In a notebook, I discovered this story I wrote at seventeen. For a moment, I was tempted to "improve" it with the skills and wisdom of a mature writer. Fortunately, I couldn't find one. So here it is, just as it was.
The old house was quiet when she got up late that morning, her head still aching for the third day in a row. By noon the walls were sweating summer heat, and she guiltily turned on the attic fan. Around three, the front door opened.
"Jeffrey, is that you?" she asked.
Her older son shut the door behind him gently, as if entering a sickroom. There was a time when he had answered, "No, lady, it's a burglar. Where's the TV?" But lately the fun had gone out of it, and he just said, "Yes, it's me."
"How did it go?" she asked.
He threw his blazer across the banister and wiped his face. "I got a job at U.S. Steel, junior management, they start me at twenty an hour." Seeing that she believed him, he softened: "Mom, I'm kidding. There's no work anywhere. Five places, they told me not to bother with an application, they'd only throw it away."
"But you filled one out anyway?"
"Yeah." He started upstairs toward his room. Her slippered feet followed.
"You're really great for doing this," she said. "I would never, ever be able to go ino the world like that, the way you do."
"Sure you would."
"No I wouldn't. You're really sensational. I don't know how you managed to grow up so able to cope, I mean with two neurotic parents like your father and me."
He sighed. "You're good parents," he said.
"You really think so, Jeffrey?" She glanced down at her fingernails, gave one a quick bite, then hid her hands behind her. "I'm glad you think so, but I know I made a lot of mistakes. Yes I did," she said, seeing that he was about to act out a courteous protest. "I used to feel guilty about it, too, but it's like what Doctor C. said, when I told him about my mother, how she always catered to my brother and not me. He said, 'Look, she did the best she knew how.' And that's right, that's all any child can expect of a parent. But still, I'm glad you came through it all right and have turned into such a great young man."
He flung his damp shirt and socks down the hamper and turned toward her, waiting for more. But no more came. So he said, "I'm really hot from today, so I'm just going to take a bath and read, okay?"
"Oh sure, that's a fabulous idea," she said. "Go ahead, Jeffrey, take your bath, you tried hard today, you should relax. See ya."
"See ya." He tried to imitate her light sing-songy tone, as if reassurance lay in the notes. The boy went off with his robe and book and she padded down toward the kitchen.
At the foot of the stairs, Mackenzie meowed. She dropped to her knees and began kneading the cat's fat grey neck.
"Oh pussy, what is it?"
He cried again.
"What is it, kitty, what might you be wanting? Do you want to go outside? You just ate, so you can't still be hungry. What is it, pussy, are there some birdies and squirrelies out there making a racket? Is that it? You want to go out?"
The cat just stared with his plaintive, vaporous eyes. She scooped him into her hands like a big grey bundle of diapers and carried him to the back door. Then she placed him on the porch.
"Go, Mackenzie. Go, good pussycat."
He blinked at her condescendingly, then tromped off into the weeds. She lingered in the doorway, watching. He'd grown very fat, and his low-hanging grey belly seemed to drag along a little slower each day. He's an old cat, she told herself. She was the only one who really loved him. Sure, Murray and the boys petted him, but whenever he began spraying all over they yelled, and she was the only one who fed him and cleaned out his box. Eleven years she had tended to him. Soon he would be gone. She would have to throw out the catfood when he died. Too depressing. She watched him pause to chomp on a moth. A fragment of insect flew from his mouth in a grand arc and fell away into the weeds. The cat spat the rest of the moth onto the porch. Must clean that before Murray gets home, she thought.