by Nyssa Jo Wallace
I stand under the dropped ceiling, staring up at the little black, fuzzy creature hanging from the metal lattice. It sleeps with wings wrapped around itself, two long ears hanging down. They kinda reminded me of cat ears.
I want a cat. Recently, I told my parents I would get one as soon as I moved out. But that would be after college, and I still have three years left.
I set up the wooden step stool that resembles a mini ladder. I have one like it at home or at least used to. Not sure where it went. I walk up the stairs, plate and bowl in hand. Slap. The bowl covers the bat. Slowly, the plate slips between the ceiling and rim, nudging the bat off its perch. I feel it land in the bowl, bumping the sides of its makeshift cage to escape. I’d hate to be disturbed from my sleep like this, but I’m paid to do a job, and part of that job is bat removal.
Up the stairs to the ground floor, I use an elbow to push open the back door leading to the pastor’s yard, the keys attached to my belt loop jingling while I move. The summer sun had yet to turn the air into a muggy swelter. I take the bowl to a covered area of bushes and pine trees to deposit the bat. It sits there, sniffing around before using its wings to crawl further under the bush.
I leave it be and return to the church to begin the real chores.
By the time I get home, I smell like lemons and bleach, and all I want is a shower and nap.
The summer brings with it a break from school, and since I’m over the age of 18, Dad expects me to have a job. Luckily, Mom works two jobs, as a nurse at the local hospital and a custodian at our church. The pastor pays under that table, so I took over when summer break came. Sort of. Mom still helps out, mostly with cleaning the sanctuary that requires squeezing an over-sized vacuum between pews to reach the carpet. Today was bathroom day, when I scrub the toilets, sinks, and floors or the church’s four restrooms. The men’s room is always the worst as the younger boys try to use the lone urinal and miss half the time. Bathroom day is a me-only job.
I make about $70 a week. Dad thinks that will pay my college bills. It’s not even going to cover my meal plan.
Every Sunday, I see things I normally wouldn’t, but now I see it clearly. Any piece of trash, each dirty shoe, every dropped crumb I notice because I’m going to have to clean it.
It isn’t all bad. My favorite part of the job is counting the bats that have broken in during the night. It confuses me that the pastor never takes care of the ones in the hall outside his office. He always arrives before me. I think he’s scared of them, but I don’t understand why. They’re always asleep by morning.
Then again, that means I get to release them myself, giving me a bit of joy.
Keys rattle as I unlock the front door, pushing into it. I prop the door open to create a breeze. The keys hanging from my fingers continue to sing along with the charms on my bag, little video game characters in acrylic.
I trudge into the dining room, tossing the keys on the dining room table, skidding across the hardwood. I should walk them to the kitchen and hang them where they belong, but I’m tired. I can’t be bothered to walk the extra distance to the hooks when the stairs that lead to a warm shower and soft bed are closer.
My bag continues to jingle, as I kick off my sneakers, flicking them off my heels and under my designated chair in the dinning room. They should go where they belong, in a neat pile with everyone else’s. But I was never known to follow that rule, so I can’t blame my tiredness for that. I dump the bag onto the table.
My side continues to jingle.
I look to my side where the bag had been sitting for anything still hanging from my belt loop.
… … …
Why is there a cat in the house?
Did my parents leave the back door open? Did it wander in from outside? It can’t be a stray; it wears a collar.
I bend a knee. It looks up at me with light brown eyes. It doesn’t meow, but it purrs, bumping my outstretched hand.
He’s so soft.
It sinks in what has happened and I’m on the floor, petting the cat as he paces in front of me, directing my grasping, shaking hands. He jumps onto my knee, his tiny claws digging slightly through my jeans. I wrap my hands around him and bring him to my chest. With a small paw against my shoulder, he rubs his head against my cheek, purring intensely.
How could something so small purr so loudly?
It’s a half hour before the rest of my family comes home from their jobs. Mom is done at the hospital. Dad is done at the office. My brother is done at the factory. I’m still on the floor, holding the reverberating bundle of fur to my chest, him playing with my fingers.