Black Cat Syndrome
Written by Matt Taggart
Black Cat Syndrome
It was late afternoon. The pub was busy. They had taken the last two seats. He sat with his elbow touching the wall. Pete was being crowded by an overweight man.
“Ever heard of the black cat syndrome?”
“I was walking with Erin. Remember her? She was a good person. I wasn’t ready. Anyway, we were walking on the dirt road that splits the cornfield.”
Pete leaned closer to Eric. Not to hear him better, but because the overweight man laughed heavily and rolled his head back and crowded Pete even more.
The pub burst with noise as a new group of happy hour sympathizers opened the door and searched for their area of comfort. Eric noticed how everyone’s body language changed the moment new arrivals entered their space. He pressed closer to the wall. The wall wouldn’t change.
“Go on. I’m listening.” Pete said.
“We were walking toward the river. You could just make out the cliff face of Sugarloaf. I remember wanting to see how high the river was. As I looked toward the river a black cat walked out from the corn. It crossed the dirt road in front of us, and went back into the corn on the other side. I said to Erin, ‘You see the black cat?’ She smiled and nodded her head.”
Pete lurched in his chair. A portion of beer leaped from his pint glass and landed on his boots. Pete’s lips thinned as his head tilted. “Mother fucker” Pete murmured. The overweight man’s forearm had over taken Pete’s bar space.
“I’m sorry about that. I saw. I’ll get you another beer.” The bartender said.
“I’m fine. I have half left.”
“I’m still going to get you another beer. Be as fine as you want.” She smiled while walking back toward the taps.
“You’re always doing that. I see what you’re doing. You’re studying everyone.” Pete said.
“I don’t mean to. It just happens.” Even now Eric was looking passed Pete. The bar was dark oak. Half the patrons had food. Everyone had beer. Not one person had a whiskey. Someone needed to order a whiskey. It wasn’t right to not have a whiskey on this bar. A pub employee placed a hot plate of onion rings in front of a man. He could barely make out the scent of a woman’s perfume as the smell of onion rings filled the crowded air. And now the bartender was coming back with Pete’s beer, already smiling. The conversations filling the bar room were constant. Creating a noise with peaks and valleys, but it wasn’t random. It had somehow been designed with purpose.
“What the hell do you see?”
“I don’t know. Nothing really.”
“Here’s your beer, hun.” She smiled not the kind of smile demanding a good tip. And she lingered. Pete wasn’t very handsome. He was rugged, beautifully rustic, and sincere.
“Can I have a whiskey? Actually, a Manhattan. Not in a foo-foo glass either. I want it in a rocks glass. And I want the dirty rocks in another rocks glass, please.” Eric asked the bartender.
“You can, and will.” She didn’t look at him. She was watching Pete. Pete hadn’t noticed.
“Are you lost in the story?” asked Pete.
“Nope. So, we walked through the corn field, through the cemetery, and then to the river bank. The river wasn’t high. I thought it would be, but the storm didn’t bring it up hardly at all. I’m standing on the river bank, with Erin, and we’re taking in the view of the cliff face. For some reason I think of that damn black cat. I ask Erin, ‘Wasn’t it odd to see that cat walk out of the corn?’ I had thought it was odd because of its age. It was a young cat. Not a kitten, but not much older than one. And the farm was a long way off.” Eric said while watching the bartender make his drink. He wanted to see if she would spin the long spoon in the alcohol or shake it in a shaker. If she shook it, the drink would be spoiled. If it was spoiled he’d need to order a second Manhattan or else he wouldn’t let himself be comfortable. And the oak bar still wouldn’t be right.
“So that’s it. You saw a black cat on a walk?”
“No. It wasn’t that. It was Erin’s answer. She said, “What black cat? There wasn’t any black cat.”
“Why the hell would she say that? She just saw it with you. You said she nodded her head.”
“I don’t know. That’s why it’s the black cat syndrome. I’ve seen it everywhere since that moment. People have their eyes open and see about a third of what’s happening around them. Maybe less. I said to Erin, ‘You’re joking. You just saw the cat minutes ago. It crossed the road in front of us.’ But my flaw was that I was now talking with passion. Erin says, ‘Why are you yelling at me. There was no cat. Who cares anyways? Why do you always have to be like this?’ and now Erin’s upset and we’re on a brink of an argument and I can’t let it go because there WAS a black cat. If there weren’t a black cat I wouldn’t be passionate and it’s not even about the damn cat. It’s about her having seen it without locking it away as fact. And now I’m passionately digging through her mind to uncover this for her and it never works. It just never works.”
The bartender placed his Manhattan on the oak bar. He was afraid to taste it. “Why are you so fired up? You’re yelling.” she asked.
He wasn’t yelling, but that hardly mattered. “You’re right. I was remembering a time when someone wasn’t able to handle truth. And that pisses me off.”
“He’s not normal. He’ll talk to you, but he’s here and somewhere else too. Don’t mind him.” Pete said to the bartender.
Eric nodded in agreement. He slowly lifted the rocks glass filled with Manhattan. He brought the drink to his nose, smelled the tempting aroma of whiskey mixed with sweet vermouth, and tilted the glass. He wouldn’t need to order another. Unless he wanted to.
“You make a good drink. It’s exacting.” Eric said to the bartender. “Pete, take out your cell phone. You’re going to have her number.”
Pete had known Eric since childhood. He opened his new-contact screen in his cell and placed it on the bar.
She took Pete’s phone, entered her name, then number. She said nothing. She attempted a smile. She looked at Eric with something resembling anger. Beneath that was truth and that was all that mattered.