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Mrs. Sorensen shuddered and leaned in against her husband; he remained unmoved, frowning. "Something needs doing. That's what I've always said. Bunch of grown folks scared of a pet."
"Take on the job, then," said Wilder, brave after his beer-bottle projection. "If you ain't scared of the work."
Jack Miller snorted at that, and it was too much for Sorensen. He stomped off to his house, his wife tripping hurriedly behind. We followed suit, rattling our beer bottles into Wilder's trash can, thinking about dinner, faintly embarrassed by our fear. Almost everyone stole a glance back, though, to make sure the cat wasn't trailing behind.
Only Wilder had been in the neighborhood when the Walkers moved in. A native south Atlantan, Wilder had inherited his own house when his father, who'd worked at the Clorox plant, died of bad lungs. Wilder said the couple – it was he who'd told us their surname – had come in the 1960s. Even in the early days, they'd kept to themselves. He'd see Mr. Walker driving to work and puttering around the garage. They'd exchange an across-the-street wave, but never spoke. The Walkers hadn't attended neighborhood barbecues, but neither had they fought, or dug holes. They'd appear on Sundays in stiff church clothes and leave in their Oldsmobile, but they didn't go to DeKalb Baptist like everyone else. Wilder wasn't sure where they worshipped, but he said they'd be gone for hours, and come back sweaty and tired-looking. "Catholics, maybe," Wilder said, tipping a beer. "All that strenuous kneeling."
He'd seen the wife, who even then was quite fat, often enough in the beginning. The couple had once kept hens, and Wilder saw her in the side yard, throwing out their feed. She'd watch them scratch and cluck, leaning over the wire gate so far that her head disappeared behind her expansive bottom. But Wilder had never seen them slaughter one; Mrs. Walker collected the eggs, of course, but the birds were allowed to grow old and pass peacefully. Wilder saw her bury a few under an oak, tears streaming down her ruddy face as she dug.
The rest of us had never seen any hens. She hadn't kept them in 15 years, Wilder explained. Not since the cat had come. Old cat, we said. "Old Scratch," Wilder chuckled. "Tore those chickens to bits. I saw the man outside one day, scooping up the slaughter. And yet they let the damned thing in the house again at evening time. Can't figure some folks." Mrs. Walker wasn't seen much after that, and the side yard grew thick with milky weeds. "Shame," said Wilder. "Nothing like a fresh egg."
The holes that now marked the yard weren't chicken graves. They'd popped up now and again over the past 15 years, Wilder explained, but sporadically, and were mostly confined to the back yard. Now the holes had taken over the front; there was more mud than grass. We wondered if the house might collapse. We wondered what the hell they were doing.
Patterson, a plumber who was serious about his property value, slipped a note under their door, asking them to throw down some grass seed if there was to be "further landscaping." That night, the roof of his convertible was torn to ribbons – black canvas scraps were still floating on the breeze when he came out for the paper. Patterson looked out into the road and saw Scratch lying on the asphalt, green eyes slit against the sun. It was then he decided to stop writing notes.
The Walkers kept up their screaming until the day before Halloween. We listened to the crashes and crying as we carved pumpkins and assembled our children's costumes. The police were called four times, and came once. We rode the line between two counties -- Fulton and DeKalb -- and neither wanted to claim us as its own. When the cop finally showed, he spent several minutes knocking before the door swung open. The woman answered the door, dressed in a pink nightgown with frills at the neck. She wore her white hair in plaits, like a schoolgirl. The cop said something, and she snorted and gestured widely -- come on in and see for yourself, the look said. There was another brief exchange. Then Scratch appeared at the threshold, twining itself around her meaty legs like a swath of gray silk. The cop grew silent. He stared down for a moment, motionless, then bent to the cat. We all held our breath -- would he lose an arm? An eye? But it yowled docilely, and allowed a scratch between the ears.
"How many beers have I had?" asked Wilder.
As the officer descended the steps, the old woman looked out with a measured glare. She tapped a finger against her temple, just once, then slammed the door.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
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