Black Cat Syndrome
Written by Matt Taggart
Black Cat Syndrome
It was late afternoon. The bar 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.
“I’ll tell you about it. I was walking with Erin. Remember her? She was a good person. I wasn’t ready. Anyway, we were walking toward 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 bar 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 the new arrivals entered their space. He pressed closer to the wall. The wall wouldn’t change.
“Go on. I’m lisetening.” Pete said.
“We were walking toward the cornfield. 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 came out from the corn then crossed the dirt road in front of us, and went back into the corn on the other side. I said, ‘You see that black cat?’ to Erin. She smiled and nodded her head yes.”
Pete lurched in his chair. A portion of beer leaped from his pint glass and landed on his boots. Pete’s lips thinned and his head tilted slightly. “Mother fucker,” Pete murmured.
Eric observed the overweight man’s forearms. The left forearm had taken over Pete’s bar space. The bartender’s small wrist broke through Eric’s vision as she tapped Pete lightly on the shoulder.
“I’m sorry about that. I saw it. I’ll get you another beer.” She 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 as she walked toward the taps while looking back at Pete.
“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. The smell of onion rings took over the bar area as a waiter placed the hot plate in front of a man drinking beer. He could barely make out the scent of a woman’s perfume. And now the bartender was coming back with Pete’s beer, already smiling. The conversations filling the room were constant. Creating a noise with peaks and valleys, but it wasn’t random. It had purpose.
“What the hell do you see?”
“I don’t know. Nothing really.”
“Here’s your beer, hon.” She smiled. Not the kind of smile that demands a good tip. And she lingered. Pete wasn’t very handsome. He was rugged.
“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 said while looking at Pete. Pete hadn’t noticed.
“About the black cat? Are you lost in the story?” asked Pete.
“Nope. So, we walked through the cornfield, then the cemetery, and then to the bank of the river. The river wasn’t high. I thought it would be, but the storm didn’t bring it up hardly at all. We’re standing on the bank of the river 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 watched the bartender make his drink. He was watching to see if she would spin the long spoon in the alcohol, or shake it in the 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 dark oak bar wouldn’t be right.
“So that’s it. You saw a black cat while on a walk? What the hell.”
“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 the cat with you. You said she nodded her head.”
“I don’t know. That’s why it’s the black cat syndrome to me. 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. It looked exacting. The drink made the bar complete. He was afraid to taste it. “Why are you so fired up? You’re yelling.” she asked.
Eric realized he’d been talking passionately again. 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.”
Pete finally saw the bartender. “He’s not normal. He’ll talk to you but he’s here and somewhere else too. Don’t mind him.”
Eric nodded in agreement. He slowly lifted the rocks glass filled with Manhattan. He brought the drink to his nose, smelled the sweat aroma of the whiskey mixed with the vermouth, and tilted the glass. He wouldn’t need to order another. Unless he wanted to.
“You make a good drink. Pete, take out your cell phone. You’re going to have her number.”
The bartender dropped her smile.
Pete placed his cell on the bar. He’d known Eric his entire life. He’d even brought up the new contact screen.
She took Pete’s phone, entered her name, then number. She said nothing. She attempted a smile while placing the phone down on the bar. She looked at Eric with something resembling anger. Beneath that was truth and that was all that mattered.
Written on 5/29/17
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