain tired. I'm a teaching assistant in my second year of grad school. It's only my second semester teaching English Composition and working in the university's writing center as a tutor, and on good days I tell myself it's not killing me, even though I lost 20 pounds from stress last semester. But then again, I've always been "a worrier," always been pretty anxious, and I could easily spare the weight.
I open the fridge looking for a beer even before slinging my backpack onto a chair. There aren't any. I told myself that I would never drink and teach. I would never drink and grade papers. I told myself that I would never drink again. There's never really been beer in this fridge anyway. I would drain whatever I bought, usually just taking the whole case up to my bedroom, putting it in front of my desk, next to the chair. It was easier that way. A case of beer will stay cold for a surprising amount of time. Hours. The cardboard box is a decent insulator, the dead air inside and between the cans a further layer of protection. The collected amount of liquid stubbornly clings to whatever temperature it's at. It's physics.
The trick is you line up four to six cans or bottles and open all of them at the same time. It's easier to drink it quickly if they're not too cold or carbonated, so you open them and they warm up and fizz out a little. After the first or second one, they might as well be water, and when you finish a beer, you just pull another out of the box, pop it, and put it on the end of the line. It would give me at least a few hours of vacation while writing or playing video games. I wouldn't even throw them...