The Cat Who Could Tell Time?

The Cat Who Could Tell Time?

IMG_4247As I lay at the foot of the warm, cozy bed, a familiar scenario has come to a head.

“Well, look at the time. I believe that’s the sign. Food in my bowl is not far behind.”

I will chew on this wire as I so often conspire, to wake daddy up – “Don’t sleep!” I interrupt.

I will paw daddy’s face ‘til his slumber’s erased. I’ll meow ‘til he gives in, sort of because I’m a prick.

“Fill ‘er up,” I demand, my bowl to its brim. “I am so hungry and this cat waits for no man.”

“Rise, rise!” Our fates are entwined. The clock has struck five, eating time I decide.

Ah, daddy stirs and looks at the wall. “It’s two in the morning, you little bastard,” he retorts.

“A two or a five. So I’m not good at reading signs. But since you’re awake, feed me. I’m hungry. Don’t let me die.” IMG_4248

“Alright,” he concedes. Alright, indeed. He’s not the dumbest of all humans, it’s the futility that he sees.

“Here you go, now leave me alone,” he gives me that line every day at this time. Oh, we’ll do this again in three hours at five.

“Thank you, daddy,” I fake loose a coo. I am cat. I am evil. When I want my foodies, he will say no but he always loses.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) May 2020 John J Vinacci

Memories of the Ice Cream Man

Memories of the Ice Cream Man

There are not a lot of memories I can call dear. I’ve been around the Sun four dozen or so times now and I admit that it hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows, though I did live in Hawaii for several years. As it happens, most memories are mired in a struggle against existential grief, apparently satiated only by worldly pleasures such as candy and ice cream. As a child, these items were not as plentifully provided by my parental units as I or any other child would have liked. Instead this task fell to the local ice cream man who, simply by virtue of his wares, was a saint.

His name was Mario if I recall correctly, which I found odd because he was Italian and coming from an Italian family I’d never heard of an Italian with that name. (Only later did I learn I was in fact Sicilian, which may have contributed the confusion.) Mario was probably mid-forties and, despite a gravelly voice, as kind and gentle a man could be without being effeminate. And although he drove the standard boxy white truck which blared tired carnival music, there was no hint of him being the serial killer we all – as adults – imagine ice cream men to be. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

Mario had everything – ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches, fudge pops, popsicles, icees, shakes, candy, trading cards, even small fireworks like sparklers, poppers, caps, and smoke bombs. This in sharp contrast to the hated Mr. Softy ice cream man who always drove through the neighborhood so fast you thought he was a retiree from the Indy 500 circuit. Perhaps he knew the territory belonged to Mario, that Mario offered more than Mr. Softy’s pathetic line-up of four soft ice cream flavors, and/or that he hated kids so why did he even come around? Undoubtedly, his wife had nagged him to get a job, any job.

Mario typically came around the block anywhere between two and five o’clock Monday through Saturday. Though you could never be sure exactly when he’d come around, he would come around. He was as reliable as Mr. Softy driving through the neighborhood at 60mph. In contrast, Mario drove never more than a cool 20mph, so you usually had time to go fetch some money once you heard his music.

Funny, our sensitivity to sound was as heightened as a dogs when it came to the ice cream man. As my friends and I usually played baseball in my yard in the afternoon one of us would inevitably perk our heads up and speak in haste, “Did you hear that?” Then everyone would stop and listen. Was it just the wind? No, no. Wait to be sure…then, “ICE CREAM MAN!” My friends and I would scramble like roaches to go find spare change anywhere; in the junk drawer, between the couch cushions, behind the washer, in mom’s purse. Back then you only needed a dime and you would score something, maybe only a stick of gum; it didn’t really matter what. The only question was once we heard the ice cream man did we have enough time to scavenge any coin? It was more than once that my friends and I, too into our own little world or perhaps it was atmospheric conditions, that we didn’t hear Mario in time, in which we’d politely wave as he passed. In time, whenever we heard Mario coming we instinctively knew how far away he was and how much time we had. By that point, though, Mario’s round were becoming less frequent.

I don’t know what the average career life-expectancy is for ice cream men (or women) but certainly though their numerous transactions they come to know their customers too well, meaning, they know when children have come too far along and have discovered their libido. Can candy and ice cream really via for a youngster’s attention any longer? Not savvy to this possibility, my friends and I often speculated why Mario didn’t come around much anymore. We ultimately concluded, based on no more evidence than greying hair, that Mario was having health problems. We could understand and accept that. For what other reason could this mainstay in our lives abandon us? We certainly couldn’t ask him forthwith; our balls hadn’t dropped yet. Besides, it seemed it would have been impolite. Eventually he stopped coming around altogether. Or perhaps we all moved away. Nothing good lasts forever, but at least there was goodness to be had at all. The symbiotic relationship was good while it lasted. It’s better to reflect on that than the inevitable conclusion least such dwellings drive you mad.

I’m thankful for Mario’s venture into capitalism. He was always kind and always patient as my friends and I aggressively crowded his window, clawing at each other to be the first to order before something ran out. His persona, that corny carny music, that unmistakably box on wheels plastered with vibrant advertisements – for so long it was something certain in a world we hadn’t yet learned was completely bonkers. It was a simpler time, for sure, with no need to analyze the meaning of life, no deeper meaning needed to make sense of it all. Looking back I think we forget how much beauty there is in simplicity. A child needs little more than a shot of dopamine once the sugar hits their bloodstream. A loving family perhaps? A child can have both as long as there’s an ice cream man around.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) April 2020 John J Vinacci

Secret Santa

Secret Santa

Stewart dare not touch the cookies. It was tempting, sure enough, what with the warm scent of doughy sweetness pervading the house. Hints of vanilla and chocolate whirled around each other on a carousel of flame that popped out of the fireplace. The cookies were meant for someone else, though, a very special man at that.

As the odd snowflake or two drifted to the ground outside the window in the twilight of Christmas Eve, Stewart tugged on his stocking to ensure it was secured to the fireplace mantle. He glanced at the small side table beside the armchair turned towards the hearth. There, the plate of cookies were flanked by a tall glass of almond milk. (Stewart was looking out for the Big Guy’s health.) The scene was set for Santa’s arrival. Pristine as it was, how could Santa not visit this house? It would be rude to ignore such an invitation. But this wasn’t just about the presents, no sir. Stewart – curiouser than a black cat – could barely disguise his ulterior motive.

“Don’t try to stay up late to see Santa like last year,” Stewart’s mother had warned, “No one has ever seen him. He’s…he’s very shy is all. Just leave him be and you’ll get presents. Stay up too late and his elves will eat you before you ever catch a glimpse of him.” Of course, the boy’s mother was being absurd; elves made the toys Santa brought. They didn’t eat children. And Stewart had heard somewhere that elves probably didn’t even have teeth for there was no dentist at the North Pole.

The seven year old’s mother had been warning the child off trying to catch a glimpse of many things lately, ever since the child’s curiosity saw him walk in on his parents entwined in a very unusual way. His parents should have seen it coming, of course; they were making too much noise and had forgotten the boy’s tendency to investigate the world. While they wanted to instill this trait in their five children, their explanation to Stewart for what they were doing was awkward and made them think he was too young to know about certain things. While the truth always comes out eventually, parents can at least stave off the inevitable. So while it is agreeable that a child is curious, a child also needs to be patient until it is their time to be endowed with certain knowledge. It would be a child’s own fault if they were impatient.

Stewart hadn’t considered any of this since his intrusion and subsequent lecture about – What was it? Birds and bees? – and purposefully set out to expose all the world’s secrets. Why are mom and dad always trying to hide stuff from me? I’ll show them, the lad thought as he glued a fishing line to a cookie before he had topped off the stack. So what if I see Santa? What does he care? Stewart had run the fishing line down the leg of the table, behind the Christmas tree, behind the sofa, around the corner and all the way to his bedroom where he tied the other end of the line to a small bell. As soon as Santa took the cookie, Stewart would know the jolly old man was in the house. Then he’d know if Santa was for real. He’d been hearing things at school…

In the two minutes since he last looked at the time, a heavy blanket of fog fell gently upon Stewart’s eyes. He fought the sands of sleep as if it were some wicked witch, chomping his bottom lip just short of drawing blood. As he bit the third time to ward off the Sandman, the bell jingled. The boy’s eyes flew open as he threw his beloved stuffed bear, Grimm, aside. A clever boy, Stewart stopped himself from setting his foot on the floor with too much fervor least Santa bolt like a reindeer. A ninja in a white forest animal print onesie, Steward slid his own little hooves down the hall.

Stewart peeked his head around the corner into the living room and there he was in the glow of the tree’s lights – Santa Claus. His back turned to the Stewart, Santa appeared taller than the child expected, though rotund enough for the occasion. With a cookie in one hand, the old man seemed to be taking stock of the Christmas tree, titling his head back and forth as if judging if the tree were worthy of having presents underneath it. Santa brought the cookie to his mouth, took a bite and quickly dropped his hand to his side. “Store bought,” he muttered without pleasure.

Steward had heard that tone before; his parents used it all the time. He stepped into the living room with no further hesitation. “Sorry, Santa. My parents won’t let me use the stove.”

Santa turned around without hurry and squinted at the young man. To Stewart, the man’s garb didn’t seem so much as red as soiled grey underneath a coat of blotchy red paint. The boy would have taken Santa to be a little tidier but who really knows a person? This is exactly why Stewart had tried to catch Santa Claus putting presents under the tree.

“Hello, little fellow,” Santa said, “I’d ask you your name but you know that I already know what it is. Why are you up so late, Stewart?”

“I…I wanted to meet you Santa. Some kids at school have been saying you don’t exist. So, I just wanted to see for myself.” Stewart placed his balled up hands on his waist. The doubters were wrong.

Santa stroked his wiry white beard. “Mmm, to them I might as well not exist. They’re bad children for saying that and that’s why they don’t get presents. Not from me anyway. That sad fact is that because they don’t believe in me, their parents have to work extra hard to buy presents for them.”

“I’m sure my mom and dad are relieved that their kids are true believers. Especially me!” Stewart closed his eyes and grinned from ear to ear. There’s nothing like being right.

“That’s all well and good, little Stewie, but you haven’t followed the rules.” The boy opened his eyes at Santa. Saint Nick waved at the cookies and milk. “You sure did a good job of inviting me in. You’re up too late, though. Don’t you think there’s a reason you’re not supposed to see Santa Claus?”

Stewart scrubbed his chin. “Gee, I didn’t think much about it. Mom says you’re shy but I don’t see how that could be.”

Santa let out a big ho ho ho and slapped his belly. “Oh, it’s not that I’m shy.” Santa leaned in towards the boy and that’s when Stewart saw that Santa’s eyes were a fierce deep yellow. “It’s because whoever sees me must die.” The jolly old man raised his hands to the sky and whipped them back down. Christmas lights, garland, and streamers came out of nowhere to snake around and gag the lad before he could make a peep. Stewart fell on the floor bound up like a damsel on the train tracks. Santa licked his lips and glistened his sharpening incisors with saliva.

“You see, Stewie,” Santa half-giggled, half-growled, “I can only come to people’s houses who invite me in. That’s been a rule of vampires for…quite some time now. Inevitably some little boy or girl stays up too late thinking they’ll get to meet Santa Claus. Your parents tell you to go to bed for your own good. Your parents tell you to do lots of things for your own good. When you don’t do those things? That’s when other things happen. Bad things.”

“Yourph uh phamphire?” Stewart muffled in wide eyed surprise.

“Of course, Stewie! All the clues are there. Let’s see,” Santa said as he counted on fingers. “Been around for much longer than anyone has a right to be; the red outfit; telepathic; only comes out at night; flies, though I guess the reindeer help with that…”

Santa turned around and placed some presents under the tree having grabbed them from seemingly thin air. The presents were for the family but were any for Stewart? The boy didn’t know. He wasn’t thinking about that now as he wiggled and wormed and tried to scream for his parents. The old man from the north eventually turned back towards the child and picked him up with one hand. Santa slung Stewart over his shoulder like a sack of toys. Stewart struggled but the soul-sucking vacuum of coldness surrounding Santa sapped his strength.

“Between you and undoubtedly several more children that pull this stunt every Christmas, I’ll be fed for another year,” Santa spoke cheerfully. Unnaturally nimble for his age and size, Santa slithered silently out the window he’d come in through. The window closed itself with a light thunk courtesy of some magic vampiric-elf dust.

Stewart’s mother’s head popped around the corner a moment later. She’d just checked in on all the children and noticed that Stewart wasn’t in bed. Maybe the talking she thought she heard had come from the living room? Perhaps it had been Santa seeing how there were presents under the tree now and a cookie was missing. With Stewart unaccounted for, yes, she could only conclude it must’ve been Santa. The matriarch shook her head as she walked over to the glass of almond milk and took a sip.

“Some kids don’t know when to listen,” she said flatly. “Oh, well,” she shrugged. “This is why we’ve got four more of ‘em.”

 

All Rights Reserved (c) October 2018 John J Vinacci