I said to Dakota, “What should I write a story about?”, and he said, “Write about the time Sookie got out.” So, based on the very true story of when I lived in Greenpoint and Sookie escaped for three days, this is “Bartosz and the Cat.”
Bartosz and the Cat
Bartosz was already running late, his paint-spattered boots smacking a staccato beat against the steel plates on the stairs, when he saw the cat, sitting under the stairs, her eyes wide and stupid. He remembered the face and the red collar from the flyer slipped under his door— “Lost Cat,” his daughter Kasia said, in her loud, clear English, “oh, Papa, ktoś stracił kota,” she translated into Polish for him. “Dziewczyna numer cztery.” He only nodded, grunted, “Hmmph.” The girl in number four. Why Cas had rented to an American girl, who could say. Probably she could pay. Greenpoint was getting more expensive by the month and, with one of those Brooklyn girls in, Cas would probably get greedy and see how much more he could charge.
And now her cat was missing. Except it wasn’t, because there it was, sitting under the stairs.
He was already late. It was already a long walk to the G train, already an unpredictable commute to the job site downtown. And yet he squatted down, awkwardly given his six feet, slid his backpack off his shoulder, and tried to coo to the cat. He knew nothing about cats. Back home there was always some indeterminate mutt hanging around; when Kasia begged for a puppy, he and Karolina reluctantly agreed to a Maltese that quickly became her pride and joy. The cat just looked at him, then away, as if she had something better to do but couldn’t quite remember what it was.
Bartosz looked at the walls, painted halfway up a chocolate brown and then, as if someone had lost interest in the job, left a pasty white up to the ceiling. The grimy tile floor looked dirtier under the round fluorescent light that burned twenty-four-hours a day. And for this, plus the bathtub with all the glaze wearing off, fifteen hundred dollars a month? So Kasia could grow up in America, with a puppy and a playground around the corner and unaccented English. So he could go after the neighbor girl’s cat.
He sighed and straightened up, then made his way down the hall to number four. He gave a hard rap on the door. It was early, even though he was already late and, now, only getting later. He gave another. “Coming, coming,” he heard a voice through the heavy door.
It opened. There she was. He’d seen her a few times, taking out the trash or fumbling in her bag for her keys. She was older than he remembered, and no man trudged up to the door behind her to see who was knocking at such an hour. She was cinching the sash of a fuzzy gray bathrobe around her waist.
“Hello,” he said. “Your…cat. It is…there.” He inclined his head towards the stairwell.
“She’s— out there?”
“There,” he said, pointing.
She dashed out into the hallway, her feet bare. “Momo,” she called softly, making kissing noises, and the cat sauntered out, seemingly unaware of any trouble she’d caused. “Momo! Oh, it is you! Oh, thank you, thank you— sorry, what’s your name?”
“Ah. Bart. Upstairs, number seven.”
“Bart! Oh, you have the little white puppy, right?”
“Yes. My daughter’s.”
“Well, thank you, so much, Bart. I’ve been so worried about her.” She lifted the cat to her face, rubbing its head against her cheek. “Thank you.”
“Yes. Have a good day.”
“You too.” She smiled and took the cat inside the apartment that was smaller than his but in no better repair from a quick glance— he could see linoleum peeling, a range with a rusted edge from a brief look within— and then shut and bolted the door again.
He retrieved his backpack from where he’d left it beside the stairwell, hauled it onto his shoulders again, and strode out the door of Cas’s overpriced shit building before it could get any later.